The question most often asked about The Camino – or any backpacking trip – is what does it cost? The answer is often hard to pin down, but it is generally lower than you might expect. While Europe is not considered a budget destination, walking across Spain is infinitely cheaper than city-hopping around the Old-World on a standard Eurotrip. Depending on your budget specifics and type of travel The Camino can cost between €10-20/day. Of course, it CAN cost a lot more if you feel like dabbling in luxury or aren't mindful of your expenses. However, for your average budget traveller €10-20 per day will suffice. My daily expenses along the Camino Portugués were €14.30, and they were only slightly higher along the Camino Francés, though still well under €20 on most days.
However, it's important to note that this budget assumes a few things:
You already have your transportation to and from The Camino
You already have the vast majority of your gear – backpack, footwear, clothing, etc.
The costs I am referring to here are simply the day-to-day costs of life on The Way: chiefly accommodation and food. You will also need a buffer for additional expenses, like medical supplies in case you get blisters. On our Camino I lost a bandana, a water bottle, and my sandals broke which meant I had to shell out some cash to replace them all. Christine had to buy new shoes AND new sandals AND medical supplies for her dozen blisters. Inevitably things will break or get misplaced, or you will need medical supplies so make sure you factor these things into your budget – more so than you would for a regular backpacking trip!
For the duration of your Camino you will likely be staying at pilgrim-only hostels known as albergues. From St. Jean Pied de Port to Sarria (the first 700km of the Camino Francés) the price of most albergues is €5/night. Municipally-owned albergues are generally the cheapest, with private hostels running a few euros more. Sometimes even municipal albergues will be a couple euros more but rarely are they less. There are also a few albergues that run on donations, so if you are strapped for cash you can donate less. The tourist office in St. Jean Pied de Port gave us a list of every albergue along The Way, a list we used as a reference to plan our stops, aiming to hit the cheaper albergues as often as we could.
If you ever want to splurge or require some private space, single-room accommodation will cost around €20, and a double-room between €30-40. If you feel like a super-splurge you can try the Parador de San Marcos in Leon...though don't get your hopes up.
If you are travelling on a shoestring you can try your hand at camping, though this can be a bit challenging. Most campgrounds charge €5, which doesn't save you any money. Wild camping, then, is your best option to avoid fees however there are not a lot of easily-accessible places to camp. The Camino is generally surrounded by property owned by people (i.e farms, backyards, etc.) and so you may have to stray off the path to find adequate spots. I did see a few people camping along the way so it is manageable for the more adventurous traveller.
For the final 100km, unfortunately accommodation prices rise. Albergue prices rise to €10/night, though there are still a few municipally-run places set around €6/night. Camping for the last 100km is more difficult as the amount of people walking increases dramatically. This is because one must walk the final 100km if they are to receive their Compostela, a certificate that proves they did the walk. Almost 50% of all pilgrims walk only this final 100km, and so finding a secluded spot may prove tricky.
As a general rule, accommodation at the start and ending of your journey will be more expensive. On the Camino Francés this applies to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Santiago de Compostela in particular. On the Camino Portugués, this applies to the entire section between Lisbon and Porto as there are no albergues along thats section.
Your biggest expense on The Camino will be food. You will need fuel to survive each 20-30km daily hike, and so you need to make sure you budget enough for your diet. The local water is drinkable, and for the first 700km of the Camino Francés there are plenty of outdoor faucets where you can refill, saving you the cost of buying bottled water. The taps are sparse in the final 100km, unfortunately.
The key to saving money on your food budget is cooking for yourself. Albergues will advertise whether or not they have a kitchen, and so aim to stay at those that do. There you can cook what you want at a fraction of the price of eating out. I would even suggest bringing a container for leftovers so you can eat them the next day and save the cost of a snack or lunch. Once again, the final 100km of the French Way disappoints and offers fewer kitchens so you will have to hit up some restaurants during the final leg of the trip.
Many restaurants along The Way offer a Pilgrim Menu, usually for €8-10 euros. It generally includes an appetizer, a meal, a dessert, along with bread and wine. The quality is usually not the best, but it is a lot of food. For that price, however, you could cook three times as much food so I generally passed them over in favour of cooking for myself.
Obviously, if you're the kind of person who needs to drink coffee your daily food budget will likely need to increase, and the same goes for beer/wine. Vegetarians will be able to manage on The Camino, though it wont be a culinary paradise. As a vegan, I lost 3kg on the camino Francés over 30 days, and 1.5kg on the Portuguese Way over 12 days. Those with gluten sensitivities will also have some trouble as bread really is a dietary staple along The Way. Impossible? Of course not. Just far from ideal.
Keep in mind that most stores will be closed on Sunday, so be sure to stock up on food beforehand.
The Total Cost
It's hard to pin down an exact cost because there are so many variables. As a guideline, though, a budget backpacker will want at least €15 euros a day if they plan on staying predominantly in albergues. This allows €5-6 for accommodation and €9-10 for food and miscellaneous expenses. With this amount, you will want to skip Pilgrim Menu's and cook as much as you can. I found that I ended up closer to €15-20/day after a few miscellaneous expenses, a couple hotel stays, and an increase in my snack consumption. Because I love snacks.
That being said, there were many a day when I got by on closer to €10/day so it is certainly possible to do The Camino on a shoestring.
Cash or Credit?
Most albergues and restaurants only take cash, unless you are in one of the larger cities. ATM's are common in cities and most towns will have one, as well. However, there are occasional gaps between ATM's so make sure you always have enough cash to get you to your next destination.
Life on €10-20/day may not sound fancy but it will supply you with everything you need as you walk to Santiago. There will be plenty of times to indulge for those interested, and plenty of ways to pinch pennies for those who need to stretch their budget to the max. So start saving, pilgrim!
Curious to read about our Camino? Check out The Camino Section!