Is the Camino de Santiago Safe for Women Walking Alone?

Memorial Shell for Camino Walker Denise Thiem

Wendy Bumgardner

Over 250,000 people per year walk the Camino de Santiago. Since the murder of American pilgrim Denise Thiem in 2015, many walkers wonder if it is safe to walk it alone, as she and many other women do.

Why the Camino Is Safe to Walk Solo

"Go solo" is common advice from those who previously walked the Camino, even for women, who make up almost half of those completing the Camino. Violent crime against pilgrim walkers is extraordinarily rare. While pilgrims will keep Denise and her family in mind and walk in her memory, hers was an isolated case.

It is rare for a pilgrim to be out of sight of others on the most popular sections during the spring through early autumn months during the usual walking hours. In the case of an emergency, it is likely that other pilgrims will be passing by within a minute or two to assist you. Criminals naturally steer clear of well-traveled paths. There is also excellent mobile phone coverage on the Camino to call for help.

There is a deep spirit of camaraderie on the Camino. Pilgrims greet each other with "Buen Camino" as they pass. They stop whenever someone appears to need help of any kind, from taking a picture to crossing a stream. This is something you may not experience back home.

The local people take pride in providing a safe and supported walking experience for the pilgrims. They have 1,000 years of tradition of supporting pilgrims on the Camino. From a purely commercial standpoint, Camino tourism is a major source of revenue in the towns on the Camino, an incentive to keep it safe.

It is unlikely you will walk solo for long unless you choose to do so. It is natural to meet other walkers at breakfast or dinner and form a "Camino family." Even if you prefer to be solo while walking, you will build friendships at meals and lodgings.

Precautions for Walking the Camino Solo

You should use these safety measures whenever you walk solo (at home or abroad):

  • Be prepared. Equip yourself for the real and common dangers of walking the Camino—blisters, dehydration, and traffic accidents.
  • Carry a cell phone. Make sure you have it charged to use for emergencies.
  • Carry a walking stick or trekking poles. These are popular for stability, but they also make you less of an easy target. You may want to practice using them for self-defense.
  • Check in regularly. Provide updates to a trusted contact, by phone, text, or the internet (WiFi is widely available on the Camino).
  • Head out with the herd. Note when others are leaving to start walking and make that your habit as well.
  • Report any crimes. Be mindful of suspicious people or incidents and report them to the police. The police need to know about these incidents in order to stop them. Take photos to share with the police.
  • Tag along. Ask other pilgrims if you can travel with them if you feel uneasy or unsafe at any time. You may want to wait at a bar or cafe on the trail to join with others there.
  • Train consistently before the Camino. Get in shape to walk hills and long distances without difficulty. This can keep you from falling behind and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Unplug while walking. Don't wear headphones and put away the screens and phone. Be aware of what is going on around you.

Choose a Well-Traveled Route for a Solo Camino

If you are walking off-season (late fall through early spring), there will be fewer pilgrims walking, and you may wish to walk when the route is more populated. There are fewer pilgrims on routes other than the Camino Frances, and fewer who cross the Meseta on the Camino Frances.

Check the monthly statistics from the Cathedral de Santiago to see what the expected volume of pilgrims will be coming from various starting points. If you worry about solo safety, recruit a companion or join a group walking the Camino.

Don't Let Fear Stop You

Pilgrims grieve the loss of Denise Thiem, and you will see memorials for her along the Camino. But don't let a rare but horrible tragedy keep you from your pilgrimage. Instead, walk in her memory.

If you wish to find someone to walk with you, try joining the Facebook Group Buddy System for Women on the Camino. Another good option is to join a guided or supported group walking the Camino.

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Article Sources
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  2. American Council on Exercise. Training for the trails: tips and exercises to prepare your clients for hiking. November 2016.

  3. Cathedral de Santiago. Statistics.