How Long Does the Camino Primitivo Take?

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When my Camino Cuz and I began discussing the Camino Primitivo, I saw it described as an “11 day Camino.” I mentally tossed in a few travel days and decided, yeah – I can do a two week trip! It turns out that number is a bit idealistic (at least for us!).

Traveling

Steve Martin used to do a great bit about how to save a million dollars on your taxes. He begins his instructions with, “First, get a million dollars. Second . . . “ Sure! So – to walk the Camino, first get to Spain.

Assuming we aren’t going to swim or sail the Atlantic Ocean, we’re looking at a day-long flight (8-12 hours depending on point of origin). But that’s to Madrid and the Primitivo starts in Oviedo. A train ride from Madrid to Oviedo is practically going to add another day (5-6 hrs depending on time of day). Then, at the end, we have to get back to Madrid (8-10 hr train ride depending on time of day), and then fly home (add another day).

So a conservative estimate of travel time alone is four days. Overnight flights could mitigate this somewhat, but there is still getting to and from the airport and train stations to contend with.

Walking

The greatest difficulty with Camino travel planning is that a return date has to be chosen ahead of time. Given the high cost of “open tickets” (if they are available at all), this is a major consideration. That means carefully estimating walking times. Planning too idealistically could mean missing the flight home – but if plans are too conservative, they may exceed available vacation time or funds.

The route is about 320km (200 miles) long. So if you take the number of days you want to walk and divide it into 320, you can see how far you need to go (on average) each day to finish on time. Conversely, you can also figure how far you think you can walk each day and divide that into 320 to get your day count.

2 Weeks

I decided to see what it would take to walk the Primitivo given a total of two weeks. To get down to exactly 14 days, we’d have to walk the route in 9 days to allow for travel time. That’s an average of 35k/day.

Every day.

Over hills.

With backpacks.

Yikes! Even if we could physically keep up such a rate, there are stops to make, breaks to take, etc. Further, if we find ourselves requiring a rest day, we’d have to make up 35k over the remaining days which would mean 40k/day minimum.

No thanks.

2 1/2 Weeks

What if the concept of “two weeks” was stretched to include the weekend before or after the 14 days. And maybe we say that is a 3-day weekend? Yeah, that’s totally legit. So 17 days total which is 13 days of walking. That would require 25k/day – not a bad average, but if we take even one short / rest day, we’re back to nearly 30k/day to make it up.

At least one short day is likely. Even my guide which includes numerous 30k days has one day at a mere 16k because of that day’s elevation gain (on a route that is already famous for elevation gain!). And while I might have once waved off the need for a rest day, after my rough 16k, I think allowing for the possibility is wise.

While two and a half weeks is totally doable under good conditions, we don’t want to wake up every day in fear of any little thing going wrong.

3 Weeks

If we say a 20k/day average is a realistic goal, then the Primitivo would take 16 days. My two longest day hikes so far have been a 24km relatively flat walk and a 20km quad buster. I finished both with energy left over, but on both I was pretty sore the next day. We have a year of training ahead of us, so we’ll likely be able to keep this pace by then.

Add in travel time plus a possible rest day and that’s exactly three weeks to walk this “11 day Camino.”

Conclusion

Realistically, even though the Primitivo isn’t nearly the 800km Frances, it’s still very far to walk (and, from what I hear, more difficult). We also need to fly across an ocean twice and jump a few trains on top of that. It’s a big commitment no matter what!

After discussion with family and factoring in various personal issues and goals with my Camino Cuz, we’ve decided we’re going to make 3 weeks our goal. This is not a trip we can afford to screw up, but it’s also one we don’t want to stress over and we don’t want to feel like we’re in a race. It’s worth a few extra days to do it right.

So we’ll hope for luck on travel and maybe pick up a few extra kilos/day once we get going. If so, maybe we take a short / rest day – or, if we really knock it out quickly, add a side trip to Finisterra or Valença. If not, we can still walk our Camino relatively unstressed.

Now to decide the exact dates . . .

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