The Camino de Santiago is one of the most popular pilgrimages in Europe, and is walked by tens of thousands of people every year. The journey ends in the town of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, at the shrine of St. James the Great. There are many starting points to choose from, and you can opt for the most convenient one, or choose to travel a greater distance by air, and set out on a longer walking tour, for example. You can walk through Portugal, France, or even the UK, and naturally, Spain.
You also don’t need to be religious to walk the Camino. There are those who view it as an adventure, or the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, or are in it for the exercise. If you have not been on a walking holiday before, make sure to check out some of the Camino forums, to learn more about the experience beforehand, and find out what to pack, for example.
To help you make your choice, here are three of the more popular Camino routes. Choose wisely, as they are all difficult and scenic in their own way, but are sure to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The English Way
This road to Santiago is mostly walked by pilgrims from the north of Europe, as well as those arriving from the United Kingdom. They were once called the sea-faring pilgrims, and have earned their name from the body of water they had to cross to get to their destination. Today, the route is 110 kilometers long, and is thus one of the shorter ones.
You begin your walk in Ferrol, once the harbor of the infamous Spanish Armada, and today a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage list. If you have the time, arrive a day before you set out to explore a bit. The walk itself runs by the coast, and later across some beautiful mountains, before finally getting you to Santiago.
You should choose this route if you are into the scenery – there will be sea and surf, as well as mountain trails to hike, and if diversity is what you are looking for, the English Way is perfect for you.
The French Way
The Camino Francés is by far the most popular route for Santiago de Compostela, and is also the most crowded at any given time. It was once a small part of an ancient Roman network of roads. It has in fact always been the most frequented road to the shrine of St. James, as most pilgrims, during the Middle Ages, started their journey from France.
The full length of this Camino is 790 kilometers, if you set out from St. Jean Pied de Port. From there, you will walk by medieval castles and gorgeous vineyards, and have a unique chance to experience Galicia in all its splendor, before arriving in Santiago, weary, dusty, but with a heart full to the brim.
The 790 kilometers take an average of four weeks to complete, if you include days of rest. You will have plenty of accommodation options along the way, as the French Way offers a wide variety of hostels, hotels and cafes for your pleasure. There will also be someone to provide information, and you can meet a lot of fellow travelers at most times during the year. This is especially true of the final leg of the journey, the 100 kilometers from Sarria, which is chosen by most pilgrims.
The French Way is perfect for you if you are looking for company and history – you will likely meet experienced pilgrims eager to share their travels and thoughts.
The Portuguese Way
The Camino da Costa is the second most popular route, and is not as busy as the French Way, but you will not lack company. There are also less sleeping options along the road, but don’t worry, you will not be left stranded either, if you are in a bit of a shape. You will sometimes need to walk about 35 kilometers a day, though, so don’t go for this route if you don’t feel up to the task.
There are three starting points to choose from: Lisbon, Porto or Tui. You will be walking part of your experience by the sea, and there will not be as many mountains, which makes the Portuguese Way much lighter on your legs and feet. Do bear in mind that the weather here can be unpredictable, and pack accordingly.
Choose the Portuguese Way if you are looking for a mixture of scenery and company.
Enjoy your Camino!