When deciding how many kilometers to walk every day I think you should consider three things:
- Your level of fitness.
- How do you feel today?
- Are you interested in architecture, churches, and history of the cities on Camino de Santiago.
Your level of fitness
Your fitness level will be seen pretty fast, even on the first day.
If you start in Saint Jean Pied de Port, the first day will not definitely give you the answer to how far you can walk each day as it will be a hike up the mountains and it can get pretty exhausting, so 30km in mountains is equal to maybe 40 on a flat surface. But when you start in Saint Jean Pied de Port, there’s almost no other way than to cross that mountain range on your first day and get yourself to Roncesvalles in Spain. I am saying “there’s almost no other way”, because there is one Albergue just after 8km from Saint Jean Pied de Port right on the mountain, but it usually works just in summers and can be very crowded.
Further reading: How to prepare for your first Camino de Santiago?
So, no matter what, you may reach Roncesvalles pretty tired as it is not an easy hike the first day, but don’t get too scared, next time you have to cross such mountain, will be just after 2-3 week when you reach Rabanal del Camino, right after Astorga.
I would suggest taking the first day very easy, do not rush, rest as much as you need, because if you push it too much the first day, it can really ruin few upcoming days, because you may get blisters and much pain in your muscles.
On the second or third day, you will see if you are able to walk 20km easily, or maybe 25-30km.
If you feel that 25km is that perfect distance, I do not really suggest pushing it to 30km on any day, because as I said, it can ruin few other days after that very easily. Actually, 25km a day is a very nice thing to do as you won’t have to rush and have plenty of time every day to enjoy local cities, restaurants, and other attractions.
How do you feel today?
If you really feel bad and have much pain in any part of your body, I would really suggest taking one or two days very slowly. There’s a rule on Camino de Santiago, that you can’t sleep in the same Albergue for two days unless you have a doctor’s note or something like that. But to get that doctor’s note can be pretty tricky as you are in a country you don’t really know and getting an appointment is not easy as well. It is possible that maybe a private Albergue will give you an exception, but if there’s no other way, I would suggest walking just 5-10 km for a couple of days as there are many many albergues on Camino Frances. As well, if you are in a bigger city, you can just simply rent a hotel room and rest, but if you are on a budget, simply slowly move to the next Albergue and rest.
It is really better to lose a couple of days than to be forced to quit later on, because of a bad health condition.
Further reading: Everything about Albergues in Camino de Santiago
As well, if you feel very good and think that you can fly, take it easy. You may feel fantastic after 25km, but after 35km you can feel like dying. Sometimes even a few kilometers make a huge difference.
Yes, sometimes you may come to albergues you don’t like or Albergue is simply closed and you are kind of forced to move on, but before doing it, rest for some time, eat your lunch, drink some water and just then continue your trip. I was many times in that position that you feel pretty good after 25km, but you feel extremely exhausted after 35km.
Once we reached our destination after 28km and we didn’t really like the Albergue as it was very cold and old and we decided to walk just 3km further as there were signs on the road that the next Albergue will be there. So we thought that 3km won’t do any harm to us. Guess what, the next Albergue was closed, so we have to go further. We went on and on then finally, we found one free Albergue walking 16 km after the one Albergue we didn’t like. So we ended up doing 44km and got ourselves to Albergue which had no hot water and no heating.
How much are you interested in local attractions?
Some people plan their Camino depending on the stops in big cities. And if you really like big cities, would like to spend some time in museums or churches, you should do that as well. Simply plan your trip, that you have to walk just 20km to a big city, put your stuff in local Albergue and visit the city. I did that a few times on my first Camino and even visited a chocolate museum in Astorga which was pretty cool.
Further reading: How much time do you need for Camino de Santiago?
I wouldn’t do that again, because, unless you are a real architecture geek, all of those churches and old houses get kind of the same after a few big cities. You know that feeling when you get to any museum, you take time to look into each thing they show, even read the information museum gives you… then after one hour or two, you just look at things very fast, no reading… and if the museum is very big, after 3-4 hours you just walk very fast to find the restaurant or your way out, you have too much information already. So Spain is the same. It’s one big museum. It’s an amazing museum, but after some time you just don’t pay attention to every church and old building.
I rather sleep in small towns and villages… there are more natural, much calmer surroundings, fewer people, local restaurants are more friendly. Oh yes, small-town restaurants take really nice care of you. They may not be fancy or offer a huge variety of food, but they are indeed very welcoming and you kind of see the real Spain there.
As it always does, it depends. It depends on how you feel, what you like or prefer, what is the main reason why you do Camino, and many other reasons.
If I were to do Camino Frances the third time, I would do 35-40km each day, try to sleep in small villages and enjoy the local cuisine. What about you?
Hope that helps you to plan your Camino!