Camino Pilgrims Come from Many Nations

Fig. 1 - All nationalities who received compostelas -- the Spaniards are by far the greatest numbers.

Here’s the last of my installments on the Cathedral of Santiago’s pilgrim statistics. As you will recall, the Cathedral publishes online stats about pilgrims who’ve received their compostelas during the prior month. The statistics includes some revealing details. The chart in Fig. 1 shows the percentage of Spanish pilgrims each year since 2005. In most years Spaniards comprise more than 45% of all pilgrims. In the Holy Year of 2010 this number increased to over 60%, while pushing down the percentage of non-Spaniards who walked that year. The next highest group is “Other” (not listed on the legend) which comprises a variety of the less-than 10 ten nationalities. The largest single nationality below that is Germans.

Fig. 2 - Non-Spanish nationalities. "Other" is the largest percentage, with Germans the largest single non-Spanish nationality.

Fig. 2 spells out the non-Spanish numbers a little better. “Other” is still the largest group, meaning these nationalities include too many individual countries to make the top groupings, but countries when combined equal a large percentage. The largest groupings of these nationalities are from Japan, Korea, Australia, Mexico, Poland, and Belgium.

The largest single non-Spanish nationality represented on the camino is German. In fact, the top four non-Spanish nationalities are pretty clear in the stats — Germany, Italy, France and Portugal, in that order. Well below these nationalities are a third tier: USA, UK, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, and Holland. So the profile of the “average” pilgrim is pretty much a Western European, with folk from other continents a much smaller percentage of the total.

Not shown is another interesting stat: Spanish pilgrims flood the camino in July and August, when they comprise roughly 2/3 of all pilgrims. The percentages of non-Spanish pilgrims, particularly German, nearly double in the shoulder months of May/June and September/October.

2012 Brings Increase in Pilgrims to Santiago

In response to a question on the Camino Forum I help moderate I dug into statistics at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela’s website to see if the Spanish economic crisis is affecting the quantity of pilgrims heading to Santiago. Surprise! The numbers are actually up — and pretty dramatically.

Pilgrim boots at the albergue in Najera

So far this year 5,441 pilgrims have received their compostelas in Santiago, compared to 4,493 in the same months in 2011. This follows the general increase of the last decades in which interest in the Camino de Santiago has grown each year. A 20% increase is a pretty big number.

Still, the numbers are smaller than in the first three months of the Holy Year of 2010, in which 8,691 pilgrims received their compostelas. However, at a 20% annual increase that number will soon be matched. Clearly the Camino de Santiago is on a big upswing as more and more pilgrims find something special in their journeys to the bones of Santiago.

June 16, 2011 Santiago Rest Day

Occupy Santiago tents set up in Plaza Obradoiro

Slept in late, then headed to Plaza Obradoiro to see pilgrims arrive. Heard joyful sounds of pilgrim family and turned around to see them arriving — Sebastian, Alex, Andreas, Catia, Annina, Nikki – many hugs, then led them to the cathedral office and on to mass. Attended mass together and locked arms after communion. Botafumeiro was spectacular. Mass full of joy — priest blessed us with thumb in cross on forehead. All very touching and a great liturgical close to our camino. Left the group so they could find their albergue and spent next couple of hours greeting incoming pilgrims including:

  • Roberto of Mexico — with wife and sister, staying at my hotel!
  • Natalie and Susan of Spokane
  • Christina and Meg Rayne of Boston
  • Addison and Alexa of Seattle
  • Joy and Joanne of Vancouver
  • many others.

Then nap at hotel room. Agreed that our pilgrim family would get together at 20:00 for dinner. Arranged to eat at same restaurant as last night with Luke and Gal.

Dinner with the family

Met our family plus 2 Germans — Eike and Simone — at restaurant. Andreas performed German Nazi/Swedish/Finn sketch to great effect. Poor food, but shots of house specialty afterward set everything right. Went out to street to hear Luke then Andreas play guitar and sing. It was awkward to sit in the middle of this pedestrian road, but no one wanted to say good. Finally said our goodbyes for last time, then off to bed to rest for tomorrow’s walk to Finisterre.

Pilgrim family in front of cathedral at Santiago. From left: Catia, Alex, Nikki, Andreas, author, Sebastian, Annina

May 27, 2011 Burgos to Rabe de las Calzadas


Nave of Burgos cathedral.

Short day. Stayed at Burgos to enjoy cathedral tour along with Monique. Spectacular. Definitely on eof the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. Left town about noon and walked 10 km to Rabe de las Calzadas. Stayed at lovely albergue along with Merila, Natalie, Susan and Monique. Great dinner of tortilla and good conversation. Getting the feeling afterward that Susan and Natalie no longer approve of me. Agree with Monique that I will go on ahead as I walked quite a bit faster.

June 12, 2008 Mansilla de las Mulas to León

Today I learned why many people suggest taking the bus into Leon. The long walk through suburban/exurban estates sucked the life out of the spirit, but as León became more dense the city started to breathe. On entering the old city it became clear León is a gem of Spain. Its walled city contains hidden plazas and winding streets full of restaurants, pubs and, at night, party-goers. The center of it all is the cathedral, which on Saturday overflows with brides and grooms readying themselves for the wedding vows. I could tell I would love this place.

I found my hotel, the Posada Regia, and then sat at a table on the Calle Ancha, where I discovered a great vantage point for pilgrim-watching. One after another I saw pilgrim friends and acquaintances walk by and share  waves, hugs, and “buen caminos.” Stefan called to say he’d like to meet me here to tour me through the nightlife of the town, so I prepared for an extra day for rest and to gather strength for a party night with Stefan. I hung out through the day with Maria Paluselli of California and scouted out a masseuse to ease our tired muscles and relaxed next to the constant stream of pilgrims on Calle Ancha.

Next day: I visited the cathedral and the church of St. Isadore, along with many of the nooks and crannies of the old city. In the evening I met Stefan, greeting the one remnant of my original camino family with many hugs, stories and laughter. Stefan is a force of nature and one just has to try to keep one’s footing while being around him. He’s full of ideas, muscular charm, an eye for pretty girls and the South African equivalent of the gift of Blarney. We headed out for a night of great food, great conversation, and several types of the mysterious liquor absinthe, a curiosity of mine that at the time could not be sold in America. Thanks to the persistence of Stefan, who after much searching and much sampling, found this rare liquor at one tiny bar that didn’t open until after midnight.

By 1:00 a.m. I had had my quota of 4 drinks in one day, so I carefully and a little nauseously walked back to the hotel and dropped on the bed to get some sleep in advance of a long walk tomorrow to Hospital de Orbigo. It was great to see Stefan and I had a blast with him in one of the true “party nights” of my straight-laced life.