Hiking the Camino de Santiago in Your Retirement
If you are over 50, you can still enjoy the Camino de Santiago as if you were in your 30s. The Way of Saint Jaimes, as it is known in English, is a special pilgrimage in which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims take part each year.
Walking the Camino, you are sure to come across people of different nationalities, beliefs, backgrounds, and ages! Last year, 18.5% of pilgrims were over 60.
Nowadays, most retirees are in good health. However, they are not always experienced hikers. Because of that, most pilgrims in their 50s and 60s are concerned about the risks involved in long hikes like the Camino pilgrimage.
But, with enough preparation, and the right attitude, walking the Camino de Santiago in your retirement is indeed possible.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
All of them lead to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where the relics of Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles, are located.
The earliest records of pilgrimages to the Shrine of Saint James date back to the 9th century. In medieval times, it became the most renowned Christian pilgrimage.
Today, aside from being a famous retreat for spiritual growth, the Camino de Santiago is also popular with avid hikers.
There is a Camino Society based in Dublin which is a voluntary organisation, founded in 1992 by returned pilgrims to ‘give something back’ to the Camino and to future pilgrims in gratitude for the fellowship and spiritual renewal they had each experienced on their own Camino. It fosters an understanding and appreciation of the Camino’s related history, art, architecture and music.
The offices in Dublin issue the Pilgrim Passport and offers an opportunity to all those interested in the Camino to meet and share practical information and experiences, especially with those intending to travel by foot or by bicycle.
Tips for Hiking the Camino in Your Retirement
To complete the walk, you need to be healthy and fit. Even though the routes are full of pilgrims of all ages, this doesn’t mean that everyone can hike independently of their conditions.
Train in Advance
Most of us are not used to hiking 10 miles a day. You’ll need to complete some training before you start your pilgrimage.
When preparing for the Camino, any sort of cardio training is good, whether it’s cycling, swimming, jogging, or, naturally, hiking.
It would be best to start preparing 3 months before your Camino trip. Work on gradually building up your stamina and the distances you can hike.
If you can, try to walk around 2 hours a day. Since the Camino can be quite hilly, try to hike on various types of terrain.
Learn some basic stretching exercises. When you begin your Camino, do a series of simple stretching exercises each day to wake up your core muscles and loosen joints. At the end of each day’s hike, do some further stretches to help your body recover and relax.
It would be wise to talk to a health professional before you embark on your journey, especially if you have problems with any part of your body or haven’t done much exercise in a while.
Take Your Time
Don’t hurry. It’s best to start your journey slowly. The first days on the trail are critical to the rest of your journey.
Try to walk in a relaxing manner during the first week, let your body get used to hiking every day.
If you push yourself too much in the beginning, you might have problems with your knees and back later on. As your pilgrimage progresses, you can gradually increase your daily mileage.
But keep in mind—the Camino is not a race. Take a rest whenever you feel like it. No matter which route you take, you will come across a lot of interesting buildings, charming villages and beautiful sights.
Take your time to explore the treasures of Spain. Pilgrims that are older and possibly retired have a considerable advantage over others. They are not in a hurry to get back to work or school. Your vacation can last for as long as you please.
Pack Right and Pack Light
You can choose to carry all of your stuff on your back or have it transported to your Albergue (hostel for pilgrims) or hotel at the end of each day. If you pick a more traditional route such as the Camino Frances, this will be easy to arrange.
Nevertheless, you don’t want to pack more weight than you can handle. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t carry more than 10% of your body weight. You won’t need much, as long as you pack right.
Hydration should be first on your list. There are many drinking water fountains along the major routes, so be sure to bring a water bottle. A lightweight and collapsible water bottle may be the best solution.
It’s especially important to get the right footwear, clothes, and a backpack.
Make sure to walk-in your shoes before your Camino. Test them out on a couple of long day hikes to make sure they are comfortable enough. This will help you avoid blisters. Go for a pair that is well-cushioned.
It’s also a good idea to wear two pairs of socks, heavier wool outer socks and lightweight, moisture-wicking inner socks. Make sure to bring bandages and band-aids.
A pair of walking poles can be of great help on the Camino. It can help you save a lot of energy and take the pressure off your hips, knees, and back.
When it comes to clothing, it’s best to choose a fabric that has great moisture-wicking properties, such as wool or polyester.
Your backpack needs to be light, but it should also be big enough to fit your belongings. Make sure to choose a model with hip straps.
Bringing a sleeping bag is also a good idea if you plan on staying at an Albergue. Most Albergues only provide a sheet and a pillow.
Choose the Right Accommodation
As hinted, albergues are not the most comfortable places to stay. If you can afford it, choose hotels and casas rurales whenever they are available.
Albergues are fine, but they can be somewhat hectic, as it’s not uncommon to find 20 people packed in one room. After a long day of walking, you may want to stay in a quieter and more relaxing place.
Choose the Right Time for Your Camino
Most people walk the Camino in July and August, but this time of year can be too hot.
It’s best to hike the Camino in April, May, and September when the temperatures are milder. By walking the Camino in spring or early fall, you’ll also avoid the summer crowds.
The best part of the Camino are all the people you will meet along the way. You can rest assured you’ll come across some outstanding pilgrims who will lend you a helping hand if you need it.
Anyone can walk the Camino. The most important thing is to find your own pace and listen to your body. Make sure to bring your good mood along as you are in for a life-changing experience.