Updated July 2021
My name is Gerald Kelly. I'm the author of several guides to and books about the Caminos de Santiago. I've been walking Caminos since 2004 and have accumulated over 13,000km of walking (or about 500 days).
The questions below are based on a comment thread on our Facebook group in which people suggested questions they would like to see answered in a FAQ. To this I added some more that I thought were relevant.
The opinions given below are my own. I've walked the Vía in its entirety three times and have walked parts of it on many other occasions since 2011.
This FAQ is an accompaniment to the Walking Guide to the Vía de la Plata.
I started writing this guide shortly after the first time I walked from Seville to Mérida in the winter of 2011. At that time there was no up-to-date guide in English and very little information on the internet.
The guide is now available as a PDF download, as a printed book from Ivar's Camino shop and Amazon, and as an app for Android and iPhone (soon to be upgraded to an entirely new version).
This FAQ covers the things you need to know before you walk the Vía, it does not describe the route itself, for that you need to download the guide.
Please note: this page is a WORK IN PROGRESS. If you have any suggestions for other topics to cover or for improving the information please contact me from the Contacts Page.
Our Facebook Group is a good place to ask any questions you may have.
Spain was placed in strict national lockdown in March 2020 with only essential services operating. The restrictions began to be lifted in May and were reduced to a minimum over summer 2020. In October rising infections rates led to the reimposition of stricter restrictions. These were eased again over Christmas and then promptly reimposed in the new year in response to another spike in infections.
The situation now (early June 2021) is that these restrictions are being progressively eased throughout Spain.
However, it's important to understand that under Spain's decentralised system of government most decisions about restrictions are made at the regional level (by regional I mean Comunidad Autónoma). This was in part a political decision and a recognition of the facts that restrictions need to be tailored to suit local circumstances and that national lockdowns are too blunt an instrument to be effective.
There are also some restritions which are imposed at the provincial level. A province in Spain is not the same as a region. Most but not all regions contain several provinces, for example, Extremadura has two provinces, Cáceres in the north and Badajoz in the south.
Each regional government decides and manages the restrictions for the area under its control. Furthermore, within regions restrictions are applied differently to local areas depending on the local rate of infection (local areas can mean provinces or municipalities, ie. towns and villages). That means that in the same region neighbouring villages can have totally different levels of restrictions, eg. in one only essential services may be open while in another, a few kilometres away, most services may be operating (more-or-less) normally.
In practice this means that the situation can differ not just from region to region but from town to town and even village to village.
So, basically, different parts of Spain = different restrictions. If you remember that you've got the most important point.
The possible restrictions include:
- limits to opening hours of businesses
- limits to the number of people who can meet together
- limits to the number of customers in a shop at the same time (usually there'll be a sign on the door, Aforo máximo x)
- obligation to wear a mask in public unless you're eating or drinking
- local perimentral restrictions (ie. you can't cross municipal borders without a valid reason)
- table service in bars (ie. you can't go to the counter to order, the waiter will come to you)
The State of Emergency (Estado de Alarma) law was not renewed when it expired on 9 May 2021. This was the law which allowed for many national restrictions. So, starting on 9 May shops and bars can be open until midnight the other restrictions such as curfews and limits to crossing regional borders have been lifted.
This means that it's now possible and legal to walk a Camino.
However, some restrictions remain in place for the whole of Spain, the main ones are:
- (from 26 June) obligation to wear a mask in enclosed places and anywhere where it is not possible to keep a distance of 1.5m from other people. El Pais has come up with a set of simple graphics which describe when and where a facemask will be needed.
- limits to opening hours of businesses (although, in the case of shops this has basically returned to normal)
- limits to the number of people who can meet together (in Seville this is 4 indoors and 6 outdoors)
- limits to the number of customers in a shop at the same time (sign on the door, Aforo máximo x)
It's also important to remember that you may encounter local restriction in towns and villages based on the local infection rate. These can include lockdowns, limits to business activity and movement restrictions.
These types of local restrictions are unfortunately going to be a permanent feature of life in Spain for another while. So anyone walking will need to keep a close watch on this.
However, this isn't the end of the world because these local restrictions can be worked around. It is permitted to pass through a restricted area, either on foot or by public transport, as long as you don't stop (and I know this doesn't make a lot of sense from the point-of-view of someone walking, this rule was designed with car drivers and users of public transport in mind).
The other issue is availability of accommodation. Many hotels and guesthouses are already operating and catering to local tourists. Some private albergues are doing likewise, others are waiting.
The decision to open municipal albergues depends on the local council. If the experience of 2020 is anything to go by it's likely that the majority of municipal albergues will be remaining closed in 2021, although the situation could improve in the second half of the year.
Association or Donativo albergues also mostly remained closed in 2020 and that is likely to be the case this year too, at least until the second half of the year.
Xunta albergues in Galicia have already made the decision to open as soon as there is enough pilgrims to justify it. What this will mean in practice on the Camino Sanabrés remains to be seen. In 2020 some of them opened while others didn't.
Also, once open, albergues will be subject to restriction on how many people they can put in a dorm. In 2020 this was 50% capacity. It will probably be something similar this year.
To see the latest information on availability of accommadation see our updates page.
Updated 7 June 2021
Currently, to enter Spain from another EU country you must have a negative PCR test and fill in the passenger information form. See HERE for details. Plus, whatever conditions are imposed by your own government.
Spain has formally adopted the EU's Digital Covid Certificate under which it will be possible for EU residents to travel freely as long as they have the Certificate. The Certificate is issued on condition that "the bearer has had Covid-19 over the last six months, has tested negative for the coronavirus via a PCR or antigen test 11 days prior to the emission of the document, and whether or not they have been vaccinated [at least] 14 days previously." See here.
Restrictions from non-EU countries tend to be stricter. However, they are gradually being eased. Details of the current situation are here.
Please check the information provided by your own government!
It's possible to walk the Vía again being aware of and respecting any restrictions in place locally or nationally.
However, things remain volatile and there are many factors which could disrupt this.
I will be keeping the information on this site up-to-date regarding the situation in general and specifically regarding accommodation here.
There is a couple of good websites for updates:
- RTVE is the Spanish national broadcaster. Their guide to restrictions is updated daily and covers the whole of Spain. It seems to be the most comprehensive and up-to-date of the different news services. (Spanish only)
- The Our World Data Website brings data together from all over the world and has an easy to use interface for checking trends and doing comparisons. It's a good way to follow the trends without relying on the media.
The Vía de la Plata starts in Seville and heads north until Granja de Moreruela where it divides, one branch continues north and joins the Camino Frances in Astorga, the other branch turns west and becomes the Camino Sanabres, this continues through southern Galicia and arrives in Santiago de Compostela from the south.
For simpilicty's sake I will refer to these routes as the Vía de la Plata, or just the Vía.
Conditions on the Vía are different from the Camino Frances in the following ways:
- distances between places, accommodation, water sources, cafes, etc. are at times a lot longer.
- it is walked by far fewer pilgrims so you may find yourself alone a lot
- there is little if any pilgrim support services (baggage transfer, taxis, public transport, etc.)
- in the south the weather can be extremely (in fact dangerously) hot in summer
- in Galicia the mountains can be snow-covered in winter
The Vía is mostly well marked with yellow arrows and a variety of other "official" signposting. The few places where there is doubt are described in the guide.
If you're bringing a smartphone the app version of the guide includes interactive, offline maps which make it basically impossible to get lost! You can see the apps here. The app is available for both iPhone and Android.
The distances between places with pilgrim accommodation are given in the guide. The longest stretch with no accommodation or amenities of any sort of is 29km. There are several places where you will need to be able to walk at least 30km. There is one 39km gap between pilgrim accommodation however this can be broken into two stages by staying at one of the several cheap hotels close to the Camino.
Wherever there is accommodation there is always some place to eat. It may be a bar or a restaurant or the pilgrim hostel may do meals or have a kitchen. At time of writing (2020) there is only one exception to this, Outeiro, where the local bar has closed.
Pilgrim menus are beginning to appear in restaurants along the Vía however they are by no means universally available. That means that restaurants generally serve at Spanish meal times, lunch from 2pm and dinner from 9pm.
With the help of taxis it's possible, but you will need to organise it yourself, so you'll need to speak some Spanish.
Also, on the Vía there are often long gaps (ie. more than 15km) between pilgrim accommodation and amenities of any sort. If you are not able to deal easily with walking these distances while being entirely self-sufficient (ie. carrying enough food and water for the whole stage) then the Vía may not be suitable for you.
Local bars generally have the phone numbers for taxis. Public transport is available in some places but by no means everywhere.
The Vía is not a good place to learn the ins and outs of long distance hiking. There are many things to learn when preparing for and walking a long distance, multi-day hike and you will only really start to learn these things when you start doing it. Things like: what equipment to bring, what footwear, what clothes, how far can I comfortably walk in a day and for how many days can I sustain this pace, how much water should I carry, how much food and what kind of food should I carry, how much weight can I carry comfortably, how hot is too hot, how waterproof is my waterproof clothing, etc., etc., etc.
Many of the questions you'll need to find answers to are personal to you, hearing about other people's experiences may help, but ultimately everybody's experience will be different and you will need to find the answers that suit you. That will only start happening when you start walking.
The Vía de la Plata is an unforgiving environment with few support services for pilgrims (baggage transport, public transport, frequent pilgrim accommodation, etc.). If you get anything wrong in your preparation or in how you organise yourself from day to day (and if it's your first time you WILL get things wrong) it will be up to you to deal with it as well as you can. This may make your Camino a difficult and possibly miserable experience.
If it's your first time you should consider walking the Camino Francés (or one of the other more frequented Caminos) where pilgrim accommodation is far more frequent and support services of every type are widely available.
Of course, starting in Ourense. This will qualify you for a Compostela when you get to Santiago. The usual proviso about getting more than one stamp a day applies.
Generally pilgrim hostels are between 10€ and 15€ to sleep. A menu in a bar or restaurant is usually between 10€ and 12€. Coffee is usually about 1.20€, a snack in a bar (bocadillo, tortilla, etc.) is typically between 2€ and 3€. You can lower your costs by buying from shops or supermarkets where they're available. Many places also have hotels and guest houses, typical prices for single rooms is between 20€ and 40€. Add about 50% for a double.
Starting in Seville, from a weather point-of-view the best time to start is March / April. However, that is also the busy time. Earlier than that and the chances of encountering bad weather (cold, rain, wind, etc.) are higher. Later than that and the chances of extreme heat are higher.
October is also a good time to start from Seville however as you head north the days will get shorter and the weather will get colder. By the time you get to Galicia and the mountains it'll already be getting towards November and the chances of bad weather (including snow) are high.
There's no reason not to start from Seville in winter (November to February) however you will need good cold weather and rain gear and an all-season sleeping-bag.
If you're starting further north in Salamanca or Zamora, conditions are similar to the Camino Francés. The northern section, north of Salamanca, can be walked at any time of year, with the proviso that some of the mountains are above 1,000m and so weather conditions can be harsh in winter.
Starting in Seville the worst and hardest time to walk is the hot months (June, July, August and September). In the south of Spain (ie. Andalusia and Extremadura) daytime temperatures above 35C are normal and temperatures above 40C are common. This extreme heat makes the summer the most difficult and dangerous time to walk - several people have died of heat related causes in recent years. You should not attempt to walk in summer unless you are used to and comfortable walking in 40C and higher.
In addition to the heat you may also find that many pilgrim hostels will be closed for periods over the summer to allow their owners / staff / volunteers to take a holiday. These closures are generally not planned or announced in advance.
Also, unless you really want solitude the loneliness of being along every day and every evening of your walk is likely to take an emotional toll.
If you search around the internet you'll find some accounts of people who've walked in summer. They give advice such as carry a hiking umbrella, carry lots of water, start very early (and walk several hours in the dark), etc. This is all sound advice, but it boils down to one thing, if you take all of the following precautions then the southern section of the Vía in summer is just about bearable. Why would you want to do that when there are lots of other Caminos in northern Spain you could walk instead and have a far more relaxed and enjoyable time?
You can see climate information for Seville, Salamance and Santiago de Compostela here:
Seville, Salamanca and Santiago have been chosen because their climates are largely representative of the three climate zones the Vía passes through.
Temperatures given are air temperatures.
Probably the most indicative and useful figures are the Average high and the Average low.
Record high: the maximum air temperature ever recorded during a calendar month
Mean maximum: average of each year's record high for a calendar month
Average high: average daily maximum temperatures for the entire month
Daily mean: average daily air temperature observed during a calendar month
Average low: average daily minimum temperatures for the entire month
Mean minimum: average of each year's record low for a calendar month
Record low: the minimum air temperature ever recorded during a calendar month
1. Starting in the south Mediterranean climate (GREEN) - hot dry summers, cool winters with lower temperatures and more rainfall as you move north and at higher altitudes.
2. Mountain climate (BROWN) - cooler in summer and colder in winter than surrounding areas with possibility of snow.
3. In the north you come into an oceanic climate area (BLUES) - strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream which moderates temperature all year round and lots of rain.
On this map the Vía is shown as a white line.
Copyright (C) Wikipedia.
In Galicia and especially at higher altitudes it is considerably cooler, rainfall is abundant and high winds common. On some mountain passes snow is common in winter, however not generally in quantities which would pose a problem for walkers.
There is no luggage service comparable to those available on the Camino Francés offering a door-to-door luggage transfer service along the whole Vía. Taxi drivers will often be happy to transport luggage but you will need to organise and negotiate that yourself for which you will need a basic level of Spanish. The charges for this are general the same as for transporting a passenger (ie. about 1€ per km - although this is not a fixed price and I've heard many reports of taxi drivers taking pilgrims for a ride and not in the way they wanted).
Casa Ivar in Santiago will store luggage while you walk. You just send it to them from any post office. Details from their website
Bringing a sleeping bag is a good idea for several reasons. Some albergues do not provide blankets (and if they do they are very often not clean). Some albergues are not heated.
What kind of sleeping bag depends on the time of year you plan to walk. In summer a two season one is fine (usually recommended for temperatures down to about 8 degrees C). In winter a four season one is recommended (for temperatures down to about freezing).
Some people walk with just a sleeping sheet and swear that it's not a problem, it's a personal choice, obviously some people feel the cold more than other people,
This depends on the time of year. Outside of the hot months you could walk in the south. Seville to Mérida or Cáceres would take about two weeks. It's a nice walk with varied landscape and lots of pretty southern Spanish villages and towns, plus the historic cities of Seville, Mérida and Cáceres. These cities are all easily accessible using public transport.
In summer it's best to avoid the south because of the heat. North of Salamanca conditions are similar to the Camino Francés. Salamanca to Santiago is about 500km and would take most people about twenty days. If you don't have enough time for that you could shorten it by starting in Puebla de Sanabria. From there it's about ten days to Santiago.
Most of the things you'll need on the Vía are the same as for other Caminos. And this changes depending on the time of year you want to walk.
However, when packing for the Vía there is a number of factors to bear in mind which are less significant on other Caminos.
You will need to be able to walk up to 30km while carrying all the water and food you need for the entire day. So you'll need extra space in your backpack for this.
The Vía is about 1,000km south to north with altitudes ranging from sea level to over 1,000m. In this distance it passes through several different climate zones and with the changes in altitude the temperature can change greatly from day to day. This means you'll need to pack clothes which are adaptable to both hot weather and cold weather and for rain.
This information is covered in detail in the guide.
Generally along the Vía it's rare for a place to have more than two pilgrim hostels and many places only have one. That means you often don't have a choice between different hostels (this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending how you look at it.)
The quality of pilgrim hostels varies greatly. Some are modern, purpose-built businesses with all the comforts you'd expect and a price tag to match. Others are reminicent of the early days of the Camino revival (the 1990s) with basic facilities, no frills and a minimum of house-keeping.
A brief description of each pilgrim hostel is given in the guide.
Most places along the Vía have guest house and / or hotel accommodation. This has been developing nicely during the last few years due to the increase in the number of people walking. The app has links to Booking.com to allow you to book accommodation easily. You can also do this from our online guide.
This really depends on the time of year you're walking and on your own personal preferences. If you're walking from Seville in March / April you may well encounter full hostels. At any time of year if you want to avoid the hassle of having to search around for a place to sleep at the end of a long day's walk then booking ahead may be the option for you. Bear in mind that usually only private hostels accept reservations. Also, it should be enough to book one or two days in advance, you don't need to book your whole Camino before you start walking.
Leaving Seville in March / April is the busy period. Outside this time and especially in summer and winter the Vía can be very quiet and if you're walking you may find yourself alone a lot of the time.
Following the Vía walking route would require a high degree of fitness and strength and an all-terrain bicycle. There are often road-based alternatives which may add some distance but would also be a lot easier for bikes.
At the moment there is no guide in English to cycling the Vía.
Around 2014 there were some incidents of robberies from pilgrims on the stage between Seville and Guillena. The perpetrators were found and convicted. Since then there have been no reported problems of theft.
Spain is a very safe country and violent crime is rare. Problems of theft are mostly concentrated in big cities, areas frequented by tourists and public transport hubs such as railway stations.
Spain's murder rate was 0.62 per 100,000 of population (2018). This compares to The United States 4.96, Canada 1.76, United Kingdom 1.2, Australia 0.89, Ireland 0.87. Source Wikipedia.
On the issue of sexual violence. This has been the subject of debate in Spain for many years and beginning with the Zapatero government in the early 2000s vigorous efforts have been made to combat violence against women. There are special courts for dealing with these crimes and the police have specially trained units to investigate and support victims of these crimes. The police, together with the judiciary, take incidents of sexual assault very, very seriously. They have well established procedures for dealing with these incidents in which the wellbeing of the victim is central.
In the spring and early summer of 2019 there was a number of incidents of a man exposing himself to female pilgrims north of Baños de Montemayor. The police and the local council were made aware of this situation and took steps to ensure the safety of pilgrims. Despite this the man continued and escalated his activities until an incident in late May when he sexually assaulted a pilgrim. The police were notified and the victim was interviewed and given psychological support. Based on her description of the man the police were able to organise an identity parade for the following day from which the victim identified the perpetrator. He was arrested and placed in custody to appear in court the following day when he was charged with sexual assault. Within days he had appeared in court again under a procedure know as juicio rápido / rapid justice, which is used when it's important to bring a case to a rapid conclusion, such as when the victim is a tourist. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison. The man had a long criminal record, including a conviction for sexual assault on a pilgrim in 2011 and others for crimes of violence (including against the police).
What happened in this case underlines the importance of reporting incidents of sexual harassement to the police (even ones which could be described as trivial). This allows the police to take actions which could prevent a more serious incident involving the same individual.
Anyone who tells you it's not worth your trouble reporting things to the police in Spain has clearly never had any dealings with the Spanish police!
The Spanish police are extremely professional and diligent. They take a special interest in crimes involving pilgrims, partially from a desire to protect Spain's economic interests but also because the Caminos are important to Spain historically and Spanish people take great pride from the fact that many thousands of people travel from all over the world every year to do a pilgrimage in Spain.
The Spanish police's AlterCops app has been recommended by people who've had the need to use it. Despite its silly name it is a quick and easy way of alerting the emergency services of a problem or incident. It also helps them to find you easily - this is especially important when you're going to be spending a long time in remote rural areas.
Read more here.
There are bears and wolves in Spain, mostly in the mountainous north. However, they are rare and incidents of them causing problems for humans seem to be non existent.
Yes, in summer in the south extreme heat is not uncommon (over 40 degrees C). See the Climate Data section for more details.
No. Or at least, not that I am aware. (Or probably better to add yet.)
No, but some basic knowledge will be a big help. In rural Spain English speakers are pretty rare. A survival Camino Spanish guide is available from here.
Many pilgrim hostels have no permanent staff and post a phone number on the door which you'll need to call if you're the first pilgrim to arrive. For this reason a phone is useful, especially during quiet times of the year. It could also be very useful in the event of an emergency.
Many private hostels and cafés now have WiFi. Whether you need a SIM card or not depends on your own need to be in contact on the internet or by phone. If you need a Spanish SIM one of the best companies for international calls and internet is Lebara. They have lots of pre-paid plans combining internet and international calls.
See the guide for the location of a handy shop in Seville to buy a SIM card. In Spain SIM cards must be registered so you'll need your passport / EU ID card to buy one.
Mobile coverage along the Vía is generally very good with very few places where the network speed drops below 4G.
The two options after Granja are the Camino Sanabrés and the branch of the Vía which joins the Camino Francés in Astorga.
The two routes are about the same length.
The Camino Sanabrés has more mountains and fewer pilgrims.
The Camino Francés has more pilgrims and a more developed and dense infrastructure, for these reasons it's the easiest option physically.
Briefly (because these are described in the guide): Seville (and the Roman city of Italica in Santiponce), Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca and Santiago de Compostela.
Any of the UNESCO World Heritage sight cities are worth taking a couple of days to explore properly. Zafra, Galisteo, Zamora and Puebla de Sanabria are also pretty. Besides that there is also a number of places which have natural hot springs, Aljucén, Baños de Montemayor and Ourense are the big ones.
There are very few campsites so if you want to camp it'll be wild camping.
Wild camping in Spain is legal in some regions and under certain circumstances.
Generally, you cannot camp within 200m of the sea, close to military installations or tourist camp sites, in national parks or in areas around national monuments.
Local people in rural Spain tend to be fairly tolerant of tourists / pilgrims camping. That said, how you're viewed will largely be determined by the respect and common sense you show to the locals, especially when it comes to: obeying any local restrictions (ie. No Camping or Private Property signs), not littering, not lighting fires, not staying more than one night, not bothering farm animals (either yourself or, if you've got a dog, your dog), not camping close to buildings which are in use, and generally anything which is going to worry / annoy people.
The not lighting fires bit is important. Lighting fires is never allowed under any circumstances.
There's good information on this site (scroll down for Spain).
Seville has an airport with flights from around Europe.
There are hourly high-speed train (AVE) connections from Madrid taking about 2h30m, and less frequent ones from Barcelona.
Salamanca has a direct train connection to Madrid taking about 2h45m.
Ourense is on the train line linking Santiago de Compostela and Madrid with trains every day in both directions.
The easiest way to get to Ourense is to fly into Santiago and get a train or bus from there. The distance is about 100km.
It's also possible to fly into Madrid and get a train from there. This train journey takes about 5 hours.
For more information about using Spanish trains see the Man in Seat 61. I can't really add anything to what he says because he covers everything.
Copyright © Gerald Kelly 2021. All text and photos.