A Friend on the Caminoa helping hand on the camino frances
The Camino is extremely safe. There is very little violent crime or theft. Despite what you may hear on forums, it is very unusual to be harassed or accosted by anyone. When reading about incidents of crime, accidents, injury, or death on the Camino, you have to remember that 300,000 or so people walk the Camino for 30 days each every year. For a certain percentage of people, they would have encountered difficulties in their home towns, and for many many people, the percentage encountering difficulty on the Camino is less than those who would encounter problems at home.
Put simply: Spain is safer than America and just as safe as most other western countries.
So what is dangerous and what can you do about it?
Well, if you are looking at percentages, you are most likely to be hit by a car (as a major injury, this isn’t counting blisters no matter how horrible they are!). So if you’re walking at night, have a little pin light on you and/or reflective tape. I recommend reflective tape at all times of the year – it works well in foggy or rainy weather too and weighs almost nothing! Be careful when you are walking on the road. Don’t be silly and take a shortcut along the side of a highway – it’s NOT worth the risk of getting hit. If you are walking along the side of a road, don’t wear headphones. Pay attention!
Police tape by the side of the Camino a day after Denise Thiem’s body was found
Obviously the Camino used to be MUCH more deadly!
I’ve heard stories of people on the Camino being attacked by dogs. This is one real advantage of using walking poles. The poles can be used to ward off and intimidate dogs. I was once “attacked” by a yappy little dog that got free from it’s leash. All I had to do was wave my sticks around vigorously as if I was going to hit the dog. The owner dashed out and retrieved the dog and I wasn’t even touched. If you aren’t a ‘stick person’ then I recommend a whistle or a personal alarm (make sure you have it visible and accessible at all times). Loud high-pitched sounds aren’t something that dogs like and it may cause them to back off long enough for you to get away. Needless to say, if you have been bitten by a dog, seek medical attention. Apparently it only takes one rabies shot nowadays and treatment is much less painful than it used to be.
You are most likely to be attacked by someone you know. That is true on and off the Camino. I’d recommend being polite, avoiding large quantities of alcohol and people who drink them. I’d remind you that you are far more likely to be assaulted by a ‘friend’ on the Camino than a local. Be aware and cautious. Don’t be duped by con-artists — local or pilgrim. It goes without saying that you should contact the police if you are attacked.
Danger on the trail.
The Camino is very well maintained. Most of the trail is dirt track or pavement. But there are a few slightly tricky bits and in bad weather it’s possible to get lost and injured even when walking on pavement. I highly recommend carrying a light and a whistle. When it’s dark, use a bright headlamp (but ONLY OUTDOORS). If you have something to wear that is brightly coloured that is also advantageous.
Along much of the trail, even outside of towns, there is some mobile phone signal (especially if you have a national Spanish carrier). You can often call for help with a mobile phone. Your phone may also have an emergency signal feature. If you press certain buttons it will send an automatic message, GPS coordinates and a photo to an emergency contact that you have previously designated [Instructions for iPhone |Samsung]. Just make sure not to send out a message by mistake!
Of course, you are almost always only a few minutes in front or behind another pilgrim. Ask for help if you need it. If you are unsure of the way, wait for someone to catch up to you and confer with them. Two heads are (usually) better than one.
If you are really nervous, you can always use one of the satellite signal services that will put out an alarm with your GPS coordinates anywhere in the world. Personal Locator Beacons send out an emergency distress signal. But these are typically used in marine or wilderness situations and aren’t really appropriate for the Camino. Another option are Satellite Messengers. Services such as SPOT will send out messages of “ok” “help” etc or other short messages using satellites, no matter where you are in the world.
Even though I’ve been telling you all about the dangers you may face, please remember the Camino is VERY, VERY safe. But that doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen to you. Just like at home, you could fall over, get hit by a bus, meet an asshole with anger management problems. So definitely get health and travel insurance and remember the phone number for emergency services!
You never know what the conditions will be. Be prepared for inclement weather!