Is the Camino de Santiago Safe For Women Walking Alone?

Memorial Shell for Camino Walker Denise Thiem
Memorial Shell for Camino Walker Denise Thiem. Wendy Bumgardner &opy 2015

The Camino de Santiago was walked by over 240,000 people in 2015. Since the disappearance of American pilgrim Denise Thiem, many walkers wonder if it is safe to walk it alone as she and many other women do.

As the news broke of an arrest of a man suspected of murdering her, I was walking solo the most popular section of the Camino Frances, the last 110 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago. My friends who hadn't been aware of the case now were concerned.

In her memory, I am carrying a second shell with me to Santiago, where it will join others being collected for a memorial.

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, this is 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 any 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 excellent mobile phone coverage on the Camino.

There is a deep spirit of camaraderie on the Camino.

Pilgrims greet each other with "Buen Camino" as they pass. They will stop whenever someone appears to need help of any kind, from taking a picture to getting a hand as they cross 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 1000 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 the Camino 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

Carry a cell phone to use for emergencies.

Check in regularly with 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.

If you feel uneasy or unsafe at any time, ask other pilgrims if you can tag along with them. You may want to wait at a bar/cafe on the trail to join with others there.

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.

Unplug while walking - don't wear headphones and put away the screens and phone. Be aware of what is going on around you.

Report any crimes, suspicious people or incidents to the police. The police need to know of these incidents in order to stop them. Take photos to share with the police.

Train consistently before the Camino so you are in shape to walk hills and long distance without difficulty. This can keep you from falling behind and reduce the risk of injury.

Be prepared for the real and common dangers of walking the Camino - blisters, dehydration, and traffic accidents.

Choose a Route Well-Traveled 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 Fears Stop You

We grieve the loss of Denise Thiem. Walk in her memory, don't let a rare but horrible tragedy keep you from your pilgrimage.

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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