Everything you need to know to plan your own bike tour on the Camino de Santiago

Everything you need to know to plan your own bike tour on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is quite simply one of the most epic journeys in Europe and one of the top travel experiences in the world. Why? Because if offers scenery, culture,  adventure, challenge and tremendous reward, all in a single experience.

Cycling is one of the best ways to see the world. Many people who have done the Camino de Santiago in Spain would agree. The Camino de Santiago, which can be translated as "the Way of St. James," is a pilgrimage route that stretches across most of northern Spain.

Couple on touring bicycles with Camino de Santiago road sign in foreground

It's a popular destination for cyclists and hikers alike - and someone with a love for long-distance biking won't want to miss it! In this article, we'll give you all the information you need to plan your own bike tour on the Camino de Santiago.

I'll talk about what you can expect and how to plan your trip so that you don't feel overwhelmed by this epic journey!

The Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that traditionally goes from France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

There are in fact many other variants, but the Camino Francés remains one of the oldest on most popular routes, and it is to this route that I refer in this article. It has been an important site for Christians since the Middle Ages.

Map of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes in Europe

(Copyright Manfred Zentgraf)

The Camino Frances trail, which is about 800 km long from the French border to Santiago, was used by medieval Christians on their way to Jerusalem. Today it's used by cyclists, hikers and other travelers who want to embark on a spiritual journey.

The route has traditionally been followed in stages, with pilgrims carrying a backpack with supplies including clothes and food. A more modern approach is to take some preparation at home as well as along the way.

Planning your trip

If you're still deciding if cycling on the Camino de Santiago is right for you, start by considering some of these questions:

  • When are you planning to go?
  • Do you want to bike the entire route or just sections of it?
  • Are there any other people going with you?
  • How are you getting there?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What's your budget like?
  • How much time do you think it will take to bike the route, and can that fit into your schedule?
  • What kind of experience do you hope to have on the Camino de Santiago - spiritual, sporty, recreational?

Once you've answered some of these questions, it'll be easier for you to plan everything out. You'll know how long it will take and what type of experience you're looking for. You'll also be able to figure out which parts of the Camino de Santiago are better suited for your biking style than others.

Female cyclist riding a touring bike on a gravel road on the Camino Frances

You don't want to spend hours on a long stretch of uphill biking if that's not what you wanted in the first place! And don't forget about accommodation: there are lots of different options available, depending on your personal preferences and budget.

If these thoughts have left your head spinning, don't worry. I'll cover all this information below so that it won't be such a hassle figuring out all the details as well.

What to Pack

If you're cycling the Camino de Santiago, you'll need to invest in a few items before you leave. First, and most importantly, you'll need a bike! You can get a bike from a rental store, or you can buy one if you have the time to look for one. Next, you'll need some cycling gear.

As the very bare essentials, you should pack comfortable and high-quality biking shorts and padded cycling gloves to avoid getting saddle sores and blisters, a good pair of sunglasses and a helmet with a sun visor.

Cyclist on a gravel bike on the Camino de Santiago

If your bike trip is going to be longer than five hours at a time (and many camino rides are), it's important that your shoes are good quality to ensure you can keep pedaling in comfort for hours at a time.

As ever, make sure to have layers of clothing easily accessible. I always pack a very light wind breaker or light rain jacket in my handlebar bags, or at the very top of a pannier. That way I can grab them quickly for long descents or rain showers.

Cyclist wearing a bright wind breaker jacket at Molinaseca on the Camino

Finding the appropriate cycling clothes is so important that I've written a whole article to help you pick the right biking gear.

You'll also want to pack other basic necessities like water bottles, sunscreen and lip balm. And while we're on the topic of what not to forget - don't forget your phone charger!

Hand painted way signs at Manjarin on the Camino de Santiago

I think it's important to make sure your phone is fully charged at all times so that if anything happens, you won't be left without help. The Camino de Santiago isn't always easy - you should be prepared for anything!

For even more details, you can find a detailed packing list right here.

Where to Stay ( and how much it will cost)

When you're planning to travel by bike, it's important to know where you'll be sleeping. Luckily, accommodations on the Camino de Santiago are plentiful and reasonably priced.

Camino Albergue sign with bikes piled up beside it

You can find a range of hostels and hotels from around €35 a night to €325 a night in towns along the route. These range from basic shared dorms to delightful boutique hotels and exquisite paradores.

Beautiful courtyard at a Spanish Parador

If you're looking for more of an authentic if at times gritty experience, there are albergues for €6-10 per night that are usually maintained by volunteers. These albergues provide shelter and basic amenities like WiFi, breakfast, and dinner (complimentary or not).

What to Eat & Drink

One of the most difficult parts of any bike tour can be food and drink. While you can generally stop at a restaurant or store when you're on the Camino de Santiago, operating hours are notoriously fickle, and getting a meal when you are hungry can be tricky, depending on the time of day.

Pack your bags with plenty of high-energy snacks to avoid getting off your bike to search for food. Opening hours in Spain can be 

The best choice is protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, and even cereal bars. This should be enough to keep you going until you reach the next town or village.

Group of cyclists stopping for snacks and drinks near Pamplona on the Camino de Santiago

Don't forget to refill your water bottles at every opportunity - you may not know when the next water stop will be...

Aside from cycling nutrition, northern Spain offers a wonderful selection of excellent regional dishes and superb wines, as well as a growing number of tasty vegetarian options too.

Roast octopus served in Santiago de Compostela

Pro tip: carry plenty of electrolytes to prevent dehydration and muscle cramps on hot days Have an electrolyte drink handy in order to replace fluids and minerals lost through sweat.

When to Cycle the Camino de Santiago

In my seasoned opinion, the best time to embark on this adventure is during the late spring, specifically in May and early June.

Cows walking through a village in Galicia on the Camino de Santiago

The weather during this period is usually ideal – not too hot, yet comfortably warm during the day, allowing the miles to pass under your wheels with ease.

The natural scenery is at its most vibrant, with wildflowers in full bloom and the fresh greenery of spring breathing life into the picturesque countryside.

Cyclist posing by Camino way marker with walking pilgrims in background

Moreover, this timing helps avoid the peak summer crowds, offering a more solitary and introspective experience.

The local towns and villages along the route buzz with activity, yet retain their quaint charm, providing perfect rest stops to refuel and immerse oneself in the rich cultural tapestry of the region.

As ever, pack for all weather conditions and expect some rainy days!

Older couple cycling the Camino in the Rioja region in northern Spain

If you prefer more stable weather, then September is your best bet for warm sunny days and comfortable nights, but expect golden fields of stubble rather than wildflowers and green pastures!

Safety tips for cycling on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a challenging adventure for even the most experienced cyclist. It's important to plan ahead and make sure you're prepared for all the conditions you might face.

  • Research the terrain: The terrain along the Camino de Santiago varies from flat to mountainous, but there are some difficult stretches with steep slopes and mountain passes. Even if you plan to ride on a road or touring bike, not a mountain bike - you'll have to cycle through small villages and towns over some larger cobblestone streets. If you raide along the actual trail, be aware that walking pilgrims have priority, and some sections are not appropriate for cyclists at all.
  • Pack light: You won't need many supplies on this trip; pack only what you'll need to get through the day. Make sure your water bottle is full before heading out each morning. In terms of clothing, it's best to dress in layers so that you can adapt when the weather changes throughout the day.
  • Keep an eye on your belongings: Be cautious about where you store your bags when resting at albergues; never leave them unattended in public areas, as sadly, there are professional theives who have operated along the Camino since the very earliest times!
  • Wear a helmet at all times: Always wear your helmet! They're essential safety gear that can protect you if anything happens. You'll also want to carry some basic first aid supplies like bandages, antibiotic cream, and painkillers in case of an accident or injury.

Cycling tips for your Camino Bike Tour

If you're planning to cycle the Camino de Santiago on your own, here are a few tips that will make your trip much more enjoyable:

Cyclist taking a photo of walking pilgrims by a Camino signpost

  • Pack a map and a navigation device such as a smartphone or GPS. The route is well marked, but you'll want to be able to find your way without relying on signs every step of the way.
  • Dress appropriately. If you go during the summer months, wear light clothing and sunscreen. For cooler seasons, pack extra warm clothes like long underwear, tights and wool socks. And don't forget to use layers, rather than heavy jackets and the like.
  • Bring an ample supply of food and water. During certain sections of the Camino, rest and water stops can be few and far between, an you don't want to be short of anything important during your days ride.
  • Carry cash for your meals along the way. Most restaurants take international credit cards, but some do not accept them at all - and many smaller bars and cafes may require cash only!
  • Respect walking pilgrims and paths. The Camino originated as a walking pilgrimage, so in effect, why you follow certain paths, particularly in forested sections, you will often be sharing the path with walkers. Slow down, give them wide birth and a call out a friendly "Buen Camino" as you pass!
  • Don't forget your Credential! The Camino "passport" is a wonderful souvenir where you daily collect stamps at churches, albergues and other establishments as a proof of passage. It's an absolute must for anyone undertaking the journey.

Cyclist picking up his Camino credential pilgrim passport on a coffee table

Important information while you're cycling on the Camino de Santiago

Cycling solo or unsupported on the Camino de Santiago is a journey for the adventurous cyclist. If you are riding the classic Camino Frances, you'll be biking from 7 to 14 days (depending on which of the classic departure points you choose: Pamplona, Burgos or Leon) along a variety of terrains, but you'll also encounter varying climates.

Small group of cyclists riding the Camino through the Rioja region

Depending on the time of year, you may go from very hot to very cold weather and vice versa. Make sure you pack accordingly!

Another important thing to keep in mind while planning your trip on the Camino de Santiago is how long it will take to get there (and back).

If you're a seasoned cyclist, then it would be possible for you to cycle an average 60 to 80 km a day and finish in less than 15 days.

Buen Camino!

The Camino de Santiago is a journey most cyclist have yearned to take at least once in their lifetime.

cyclist touching the post of the Cruce de Ferro along the Camino de Santiago

If you're an experienced cyclist and want to take on a challenge, the Camino de Santiago is for you. Plan your bike tour of the Camino de Santiago today and enjoy the journey. As they say along the way Buen Camino!

This article was first published in the Cycling Rentals blog.

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