Braving the Camino de Santiago in a wheelchairBy Rebecca Brown -
Thinking about tackling the Camino De Santiago in a wheelchair can be daunting to say the least. And the truth is, it can definitely be a little tricky. The trails can be rocky, muddy or dirty, and getting through these obstacles can certainly be trying in a wheelchair. But that does not mean it is not possible! Many people from all over the world have completed the Camino, including amputees, parents with pushchairs, people well into their 80s and of course, people in wheelchairs. In fact, Justin Skeesuck even made a movie about his 800km wheelchair Camino with best friend Patrick Gray - “I’ll Push You”.
Planning in advance is the key to enjoying your Camino. To start with, you will need to plan which route you will take and find out what the conditions are like. This will help to prevent any nasty surprises along the way, such as rough terrain that you may struggle with. Two of the recommended routes for wheelchair users are the Camino Frances and the Camino de Levante.
Next, you’ll need to decide which time of year you want to visit. The best time to do the Camino is typically around late spring or early summer, so as to avoid the majority of the rain and mucky weather. You’ll also need to plan where you will stay, how long for and who you will travel with. Ideally you will have a buddy to support you along the way, especially if you’ve never done a Camino before, so it’s advisable to take at least one friend or family member with you. Some of those hills can be super tough!
Here are some top tips to keep in mind when preparing for your Camino…
Train in advance
Training beforehand will prepare you for what’s ahead and make the Camino trail a lot easier for you when you get there. Ensuring you’re in the best possible shape before heading off will lighten the load and leave you with more energy to enjoy the journey!
Make sure your wheelchair is Camino ready
Perhaps even consider getting all terrain tyres. Better grip = easier pushing.
Plan where you will stay
Along the Camino de Santiago, you’ll find a wide variety of accommodation options and of course, the bigger cities will have more choice than the smaller towns or rural areas. There are hostels, guest houses, hotels and more. Beds will fill up fast in the summer months so be sure to book ahead. Do keep in mind though that a lot of these accommodations are not yet wheelchair accessible (although this is slowly changing) so sites like Trip Advisor will be your best friend here for tips and advice. Planning your accommodation and confirming accessibility in advance is an excellent idea to avoid any unnecessary inconvenience or disruption upon arrival. Turning to agencies specialising in the Camino can also be of huge help – I booked my own solo Camino through this agency, and they were able to point out the trickiest parts of the route.
Check out the road and/or cycle routes
There will be certain parts of the Camino, sometimes stretching for many kilometres, which will be very difficult in a wheelchair. For these sections, you may need to use the road or cycle paths - it is a good idea to try to get a copy of the cycle guides for this reason. If you do end up on the roads, make sure to always be facing oncoming traffic and perhaps even consider getting a high visibility wheelchair bib or backpack to stay extra safe.
Schedule in a few extra days
Make sure to add in some extra days onto the end of your trip in case of any delays or difficulties you may run into. This will help to prevent you from having to cut your Camino short. It will also allow a bit of extra time to spend with any new friends you may make along the way!
Consider a luggage transfer service
There are many organisations that will pick up your luggage and drop it off at your next destination the same day, leaving you to enjoy your journey without heaving your bags around. With that in mind, you’ll probably still want to take a small backpack with you with all of your essentials such as water, food and sun screen. A little poncho in case of rain would be handy too!
Don’t skimp on food during your Camino, because you will definitely need the fuel! Pushing for so long each day will most likely tire you out and you need to make sure you’re replenishing all of your energy. Make sure you’ve always got a stash of snacks on hand such as fruit and nuts, and stock up whenever you have the opportunity. There are plenty of water fountains to fill up your water bottle along the way (free of charge), so don’t weigh yourself down with gallons of water.
Make time to explore the surrounding areas
This tip is not just for wheelchair-using pilgrims, but for everyone! The Camino runs through many beautiful cities and towns, so it’s well worth carving out some extra time during your trip to explore them. That could mean either staying an extra night in one particular place or planning your day so that you arrive in the next city in the afternoon.
Whichever route you decide to take, make sure you enjoy the ride. The Camino de Santiago is the journey of a lifetime which is sure to be filled with plenty of new experiences and challenges. Regardless of how you do it, completing part or the full length of the Camino is a huge achievement! Go at your own pace, do it your way, and most importantly: HAVE FUN!