Want to embark on one of the most revered ancient journeys in Europe? Pilgrims have been walking the Camino de Santiago for over a thousand years. This network of trails leads to Santiago de Compostela, a stunning Spanish town where St. James was laid to rest. It’s believed that completing at least 100.0km of the trail ending at the cathedral will lead to your sins and transgressions being forgiven. Beyond spiritual reasons, walking the Camino de Santiago is an unforgettable trip through some of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Trek through the French Pyrenees, trail down the coast of Portugal, or lose yourself deep in the countryside of Spain. The diversity of possible routes means that each individual’s experience while walking the Camino de Santiago is a once in a lifetime, unique journey. Lace up and start walking!
Table of contents
1. Camino de Santiago basics
2. Classic route
3. Camino Primitivo
4. Camino Frances (French way)
5. Camino Portugues (Portuguese way)
6. Camino Ingles (English way)
7. Via de la Plata
8. Camino del Norte (Northern Way)
9. Camino Finisterre
10. Camino Invierno (Winter Way)
11. Planning your trip
Camino de Santiago Basics
When budgeting for a trip along the Camino de Santiago, there are a few different expenses to consider. The average total trip cost for a North American walker completing the month-long pilgrimage is between $2000 and $4000+. Here’s what that goes towards:
- Flights from North America to Spain range from $700-$1200 depending on the time of year
- Local bus transport to and from the trail costs $200-$300
- Appropriate gear could cost anywhere from $300 up, but this can be mitigated if you already own suitable gear
- Per-day costs are often estimated at around $30-$120, which increases if you plan on staying in pricier hotels versus hostels or campsites where available
Additional expenses to consider include insurance and any desired travel off the trail. Overall, hiking the Camino de Santiago is no chump change adventure, but savvy travellers can reduce the cost by watching for seat sales, booking in more affordable accommodation, walking a shorter section of the trail, and being smart about their food expenses.
While there are several different possible routes to follow when walking the Camino de Santiago, the most commonly travelled route traverses 780.0km from Saint Jean Pied a Port to Santiago. Now that’s a walk! Other popular routes vary from 260.0km to 830.0km. No matter which route you want to follow, you’re going to want to pack your comfiest shoes for this trip.
Packing for a journey down the Camino de Santiago is no joke, but packing light is essential to reduce the amount of weight you have to carry. Below is a list of essentials recommended by many pilgrims:
Passport or ID
Camino Passport or Credential
– This allows you to stay in pilgrim-only accommodation
– This is where you’ll receive stamps from establishments along the way
– 40L is often sufficient
– Choose one with a rain cover or purchase a rain cover separately
– Hiking footwear is often recommended over running shoes
– Many walkers prefer a hiking shoe over a boot to reduce bulk and weight, but wear the footwear that’s most comfortable for you
– Many accommodations provide blankets, but a sleeping bag will come in handy if you plan to camp or stay in hostels
– Depending on the season, a bag rated to 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit) should be sufficient
– These are most helpful for walkers with hip or knee concerns, but will help all hikers when it comes to hilly sections like the French Camino
– Most tap water along the route is drinkable, but some pilgrims pack water filters for use in more remote sections of the trail
– Using a Platypus water pouch or Camelbak is a great idea if you have one, as they’re lighter and easier to drink from on the go than water bottles
– Type C
– Note that the AC voltage in North America is 120V, but the European AC voltage can be up to 240V, so it’s important to ensure your electronics are compatible and purchase a voltage converter if necessary
Bed bug spray
– The unfortunate reality is that some of the pilgrim accommodations have bed bugs
– Spray may help keep the bugs off your belonging and self
– A waterproof jacket and pants will keep you dry if you get caught in rain
– Try to find pants with a side zip, which make walking in the rain comfortable
– These are essential if you plan to walk in the much rainier off-season
– Consider packing one pair of trekking trousers and one pair of trekking shorts to be prepared for variable weather
– A quarter-zip long sleeve and a t-shirt should suffice
– We love Merino wool for quick-dry, wicking action
– Depending on your route and the weather, a fleece jacket or sweater can keep you warm on cooler days
– Especially if you trek along the coast, that water can be tempting!
Wool hiking socks
– Many walkers agree that 3 pairs is plenty
– Athletic shorts or long johns can do double duty as base layers or casual wear as well
– Consider packing a change of clothes for dinners out, swimming, etc.
– Good for showers and for casual outings
– While this list should be a great start for warm season walkers, those taking on the Camino in winter should also consider fleece pants, wool base layers, gaiters, a warm jacket, gloves, and a beanie.
Camino de Santiago Routes
The Camino Primitivo is also known as the Original Way. As the name suggests, this was one of the first sections of the trail travelled, although only a small fraction of pilgrims now choose to walk this route only.
The Camino Primitivo is 321.0km long, beginning at the cathedral in Oviedo and finishing in Santiago de Compostela. While it’s short, don’t underestimate its difficulty! This section is especially hilly, and the elevation gain and loss makes it a physically demanding section.
This section can be completed in 12-14 days, making it a great choice for travellers who aren’t able to walk the entire Camino de Santiago.
Camino de Santiago French Way
The French Way, or Camino Frances, is the most famous of all the possible Camino de Santiago routes. It begins in St Jean Pied a Port, France, and stretches 780.0km to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain.
The Camino Frances passes over the Pyrenees, vineyards near La Rioja, and the mountains of Leon, among other fabulous destinations. The last stretch of the trail from Galicia to Santiago is one of the most special, revered sections of the entire pilgrimage.
This route normally takes about a month to complete and is the route of choice for most pilgrims.
Camino de Santiago Portuguese Way
The Camino Portugues is the second most popular Camino route after the Camino Frances. It’s obvious why- this route is absolutely beautiful. It begins in Porto, Portugal, and ends in Santiago after 280.0km if you follow the coast, or 260.0km if you travel inland.
The inland route has better infrastructure and more established cities and towns along the way and might be better to take in poor weather. It’s also busier than the coastal route.
On the other hand, the coastal route is great if you like an ocean view, it’s less crowded, and it passes through less touristy parts of Portugal. The flip side is you might have more trouble finding accommodations in some sections. Choose whichever sounds best to you!
Camino de Santiago English Way
The Camino Ingles, or the English Camino, was the pilgrimage route of choice for those from England, Ireland, and other parts of northern Europe. These days, it’s a less popular option, but well worth trying nonetheless!
The Camino Ingles has two starting points: A Coruna or Ferrol. Note that to receive your “Compostela” pilgrim certificate (basically the bragging rights you receive after your journey), you have to walk at least 100.0km. Going straight from A Coruna to Santiago does not qualify, so few pilgrims begin their walk from here. You can opt to start your trip on the Celtic Camino in Ireland, which connects to the Camino Ingles and lengthens the journey to the necessary 100.0km benchmark.
From Ferrol, the views across the ocean are fabulous for the first two days. The route crosses through lots of beautiful towns and villages before going through the green countryside of Galicia. It’s a pleasant 116.0km journey, and perfect for pilgrims wanting to get that 100.0km stamp of achievement without spending a month on the move.
Via de la Plata
The Via de la Plata, or Silver Route, is often considered to be the most difficult Spanish Camino route. This is because it’s over 1000.0km long, lacks facilities, and gets very, very hot in the summer months. That being said, it’s the perfect route for trekkers looking to really challenge themselves! Only 3% of annual Camino walkers take this route.
The Via de la Plata crosses over wonderful countryside, ancient Roman ruins, and unique medieval towns. Most pilgrims on this route choose to start in either Granada or Almeria for a 1200.0km journey or Valencia for a 1300.0km journey. The route splits after reaching Zamora, when one leg merges with the Camino Frances heading north and the other heads northwest along the Camino Sanabres. It takes up to 50 days to complete this route, so prepare for a life-changing journey!
Despite its relative difficulty, the Silver Route is a stunning journey through Spain and a great choice for adventurous, well-prepared trekkers.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte, or Northern Way, crosses through four regions of northern Spain. The scenery of this route makes it a special trip- you’ll pass rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and rolling meadows. It’s essentially a coastal alternative to the Camino Frances, as it runs parallel to the most popular inland option.
Crossing 835.0km, the Camino del Norte begins in Irun, a small town on the border with France. Along the way, there are sufficient facilities and great views, making this an accessible Camino route. Many pilgrims suggest staying an extra day or two in lovely San Sebastian before continuing on along the coast.
The Camino Finisterre is an extension of the traditional Camino path, leading pilgrims past the traditional endpoint of Santiago de Compostela on to Finisterre, an area in Spain known as the “end of the world” in old times. If you’ve still got some miles left in you after completing your pilgrimage, it’s a great addition!
The Camino Finisterre extends for 60 down one path past Santiago de Compostela, and then splits into two different routes. One leads to Finisterre and one to Muxia, and there is a path that connects the two. It’ll take 89.0km to reach Finisterre or 86.0km to reach the alternate ending in Muxia. This works out to about 4 or 5 days or walking.
Both routes are beautiful and both tend to enjoy nice weather, so it’s up to you where you end your journey. If you want to take the more traditional route consider Finisterre, but if you prefer a quieter and less crowded endpoint, Muxia might be the best bet for you.
Camino Invierno de Santiago
Feeling toasty enough to brave the winter weather? The Camino Invierno de Santiago is the Winter Way, a path for pilgrims wishing to complete their trek during the off-season. The trail covers 260km, making it about 50km longer than the popular Camino Frances.
The Camino Invierno follows an old Roman route that was often used to transport ore from mines. Since it enjoys better conditions than the Camino Frances in winter, it’s the first-choice route for those trekking in the cooler months.
The Camino Invierno begins in Ponferrada, following rivers and passing through farmlands and mountain regions before reaching Santiago. Along the way, you’ll pass through all four of Galicia’s provinces and enjoy lovely views. Make sure to pack some warm clothes and you’re set for a stellar trek!
Camino de Santiago Planning
The first thing to do when planning your trip is to choose your route! Whether you’re feeling like tackling the French or Portuguese Way, or considering a different path altogether, the interwoven nature of the trails makes it so you can customize your trail to your desired time, length, and difficulty. Many people only walk the last 100km over the course of a week to earn their Compostela. Some people complete the entire Camino bit by bit over the course of years. The best way to experience the trail is to walk it entirely over the course of a month, but there are plenty of options for those who can’t afford to take that amount of time off at once.
Next, consider what time of year you’d like to complete your journey. Generally, anytime between March and October is the most popular time to walk, although the route can be completed year-round. It all depends on what kind of weather you want to face!
Once you know where, how far, and when you want to walk, it’s time to prepare. Unless you’re regularly walking 20.0km+ a day, you’re best to prepare for the challenge ahead of time. Train by steadily building mileage, including hills. Wear the shoes you plan on completing the Camino in for a portion of your training to break them in, and test your gear to make sure it performs. Allow yourself 3-6 months of training before the start of your pilgrimage.
Next, it’s time to plan your travel and accommodation. The city you fly into will depend on your desired route, so make sure you figure out where to fly in, which busses to take, and how to get home at the end of the trip. Also, consider booking your accommodation ahead of time where possible- call albergues, hotels, and hostels ahead of time and ask to reserve your room. Some places will book you in far in advance, and some may require you to call the same day you intend to arrive. It’s worth spending some time on the phone to figure it all out!
If you’d prefer not to carry your luggage, you can look into a transfer service to do this for you.
Of course, booking a tour is a great option if you’d like someone else to look after the logistics. Keep reading for some great Camino de Santiago tour options.
Camino de Santiago Map
Camino de Santiago Tours
There’s a Camino de Santiago tour for every walker! Check out these options to find the perfect tour for you.
This tour covers the entire 800.0km trail from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in 36 days of walking. It’s the right choice for adventures who want the entire, authentic experience.
Want to cover the French way with no pressure? This 12-day tour starts in Sarria and savours every church, village, and forest along the way in a more relaxed manner.
Rather be on a bike? This 17-day tour runs from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela, passing along sites like the Cross of Santo Toribio and up Cruz do Ferro.
Some of us want to travel in style! If you’d prefer a more luxurious place to rest your head at night, this 8-day tour of the Portuguese way offers high-quality hotels along the way.
Want to earn your Compostela without any extra distance? This 7-day tour covers the 100.0km from Lugo to Santiago de Compostela.
If you want some guidance while on the trail but prefer not to walk with a guide, this is the tour for you! This 7-day tour covers the French Camino from Sarria to Santiago.
Walkers looking to travel the Camino de Santiago with fewer crowds will appreciate this 13-day tour, which covers the trail in the off-season. Enjoy sleepy villages, Spanish countryside, and rich history without the crowds.
This 38-day tour takes you along the Camino Norte, the northern way. It mostly follows Spain’s beautiful coastline and stops in gorgeous villages along the way.
Want to walk to the edge of the world? This tour covers the Camino from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre, making it a great addition to the traditional route or a worthwhile tour all on its own.
For those looking for an exceptional pilgrimage, taking the 1000.0km Via de la Plata tour is an incredible option. You’ll travel for 49 days, experiencing unforgettable culture, landscape, and food along the route.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Camino de Santiago
How long does it take to walk the Camino de Santiago?
Walking the entire Camino de Santiago along the most-travelled routes takes approximately 29-38 days. Some routes are as short as 5-7 days, and the diversity of routes means that walkers can find a way that accommodates their schedule.
Is it safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone?
Many pilgrims have walked the Camino de Santiago alone, both male and female, and many regard the solo experience as highly rewarding. That being said, solo travellers may prefer to walk a more highly-trafficked route to be with other pilgrims, as there are some risks inherent in completing the walk alone. Much of the route is quite remote and it is safest to complete the trail with a trusted companion.
What is the best time of year to walk the Camino de Santiago?
Many people prefer to walk the Camino de Santiago between April and October for the best weather, but the trail is open year-round. The summer months can be quite hot, so spring and early fall may be the most comfortable options.
What kind of equipment do you need to walk the Camino de Santiago?
Sturdy hiking shoes or boots, a large backpack, trekking poles, sleeping bag, and trekking clothes are the basics needed for the journey. You can refer to our Packing List for a more in-depth guide.
Where can you stay while walking the Camino de Santiago?
Each route has accommodation along the way, including pilgrim-specific albergues, hotels, hostels, and camping sites. Based on the route you choose, the availability and quality of accommodation available might vary. More heavily-trafficked routes tend to have a more robust selection of places to stay.
Why walk the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago has been a sacred pilgrimage journey since pre-Christian times. It is believed that completing the pilgrimage and praying at the tomb of St. James relieves you of all sins and transgressions. While many people walk it for spiritual reasons, anyone can enjoy the journey because of the stunning landscape, fascinating monuments and towns, and rewarding experience of travelling on foot.
How hard is the Camino de Santiago?
The difficulty of walking the Camino de Santiago differs based on the route taken. The full 30+ day pilgrimage is a challenging trip, and travellers should train and prepare accordingly. Shorter tours of a week or so are much less challenging, but will still be most enjoyable if you prepare in advance for them by training.