So you’ve decided to seek enlightenment and walk Europe’s most famous pilgrimage. (Or, like me, you’re just bored and decided that walking 800+ kilometres across Spain would be a good idea.) Now the only thing to do is to start planning.
And drafting a realistic budget for your trip is always a good start!
This pricing guide will be useful to pilgrims planning to walk Camino del Norte or Camino Primitivo on the cheap. For the two most popular routes, Camino Frances and Camino Portuguese, you should probably plan to spend a little more.
I walked half of the Northern route and the whole Primitivo route in April-May this year so all the prices are more or less up-to-date. Ya’ll should also know that April-May is supposedly low/shoulder season, so if you walk in peak times – June-July – you might want to budget a little bit extra.
In addition, this year saw a record amount of pilgrims, and it is unlikely that the number will drop any time in the future. This might mean 1) inflated prices and 2) having to book accommodation beforehand to make sure you’ll have a bed by the end of the day.
Is walking Camino de Santiago worth it? Read my thoughts on walking the Camino here.
First step: Costs before the camino
(Travel costs and the cost of gear I bought before the hike were not a part of my calculated budget but they were added on top of it.)
How much does a trip to Spain cost? Well, that depends; if you’re already in Spain, it’s free. All joking aside – if you’re coming from further away, you’ll probably find the cheapest flights arrive in Barcelona (if you’re starting from the start of the trail).
Travel in Spain can be very expensive. If you don’t mind sharing a car with a stranger, check out BlaBlaCar for rides to your starting point. It’s a rideshare website – like a long-distance Uber – and registering is free. I was coming from Madrid and managed to get a ride to my square one – San Sebastian – for 25 euros.
Let’s talk gear.
Things you might need to buy before your camino:
- Hiking boots. I was considering just walking in my sneakers but I’m glad that I opted to buy a pair of actual hiking boots that had good ankle support, comfortable soles and waterproofing. I paid 140 euros for a pair of Solomon boots but you could easily find cheaper ones from 50+ euros in stores, or even cheaper second hand.
- Sleeping bag. I already had one that I bought in a Decathlon last year for about 80 euros. Many cheaper hostels don’t give you sheets or they only give you disposable sheets, so you’ll want something between you, the plastic mattress and the scruffy blankets.
- A Spanish SIM card. While some hostels have wifi (bless 2019!), many don’t, and even the ones that claim to have a connection often have a very bad one. A SIM card will be useful for having a bit of data to keep in touch with home or plan the next day’s hike, and irreplaceable if you want to book accommodation before arriving.
- A rain coat. Norte is famous for its volatile seaside weather, and you’ll want to get a jacket that can handle both wind and rain.
If you need to buy all-new gear but you’re operating on a tight budget, go visit Decathlon. The French low-cost sporting store has everything you’ll need for a fraction of the price compared to name-brand stores and can be found in many bigger Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Madrid and San Sebastian. I bough my yoga pants there for 13 e, a telescopic hiking pole for 5 e, and a top for 3 e. (At this point, I’m a walking Decathlon ad. Can someone there please sponsor me?)
Things you’re not going to need:
- A tent. Wild camping in Spain is illegal, and while I’ve heard people still do it, it might be difficult on the populated caminos, and camping sites are pretty scarce.
- A sleeping mat. You’ll spend every night in an albergue. They have beds. Leave your mat at home (unless you’re planning to walk the camino with someone called Matt, then don’t forget to take him.)
- A Camino app. Some of them are free, some of them cost about 5 e but to be honest – while I saw many pilgrims using these apps and loving them, I didn’t get any camino-related apps and didn’t feel I needed them. Gronze.com is an excellent web resource (in Spanish) that lists all the stages, distances and pilgrim accommodations; for an English version, check out Pilgrim for stage planning. Maps.me is a great map app which allows you to download offline maps and it works even on flight mode. Now that we’re at it, you will be fine without a paper map or a guide book as well – the routes are so well marked, 99% of the time you can just follow the yellow arrows and seashells.
- Expensive hiking-exclusive gear. In my opinion, invest in a good pair of shoes; but everything else you might need wardrobe-wise you probably already own. I hiked in yoga pants and a top, on colder days I also wore a quick-dry long-sleeve shirt I wear when running at night.
In addition, you’ll need to get a credencial: a pilgrim passport. It’s a small notebook that you use to collect stamps along the way which you’ll need to claim your pilgrim’s certificate in Santiago de Compostela.
Most pilgrim’s accommodations only accept pilgrims, so without a credential you won’t get a bed. Some albergues and tourist offices sell these passports but the safest bet is to find your way to the local cathedral and buy one there. (I got mine at the cathedral in San Sebastian.) You can also order it online before starting your Camino but it’s a little more expensive. Bought in Spain, the credential should cost 2 e. (The stamps you collect along the way are free.)
Fun addition! Since the scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, many pilgrims hang these white shells from their backpacks. You can buy one for about 1-3 e.
I planned to hike for 42 days; from San Sebastian to Finisterre. For this I budgeted 1,000 euros. My daily budget was 20 euros, which for 42 days comes to 840 e. The rest (160 e) was for additional expenses or for days when I went over my budget.
I kept track of my spending with a notes app on my phone. Every day I wrote down how much I’d paid for my accommodation and food and summed it up, then wrote down how much money I had left of that day’s budget.
For example, if I spent 16 euros that day, I’d have 4 euros left. If I spent 28 euros, I had -8 euros. At the bottom of the list, I summed up the leftovers which would help me see if I was right on budget or spending too much. Sometimes the tally at the bottom would read 11,5 e, and then I’d go buy peaches instead of apples. Sometimes it’d read -14 e, and then I’d skip the pilgrim menu and cook at the albergue.
There are different types of accommodation available for pilgrims along the route. If you’re walking on a budget, (municipal) albergues and donativos are your best friends.
Albergues are shared dormitory-style hostels with basic facilities and they normally only accept pilgrims. Municipal albergues normally cost 5-6 euros and usually include little more than a bed and a blanket – sometimes not even disposable bedsheets.
Privately run albergues are usually a little bit more expensive but not wildly so: I’d say the prices are usually 12-16 euros for a bed in a dormitory.
Donativos are donation-based albergues – PLEASE NOTE that “donation” doesn’t mean free accommodation. Donativos are often some of the best places to stay so make sure you won’t screw them over and pay too little for your accommodation. I’m still not sure what an “appropriate” contribution is – I asked this question in a Camino Facebook group before starting and the replies I got varied from 5 to 50 euros. I usually left donativos 10 euros for the accommodation and more if there was food involved. The tagline anyway is “pay what you can”.
If you want to stay in private rooms, that’s probably going to cost you 30-50 euros per night. I never stayed in a private so this is just an estimate.
I’ve also heard of people using Couchsurfing for completely free accommodation. Couchsurfing is a great community for cultural exchange and meeting locals, and registering on the site is free. I never used it on the Camino since staying in albergues helped meet other pilgrims; in addition, from what I’ve seen the Couchsurfing community in Spain is not very active outside of the biggest cities, and you would be struggling to find a host in most of the small towns that the trail passes through.
I used Gronze to plan my accommodation. It lists all available hostels, albergues, camp sites and hotels in each town with a price estimate, contact details, reviews, opening times and the number of beds.
To sum up, accommodation in dormitories:
Donativos: Pay what you can (preferably 10-20 e)
Municipal albergues: 5-6 e
Private albergues: 12-16 e
In addition to accommodation, food was my main expense. In my budget, they were technically split 50-50; although usually I ended up spending more on food than on accommodation.
Almost all the towns on the Camino have supermarkets or small kiosks where you can buy your own food. This is especially helpful for buying snacks: chocolate bars, fresh fruit, bread and cheese, nuts… I know a lot of pilgrims like to make stops at route-side restaurants for coffee and bocadillos (sandwiches) but that adds up really quickly, so it’s better to buy your own lunch from the supermarket.
Remember that supermarkets close on Sundays! (If you walk in the spring, remember to also take bank holidays such as Semana Santa (Easter) into account.)
I often bought dinner from supermarkets as well; however, many albergues don’t have great cooking facilities. Prepare for a lot of microwaved food and pre-packaged salads.
Another option for dinners is to dine out. Most towns have places that offer pilgrim’s menus (menu de peregrino) or daily menus (menu del día) which usually cost 9-12 euros and include a starter, main, dessert and a drink (If you order wine, they’ll often bring you a whole pitcher). However, eating the menu every night does also rack up the cost of the trip, and sometimes the food is questionable quality.
Some albergues cook communal meals; this is especially common in donativos. In these cases, you’re expected to pitch in a little for the dinner. (You probably won’t find anything cheaper around anyway, and the food will likely be some of the best meals you have on the Camino.) I’ve heard people say that you should contribute at least 5 euros per meal, but for a dinner I’d still pay 10 euros.
There are similar breakfast deals. I think you should never pay more than 5 euros for a breakfast; a tea or a coffee usually costs 1-2 euros, and a pastry or a sandwich 1,5-3 euros. I liked buying my breakfast from supermarkets the night before since bars offering food never had any fruit on offer. If you can, I’d highly recommend buying fruit and vegetables from fruterias, small corner shops only selling fresh produce. The quality of their greens is usually way better than that of supermarket veggies and often less pricey – plus you’ll be supporting small, local businesses instead of big market chains.
Oh, and tap water in Spain is completely fine to drink so no need to buy bottles along the way. If you’ve got a sensitive stomach, I’d suggest you get some probiotics from a pharmacy and start taking them a few days before your trip; they help your stomach get accustomed to foreign bacteria and help prevent all sorts of indigestion issues. You can also get a filter bottle or a filter straw like Sawyer Mini (although I didn’t use mine at all.)
To sum up, the cost of food per day:
Breakfast: 5 e
Lunch/snacks: 0-5 e
Dinner: 5-10 e
Seeing that you’re walking the whole way, it seems a little silly to include a section on transportation, but there are definitely places on the Camino where you’ll need to fork out a little money for that, too.
On Norte, there are two occasions when you need to take a ferry to cross over. The ferry from Somo to Santander costs 2,5 e, and the ferry from Laredo to Santoña costs 2 e.
In Bilbao, the municipal albergue is located on a hill about 5 kilometres from the old town. In case you want to explore around, I’d recommend taking the city bus which costs 1,5 e one way.
You might also want to / need to grab an alternative method of transportation at some point if your feet are hurting too badly to continue or it’s getting late and the next albergue is still far away. Buses are rare between the smallest towns so you might need to take a taxi.
In addition, some sections of the trail are plain boring; I wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to skip the suburban hell around Santander or Bilbao and dash over to the next town on a bus instead.
I also paid 10 e for a bus from Finisterra back to Santiago de Compostela.
The first rule of budget backpacking is: keep a secret budget in case things go south.
It’s downright irresponsible to go travelling with a minimum budget. (I’ve been there – luckily my parents were able to help me out when I ran out of money, but not everyone is that lucky.) You’ve probably heard “pack half of what you think you need and twice as much money as you think you’ll need”, and while you don’t necessarily have to operate on doubles, it’s better to have some money for emergencies.
Example: all the albergues are full and you need to check into a hotel for a night; you need to pay for a doctor’s visit; your feet hurt so much you need to take a bus/taxi to the next town; you need to buy a new backpack after yours suddenly falls into pieces.
You should also have travel insurance that covers medical aid in case of an emergency. To be honest, when I walked, I didn’t have insurance. Nowadays I’m subscribed to SafetyWing which is an affordable insurance option for folks who don’t have a policy from their home country.
It costs 35 e for 28 days (compared to World Nomads which is almost 100 e/month) and since it’s subscription based, it’s easy to purchase for the one or two months that you’ll be walking. It covers important stuff like medical evacuation and hiking injuries.
However, I’ve only had it for a few weeks and haven’t needed to claim anything so I don’t know yet if I could fully recommend it. In addition, it’s a medical insurance so it doesn’t cover lost or stolen luggage, valuables or electronics.
Luckily, I avoided major trauma on the trail but I still needed to dig out money for some extra stuff along the way. Here are examples of things I bought:
- Voltaren gel, 10 e; for when my feet started hurting and I needed something for my muscle pain
- Needle, 2 e: because my yoga pants kept trying to disintegrate
- A rain cover, 9 e: because the one I had was too small
- A ticket for Avengers: Endgame, 10e; because I was too scared of spoilers to wait till finishing my walk
In addition, you’ll probably want to pay to visit some attractions, such as the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Plus these things…
Most bars and restaurants on Norte and Primitivo will let you use their bathroom for free. Only when the trail connected to Frances on the last days did I see bars charging 0,5-1 e for using the bathroom for non-customers.
Most albergues have coin-operated washing machines. Normally a wash costs 3 e and drying 4 e. Bigger towns also have public launderettes but they are rarely any cheaper. To save money on laundry, wash your stuff in albergues that include it in the price or split the cost with other pilgrims.
You should also note that almost all bars, restaurants and albergues on the route ONLY TAKE CASH. Some banks charge withdrawal fees from certain cards, especially if you’re coming from outside of the euro zone. So carry enough with you but keep it on you at all times; many pilgrims have unfortunately been robbed in the middle of the night in albergues, and while rarer on Norte and Primitivo, as the number of pilgrims increases, robberies are likely to become more common as well.
After the camino
The Camino is over – so must be all the spending, right?
Santiago de Compostela’s UNESCO World heritage listed Old Town is worth a wander, and it is the best place to buy your Camino-related knick-knacks if you’re after yellow-arrow magnets and seashell decorations (I bought a bracelet for 3 e).
After the Camino, I checked into a private room for three nights to recuperate and explore the city better. Prices in Santiago vary; a bed in a shared hostel dormitory costs around 15-20 e while a private room is slightly more expensive. I paid around 80 euros for a one-bed room for three nights at the end of May but in the summer the prices shoot up and accommodations book out quickly.
I would not recommend booking an AirBnB in Santiago. Like in many other Spanish cities, similar apartment rentals have blown up rental prices and made it harder for locals to afford rent in the city.
Probably the most important thing to do when you get to Santiago is get your Compostela, the certificate that states that you have completed the pilgrimage. The certificate itself is free and admitted on the basis of the stamps on your credential but you can also pay 3 euros for a certificate of distance that shows the kilometres you’ve walked. Since I knew I’d be travelling onward, I also paid 2 e for a cardboard tube to protect my Compostela.
To end with…
I managed to stick to my budget: in the end, I spent around 950 euros in six weeks on Camino de Santiago. Originally I had planned to walk for 42 days but ended up shaving one day off the schedule, arriving in Finisterra on day 41. That brings the daily average to about 23 euros per day which is cheaper than taking a regular holiday in Spain.
Walking the Camino on a budget is definitely doable in relative comfort. My budget suited me perfectly but I don’t think I would have been able to cut much more corners, especially when accommodation is concerned.
The important thing is to remember that you’re on a holiday, and your money is helping locals make a living. I’m not shaming you into pouring your money into restaurants every night; but if you’re staying in donativos, remember that they count on your money. Don’t abuse the system for free stays – that will end up getting future pilgrims in trouble as more and more donativos are forced to turn into paid hostels.
Well, I hope this budget guide has been helpful for anyone who’s planning to walk Camino de Santiago! (I know I could’ve used one when I was planning the walk!)
Anyone thinking of conquering the Norte or the Primitivo?