CHRISTMAS on the CAMINO

Walking El Camino de Santiago in winter – and giving Camino gifts at Christmas

The gift of Christmas on the Camino? To many, Christmas and Camino are two separate entities: No one in their right mind would consider walking El Camino at Christmas, right? “Bueno” . . as they say in Spain, “nada es imposible”. No doubt, the most popular time of year to walk the Camino de Santiago is between Spring to Autumn. But winter walkers are on the up and increasingly we see people asking about walking El Camino at Christmas . . and even planning to arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve).

But Christmas also means gifts – for friends, family / loved-ones. And what better gift to give a fan of the Camino than a little present from Galicia, Santiago, Asturias . . or somewhere else along this famous route: Perhaps a little memento or souvenir relating to this epic journey / pilgrimage – or simply a “good luck and best wishes” type of present.

See our  CAMINO de SANTIAGO  gift shop online

A winter trip on Spain’s Camino over the Christmas period can be an exhilarating experience . . especially if you plan to arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day). But there are things to consider that are different from planning a normal Camino trip:

The weather in winter on El Camino:

This is the most important factor: Weather in Northern Spain, particularly in Galicia, is uncertain even in summer! The dreaded rain which can dampen the spirits of even the most ardent Camino traveller is quite common in Galicia and Asturias.

Having said that, travelling in winter can have its advantages in this respect too: Some of the landscapes can be spectacular in their winter shroud: The Meseta in particular can make for a stunning and enthralling backdrop at any time of year, but in winter it can be dramatic and breathtaking.

Winter weather on Camino
Cortesia Rodelar – La Meseta en invierno: Not for the faint-hearted walker!

The Meseta or Inner Plateau of Spain is the high plain of central Spain – it is large and expansive, flat and vast: It’s in the heart of the Iberian peninsular, and ranges from 610 to 760m in height and is surrounded by mountains. From the Camino point of view, the Meseta is always an “experience”. The Camino Frances traverses the northern part of the Meseta for over 200km, and in winter it can be windswept and cold, wet and miserable for walkers.

So this leads on to the next consideration:

The route – which Camino to choose (after all, there are several):

People considering travelling the famous Way of Saint James are aware of the different routes that make up the so-called “Camino”: They have to choose one to suit themselves, and through which parts of Spain, France and/or Portugal they want to walk, hike or bike into Santiago de Compostela. We have 7 or 8 main options: Camino Frances, Camino Portuguese, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo (the original or Primitive Way), Via de Plata (the Silver Way), Camino Finisterre-Muxía, Camino Inglés (the English Way), and Camino Invierno (the Winter Camino).

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Courtesy CORREOS (see below)

But which is going to be most suitable Camino to do in winter?

The Via de la Plata route travels through the western part of the Meseta for around 180km. In winter, it can be snowy. Yes . . snow! In winter you will encounter snow on many of the Camino routes and/or stages of those routes. Perhaps a small amount of snow is acceptable, but there can be danger too after heavy snow falls or when it drifts in the wind. At the very least, you will need to avoid any mountainous areas like the Pyrenees or O Cebreiro. In fact, for this reason alone, many of the ‘etápas’ (sections or stages) of the various Caminos are actually CLOSED in the winter. In fact, a great many things along the Camino route are closed in winter.

So this leads to another factor to consider:

Accommodation along the Camino de Santiago in winter

Spain’s Post Office ( CORREOS ) has a great website to help travellers along El Camino – offering advice on accommodation, safety and their own services to help transport extra luggage and backpacks which can be especially helpful in the somewhat rougher winter months.

They say that when the number of pilgrims fall in the winter months (and especially around Christmas), many hostels on the Camino decide to close their doors. And, as ‘Navidad’ in Spain is celebrated through until Los Reyes Magos (The Kings) on 6th January, the Christmas inactivity can be extensive. This might be a problem for those winter pilgrims who, not planning ahead or without prior knowledge, are not prepared, especially considering that they will be facing the cold, rain and, at many times, snow. Luckily, Correos keeps an updated list of hostels that remain open during this period. Of course, however prepared you are, it is always recommended to contact the hostels first, to avoid any problems. You can find the telephone numbers of each hostel at each stage of every Camino on the  CORREOS WEBSITE  . There is little problem finding accommodation in the bigger towns like Santiago de Compostela, Ferrol or Vigo, but in the small rural and isolated areas, where accommodation is limited, yes, it can be tricky.

So this brings us to:

The sheer feasibility of doing the Camino in winter as regards personal fitness, carrying your stuff and avoiding the mud!

It can be lonely and at times bleak in northern Spain in winter: In Bierzo, for example, it can be very harsh. But in general, winter walkers are not out to punish themselves . . and so during this time of year it is acceptable to get help along the way. For example,  CORREOS  offer a service to transfer your luggage / rucksack day by day at all times of year. This costs around 4 Euros per stage.

This has not always been the case: In years gone by, devout pilgrims would set out to travel the Camino as a form of penance or atonement. Some were even sent to do just that, as punishment for their sins. But these days, there are other ways to lessen the burden of a winter Camino – like occasionally catching a bus!!! (past the really bad bits), or getting Correos to transport some of your luggage from place to place at the start of each day. In general, their services continue as usual, except that in some cases they are limited in terms of geographical coverage or hours open to the public. Once again, the website has details.

They also offer a locker service in Santiago de Compostela (the ideal location to leave your backpack before visiting because of its proximity to the Cathedral). This remains open from Monday to Friday with the same hours as the rest of the year. The only change to this service is that Saturdays it will be open from 9:30 to 13:00, while closing on Sundays and holidays.

So, in conclusion . .

Which Camino de Santiago route is best in Winter?

The general consensus is that travelling from Sarria into Santiago de Compostela would be a good option. It is about 100km into the capital. You could walk a few of the sections before Sarria but you would have to avoid the most mountainous area around O Cebreiro. This is part of the Winter Way (or Camino de Invierno) from Ponferrada which used to be used in centuries past by those seeking to escape the ‘real’ world. It is also part of the French Way. You will probably experience a very quiet trip at this time of year – but with amazing landscapes, especially as you enter Galicia through the winter vineyards of the Ribeira Sacra. Alternatively, you could start a bit further south at Monforte de Lemos.

Christmas in Santiago Cathedral
Christmas in Santiago Cathedral with the great botafumeiro, marked with the cross of St James

Either way, at Christmas time, this will be a special experience and you will be able to spot many wonderful Nativity scenes or Beléns in the villages, hostels and bars that you encounter.

Finally, we come to OUR part in this whole story:

Camino Christmas gifts

At this time of year we start to see enquiries and orders for Christmas Camino gifts. Although we cannot offer gifts of a trip on the Camino (or even gift tokens), we can certainly offer great suggestions for Camino Christmas presents.

See some Joyas del  CAMINO de SANTIAGO JEWELLERY  in our gift shop online

Every year we see what is popular, and we see some of the special messages people send to each other relating to their Caminos – or wishing them well on a future trip. Many people like to give Camino-related Christmas gifts to friends and loved-ones for a journey that they are planning in the forthcoming year: And the journey is not always related to El Camino de Santiago itself. We find people giving Camino gifts (particularly Camino Jewellery – Joyas del Camino) for loved-ones going on a Gap Year for example, a holiday trekking in the Far East, or even to someone going on a business trip. The fame of Spain’s Camino is worldwide and the related souvenirs have significance to travellers the world over . . especially to wish safe travels. In particular, jewellery that features the Cross of St James, la vieira concha Scallop Shell symbol, the Waymarker sign and the Tau Cross (all available in our shop online), are the most popular.

Clearly, no self-respecting Camino travellers (especially walkers and bikers) want to be burdened on their actual Camino de Santiago with anything large or heavy or difficult to carry, but we can offer small items (especially Camino jewellery like earrings, necklaces and bracelets) that are suitable. Failing that, we can also supply items that are meant as souvenirs or mementos of someone’s actual Camino trip / journey – a reminder perhaps of the journey they undertook. We also stock a range of other items that are suitable as Christmas presents for someone who is PLANNING to walk the Camino de Santiago in the future – in particular, gifts that have a “Safe Travels” theme, religious and Christian items that say “Have a good trip”, Good luck on your journey”, “Buen Camino” and so on, even if only in a symbolic way.

Travellers safety whistle gold
One of our travellers safety whistles – a loud whistle engraved with the Travellers Cross

These are Camino Christmas gifts with real meaning and many are actually hand-crafted by goldsmiths and silver-working artisans in Galicia and Asturias.

Our gift shop was established in Spain over 10 years ago (and we now have an online store based in the UK too) . . .

See our gift shop for Camino CHRISTMAS PRESENTS  .

Looking for a Christmas gift for a fan of el Camino de Santiago?  Please look in our Christmas Camino shop online.