We created a Camino De Santiago, the ultimate guide; to break down why these hikes are so special, what to pack, what to expect and cover those frequently asked questions.
The Camino De Santiago trails are such an inaugural, significant and truly stunning series of hikes, that it’s an impossible task to convey to others (without having experienced them) just why they are so special. Venture across Spain, through various terrain, through remarkable scenery and locations of religious, cultural and national heritage and getting back in touch with nature. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will know which route sounds most your style, what goes in your backpack and how to prepare for this most epic Spanish adventure.
The Camino de Santiago is a big deal so to speak, in the religious world. The site has existed for over 1000 years, dating back as far as the 8th Century when the remains of St James the Apostle were first discovered in Northern Spain. The story goes that St James preached the Gospel in what is now Galicia and upon return to Jerusalem, he was sadly beheaded by King Herod in 44AD. His loyal followers purportedly transported his remains to Northern Galicia where they lay undiscovered until 813AD. His remains were finally discovered in the 9th Century which led to the creation of a significant religious shrine, marking the beginning of Santiago de Compostela and the Camino de Santiago.
Either way, whether you are religious or not, the pilgrimage is stunning. The landscape fills you with an appreciation for nature and your surroundings and hiking brings you closer to nature. It is now a world-famous hiking route beaconing both religious and non-religious people from all over the world, to appreciate the terrain and the culture along the way.
When the remains of Santiago were discovered, it is said that King Alfonso II commissioned the relics to be buried in a purpose-built chapel, which would become known as the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, beaconing pilgrims from across Europe and beyond.
The Camino grew in popularity particularly during the Middle Ages, attracting around 250,000 pilgrims each year, becoming one of the three most popular Christian pilgrimages – the other two being to Jerusalem and Rome.
Packing for the Camino de Santiago can be super challenging. If you are taking the Camino Frances, a trip that takes around a month, you have to carry everything on your back. Of course, one must expect to have to wash clothes at the hostel/accommodation, freshen up along the way and replenish as you go. There are plenty of provisions available as you hike, with many points to stop, refuel and replace broken items and such. Plus is helps that everyone along the way is super friendly.
"When choosing a hiking backpack for your Camino you have to keep in mind how important it is to consider comfort above all. Think that you’ll be carrying your own load for the duration of your Camino, walking every day between 15-25 km. So keep this in mind every time you think that you need an extra item."
You may want to consider bringing a 20L backpack with you or less and packing as light as possible. We have an excellent article which goes into a lot of details about ultralight hiking. But we have summed up some of the absolute Camino journey essentials.
And if you are travelling in Spring or Autumn you should also consider brining some of the following items:
So we have compiled a list of the best routes and more details about why they are so awesome. We have added icons to denote how challenging the route is, the budget and the distance.
For the budget, we considered the median accommodation cost, food cost and requirements for extras, how long the route takes (shorter routes will, of course, require less budget) and anything else. For the full experience € denotes between 500€ and 800€. €€ denotes between 800€ and 1000€ and finally if you entire trip requires a budget of over 1000€ you will see €€€. The numer of “+” under difficulty explains the level.
The Camino Francés is the most famous of all the routes and this makes it a very sociable journey. Starting on the French boarder in St Jean Pied de Port and making your way over 790km to Santiago through Northern Spain. Throughout the journey, you travel through some incredible, historic towns and cities, such as Pamplona and witness medieval architecture and huge cathedrals. Although, between the towns is where the real views and excitement kicks in, as you make your way through the Pyrenees and vineyards of La Rioja. This route will take you around 35 days to complete, but the ever-changing landscapes and the meeting of fellow pilgrims along the way will keep you motivated.
Start in Paris and get the bus to St Jean as there is no major airport nearby (plus no harm in enjoying a couple of days in the French capital)
The Camino Del Norte is your coastal route to Santiago and a foodies dream. You start in Irun or the beautiful San Sebastian and make your way along the northern coast of Spain, through seaside towns, villages and cities all just as incredible and exciting as the next. You will eat fresh fish and take breaks to cool down in the sea, which will be more than needed in the summer months. This route will feel less like a long 5-week hike but instead, a tour of Spain, experiencing all its finest foods and deepest histories of its coastal towns.
Visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao as a cultural break from the pilgrimage.
The Portuguese Way, as suspected, starts in the capital city of Lisbon and makes it’s way north up the Atlantic coastline into Spain. Most of this route is actually going through Portugal, so you get to experience the true beauty of this vibrant country, before joining the rest of the routes in Spain. This is typically a quieter route, but you will still be entertained by the hustle and bustle of the towns, the woodlands, olive groves, the River Douro and vineyards all along on the Portuguese coast. It is not a difficult route and can be done in around 30 days, so it is worth taking your time and enjoying the surroundings.
As this isn’t a popular route, think about joining a tour so you can meet other fellow pilgrims. This also means all your food, accommodation and any transfers are all organised.
The Via de la Plata is the longest of the Camino de Santiago routes, starting in Seville in the south of Spain running along the west of the country all the way to the North were Santiago sits. The history of the route began as an old Roman road through Spain and has a lot of history with traders and mining. Although there are some unpaved roads, winding paths and of course it is a very long distance, it is still a relatively easy route with few steep ascents to tackle. Along 1000km across 6 weeks, you will pass through and experience true Spanish culture; in September there are even fiestas and local traditions, which will spice up your evenings and help you push through to the next stop for the next party.
Unlike some of the other routes, there are larger gaps between towns, so stock up on supplies each day to ensure you have enough to fuel you until you reach the next pit stop.
This route was traditionally taken by the Northern Europeans because it starts on either of the port towns of A Coruna or Ferrol, as the Pilgrims of the past, could easily get the boat to this Northern part of Spain. The Ferrol route is 119km from Santiago, so it is ideally situated to just qualify for the Santiago de Compostela certificate (whilst O Coruna is under 100km to Santiago, so you wouldn’t get a certificate). This is a peaceful and simple route that should take less than a week to complete, so is a great choice for those not used to walking long distances. Along the way, the two routes join and you can enjoy the simple but beautiful northern Spainish towns and wade through the stunning greenery and meadows, truly a blissful journey.
Don’t forget this is a short route, so get your two stamps a day needed on your credentials, from the first day of your trip, to ensure you get your certificate at the end.
The Primitive Way is the original pilgrimage route which began the epic journey that is the Camino de Santiago. As you can imagine, this route is steeped in history from the moment you start in Oviedo, through Galicia to Santiago. The route is a little more challenging than some of the others, as you have to hike through the Cantabrian mountain range, that requires some experience in steep ascents and descents. Of course, the extra effort needed for this route is worth it, as it is less busy and a more rustic version of the pilgrimage. It is also one of the shorter routes, taking only around 16 days to complete.
Oviedo is known for its cider, so make sure to fuel up for your journey by going to a local brewery and sampling the delicacy.
The Finisterre Way is an alternative version to the Camino de Santiago, as it’s the only route that starts in Santiago de Compostela and guides you away from the town. Across 7 days you walk along the Galician coastline following the Atlantic sea out to Cape Fisterra, which is where you can claim your Compostela certificate. The cape, the coastline and all the villages and towns along the way are unique and have interesting historical significance, as the Romans believed this land off the coast of Spain was the ‘edge of the world’. The stunning wildlife and cuisine of the area, also make this beautiful and off-grid part of Spain, so enchanting.
From Fisterra, keep walking to the coastal town of Muxa to experience a traditional Spanish fishing village and the stunning fresh fish available..
This is also known as the Le Puy Route and is one of the other famous routes in France. Starting in the town of Le Puy En Vale in France, near Lyon, it is a longer version of the French Way. Le Puy route is arguably the most beautiful, as you can experience its interesting landscapes from high up on the Massif Central and down low through the valley alongside the River Lot. There are also fairytale villages which will charm you to take a rest and enjoy your surroundings, before continuing on your long journey. The route then joins The French Way in St Jean Pied Du Port, where you will continue on and experience this with the other pilgrims.
On the day you set off, first head to the Notre- Dame du Puy cathedral and receive a blessing by a priest which is a beautiful way to begin your pilgrimage.
To walk the most popular route, Camino Frances, it usually takes 30-35 days, walking between 25-27km each day. You can take a more leisurely pace. However, the terrain on the Camino is relatively flat and easy. You can take shorter routes also which vary depending on the path, but the last stretch is 100km and takes less than a week.
It depends on the time of year. Summer is hot and can be muggy with the occasional rainstorm. Autumn is cold but not too cold, with crisp blue skies, ideal walking weather. Winter is wet and a little miserable while spring is temperate and inviting.
It truly depends on your needs and desires. Are you looking to meet new people, are you looking for the most enriching experience? Perhaps you want to shortest or the cheapest route. More information on how to choose your course can be found here.
Yes you can. Most cyclists tend not to do the whole trail. Cyclists might only have a week to spend on the route; usually starting in Leon, which is the nearest large town where you can still obtain the pilgrim's accreditation. Fortunately for cyclists, the most remarkable scenery and the most varied part of the Camino Frances (the most popular route) is between Leon and Santiago de Compostela.
Traditionally the Camino pilgrimage is supposed to start from your home. However, nowadays, many consider the official route to begin in the provincial French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. But it also depends on the path you decide to take. If you even choose to only walk the last 100km of the route, you can begin in Sarria.
Of course, given the standard weather patterns of northern Spain and southern France, they experience warm hot summers, cold winters, meaning the best times to walk are the spring and the Autumn. In spring you can experience lovely balmy temperatures and fall brings cold crisp skies and excellent visibility.
The Pilgrims passport is a document you carry with you every day of the expedition. You get a stamp every day at various points along the route. If you are only doing the last 100km, it gets stamped twice a day. This is the proof you need to get your Compostela certificate. These sellos, (stamps), prove that you have walked that day and entitle you to stay in an Albergue, (pilgrims only hostels).
You'll need to budget for a little more than a month of accommodation. Estimating toward the higher end, that means you should have around €800 for nights at albergues and hotels, food and allowance for MISC. Admittedly there is a great discount for hikers, but it's better to air on the side of caution.
Your standard insurance provider will be able to offer you vacation cover. Be sure to get comprehensive cover that cover medical for potential injuries, rescue, and the expected extras for a hiking holiday. It's not an extreme sport but still an activity with mitigated risk.
Camping would be tough as everything you need you have to carry on your back. Taking all the extra provisions for camping would add considerable weight to your pack. The Camino De Santiago is such a popular and well-documented route that there are hotels/accommodation options dotted readily along the way. Pilgrims get a considerable discount too!
This is a tough one. It would be a good idea to stock up as you go with things like energy bars to always have on you. Breakfast, you are likely to eat at the accommodation. It might be wise to pick up food for lunch at a local store/supermarket or wherever you are staying overnight. This will keep you going until you reach the next stop. The route isn't across Barron pastures, but through fields and forest and villages. You will come across places to get food eventually but may go some hours without options. Which is why its best to ensure you have sustenance in your pack. Bring a steel water bottle of course!
That brings us to the end of our Camino De Santiago adventure. Covering all the most essential points to ensure you plan the best trip possible, with all the information in one place. Spain is calling, grab your hiking boots and head for Camino de Santiago.
Hey Riders, note from your gal Angelica here. All information was correct at the time of writing through research and extensive knowledge and experience. However, things change during different periods in the season and some websites offer out of date information and links may change.
Maybe you have some better information to offer or any addendum or changes to make, in which case, feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can consider adding them in! Let me know. . .