Let’s not beat around the bush. Camino Agencies are useless and harmful. Try as they may, and as much as both their “plants” in Camino forums and they themselves want to make you believe to the contrary, there are little to no positives in hiring such an agency and many negatives.
There is nothing this agency can provide you, that is not readily available on or before your Camino. Do not forget: Spain and Portugal are extremely safe, modern, high-tech, countries. And neither country’s citizen are dumb. In 2023 about 600’000 pilgrims will walk the Way, each of them bringing money into the country. People would be stupid not to offer services to earn this money.
Luggage transport is simply organized every morning. Grab an envelope from the front desk, put 6€ into it, write the destination albergue on it, and leave it there. When you arrive in the early afternoon, your luggage is already there.
Booking a bed is equally easy. Most of the days it’s just a matter of walking and, upon arrival, finding an albergue to stay in. Albergues are rather non-bureaucratic affairs. Walk in, ask if a bed is free, pay 15€, put your backpack down (never on your bed, that’s a big no-no), and you have arrived. If you’re still worried about finding a place to sleep (don’t be), Booking.com lists most albergues. Open it, look for your day’s destination, book, done.
Eating is the same. You’re never (not once on the Francés and rarely elsewhere) farther than an hour’s walk from food, supermarkets, or bars.
Navigating the Camino is super easy. Not only are there those yellow arrows and scallop shells everywhere, you’re not alone. Nunca Caminaras Solo isn’t just the motto of Real Madrid, it’s been adopted into Camino lore. Even if you walk alone, you never have to be. Fellow pilgrims, hospitaleras and hospitaleros, the Guardia Civil police officers you see everywhere on the trail, even the old lady selling produce in a small town in the Meseta: they’re all better advisors than any Camino Agency can ever be. And they’re free.
Not to mention, it’s 2023. There are dozens of great Camino apps on the App Store. Some even allow you to book right from the app, all show you where water, cafés, and albergues are.
2. Harmful to YOU
Preplanned stages and albergues defeat any of the communal reasons for the Camino. Many walkers will walk “head down” but become social once they arrive at cafés and their final destination for the night. You might meet someone great in town A, but since you’re walking to B, and they’re going to C, that’s the end of your acquaintance. I recall one unfortunate memory, here, with K from New Zealand, whom we met a few days before, and who was booked into Rabanal de Camino, while our little Camino group walked on to Foncebaddón, five kilometers later. The reason was, that we wanted to enjoy the sunrise at the Cruz de Ferro, one of the most iconinc places and times on the Camino, for one member’s birthday. She could not join us, and until much later, in Santiago, we didn’t see her again.
And that’s not all. As I said, most walking will be “head down” or in small groups. Camino Agencies book single rooms in small hotels, since many albergues, even the ones with single rooms available, do not work with Agencies (you can see why, reading this). This means you’ll miss out on all communal dinners, all evenings with a guitar on the campfire, all spontaneous Flamenco parties. Or, in short, 95% of the community.
You’re also missing out on the “Camino feeling.” One of the great psychological effects of the modern Camino, often then “rebranded” as a spiritual experience, is the total erasure of all worries. You get up, drink cafe con leche, walk, shower, enjoy the evening, sleep, and repeat. No worries, whatsoever. That does things with your brain, pushing success stories of a day well completed, creating positive and long lasting emotions. Letting someone else, a faceless Camino Agency, have those successes for you, deprives you of massive psychological benefits of walking.
Finally, Agencies charge you a pretty penny over the cost of the Camino.
One Agency, by FAR not the most expensive, charges €468 for 35 days of luggage transfer to the next destination. If you were to send your backpack every day, that’d run you €210. A quarter of a thousand Euros spent on nothing. 250 crisp ones you could have spent on coffee, inviting your Camino friends to a bottle of wine, or staying one night in a Parador, a luxury hotel.
3. Harmful to the Camino
It begins with selling. To sell Camino services, those Agencies have to create a need and a way to fill this need. Until 2018, the web was colorful and amazing for anyone wishing to find out more about the Caminos. Today, thanks to search engine optimization and other shady business, Camino Agencies dominate the search results online. To make you REALLY want to book them, they also plant and pay stooges in forums who stoke fears of crime, lack of access to services, and other falsehoods.
Few Camino Agencies are based in Spain. The Agency with those expensive luggage transports, for example, is located in Ireland. All the overages you pay won’t benefit Spain or the Spanish economy.
Did you know? The “bed bugs” everyone is so afraid of, aren’t all that common on the Caminos de Santiago. At least not in albergues. That’s because albergues have protocols. Don’t put your backpack on your bed, don’t sleep in your street clothes, don’t use the bed without physical separation between you and anything that is owned by the albergue.
Instead, this “myth” was first spread by two Camino Agencies who paid people to post about bed bugs in forums and on Facebook. All in an effort to make those shit single occupancy rooms (that have a higher incidence of bed bugs) more palatable.
Now, let’s be clear and honest here: the Caminos are expensive for Spain. From trash and body waste removal all along the Ways, to signage, drinking water fountains, municipal albergues that operate at a loss, way and road maintenance, additional security forces needed, hospital and doctors visits, extractions by ambulance and helicopter, and more, Spain invests heavily in the Camino. It hopes to recoup this cost of hosting 600’000 pilgrims by your investments into the community and local commerce. Which most pilgrims do to the tune of €1500 for a full Francés (you’d pay up to €4000 in some of the cheaper Agency plans).
But most of this money stays outside of Spain if you book with an Agency.
Camino Agencies are harmful to you, the Camino and its feeling, and Spain. They provide nothing of service, other than a peace of mind in the face of issues they, themselves, create by placing stooges in forums and poisoning Google search results to make you feel like you need one.
There is nothing they offer that is not offered, cheaper and often much better with more flexibility, community, and “Camino spirit” on the Camino itself. Camino apps, your fellow pilgrims, the hospitaleros and hospitaleras, and many others are better, cheaper, and less selfish guides.
Camino Agencies depend on isolating you from the Camino. From the people on it, fellow pilgrims, and everyone else. By doing the easy stuff for you, like talking to hotels and getting you food, they ensure your dependency on them. When you arrive in Santiago, you’ll have never had the amazing experience of negotiating a bottom bed with a hospitalera, never sat and laughed and told stories at a communal meal, never spent an evening in an albergue’s backyard, singing and laughing.
And that’s what the Agency needs. Because once you had this experience, you’ll realize it’s easy to get things done on the Camino on your own, and you’ll miss the camaraderie and friendship. And that’d mean no more money for their Cayman accounts.
You’ll be racing from preset destination to preset destination, eating dinners and breakfasts and sometimes lunches where they send you, miss out on the albergue, communal, dinners and feeling, get ripped away from your walking companions because you’re booked in a hotel six kilometers the other way, and pay a hefty price for all this.
Don’t Camino Agency. Not even once.