Safety on the Camino de Santiago

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In the presentations I give on the Camino, I field many questions from women specifically, about safety on the Camino. While most of this advice is for women, I think men can benefit from it as well.  Let’s begin, shall we? 

**PLEASE NOTE: Trigger warning.  I will be sharing a couple of my experiences and while they are not overly traumatic for me, they may be considered sexually explicit for some.**

Is the Camino safe?

Yes. Absolutely. The Camino is as safe as any large American city, if not safer.

I’ve heard of some unsavory characters along the way.  Is this true?

Yes. Absolutely.  If you follow any of the Camino forums or other groups, you will hear stories of flashers, theft and sometimes assaults.  The Camino is not immune to criminal activity.  In some ways, it attracts it because these unsavory characters know pilgrims are more open while walking.

Have you ever felt unsafe on the Camino?

Yes and no.  On my first Camino, just outside of Cacabelos, I was sitting on a park bench when a young man sat down beside me and proceeded to play “pocket pool”.  While it weirded me out quite a bit, I casually finished my apple, ignored him, and continued walking with my trekking poles at the ready if he decided to follow me.  If I had had a cell phone with me, I would have called the Guarda Civil and had them deal with it. 

On my second Camino, just outside of Porto, I was walking along a boardwalk on the coast when I rounded a corner to see an older man with his pants at his ankles publicly masturbating next to a rather phallic monument, ironically.  It caught me off guard, but I actually just laughed, shook my head and continued walking.  Again, with my trekking poles at the ready if he decided to follow me.

Both places this happened, I was alone and not near anyone.  Of course, with the second instance, this could have happened to anyone walking the boardwalk that day.  I never felt I was at risk, but my “spidey senses” were definitely on high alert.

Aside from these two instances, I have always felt quite safe while walking on the Camino.  In 2012, I spent three days walking pretty much by myself in some really remote areas along the coast of Portugal.  I never felt like I was at risk for anything bad happening to me.  People were quite friendly when I encountered them.

What tips to you have for the solo female pilgrim?

  • Listen to your gut. If you feel like something is not right, it probably isn’t.  I’d rather be wrong than right in these instances.  In the first situation I encountered, my gut was telling me something was not right.  I looked over at the guy and sure enough, it was not right.  Never apologize for listening to your gut.
  • As you walk on the Camino you will be meeting some really cool people from all over the place.  You'll form your Camino "family" and start letting your guard down.  This is great!  Open yourself up and enjoy the experience.  By all means, share meals together and walk together.  Try not to let your guard down when it concerns your personal safety or the safety of your belongings.  Just be cautious about loaning money or letting someone watch your pack if it has your valuables in it. 
  • Theft and other types of small crime are on the rise in Spain, and especially on the Camino. The economy in Spain is really bad. They have a high unemployment rate and there has been an increase in reports of low-level crime from pilgrims walking the Camino Frances.  Figure out what your strategy is to keep your valuables from disappearing.  Mine was pretty simple.  I had a dry bag from Sea To Summit that was large enough for my money, passport, pilgrim credential, camera and any other stuff I didn’t want to disappear.  It worked great for me.
  • Before you leave, take a self-defense class.  Many local police departments offer them for free or for a very reasonable cost.  I took a short one before I left for my first Camino.  I really appreciated the experience and learning some ways to protect myself.  They spent a lot of time talking about listening to your gut, being aware of your surroundings, in addition to how to defend yourself against attacks.

I hope this post has helped you prepare for your walk on the Camino.  If you have walked the Camino before, what other advice do you have for female pilgrims?  If you are planning to walk the Camino, what other questions do you have about safety?