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Thread: Rules about "Wild Camping" on the Camino de Santiago

  1. #1 Rules about "Wild Camping" on the Camino de Santiago 
    Moderator HuskyNerd's Avatar
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    Do you want to camp while on the camino? There are private campgrounds on the camino, often just outside camino towns, where for a small fee campers can legally put up a tent and camp under the stars. Camping means adding a tent and other gear to your rucksack, so it's not necessarily recommended for the first-timer, plus the albergue system provides cheap accommodation with all the benefits of pilgrim camaraderie, which is perhaps the best part of the camino.

    Occasionally on this Forum a prospective pilgrim asks about rules for "Wild Camping" (wilderness camping without a permit) on the Camino de Santiago. After a request from a persistent U.S. pilgrim I researched Spanish law on wild camping on public and private property.

    By way of background, there are people in and outside Spain who believe that anyone should be able to camp anywhere at any time without any restrictions and that it is "inconvenient" to ask permission first. This thread is not directed to them -- they'll camp regardless of the legalities or risks or etiquette. This thread is intended for those who prefer to camp in a safe, legal and respectful manner. In my opinion, we pilgrims have an important responsibility to respect local laws and customs. Since we are guests in Spain and are participating in an activity that brings hundreds of thousands of people to that country what we do can make a significant impact, especially if others follow our example. As a result, we strongly recommend that pilgrims always ask permission before assuming their encampments are authorized.

    Here are some specific rules in relation to the various laws and jurisdictions, with a focus on wild camping on the Camino Frances:

    Private Property rules:
    The Spanish Civil Code, Title II, sections 350, 353, 388 grants full property rights to owners of property in Spain. This allows them to demarcate their property and enjoy the fruits of their land. The Spanish Penal Code, Title XIII, defines property rights in greater detail (241.3) and lays out the criminal penalties that can be levied to those who disregard them.

    In short, whether or not there is a "No Trespassing" sign, the property owner has the legal right to have campers evicted and prosecuted for trespass. Beyond mere etiquette, then, we recommend you ask permission of the property owner in order to ensure your safety and well-being.

    Various Laws in Multiple Layers of Jurisdictions Cover Camping on Public Property:
    Spain consists of 17 autonomous regions and its laws vary according to the specific region. Some proponents of wild camping in Spain naively cite a 1966 article in the Spanish constitution to support the argument that camping is free throughout Spain. Note, however, that 1966 was in the dictator Francisco Franco's era and that the Spanish Constitution was rewritten in 1978, a few years after his death. The new constitution granted wide autonomy to the various regions of Spain (remember, Spain has 5 official languages), so it is actually the laws of the autonomicas that are operative for camping.

    On the Camino Frances, pilgrims walk through four autonomous regions, each with its own rules. Here is a summary of each:

    • Navarra -- Restricted in regional law, potentially outlawed in municipal law. Regional law, found here (pdf), allows free camping, with certain important restrictions. No camping is allowed within 500 meters of the Camino de Santiago, for instance. Also camping is restricted near streams and riverbeds. Note, though, that this is regional law. The laws may very well be more strict at the local municipal (city/town/village) level. So, in addition to following regional law, make certain to contact local authorities.
    • La Rioja -- Outlawed by regional law. In this tiny region free camping on public land is prohibited (Article 87, Civil Code of La Rioja). No need to contact local authorities here.
    • Castilla y Leon -- Not addressed in regional law; outlawed in at least one diputacion and potentially outlawed in others. Pilgrims walking through this large autonomous region should recognize that they're also walking through the three smaller sub-regions ("diputaciones") of Burgos, Palencia and Leon. While there is no law outlawing wild camping in the autonomica of Castilla y Leon, each diputacion has authority to set its own rules. I recently contacted the Tourism Department of Palencia and was told "wild camping is not legal on public property in Palencia." This should also be assumed in the diputaciones of Burgos and Leon, but if there's any doubt, make certain to contact the local Office of Tourism.
    • Galicia -- Probably outlawed by regional law. Wild camping was outlawed throughout Galicia in the 1997 Tourism Act (Autonoma de Galicia, Ley 1997, Seccion 9.2.5.2). There is some discussion as to whether this was overruled by adoption of the 2008 Galician Tourism Act which does not specifically mention free camping. Most likely the result is that it is up to supervision by the individual diputaciones (Lugo and A Coruna) in Galicia, so again, make certain to contact the local Office of Tourism.


    Sometimes it's unclear whether a particular parcel of property is public or private land. To be fully legal a prospective camper must ask who the owner is and then ask permission in advance of camping. People who've camped without asking permission have often found Spaniards to be warm and welcoming, but the hospitality wears quite thin when it is abused my multiple people over many years. If you see a nice camping spot on farmland and are "sure" no one will notice or care, you are presuming that the farmer has not lost patience with wild campers and out of frustration will this time call the police and have you evicted. If the farmer is angry enough he/she could press charges and you may find yourself with a criminal case resulting in a fine or even jail -- not a great end to a delightful camino!

    Pilgrims are people who respect local laws and customs and consider ourselves beneficiaries of the hospitality of our local hosts. A true pilgrim doesn't force herself on the locals, but instead gets permission first, respects any conditions imposed by the owner (e.g. "no campfire" or "just one night" etc), offers reimbursement in the case of private property, and then leaves the campsite in the morning without a trace of her presence.

    If you don't speak Spanish well, here are some sample phrases to help you as you ask permission to camp:

    ¿Quién es el dueño de esta propiedad? (Who is the owner of this property?)
    ¿Es legal para acampar en propiedad pública? (Is it legal to camp on public property?)
    ¿Puedo acampar esta noche en su propiedad? (May I camp on your property tonight?)
    Prometo dejarlo en las mismas condiciones en que lo encontré. (I promise to leave it in the same condition I found it.)
    Last edited by HuskyNerd; 07-04-2013 at 03:03 PM.
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  2. #2 Is it possible to pitch a tent and camp along the route? 
    Junior Member cowboylou's Avatar
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    I would like to camp along the route for the most part and stop occasionaly to shower. Is this possible?
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  3. #3 Re: Rules about "Wild Camping" on the Camino de Santiago 
    Junior Member cowboylou's Avatar
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    Thank you for the helpful information. Trust me in that I would ask permission as I do in the US to hunt on some ones property. Looking forward to the pilgrimage and have yet to decide whether to camp along the way. I have extensive backpacking experience and feel I am capable to complete the trip, but am considering the attributes of the comradarie aspects with other pilgrims. I am a social person and would hope to meet many new people along the way.
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  4. #4 Re: Rules about "Wild Camping" on the Camino de Santiago 
    Senior Member highlander's Avatar
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    I have done three caminos this year and camped (not every night) without problems. one night I camped on the path its self. it was dark by the time I put my tent up. I go out of the village near a river. and wash and shave there. or not far from a water point.at Fisterra this year in August the police visited the beach several times, because there was a around twenty tents close to the rock face(beach on opposite side of town)and locals had reported drug use. apparently the police did nothing because a veteran camper who had been there since May, said we are sleeping on the beach not camping, and the tents are for shelter from the sun. I camped for three days..lot of people smoking hash. and a lot of young naked people swimming. and ending there long walk with a rest at the beach. I used to hide my tent away. now I just make sure there is no mess and I am away before first light.my reasons to use a tent. privacy when you meet a women.no snoring.no whispering.no bedbugs. no time curfew (saw a metor shower in august)
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  5. #5 Re: Is it possible to pitch a tent and camp along the route? 
    Junior Member danny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cowboylou View Post
    I would like to camp along the route for the most part and stop occasionaly to shower. Is this possible?
    i walked part of la chemin de vezelay,and i never had a tent,but just before dark,i would find a secluded place where i couldn't be seen in either direction,set my alarm clock for 5:30 am...well before sunrise,and layed out my sleeping bag...i did nothing but sleep,and was very sure that i left no trace of being there.i had full respect for the country i was in,and for land owners if there were any.if there were places to stay and they were affordable,i would do that,but lots of time,i just slept under the stars
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  6. #6 Re: Rules about "Wild Camping" on the Camino de Santiago 
    Administrator Leslie's Avatar
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    Last year we met a young guy who had walked from just before Paris. We were somewhere after Le Puy and he was sleeping outside. The last time we saw him he was covered in mosquito bites and had to be helped by the nuns in a convent. I would bear this in mind in France - however it was never a problem for me in Spain.
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