January 29, 2018

Can’t afford to travel to Spain to walk the famous Camino de Santiago? Don’t despair, the Cape Camino is equally alluring.

Having written two books and numerous articles on hiking on the Cape Peninsula I thought I knew every trail and place of interest for walkers: until I walked the Cape Camino. Suddenly I was exposed to a whole new world of sacred sites and intriguing communities. If you’re a walker looking for a meaningful challenge, add the Cape Camino to your bucket list. 

What is the Cape Camino?

Like the famous Spanish pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago or Way of St James, the Cape Camino is a sacred journey – a varied walk that takes you through downtown Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and through Table Mountain National Park, a New 7 Wonder of Nature and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The route

The Cape Camino traces the outline of the Cape Peninsula taking in the iconic sights between the Cape Town CBD and Cape Point. The route crosses over the Peninsula twice at Constantia Nek, thereby forming the shape of the symbol for infinity, ∞.

The full Cape Camino route is about 180km long and for simplicity’s sake it’s described in nine sections, or legs, of about 16-25km. But you can dip in and out as you please. Many of the legs have different route options – you can take the low road along the coast, or traverse sections of the mountain on high-level paths. Purchasing a once-off ‘Passport’ gives access to all the info your require to plan your own itinerary according to your interests, fitness and time available. Maps show the route for each daily leg along with a fact box of useful info – distance, terrain, tips and tricks, refreshment stops and the contact numbers of emergency services, accommodation providers and other Camino partners. It’s up to you where you join and leave the route, and how much you walk per day.

Tailor-made and group packages

You can avoid the schlep of organising logistics by signing up for a tailor-made 3-, 5 or 7-day package. Or you can join a guided, group hike – which keeps the costs down and offers the chance to walk with like-minded, fellow pilgrims. There are four group caminos scheduled for 2018, on 2-8 March, 4-10 May, 7-13 September and 2-8 November.

For more details check out capecamino.co.za or their FB event page

Highlights

There are too many to name. I’ll never forget the wind in my hair, the spray of the sea and the feeling of freedom and content that I experienced when hiking the wild Atlantic beaches on the Lady Lighthouse leg between Scarborough and Noordhoek. It was a wonderful space for personal reflection. As was rambling along the exquisite coastline between Muizenberg and Simon’s Town, the leg known as Whale’s Tales, stopping off for fish and chips in Kalk Bay harbour and to see the labyrinth. Touring Levi’s Garden on the Wine to Water leg gave fascinating insight into the medicinal and edible plants that Levi, a Rastafarian, cultivates in Tokai on a site recognized by the Khoisan people as their ancient living grounds. And there were museums and places of worship that I’d driven past on numerous occasions but never ventured into  - the tranquil Roman Catholic chapel at Schoenstatt in Groot Constantia, the Shamballah Tea House And Holistic Centre in Redhill and the Kramat Of Sheikh Noorul Mubeen nestled on the mountain slopes just before trendy Camps Bay. Swapping stories with the guides, with other pilgrims at and with our hosts at backpackers and in private homes opened my eyes to the diversity of the Cape community and its generosity of spirit - which was both educational and inspiring. 

Recommended gear

What you take will obviously depend on the season and predicted weather. But the most important things are: 

  1.  sturdy but comfortable walking shoes or boots. Make sure you wear them in well beforehand. I walked the Cape Camino in a pair of Hi-Tec V-Lite Wild Life Low hiking shoes, which were great - robust and breathable. I completed the Camino de Santiago in 2012 (a distance of around 800km which I did at the trot as I was pushed for time) in a pair of Hi-Tec V-lite running shoes. 
  2. lightweight waterproof jacket 
  3. warm jacket. When walking I always take a lightweight, insulated jacket, which is versatile and offers maximum warmth for weight and bulk. If rain is predicted then I prefer a synthetic jacket over down as it is quick drying and keeps you warm even when wet. Hi-Tec’s Lady Nera was a win. 
  4. comfortable, lightweight pack – ideally with pockets on the waistband for your camera, lip balm, snacks etc. 
  5. a clean pair of socks for each day
Top tips
  • My number one tip for any long distance walk is GO LIGHT. Pack only what you need. You can buy snacks, toiletries and even emergency clothing items on most days. Walk in the same shirt and shorts/trousers every day and carry just one change of clothing for the evening. You can always rinse stuff at night if you feel the need. If you must pack the kitchen sink then organise the transfer of your overnight bag.
  • Look after your feet. STOP IMMEDIATELY and deal with the problem if you feel any discomfort. I smear Vaseline on my feet to prevent blisters and carry a pair of slops to give them an airing when we stop to eat or visit sites.
Heading to Spain?

If you’re planning to walk the Camino de Santiago and need some training then check out the special ‘training’ Cape Camino package. The three-day walk will not only give you a chance to check out your gear and get used to long days on your feet; it includes basic Spanish lessons. 

Fiona McIntosh is a freelance photojournalist and author of Hike Cape Town, Jacana Media, 2014

Written by: Fiona McIntosh

Photos by: Shaen Adey

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