John Rafferty, living in Santiago de Compostela  and well  known to many Irish members, has sent us a report on the current situation on the Camino.

November 2020

The first thing to say is that the situation with respect to the response to the virus is changing frequently in Spain at the moment and often with short notice. Whilst the country’s borders remain open and international flights are arriving there are local restrictions on mobility throughout the country. As I write, all bars, cafeterias and restaurants are closed in Santiago, people who do not live in the same house cannot meet together and travel outside of the city boundaries is not permitted. As the rate of the spread of the infection drops these measures will be relaxed but can be introduced again very quickly.  

Just to give you a personal example, I left Santiago the day before the restrictions were introduced and arrived in Malaga the day before they were introduced here. Here it is slightly more relaxed with bars and restaurants open until 6pm!  Throughout all of Spain there is a curfew, here from 10pm to 6am. Travel outside the city is not permitted and yesterday police were stopping cars on the main road checking where they had come from and where they were going. Several times I’ve seen police issue on-the-spot fines for people not wearing facemasks.


I think that this period of local restrictions that cannot be predicted will continue for some time and so whilst the Camino is open, as is the country, I am advising pilgrims not to start unless they speak Spanish very well and have enough money to deal with any contingency. Many albergues are closed. 


The most recent restriction in Santiago directly affecting pilgrims is that only pilgrims who started their pilgrimage before the 30th of October can enter the city before going home. That means that numbers at the Pilgrims Office are dropping dramatically. My own view is that they will stay that way. Therefore, the Pilgrims’ Office is operating shorter hours. The office closes on Christmas Day in any event. During the two months strict lockdown of the country in March the Pilgrim Office had a system whereby pilgrims could deposit their credenciales, with name and address, in a box at the office and they subsequently posted them back with the Compostela. We think that the same system will be introduced if the office closes because pilgrim numbers dry up.

The cathedral has announced that the building will be ready for the Opening of the Holy Door on 31 December and that the Botafumeiro (with refurbished mechanism) will be used to celebrate the beginning of the Holy Year 2021.


As you know the Archbishop of Santiago has said that “in due course” he will decide whether to ask the Holy See to extend the Holy Year beyond 2021. Understandably the Regional and Local Governments very much support the proposal. Informed observers think that will happen and the extension will be to keep the Holy Door open until the Feast of Saint James 2022.  Whilst “asking the Holy See” sounds dramatic I am sure that there will already have been discussions and one phone call to the Papal Nuncio in Madrid will secure permission!


Finally, we should all be aware of the devastating economic effects of the pandemic on all of Spain. Clearly this will be mirrored on the Camino routes. When I walked the Camino Frances in October many of the little villages were like ghost towns, as if the life blood had been drained from them. Village shops had empty shelves and many little bars, effectively the social centre, had closed. Pre pandemic Spain’s economy was struggling to recover and remained fragile. Now unemployment is soaring and whilst banks and government are currently sympathetic to businesses loans will eventually have to be repaid. As one hostel owner said to me in Hornillos, “We don’t have a word for what is happening to our economy. Take the word “desastre” add it to the word “catástrofe” and multiply by 100 you will have an underestimation of what is going on.” Hard times.


However, we are all still standing and there are many more Caminos to walk when the time is right. We live to walk another day on another Way.


Please give my best regards to everyone.


The advice from Camino Society Ireland, bearing in mind not only this report from John but our own government guidelines, is not to travel.

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If you are contemplating walking the Camino: Talk to an experienced Pilgrim, one that you trust or is recommended to you by a friend. It’s much better to learn by others’ mistakes! And besides that there is a massive amount of information (and advice) to be found on the www. But beware: listen carefully, if you think you are getting bad advice, you probably are.

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