Camino de Santiago
Key information: Camino de Santiago
- Famous network of routes across Europe, converging on northern Spain, all leading to the Catholic pilgrimage site at Santiago de Compostela.
- Choice of routes all several hundred kilometres passing through varied countryside.
- Meander across plains, crossing beautiful, remote mountain ranges.
- Stay in villages and towns along the way. Examine a plethora of cultural gems.
- End up in the great pilgrim city of Santiago deeply spiritual for some, moving and thought-provoking for all.
Walkopedia rating(Top 100)
- Walkopedia rating89
- Natural interest15
- Human interest16
- Negative points4
- Total rating89
- Note: Negs: popularity, you are seldom alone
- Length: 6 weeks - single day
- Maximum Altitude: n/a
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Camino de Santiago is actually not one trail, but dozens, leading across Europe and converging on the Christian pilgrimage site, the stunning Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Northern Spain.
Within Spain, there are a dozen official routes, the most-walked of which, The Camino Frances, covers some 780km from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, near Biarritz, France, to the shrine. Though it reached the height of its popularity between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, archaeology shows that there has been a pilgrimage route here from prehistory, and the Roman trade route to the Atlantic, the via Lactea, also followed, roughly, the Camino Frances. Its religious use had all-but died out by the 1980s, and was, ironically, revived by the paths increasing popularity with leisure walkers, now hosting some thousands of pilgrims each year once more.
Being so long and so varied, this is a hard route to sum up, except in terms of its extraordinary historical significance. Its many branches, well-marked with bright yellow arrows and scallop shell motifs, afford experience of everything Northern Spain has to offer, from great historic cities, through wild mountain landscapes, the hot central plain, the delightful wine country of the Rioja, bucolic farming idylls, rough coastal paths and small-town treasures, to the blowsy, elegant faade of the reputed burial-place of St James, who, almost single-handedly, apparently, drove the Moors from Spain several centuries after his death.
See our dedicated pages for the main routes, which include:
- The Camino Frances.
- The Via de la Plata, the ancient route northward through Spain.
- The Via Jacobi (the route through Switzerland).
- The Camino Portuges (starts in Portugal)
- The Chemin St Jacques de Compostelle (routes through France)
Other routes, which we plan to write up over time, include:
- The Camino Finisterre: after visiting Santiago de Compostela, many pilgrims then take the opportunity to do the three-day walk, via Negreira and Olveiroa on to Finisterre which, as it name suggests, was widely thought to be the end of the world in ancient cultures (though in fact Portugal boasts Europes most westerly promontory). This is a lovely, green, 81km walk, far less populous than the Camino Frances, but refugios are rather inadequately placed, meaning that it has to be divided into one easy, flattish day of 21km and two quite punishing, more uphill, days of 30km. Being easily accessed by bus, Finisterre itself is quite crowded but its great western sunsets are justifiably famous.
Map of the Ways of St James in Europe
Source: Manfred Zentgraf, Volkach, Germany; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported at Wikipedia.org.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Walking the Camino De Santiago: From St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago De Compostela and on to Finisterre Benjamin Cole and Bethan Davies/Pili Pala Press: good overview of the Camino Frances
The Way of St James Alison Raju/Cicerone: accurate distances, and nice and light for a backpack, but not exhaustive
The Roads to Santiago: The Medieval Pilgrimage Routes Through France and Spain to Santiago De Compostela Derry Brabbs/Frances Lincoln Publ.: architecture-heavy overview of all the routes; good preparatory reading, but too unwieldy for a backpack
The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook David M Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson/St Martin’s Press: cultural – everything from architecture to folklore – guide to the Camino; not much use as a walking guide, but exhaustively fascinating for those who want to look up from the path
Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino De Santiago (Camino Guides) [Abridged] John Brierley/Findhorn Press: lightweight, with good maps; informational emphasis on the spiritual element
Miam Miam Dodo an excellent information resource (in French but easy to use) for the Chemin St Jacques (Via Podensis specific) from Le Puy
Slackpacking the Camino Frances - Sylvia Nilsen
The Confraternity of St James sells detailed booklets on all the routes through its bookshop: http://www.csj.org.uk/bookshop.htm
Lonely Planet - Spain David Simonis, Susan Forsyth, John Noble/Lonely Planet: standard LP guide has a section on the route:
The Cockleshell Pilgrim: A Medieval Journey to Compostela Katherine Lack/SPCK: entertaining academic tome piecing together the Medieval pilgrim experience.
The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage Shirley Maclaine/Pocket Books: actress and celebrated-bonkers-woman’s entertaining account of her spiritual experiences along thepath
The Way of St James: Le Puy to Santiago - A Cyclist's Guide John Higginson/Cicerone
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning Laurie Lee/Penguin: the “Cider with Rosie” author’s lyrical account of his coming-of-age year walking across pre-civil-war Spain, still full of echoes today.
Chemins Vers St-Jacques De Compostelle Institut Geographique National.
Somiedo National Park (waterproof): map of the area bordered by the two northern routes of the Camino: http://www.stanfords.co.uk/stock/somiedo-natural-park-waterproof-107915/
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Though this is not the baking costa territory of the south, temperatures can soar in Summer months and, particularly on the northern routes, you should carry proper waterproofing as rain is common in the mountain areas.
Depends, obviously, on your planned route and how much of it you are going to do. Biarritz (France) is the nearest airport to the start of the Camino Frances, and St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles, the two main jumping-off points, are a short hop from there by train/bus. Pamplona also has an airport, and is on the same train line that serves St Jean. Buses ply the whole of the Camino; the primary northern Spanish bus company, ALSA’s, website is here: http://www.alsa.es/portal/site/Alsa.
Seville airport serves the start of the Via de la Plata, Porto is at the start of the Camino Portuges and Santander and Bilbao are near the Camino del Norte and Camino Primitivo.
Also try SNCF, France’s wonderful train system, which has its website here: http://www.sncf.com/.
Also try Eurolines, the network of European coach operators: http://www.eurolines.com/
Many followers of these routes use organizers to transport their baggage. See “Guided or independent” below.
No permits are needed to do this walk. However, a Pilgrim’s Passport (see Other Information and Tips, below) is a very useful document and will open doors that would otherwise remain firmly closed.
See detailed walk pages. There are several notable routes. All of the major routes of the Camino are admirably marked with bright yellow arrows and the scallop-shell sign that is the pilgrimage’s symbol. Find the start-point of a route, and you will barely need a map.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
The routes have different features, but allow (depending on time of year) for:
- Mountain weather: snow, rain, cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do these walks independently.
Many organizations arrange expeditions, and, given the length of the routes, this could be useful logistically. (Bear in mind that the religious/spiritual elements of a group can vary hugely when choosing your company.) Operators can also organise accommodation, meals and picnics, as well as (crucially) luggage transport while allowing walkers to remain self-guided.
- Follow the Camino – www.followthecamino.com (several routes).
- Macs Adventure – www.macsadventure.com (Camino Frances).
- On Foot In Spain – www.onfootinspain.com (Camino Frances and Picos de Europa).
- Spanish Adventures – www.spanishadventures.com (Camino Frances and Camino del Norte).
- Headwater run a luxury, eleven day tour along the Camino de Santiago.
- Explore! - www.explore.co.uk - reputable and experienced organisers.
- Wilderness Travel – www.wildernesstravel.com
- Pilgrim Routes run guided walks of various sections of the Camino Santiago.
- https://santiagoways.com/en - Camino de Santiago trips and guide to complete one's pilgrimage journey.
There is plentiful accommodation in all towns and villages on the more populous routes, less predictably so on the Caminos del Norte and Primitivo; but hostelries seem to open and close at breakneck speed, so guidebooks are not 100% reliable.
Many towns have albergues, or hostels – but they are reserved for pilgrims only. A Pilgrim’s passport card (see other information and tips) is essential to stay in these. These are, of course, the most “authentic” way to travel the Camino, but can be “hair shirt” and prone to noxiously early and noisy departures keen to bag their space in the next one.
A list of quite a lot of albergues can be found here, but it’s far from exhaustive: http://www.caminodesantiago.me.uk/pilgrim-hostels/
Find hostels along the route at Hostelbookers.com.
Other information and tips
To prove that they have completed their pilgrimage (the last hundred km by foot, or 200km by bike) and collect their plenary indulgence, pilgrims secure and carry a credencial card, which they get stamped at inns, bars, restaurants, churches and albergues along the way, and present at the pilgrims’ office at Santiago de Compostela to receive a certificate. The passport is also essential to prove pilgrim status and gain access to the pilgrims’ hostels along the way – definitely the cheapest form of accommodation. Passports are available from the confraternity organizations in your country, or from the common start points on the route. For further information http://www.csj.org.uk/how-to-get-a-credencial.htm (UK) and http://www.americanpilgrims.com/camino/credential_req.html (US) are good places to start.
Though it’s rare for the route to not pass through habitations with shops and cafes, none of these can be entirely relied on to be open (or indeed serving food). Highly recommend making sure you have emergency supplies at all times in case a scratch lunch is needed, and sufficient water for the day if you don’t want to rely on the pilgrim fountains scattered along the route.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Exhaustive, information-and-picture-filled site covers all routes: http://santiago-compostela.net/index.htm
- Less exhaustive, but less confusing, too: http://www.caminodesantiago.me.uk/
- Every Pilgrim Guide you could ever need:http://www.csj.org.uk/acatalog/The_CSJ_Bookshop_CSJ_Pilgrim_Guides_15.html
- The Camino Frances, step-by-step: http://www.caminosantiagodecompostela.com/
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
See dedicated pages for other routes on the Santiago trail. Wonderful walking in the Picos de Europa and Pyrenees.
Superb opportunities for lovers of history and church architecture, and if you’re lucky you might drift through a fiesta or other festival en route
COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS
Posted on: 22/09/2011
We'd like to hear from the Walko friend who contributed this, but, anonymity.
Posted on: 04/03/2013
I'm from Spain, and i Love the Camino. I would like to contribute with my experince
Posted on: 03/02/2015
List of Guided Tours at Camino de Santiago: http://senderismoytrekking.com/senderos/caminosantiago/caminos-de-santiago
Posted on: 05/12/2017
There are many different routes to get to Santiago de Compostela. Generally the most popular are also the most crowded and declared official routes. However, there are some secondary routes that lead to the main Caminos.
Posted on: 09/07/2018
I love walking the Camino de Santiago, specially the Camino del Norte as I think its the most beautiful Camino, specially during the summer.
Posted on: 09/07/2018
Try https://santiagoways.com/en to book the Camino de Santiago
Posted on: 29/11/2018
Nicky Basford says: “In July 2015 I walked part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, starting from the French side of the Pyrenees crossing into northern Spain. Not only was I struck by the extraordinary heat, temperatures reached 100 degrees some days, but also the humbling and challenging experience of journeying for miles each day, accepting all the inevitable discomfort in order to be just a little nearer to your destination at the end of it. Small comforts became large, like a tree offering shade in an otherwise barren landscape. The parched cardoons, or artichoke thistles, by the roadside began to feel like metaphors and the sun-baked ‘way’ stretching into the distance, a reminder of my journey towards something, of pilgrimage.” Nicky Basford, painter. www.nickybasford.co.uk
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