Who attends the Camino de Santiago classes and workshops? And why?

Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees: just inside Spain after leaving France

The writer has been presenting practical workshops and classes in Australia and New Zealand since 2007 for people wanting to independently walk the pilgrimage tracks of France and Spain.  After seven intensive hours from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm (lunch excluding), participants have a very clear understanding what they need to do in their preparation and training to achieve a successful outcome: being able to walk 800 km which is the distance from the French Pyrenees to northwestern Spain without serious injuries for about 30 to 35 days whilst having the best time of their lives and being physically challenged each day.

For the first two years (2007/08)  the classes were being hosted by an adult education institution in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

Since 2007, Marc Grossman has been collecting and analysing data from the 200 participants plus who have attended his Camino classes.  The collected data is proving to be a treasure trove for understanding why people in first world countries wish to undertake such a long, challenging walk across mountainous northern Spain.

First observation to make is that there are no significant differences in gender, motive(s), age and multiple linguistic skills or lack of them between New Zealanders and Australians apart from the Kiwi ‘culture of walking’ as demonstrated in their identity and traditions – proving the adage that we have more in common than we have differences.  And it can be confidently stated that the majority of Australians are Kiwi lovers too: we may figuratively fight them on all sporting fields around the world, but once a Kiwi and an Australian meet outside their respective countries, then they act like being long-lost brothers and sisters.

If you are neither a Kiwi nor an Aussie, it is hard to discern any obvious cultural differences between these two nationalities – apart from their distinct and different accents.  Nearly every Kiwi and Aussie understand and appreciate the subtle differences in the other.  This blog will not be about exploring those differences in detail.  The blog writer is interested in understanding why the same demographic profiles from both countries have such a great attraction to walking the pilgrimage routes of France and Spain.


When people register online to attend a Camino Downunder class and workshop, they can choose to fill in a number of details such as their age group:

  • 20s/30s;
  • 40s;
  • 50s;
  • 60s;
  • etc.

Fewer than 20 participants in more than 5 years of classes/workshops have indicated they were in their 20s and 30s.  Most indicate their age to be in their 40s, 50s or 60s.  The writer opines that their average age ranges from the mid 50s to the early 60s.  This is not to say that young Australians and New Zealanders do not walk the Camino de Santiago: they definitively do (but not in the same proportion as their European and North American peers).  It is simply that these young people generally speaking, think they know so much already, especially when it comes to walking and they believe that physical youthfulness is their insurance policy guaranteeing them success.  Empirical evidence on the Camino tracks, suggests the opposite.

It was observed time after time, that younger people because they started hard and fast, were the first to suffer calamitous injuries, had not done enough preparation, with too much or too little gear, including inappropriate gear and therefore, were the first to figuratively fall by the wayside.

And that is precisely why the famous Spanish saying carries so much weight in Spain:

Si quieres llegar a Santiago como un joven, empieza tu Camino como un viejo – If you wish to arrive in Santiago de Compostela like a young man, begin your pilgrimage like an old man


It is consistent: for each class in both countries between 60% to 70%  are females.    The rest, (naturally) are males.  The Archbishop’s Pilgrimage Office in Santiago de Compostela which issues the “Compostela” certificates  show with their statistics that 56% are men and 44% are women for the totality of all pilgrims on all the different Camino routes.  What is really interesting is to go to the Friends Office of the Camino de Santiago at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port called Les Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle Pyrénées-Atlantiques who state from their statistics that the majority of pilgrims in the age ranges of 20-29, 40-49 and 50-59 are women, without an actual number; but that pilgrims over 60 years of age;  most are men.

The writer is not suggesting that if you extrapolate that gender breakdown to the 1,500 + or –  per year of all Australians undertaking the Camino de Santiago are actually in that same proportion as in his classes.  However, it does suggest that more females from both Australia and New Zealand than males walk these pilgrimage tracks.  Why?  In the section below on motivation, there is some evidence to suggest that women from the Antipodes (from the land Down Under) are much more attracted to these undertakings than their male counterparts who are in that same age group.  Briefly, middle class females once their job of raising children has finished, look to doing something significant in their lives; whereas their male counterparts look to winding down on their commitments and active participation in mainstream society.

In other words: women are cranking up and looking outside the home (because they now have more freedom and fewer responsibilities) whilst men are beginning to be more house bound and not wander that far away from home.  It maybe that a significant number of Australian/New Zealand males after a lifetime of work and child raising support as the main breadwinner, love more their adult toys such as 4 x wheel drives, SUVs (sport utility vehicles), motorbikes, caravans, boats and backyard sheds than their curiosity to discover other cultures and history by leaving their comfort zones.

This gender imbalance of males and female has existed for many decades in foreign language classrooms in the secondary, tertiary and adult education sectors.  When foreign languages are taught in Australia as an elective/optional subject the female Australian student dominates.

Married women attending Camino Downunder classes and workshops who do not have a willing male partner wishing to share their passion will go solo, or choose to go with their mothers, sisters, daughters, a close female friend or a female colleague.  In other words, women with male partners who are strongly focused on their pilgrimage are not distracted by their non-walking male partners.


Majority of Australian attendees say they are not walkers, but all of them love walking.  When they indicate they are walkers, they say they frequently do ‘bush walks’ in the Australian bush which often includes camping out.  However, the majority of New Zealand attendees do indicate that they are walkers or using the Kiwi vernacular: ‘trampers‘.  This  IS one significant difference between Australians and New Zealanders.


Most Australians and New Zealanders begin in the small French Basque town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (population of 1,500) and where the regional railway line begins and ends.  The next most popular place to start, is just inside Spain at Roncesvalles, thereby avoiding crossing the challenging Pyrenees.


Most participants begin (80% approximately) their preparation as monolingual native English speakers: however, as a result of their journey and their experiences they begin to understand and use other languages.  On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, many begin to finally appreciate and use their schoolboy or schoolgirl French.


95% from the Antipodes avoid undertaking their pilgrimage/walk in June, July and August to avoid a perception of excessive summer heat and competition for accommodation in pilgrim hostels.  It is very, very rare indeed to ever meet a class participant who expresses the wish to go in summer.  Overcrowding is never a real issue in summer and then only the last 100 km from Santiago de Compostela in Sarria (Galicia) because young Spanish people during their summer holidays arrive in large groups and then, only the last 100 km to obtain the original Latin certificate of completion, called the Compostela.  The data collected at the St-Jean-Pied-de-Port Friends’ office clearly indicates this yearly cycle: significantly more start their pilgrimage in the second half of April and into May, dropping down in June, July and August and rising to nearly the same numbers as in Spring.  Springtime is the most popular season, followed by autumn.


Approximately 35% to 40%  of participants state they will go on their own.  Whether that actually happens is another matter.  As the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage track has a justifiable reputation for being very safe, including for women, pilgrim walkers may begin on their own and invariably start to walk with someone for some of the way and sometimes the whole way.  Even if you walk on your own, you are never lonely nor isolated.

And there is much to recommend people to walk on their own.  Paradoxically, you meet so many more people and you have so many more wonderful experiences by being solo or walking as a couple than being in a group of four or more.  Groups are exclusive whilst individuals and pairs are inclusive.  In the Camino Downunder classes, more women than men state they wish to walk on their own.


Four categories|

  • Religious and/or spiritual: non-material things; metaphysical; introspection; meditation and contemplation
  • Existential:  personal growth; celebratory (i.e. celebrating a milestone or retirement or in between jobs or half a century); matters of the self;  freedom of choice; time away and time out; less is more, serendipity
  • Physical challenge:  adventure, long distance walking on multi-day routes, journeying, socialization, character building – overcoming adversity; leaving one’s own comfort zones (culture, language, community, habits)
  • Culture and historytraditions and heritage: witnessing a unique built and natural environment; walking in and through the major architectural styles created in Europe; moving between cultures


  • Have friends who have done this walk and am inspired by the impact it has on them. We wish to challenge ourselves emotionally and physically and to see and visit a wonderful different culture at the same time.
  • Encompassing spirituality along with plenty of walking. Both of which appeal to me.
  • A retirement project to discover new meaning and purpose in life.
  • Religious pilgrimage
  • Religious reasons
  • Walking and spiritual experience
  • A challenge outside of anything we have ever done before. To experience a sense of history and culture (with my husband)
  • Love of Spanish countryside and walking with my husband.
  • History
  • To get closer as a couple
  • Freedom
  • Getting my mind away from everyday matters
  • It is there
  • A challenge (also) the challenge
  • Challenge, fitness, experience
  • Not sure, possibly to find myself
  • I don’t know. Just something I have to do.
  • Journey of discovery
  • Having read Paulo Coelho’s book: The Pilgrimage.  One of my dreams.
  • To be a pilgrim on my own
  • Using languages which I am familiar with
  • Significant physical, mental and spiritual experience and to celebrate becoming half a century old.
  • A personal challenge
  • The adventure and challenge
  • Walking is my hobby and love adventure
  • I have no religious motives. I think the challenge of enjoying the walk, and life, and meeting people along that journey would be exceptional.
  • Personal growth
  • Personal fulfillment
  • To escape from the day-to-day feeling of living each day determined by time, that is, the time to wake up,  time to have a break, time for this meeting or that meeting, time for lunch, time to finish work, time to catch the train, time to eat dinner, time to go to bed etc.
  • Inspired by a walking holiday and its existence as a walking trail for more than a thousand years
  • To take part in an ancient tradition and to explore my strengths.
  • Challenge of completing it
  • Walking the Camino has been a long-held dream of mine since reading Shirley MacLaine’s book The Camino in early 2000.
  • It has taken my imagination – sounds a wonderful thing to do.
  • The adventure and meeting new people
  • For personal, physical, mental and spiritual grounding
  • Desire for some time out to address health and fitness issues, a pleasure in walking and interest in the history of the region and the pilgrimage
  • A mix of spiritual, adventure, personal renewal


95% of all participants are interested or very interested in the foods of the regions where the Camino traverses.  If an army marches on its stomach, then every pilgrim-walker responds most positively to good quality food.  If you walk an average of 27km per day, the body demands good quality food and in sufficient quantities on a daily basis.

From non religious people to a Roman Catholic Archbishop have attended these Camino classes and workshops.

Satisfaction levels after attending a Camino Downunder class/workshop?  Very, very high and everyone is overwhelmed by the amount of information, knowledge, skills and insights gained and acquired.  Even for participants who have prepared independently for a number of years, always learn so much more.  No one ever leaves underwhelmed.

Whilst no guarantees can ever be given that if you attend such a course you are assured of a successful walking outcome: i.e. you will successfully walk into Santiago de Compostela after completing the 800 km on foot, you have nonetheless much diminished the odds against you in achieving that stated outcome.


The Pilgrim Hostel at Santo Domingo de la Calzada: 208 km from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and 574 km to Santiago de Compostela

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees where most Aussies & Kiwis begin



  1. […] Who attends the Camino de Santiago classes and workshops? And why? (caminodownunder.wordpress.com) […]

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