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Camino Tour Companies - Things to Check?

Camino(s) past & future
CF SJPdP to SdC
(May 2015)
CF Sarria to SdC
(May 2016)
CF SJPDP-SdC
(Apr/May 2018)
VdlP (2020)
#1
There are often questions on the forum about whether it is a good idea for new Pilgrims to make use of a tour company, or which company to use.

These questions are usually met with a barrage of concerned replies saying that is is not necessary to use a tour company for 101 different reasons.

But for some people, for whatever reasons valid for them, they want to use a tour company. Fair enough.

I would just urge a degree of caution and suggest some things to ask.

No, I have not used a tour company. But I have met and walked with many people who have, over 3 Caminos on the CF.

Before you ask, most said they would ‘go it alone’ next time, though they liked the ‘safety factor’ of a tour company first time around. By that I mean less stress in all the planning and knowing that everything was organized for them.

I’d just like to relate a recent story, as it might prompt those seeking the services of a tour company, to probe a little deeper, ensuring their expectations are met.

I will change names, ages and countries to protect the innocent. ;);)

We met ‘Mary’ last month walking the CF. We and she were walking the CF from St Jean.

Mary is 71 years old, a Grandmother and lives outside Europe. She has not travelled extensively before and liked the idea of having everything organized. It also put her kids at ease a bit.

We met Mary about 1/3 of the way along the CF. We ate together a few times, walked together a bit and saw each other off and on for at least another 1/3 of the journey. We became Camino buddies for a while. Mary was great company.

Mary had used the services of a very well known Camino tour company.

When we met her she was very stressed, very tired, had blisters and seemed to be worried about being able to complete the journey. Here are a few snippets of what she shared.

The trip was basically based on the Brierley stages, with some very long stages thrown in (for her). (And they would be for me too)
For example, in the final 100 km she had a stage of over 30kms. She admitted there is no way she can walk that far. (And she is fairly fit)
Many of her accomodation bookings were ‘off Camino’ for some reason. Often with obscure instructions. Go into this Bar, ask for X, they will sort you out.
Or, call this number, and they will send a taxi to pick you up. At one stage she was in tears in the back of a taxi as some ‘stranger’ was driving her off into the night to who knows where down a country road.... (away from the village she was expecting to stay in)
She complained to the company, and they just suggested catching taxis, if the stages were too long.
She did not speak Spanish, and yet was expected to frequently make calls to her accomodation to arrange pick ups etc.
Thankfully she fell in with some other Pilgrims who helped her out, and was able to settle down and enjoy her Camino, but was constantly seething about her tour company and the unhelpful advice they were giving.
In the end, she rose above it, an arrived in Santiago a week ahead of us. We couldn’t keep up with her schedule......


So why do I relate this story? Not to say ‘Don’t use Tour Companies’. No. For some people they might well be a good option.

But if you are going to use one, I would certainly be telling them these things:

My age and fitness level.
My comfortable stage length.
That I wanted my accomodation to be ‘on Camino’. There is no reason for it not to be.
That if I am expected sometimes to fend for myself, on the phone, in Spanish, tell me now!
Though I would expect a direct number 24/7 to the tour company, for them to do this. What am I paying for?
And am I just buying a ‘standard’ package or will this be tailored to my needs?

And of course, her stages and accomodation were all planned and booked in advance, with no days off. That is very hard to maintain.....

On the flip side, we met a lovely New Zealand couple, who were also using a tour company. They must have clearly specified their requirements. Because they were taking 45 days to do the CF, with lots of days off for sightseeing and were turning up in all the really cool places to stay ;)

So maybe shop around. Ask a few specific questions around your needs, and see which one seems to listen!
 
Last edited:

MikeyC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF - September 2016
CF - April May 2017
Shikoku - October 2017
Kumano Kodo - October 2017
#2
I echo your experience. We met a couple in their 70s who were walking stages of 30kms plus. This was to fit in with the tour company schedule and booked accommodation and seemed to take little heed of their needs as customers. They wanted to reduce their distances and have a rest day but the earliest rest day was only programmed for Burgos, several days walk away. As you say, make sure the package meets your needs by researching and asking the right questions. We'll stick to doing things independently in our own way but appreciate it's not for everyone.
 
Camino(s) past & future
CF Spring 2016
CF Autumn 2017
VDLP Spring 2020
#4
I have used a tour company twice who booked hotels for me along the Camino Frances. I agree that good communication is key, and when I was trying to figure out which company to use for my first Camino, the initial e-mail communications allowed me to very quickly narrow the search to two companies, of which I picked one (turns out the two used to be one company, and thus had the same high standard of customer service). We discussed and negotiated the itinerary through a long series of e-mail messages - looking back, their advice was very good as everyone on their staff had walked the Camino Frances at least once.

My experience was that most of the stages did follow the Brierly Guide, but not always. Only twice were my accommodations "off the Camino." Once was to a really quaint B&B/farmhouse near Hornillos where one of the scenes in "The Way" was filmed or the crew stayed there. The other was to Molino Galochas at Villavante, but this is actually on the Camino path, just outside of the town. The only long stages were those that I insisted on in the itinerary negotiations.

Throughout my walking, I shared meals and spent time with pilgrims staying in albergues; I never felt isolated or excluded [but I am a pretty out-going person]. And, I met some of the same people staying in hotels as well.

The challenge in using a tour company as well as booking accommodations in advance is that if there are changes in the situation, the tour company or you will have to change many reservations, and the tour company may not be willing to do that. Again, good communication is key. And building in rest days is also key - as most people on this forum know, rest days are good in places like Burgos, Leon, or Astorga to not only rest, but explore and enjoy the city. [I spent 6 or more hours in the Cathedral in Burgos on my rest day the first time and saw more of it the second time.]

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a tour company, just as with many things in life. Good communication is a key factor to success in many endeavors, and the same is true here. Would I use the same tour company again, Yes! I had a very good experience with them both times.

Buen Camino!
--jim--
 
Camino(s) past & future
SJPDP-Finisterre X 2, El Norte incompleto
#5
There are often questions on the forum about whether it is a good idea for new Pilgrims to make use of a tour company, or which company to use.

These questions are usually met with a barrage of concerned replies saying that is is not necessary to use a tour company for 101 different reasons.

But for some people, for whatever reasons valid for them, they want to use a tour company. Fair enough.

I would just urge a degree of caution and suggest some things to ask.

No, I have not used a tour company. But I have met and walked with many people who have, over 3 Caminos on the CF.

Before you ask, most said they would ‘go it alone’ next time, though they liked the ‘safety factor’ of a tour company first time around. By that I mean less stress in all the planning and knowing that everything was organized for them.

I’d just like to relate a recent story, as it might prompt those seeking the services of a tour company, to probe a little deeper, ensuring their expectations are met.

I will change names, ages and countries to protect the innocent. ;);)

We met ‘Mary’ last month walking the CF. We and she were walking the CF from St Jean.

Mary is 71 years old, a Grandmother and lives outside Europe. She has not travelled extensively before and liked the idea of having everything organized. It also put her kids at ease a bit.

We met Mary about 1/3 of the way along the CF. We ate together a few times, walked together a bit and saw each other off and on for at least another 1/3 of the journey. We became Camino buddies for a while. Mary was great company.

Mary had used the services of a very well known Camino tour company.

When we met her she was very stressed, very tired, had blisters and seemed to be worried about being able to complete the journey. Here are a few snippets of what she shared.

The trip was basically based on the Brierley stages, with some very long stages thrown in (for her). (And they would be for me too)
For example, in the final 100 km she had a stage of over 30kms. She admitted there is no way she can walk that far. (And she is fairly fit)
Many of her accomodation bookings were ‘off Camino’ for some reason. Often with obscure instructions. Go into this Bar, ask for X, they will sort you out.
Or, call this number, and they will send a taxi to pick you up. At one stage she was in tears in the back of a taxi as some ‘stranger’ was driving her off into the night to who knows where down a country road.... (away from the village she was expecting to stay in)
She complained to the company, and they just suggested catching taxis, if the stages were too long.
She did not speak Spanish, and yet was expected to frequently make calls to her accomodation to arrange pick ups etc.
Thankfully she fell in with some other Pilgrims who helped her out, and was able to settle down and enjoy her Camino, but was constantly seething about her tour company and the unhelpful advice they were giving.
In the end, she rose above it, an arrived in Santiago a week ahead of us. We couldn’t keep up with her schedule......


So why do I relate this story? Not to say ‘Don’t use Tour Companies’. No. For some people they might well be a good option.

But if you are going to use one, I would certainly be telling them these things:

My age and fitness level.
My comfortable stage length.
That I wanted my accomodation to be ‘on Camino’. There is no reason for it not to be.
That if I am expected sometimes to fend for myself, on the phone, in Spanish, tell me now!
Though I would expect a direct number 24/7 to the tour company, for them to do this. What am I paying for?
And am I just buying a ‘standard’ package or will this be tailored to my needs?

And of course, her stages and accomodation were all planned and booked in advance, with no days off. That is very hard to maintain.....

On the flip side, we met a lovely New Zealand couple, who were also using a tour company. They must have clearly specified their requirements. Because they were taking 45 days to do the CF, with lots of days off for sightseeing and were turning up in all the really cool places to stay ;)

So maybe shop around. Ask a few specific questions around your needs, and see which one seems to listen!
It sounds like that woman's tour company caused more problems than it solved!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (SJPdP-Burgos, 2015)
Camino Frances (Burgos-Sarria, 2018)
Sarria-Santiago (Oct. 2018)
#6
Really good suggestions and stories, @Robo and @JimGeier. Especially the advice to find an agent who has walked the Camino, from an agency where everyone has walked the Camino. And then make sure your trip is custom-made.

As a former travel agent, I will be the first to say that, no, travel agents generally don't have to have gone where you are going to set up the perfect trip for you. In fact they probably haven't and often don't need to.

But the Camino is a unique experience. And it involves a lot of demanding physical endurance, which very few agent-booked trips of any kind do, including adventure travel. I think one of the first things we all learn is that one size doesn't fit all. "Walk your own Camino" is repeated ad naseum for a reason. :D

Many people use companies very successfully. Others have problems. Some like Robo's friend, manage to rise above them.

But I've read so many posts, especially on the various Facebook pages, where people seem to be a bit overwhelmed by what's before them and figure a travel agency will straighten it all out. Not necessarily. Not even from those who specialize in Camino trips, as the stories above attest.

Do some research ahead of time. Have an idea how far you can walk each day, or how far you want to walk each day. This is critical. Is there someplace in particular you'd like to spend an extra day? A cathedral city? A mountain village? Tell the agent. Ask questions, answer questions, make sure what you're getting is custom-tailored for you. But be sure you do your part.

And if any of this is a problem for the agent, find a new agent.

If an agency is the way you decide to go, there are good ones out there who can make it all happen for you. I'll repeat what others will repeat and have said before. For most people, there's no need to use an agency. But if that's what you choose, choose wisely, be pro-active, and then go out and enjoy.
 

Anamiri

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
#7
I met an American woman at Hornillos, who had gone through a tour company, but wouldn't again.
She fell in with some people whose company she enjoyed, and spend a lot of time taxiing around to keep in contact with them. Luckily they were all roughly following Brierly stages.
They were more spontaneous with their walking, which she found she enjoyed, but was bound to already booked accommodation, not necessarily in the same places or towns.
She was also under the impression before she went that bag transport was available only through tour organizers, and was surprised to find how easy it really was. I have seen tour company adverts which suggest that as well.
When she got to Northern Spain and commenced her Camino she found it easier than she expected, and said she would have been able to do it by herself. She went through a company because she lacked the confidence to just jump on a plane and go. But having done it once, she would go again by herself - maybe other people do that as well.

I also think until you have actually walked a Camino, it would be hard to give a travel agent the right information about yourself.
I have had people assure me they are quite fit, and then I've seen them break down 4 hours into an eight hour walk. So people's assessment of their own capability can be unreliable, people over or underestimate, and don't always take the terrain into consideration.
If they haven't been to Northern Spain, they dont have an idea of the weather conditions, how the heat or cold of the season might effect them. If they haven't done too much walking they may not know about getting sore feet. legs or blisters either, and could be forced to push ahead too fast and fast for their capability. With painful feet 30 kms is a long way (or even 20kms), and having to take taxis could become quite expensive, and you would miss out chunks of the walk. If finishing in entirety (walking every step) is important, being forced to taxi to stay on track would prevent that..
And without actually staying in an albergue, it could be difficult to understand the benefits (socially and financially) of staying in one. I did not expect to enjoy the albergue life and was surprised to find that I did.
On my first Camino we made friends at Roncesvalles who became our Camino family. We had some younger people in our Camino family who were on a tight budget, so we stayed in albergues in order to stay with them. I really enjoyed it, and feel that helped to make connections with other pilgrims, and i learned so much about the Camino and Spain from the chat around the albergues.
If the tour organisers follow the Brierly stages, you would miss out on the other places, I enjoyed staying in the smaller towns. The spontaneity of getting to a place, liking it, and finding a bed isnt possible.

I also found that if you dont speak Spanish, being on your own is harder. I learnt some Spanish from my Camino family - I am very grateful for them.
 

cathn

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Completed one 550 Miile and six partial caminos
#8
There are often questions on the forum about whether it is a good idea for new Pilgrims to make use of a tour company, or which company to use.

These questions are usually met with a barrage of concerned replies saying that is is not necessary to use a tour company for 101 different reasons.

But for some people, for whatever reasons valid for them, they want to use a tour company. Fair enough.

I would just urge a degree of caution and suggest some things to ask.

No, I have not used a tour company. But I have met and walked with many people who have, over 3 Caminos on the CF.

Before you ask, most said they would ‘go it alone’ next time, though they liked the ‘safety factor’ of a tour company first time around. By that I mean less stress in all the planning and knowing that everything was organized for them.

I’d just like to relate a recent story, as it might prompt those seeking the services of a tour company, to probe a little deeper, ensuring their expectations are met.

I will change names, ages and countries to protect the innocent. ;);)

We met ‘Mary’ last month walking the CF. We and she were walking the CF from St Jean.

Mary is 71 years old, a Grandmother and lives outside Europe. She has not travelled extensively before and liked the idea of having everything organized. It also put her kids at ease a bit.

We met Mary about 1/3 of the way along the CF. We ate together a few times, walked together a bit and saw each other off and on for at least another 1/3 of the journey. We became Camino buddies for a while. Mary was great company.

Mary had used the services of a very well known Camino tour company.

When we met her she was very stressed, very tired, had blisters and seemed to be worried about being able to complete the journey. Here are a few snippets of what she shared.

The trip was basically based on the Brierley stages, with some very long stages thrown in (for her). (And they would be for me too)
For example, in the final 100 km she had a stage of over 30kms. She admitted there is no way she can walk that far. (And she is fairly fit)
Many of her accomodation bookings were ‘off Camino’ for some reason. Often with obscure instructions. Go into this Bar, ask for X, they will sort you out.
Or, call this number, and they will send a taxi to pick you up. At one stage she was in tears in the back of a taxi as some ‘stranger’ was driving her off into the night to who knows where down a country road.... (away from the village she was expecting to stay in)
She complained to the company, and they just suggested catching taxis, if the stages were too long.
She did not speak Spanish, and yet was expected to frequently make calls to her accomodation to arrange pick ups etc.
Thankfully she fell in with some other Pilgrims who helped her out, and was able to settle down and enjoy her Camino, but was constantly seething about her tour company and the unhelpful advice they were giving.
In the end, she rose above it, an arrived in Santiago a week ahead of us. We couldn’t keep up with her schedule......


So why do I relate this story? Not to say ‘Don’t use Tour Companies’. No. For some people they might well be a good option.

But if you are going to use one, I would certainly be telling them these things:

My age and fitness level.
My comfortable stage length.
That I wanted my accomodation to be ‘on Camino’. There is no reason for it not to be.
That if I am expected sometimes to fend for myself, on the phone, in Spanish, tell me now!
Though I would expect a direct number 24/7 to the tour company, for them to do this. What am I paying for?
And am I just buying a ‘standard’ package or will this be tailored to my needs?

And of course, her stages and accomodation were all planned and booked in advance, with no days off. That is very hard to maintain.....

On the flip side, we met a lovely New Zealand couple, who were also using a tour company. They must have clearly specified their requirements. Because they were taking 45 days to do the CF, with lots of days off for sightseeing and were turning up in all the really cool places to stay ;)

So maybe shop around. Ask a few specific questions around your needs, and see which one seems to listen!
There’s are good Spanish companies who KNOW the Camino and will customise a tour for you.
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese.
#9
Yes, I’ve also met several very unhappy customers of tour companies, for the same reasons as mentioned above - no regard for variations in ability, inflexible, off Camino accommodation, and expense - particularly galling when customers also have to pay for taxis.

I understand why first-timers or very busy people take the tour company option. They don’t realise or believe how easy it is to do it oneself. Probably less involved than doing the research needed to find the right tour company!
 

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