Europe’s most famous pilgrimage walk, Camino de Santiago, is becoming so popular with Australians that a travel and trekking company is advising travellers to get in as early as possible before a special.
This year, UTracks, the World Expeditions division, is strongly urging Australians embarking on the Camino to consider getting in quick because the Holy Year of Mercy has begun and demand is soaring. It’s not just pilgrims who are adding the Camino to their European must-do lists. Only about a third of walkers are pilgrims.
UTracks’ records show that since 2004, the number of Australian travellers embarking on the Camino has increased by 800%. Bookings for 2016 are already up 15% on last year.
With the Camino season starting on 1 April 2016, general manager of UTracks, Kate Baker, is advising travellers to avoid disappointment as accommodation is rapidly being booked up for the Holy Year Of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
“During the last Holy Year in 2010, the number of pilgrims to the Camino recorded at 272,135, an increase of more than 120,000 from the previous year,” Baker said.
“To experience a “true pilgrimage”, the Pope has encouraged pilgrims to make the journey on foot. And for the Camino, walking really is the best way to do it as there is so much of detail to take in along the way, which would otherwise be missed,” she said.
“Needless to say as well, with a pilgrimage this popular and especially during a Holy Year, securing accommodation should be a priority as it will be quite the challenge the later it’s left.”
While this year may see many religious pilgrims walking the trail, this is not always the case. In 2015 for example, official records from the Pilgrim Office of Santiago de Compostela show that only 37% of those who embarked on the walk did it for religious reasons, compared to 54% in the 2010 Holy Year.
According to UTracks, the most popular trip in their portfolio of over 20 Camino tours is the eight-day Sarria to Santiago. This itinerary, which can be done with a guide, self guided or as a self guided group (where individuals or groups join together), covers the final 115km of the Camino into Santiago and highlights the diverse landscape through the hills of Galicia including scenic country roads and forest trails through ancient villages and cities born from the pilgrim from more than 1000 years ago.
“Time-poor travellers who are keen to get a taste of the Camino would usually pick this itinerary as it perfectly encapsulates Spain’s rich history, culture, food, art and nature,” Baker said.
Edited by Peter Needham