An Extensive Guide to Camino de Santiago

Discover the Camino de Santiago: a Comprehensive Guide

By Mallory KirzingerDestinations

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Ready to embark on one of the most revered ancient journeys in Europe? The Camino de Santiago is one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages, dating all the way back to the 9th century. The network of routes culminates in Santiago de Compostela, a historic Spanish city where the Biblical apostle St. James was laid to rest at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. In the Middle Ages, thousands of pilgrims would trek from all corners of Europe to Santiago de Compostela to venerate the late St.James, carving what are now the popular Camino de Santiago trails. Even today, it is believed that your sins and transgressions will be forgiven if you complete at least 100.0 km of the Camino, ending at the cathedral.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is an unforgettable journey through some of the most beautiful European landscapes. Trek through the French Pyrenees, wander along the dramatic coastline of Portugal or lose yourself in Galicia’s lush countryside. The scenic topographies and alluring challenges of the Camino attract thousands of pilgrims each year. The grandeur and diversity of possible routes mean that each individual’s experience while walking the Camino de Santiago is a once-in-a-lifetime, unique journey. What are you waiting for? Lace up and start walking!

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Camino de Santiago Routes

The beauty of the Camino de Santiago is that there is a route that will satisfy each kind of adventurer. From inland expeditions and dramatic coastal treks, ever-changing scenery, and diverse topographies, the Camino de Santiago delivers. Choose which route best suits your ability levels, desires, and time constraint. Each route is a unique, life-changing experience providing ample time for self-reflection and spiritual exploration. If you are eager to learn more about the pilgrimage, and its history and quirks, check out our 15 fun facts about the Camino de Santiago.

Camino Francés

The French Way, or Camino Francés, is the most famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Departing from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, the route stretches over 780.0 km, finishing in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The Camino Francés passes through the French Pyrenees, the rugged mountains of León, the remote Galician countryside, and the vineyards of La Rioja– among other fabulous destinations. The last 100.0 km stretch from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela is one of the most special, revered sections of the entire pilgrimage. The walk normally takes about a month to complete and is one of the most energetic and lively route options.

Lone hiker departing the village on Camino de Santiago French Way full trek

Lone hiker departing the village on Camino de Santiago French Way full trek

Camino Portugués

The Camino Portugués is the second most popular pilgrimage route after the Camino Francés, and there is no doubt as to why–this trek is absolutely beautiful. With two pilgrimage routes to choose from, this adventure caters to the needs and wants of all sorts of trekkers. The pilgrimage begins in Porto, Portugal, and ends in Santiago de Compostela after 270.0 km if you follow the coast, or 240.0 km if you travel inland.

The Camino Portugués central is the more popular of the two, with more pilgrim infrastructure along the way– but it is also busier than the coastal option. On the other hand, the coastal route is picture-perfect, traveling along the dramatic Atlantic coastline as it passes through less touristy parts of Portugal. The downside side is you may run into more trouble finding pilgrim accommodations in some towns. Choose whichever sounds best to you!

Walking the Portuguese Way Tour

Walking the Portuguese Way Tour

Camino del Norte

The Camino del Norte, or Northern Way, stretches across four regions in northern Spain: Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. The beauty of this route’s scenery is unrivaled– you’ll wander along rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and rolling meadows. It’s essentially a coastal alternative to the Camino Francés, as it runs parallel to the most popular inland option.

Stretching over 800.0 km from Irún to Santiago de Compostela, the Northern Way is the second-longest pilgrimage route. Along the way, there are sufficient facilities and great views, making this an accessible Camino. Many pilgrims suggest staying an extra day or two in lovely San Sebastian before continuing on along the coast.

Santillana del Mar is a beautiful place that you get to visit when trekking on the Northern Way

Santillana del Mar is a beautiful place that you get to visit when trekking on the Northern Way

Camino Primitivo

The Camino Primitivo is also known as the Original Way. As the name suggests, this route is the original and oldest pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Though many frequented the passage back in the 9th and 10th centuries, now less than 5% of pilgrims walk this trail.

The Camino Primitivo is over 300.0 km long, beginning at the cathedral in Oviedo and finishing in Santiago de Compostela. While short, it is important not to underestimate its difficulty! Impressively scenic and diverse, the Camino Primitivo is one of the hardest routes; with technical terrain, undulating paths, mountain climbs, and elevation changes, this promenade is especially demanding. This section can be completed in 12-14 days, making it a great choice for travellers who lack the time to walk a more extensive route.

Primitive Way Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, Northern Spain

Primitive Way Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, Northern Spain

Camino Inglés

The Camino Inglés, or the English Way, is a historic pilgrimage that pilgrims trekked all the way from Northern Europe—specifically Ireland and England. These days, it’s a less popular option, but well worth trying nonetheless!

The Camino Inglés has two starting points: A Coruña and Ferrol. Note that to receive your official Compostela, which is basically the bragging rights you receive after your journey, you have to walk at least 100.0 km. Going straight from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela 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 English Way and lengthens the journey to the necessary benchmark.

From Ferrol, the maritime vistas are breathtaking for the first two days. The route stretches through plenty of beautiful towns and charming villages before diverting into the lush Galician countryside. It’s a pleasant 115.0 km journey perfect for pilgrims seeking the 100.0 km stamp of achievement without having to spend a month on the move.

Beautiful coast on Camino Ingles (English Way), in Northern Spain

Beautiful coast on Camino Ingles (English Way), in Northern Spain

Camino Invierno

Feeling brave enough to conquer a winter expedition? The Camino Invierno, otherwise known as the Winter Way, presents the ideal climate for pilgrims hoping to walk in solitude or in the off-season. The pilgrimage covers over 260.0 km from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela.

Since it enjoys better winter conditions than the Camino Francés, it is often ventured as an alternate ending to the French Way, as it allows pilgrims to avoid the challenge of ascending O Cebreiro, a strenuous and near-impossible feat in the winter. Make sure to pack some warm clothes and you’re set for a stellar trek!

Via de la Plata

The Vía de la Plata, or Silver Route, is considered to be the most demanding Camino de Santiago route. This is because it’s over 960.0 km long, lacks pilgrim infrastructure, and gets very, very hot in the summer months. That being said, it’s the perfect route for trekkers looking to challenge themselves! Only 3% of annual Camino walkers take this route, yielding a sequestered experience.

Vía de la Plata is a transformative experience, travelling through four Spanish regions— Andalusia, Extremadura, Casilla y Leon, and Galicia. From ancient Roman ruins, mountain ranges, magical hamlets, and vineyards, the Silver Way has it all. The pilgrimage splits after reaching Zamora when one leg merges with the Camino Francés and the other along the Camino Sanabrés. It takes up to 50 days to complete this route, demanding dedication and preparation. Despite its relative difficulty, the Silver Route is a stunning journey is an awesome option for intrepid adventurers.

Galisteo Basin seen on Via de la Plata in Spain

Galisteo Basin seen on Via de la Plata in Spain

Camino Finisterre

The Camino Finisterre is an extension of the traditional Camino de Santiago. Stretching from Santiago de Compostela to the precipice of the Atlantic Ocean, this addition to your pilgrimage. Leading walkers to Finisterre, an area known as “the end of the earth”, the dramatic coastal scenery is ample.

The Camino Finisterre stretches over 90.0 km to Spain’s western seaboard. Though the true end of the route is in Finisterre, we highly encourage pilgrims to add on the extension up the coast to Muxía, which reveals unparalleled ocean panoramas and inviting sandy beaches as you wander along the Costa de Morte. If time permits, the 5-7 day extension to walk to Finisterre is well worth it, especially in the summer months.

Beautiful lighthouse on the coast of Galicia, Northern Spain

Beautiful lighthouse on the coast of Galicia, Northern Spain

Camino de Santiago Map

A map of different Camino de Santiago Routes

A map of different Camino de Santiago Routes

Distances of the Camino de Santiago Routes

While there are several possible routes to venture when walking the Camino de Santiago, the most commonly travelled route stretches 780.0 km from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela– now that’s a walk! Other popular routes vary from 240.0 km to 820.0 km. It is important to note that due to the ever-changing terrain, detours, and variations– distances are approximate and may vary from one guide to the next. No matter which route you want to follow, you’re going to want to pack your comfiest shoes- trust us!

  • Camino Francés: 780.0 km
  • Camino Portugués
    • Central: 240.0 km
    • Coastal: 270.0 km
  • Camino del Norte: 820.0 km
  • Camino Primitivo: 320.0 km
  • Camino Inglés
    • Via Ferrol: 115.0 km
    • Via A Coruña: 75.0 km
  • Camino Invierno: 260.0 km
  • Vía de la Plata: 960.0 km
  • Camino Finisterre: 90.0 km

Camino de Santiago Planning

The first thing to consider when planning your pilgrimage is which route you would like to conquer! Whether it be the French Way or Camino Inglés that excite you, the interwoven nature of the Camino routes enables easy customization of desired time, length, and difficulty. Many people only walk the last 100.0 km over the course of a week to earn their Compostela. Some individuals even complete the entire Camino bit by bit over the course of years! The best way to experience the pilgrimage is the way that works best for you! Take into account the route’s topographies, gastronomy, weather, and length when planning your journey.

Next, consider what time of year you’d like to complete your expedition to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. We believe that the best months to adventure the pilgrimage trails are in May, June, September, and October, though most can be ventured year-round with proper conditioning and gear. Essentially, it all depends on what kind of weather you want to face!

Once you know where, how far, and when you are hoping to tackle your pilgrimage, it’s time to prepare! Unless you’re regularly walking 20.0 km+ a day, we strongly encourage you to consider conditioning for your upcoming challenge. You don’t need to be incredibly fit to complete the pilgrimage, but it does demand a bit of stamina, refer to our preparation guide for the Camino de Santiago for recommendations. Train by steadily building mileage, including hills. If you take anything away from this guide, then let it be to break in the shoes you plan on completing the Camino de Santiago in! Additionally, it is a good idea to test your gear to make sure it performs and suits your body well. If time permits, allow yourself 3-6 months of training before the start of your pilgrimage.

Next, it’s time to plan your travel and accommodations. The city you fly into will depend on your desired route, so make sure you figure out where to fly, which busses or trains to take, and how to get home at the end of the trip. Also, consider booking your accommodations ahead of time where possible- call albergues, hotels, and hostels to request a room reservation. Some places will book you far in advance, and some– notably pilgrim albergues– are first come first serve as you wander the route. It’s worth spending some time researching. In our route guides, we impart possible hostels or albergue in each overnight destination to ease some of your stress.

Once you get the foundation of your pilgrimage built, it is easy to forget the smaller, but equally as important chores. If you are completing the Camino de Santiago for spiritual or religious reasons, be sure to get a Pilgrims Passport to ultimately receive your official Compostela at the end of your journey. A Pilgrims Passport is essentially proof that you completed the pilgrimage. The credential is produced by an official pilgrim body, which is stamped at each of your overnight stays, as well as at monasteries, museums, restaurants, and other attractions along the way. After reaching or exceeding the 100.0 km benchmark in Santigo de Compostela, head over to the pilgrim office to receive your Compostela or official recognition of your pilgrimage. Note the passports can be applied for ahead of time via a Camino organization, but they are also readily available at any of the larger cities along the Camino at the pilgrim office or main albergues.

If you, like us, are carrying a heavy backpack along the pilgrimage routes, it can quickly become exhausting and unpleasant. If you’d prefer not to carry your luggage, you can look into a transfer service to do this for you. Certain accommodations and tours transfer your pack for you, which is a lux convenience along the Camino de Santiago.

Planing such an extensive pilgrimage can be daunting. If you are overwhelmed with the prospect of planning your life-changing experience, then why not let us handle the head-ache-inducing task. Book a tour with us and let your stress melt away as we look after the logistics. Keep reading for some great Camino de Santiago tour options!

Cost of the Camino de Santiago

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 a month-long pilgrimage is between $2500 and $5000+. Here’s what that goes towards:

  • Most flights from North America to Spain range from $800-$1600 depending on the time of year and location
  • Local bus or train transport to and from the route can cost anywhere from $100-$300
  • Gear is expensive and can cost upwards of $300, but this can be mitigated if you already own suitable equipment or if you buy second-hand
  • Per-day costs are often estimated at around $35-$60 for the average pilgrim staying in albergues, but this price increases if you stay in hotels and indulge in local cuisine– which we recommend

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, staying in more affordable accommodation when possible, walking shorter routes, and being smart about their food expenses.

Camino de Santiago Packing List

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. Comfortable hiking shoes, sweat-wicking clothes, rain gear, and Camino credentials are all necessities. That being said, we have compiled an extensive Camino de Santiago packing list to help you have the most comfortable and enjoyable experience.

When to Walk the Camino de Santiago

The most revered Camino de Santiago routes are mostly located in Northern Spain, which warrants predominantly maritime conditions characterized by mild winters, frequent rainfall, and warm summers. Routes that travel through high altitude mountain ranges, like the Camino Francés and Camino Primitivo, are best avoided in the late fall and winter months due to the technicality of the terrain. Though most consider July and August to be ideal concerning weather, it is important to note that the heat can prove unbearable! Check out our article on the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago for a more in-depth guide on each route’s seasonality.

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.

Complete Camino Frances

This tour covers the entire 800.0 km 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.

Camino de Santiago in Luxury

The ancient Camino de Santiago is a route that has led pilgrims on their spiritual journey to Santiago for nearly a thousand years. Steeped in history and culture, you will embark on a 100 km walk with the luxury of upgraded accommodation and services.

Slower-Paced Camino Frances Pilgrimage

Want to cover the French Way with no pressure? This 12-day tour starts in Sarria and savors every church, village, and forest along the way in a more relaxed manner.

Cycling the Camino Frances

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.

Camino Portugues in Luxury

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.

Camino Primitive Last 100.0 km

Want to earn your Compostela without any extra distance? This 7-day tour covers the 100.0 km from Lugo to Santiago de Compostela.

Self-Guided French Camino Sarria to Santiago Route

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, satisfying the 100.0 km benchmark to receive a Compostela.

Camino Invierno de 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.

Camino de Santiago Northern Way

This 38-day tour takes you along the Camino Norte, arguably the most scenic adventure to Santiago de Compostela. It mostly follows Spain’s dramatic coastline and stops in gorgeous villages along the way.

Finisterre 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.

Vía de la Plata Pilgrimage

For those looking for an exceptional pilgrimage, taking the 1,000.0 km Vía de la Plata tour is an incredible option. You’ll travel for 49 days, experiencing unforgettable culture, landscape, and food along the route.

Camino Sanabrés to Santiago de Compostela

Seeking a more traditional route through Galician territory? The Camino Sanabrés self-guided tour is an awesome 100.0 km adventure to Santiago de Compostela. Steeped in history and tradition unfolds over seven delightful days.

Guided Camino Francés in 7 Days

The guided Camino Francés is a 115.0 km journey that qualifies you for the official Compostela, with the added advantage of being easily completed within a week!

Last 100.0 km of Portuguese Coastal Trek

Explore the Atlantic’s dramatic coastline along the last 100.0 km of the Camino Portugués Tour. Pick a stretch of beach to lie out on and go for a swim, and look out to the not-too-distant Cíes Islands along the way.

Portuguese Camino from Porto to Santiago

Want to experience the second-best Camino de Santiago? The Portuguese Way exhibits the beauty of the charming villages and luxuriant Galician countryside of northwestern Portugal and Spain.

Portuguese Camino to Santiago- Last 100.0 km

As you wander inland, watch history unfold itself along the Camino Portugués last 100km tour. Adventure through woodlands, past charming hamlets, and across medieval bridges, to the towns of Ponte Sampaio, Pontevedra, and Padrón.

The Lighthouse Way Camino

The Lighthouse Way is a wonderfully scenic extension of the Camino de Santiago. Spend 6 days walking the over 150.0 km to the well-known lighthouses such as Faro Vilán, Roncudo, and Nariga.

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 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 inherent risks to completing the walk alone.

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, a 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 accommodations 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.

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 demanding, ideal for less experienced adventurers.

Camino de Santiago Trip Planning Articles

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