There are two major factors to consider when choosing which time of year to walk (or bike or horseback ride) the Camino:
1. What type of weather do you want to walk in?
2. How crowded do you want the trail to be?
There are advantages and disadvantages to every time of the year, but here are some of my thoughts concerning each season:
The first time I walked Camino, it was early July — and it was hot. Like, how-are-even-my-calves-sweating?, hot.
I didn’t mind. Being from Maui, I’ve always preferred the heat to the cold; I was happy as a clam to be workin’ on my tan; and as I had never planned on doing Camino, I did a piss-poor job of packing.
See this outfit? This is all that I packed in terms of clothing. Well, this and a flannel and a “nice” shirt and a pair of jeans — all items I would advice against bringing. Thus, I was more than grateful for some serious sunshine while sporting this little getup.
There are additional benefits to walking in the summer time beyond being able to roast your skin to a beautiful shade of bronze. High temperatures mean less gear, and less gear means a lighter backpack — which is essential. Your backpack may not feel that heavy when you put it on while prepping in your bedroom at home or while carrying through the airport before the start of your trip. However, it will feel 10x as heavy when it is on your back 8 hours a day, everyday, for an entire month. And you will hate it and often chuck it on the ground and give it cruel nicknames like “Moldy Voldy” (as in Voldemort) — theoretically speaking, of course.
Another element that I really enjoyed about walking in July was the amount of other pilgrims on the trail.
I wanted to meet people.
Walking alone is fine and dandy. I actually did it quite often. However, I also loved chatting with people from around the world. The linear community of pilgrims was, by far, my favorite aspect of the Camino. Certainly similar bonds can be made during the off season or on less popular trails, but I sincerely enjoyed the broad number of travelers also walking at this time. It never felt too crowded in July and I never had any problems competing for a place to sleep (unlike the fall), but there were also plenty of people traversing the trail, which allowed for many a friend to be made.
Summer Bonus: Blackberries. Bushels and bushels of blackberries.
Fall and Spring
If I ever were to walk to the Camino again, I’d start in early September.
Last year, I started in mid-September, and it was just about the perfect time. The weather was extremely mild. Most days were warm, but not unbearably so. We had some really bad fog and mist on our first day walking through the Pyranees mountains; battled some serious rain, wind, and bed bug bites during our descent into Burgos; but otherwise, had no issues with the elements until reaching Galicia — a state infamous for its heavy rain and volatile weather. Our arrival into Santiago was particularly wet, which is why I would begin just a few weeks earlier if I were to do it again.
But most days, the weather was perfect.
It’s important to note that early fall and late spring are still considered high season. In September, I was told by some people running an albergue that the trail was much more crowded at that moment than in July or August, and that only the month of May had seen this number of people. As I said before, I love the social aspect of the Camino. Thus, crowds are not really a problem for me. However, there were times when it did feel like a rat race trying to reach the nearest albergue. People started waking up even earlier than usual to get a head start, some individuals would go all day without a break so that they could arrive first, and many were even accused of calling ahead to book themselves a bed. Obviously there are never any set “destinations” (besides Santiago, of course), but there are certain towns that are more ideal to spend the night in. Mia and I refused to partake in these pilgrim politics, and dutifully objected by waking up late and taking our sweet time during the day. However, our lax attitude once resulted in us not finding a bed to sleep in. Fortunately everything worked out for the best as the owner of an albergue offered us a room in his private house, but still, this sort of competition is something you must be aware of if deciding to walk during the spring or fall seasons.
Spring Bonus: Everything is in bloom!
Fall Bonus: Everything is dying! Okay, that sounds really pessimistic, but the sunflower cemeteries were actually really cool!
Frankly, I think anyone who chooses to walk in the winter is bonkers.
It’s cold, it’s lonely, and it’s dangerous. However, there are people who do it — though they are definitely the minority. Keep in mind that during the winter there will be few pilgrims, few open albergues, and very few open shops. I don’t advice it.
If you’re absolutely committed to walking at this time, be sure to do your research as I’m certainly not going to do it for you.