Whether you are an experienced hiker or your longest walk is to do the groceries once a week, if walking one of the many Camino de Santiago routes is on your list, there are a few things to consider before getting started:
WHY: Are you doing it for the right reasons?
The motivations why people put Camino de Santiago on their list varies wildly. They go from ideological and religious beliefs to fitness goals, uncovering a new destination, meeting like-minded people or simply enjoying a very budget-friendly holiday among many others. And to be honest that’s all right, as there’s no right or wrong when coming to an enterprise like this. But giving these a bit of thought before getting it started will keep you focused and, in the end, happy.
WHICH: Choosing the best Camino de Santiago routes for you
From the middle ages, people from all corners of Europe and beyond have completed the Camino walking, riding a horse and, since bicycles are a thing, riding one. Across centuries the most famous route was the French Santiago’s way which would take people from France to Santiago de Compostela. Such was the fame of this one that many people thought there were no more.
Nonetheless, nowadays we know for sure the list is plentiful as Europe is crisscrossed by many different Caminos, coming from all corners. Walking them all would take a few years to complete, even for hardcore hikers. Hence picking the right one is an important step that you should not oversee. The following among the most renowned:
- French Way: It starts in St. Jean Pied de Port (France), takes one month and covers almost 800km. It is the busiest of them all, and the one with the best infrastructures (think of signposts, hostels, restaurants nearby the path and so on). Until a few years ago, this was the Camino that most people chose. Nonetheless, things are changing and the next ones are also excellent options enjoying a bit more quietude, without compromising too much in other areas.
- Portuguese Way: It starts in Lisbon (Portugal), takes around 25 days and covers a bit more than 600km. Many people decide to walk the Portuguese Way from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. At some point, it diverges in two (one that goes along the coast and another one inland) before these two paths join again in Galicia. The Coastal Portuguese Way is a great choice for those enjoying all things Portugal, and great landscapes by the coast. I did a few stages last year (from Porto to the Galician border) and it is well worth it!
- Northern Way: It starts in Irún (Spain), and covers 824km in 32 stages along the Cantabric coast. Another one for sea lovers, I did the last 100km of this one when I was 13 along with my dad and little brother. It was a very challenging experience as we did not find anyone else until we joined the main French Way route in Arzua, the first stage was nearly 40km, we lacked preparation – and proper equipment – and the weather did not cooperate as it was pouring for a couple of days. Over twenty years have already passed since that, and I am ready to see what it looks like today, as I am sure it has changed a lot since then.
- Primitive Way: It starts in Oviedo (Spain), and covers a bit more 300km in less than 2 weeks. One of the toughest, this route does not have that many people, although the landscapes of Asturias and Galicia that it passes are awe-inspiring. Worth a try if you are fit and do not mind big temperature changes!
- English Way: It starts in Ferrol or, alternatively, Coruña (both cities in Galicia, Spain), covering the short distance between these two coastal spots to Santiago in less than a week. As you only get the ‘Compostela’ after walking 100km or riding for 200, this one isn’t recommended for bikes if the pilgrim passport means anything to you. Otherwise, nevermind that and simply enjoy it!
- Silver Route: It starts in Sevilla (Spain) and covers almost 1000km in a month. I’d say this one is the best for people wanting to cross Spain and taste a few different regions while doing so as it passes through Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla y Leon and finally Galicia; four very different autonomous provinces worth spending a few days in each one.
- Winter Way: It starts in Ponferrada (Spain) and covers 263km in about 10 days. As its name suggests, this was the alternative route used during the tough Winter months and it is still an excellent choice if the weather is cold and rainy.
- Finisterre – Muxia Way: With only 90km, this one takes less than a week to complete. It starts in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and goes to the Death Coast. It follows the steps of the first pilgrims that, after finishing their Camino, continued until the Atlantic sea.
WHERE: Getting started
To get the Compostela you only need to walk 100km or 200km if you are cycling. This is about 4 or 5 stages. From there, you can expand what you want. But it is important to make clear that it is not necessary or mandatory to carry out each route from the beginning. Also, it is good to know that finishing it – although very satisfying – is not paramount, as enjoying the journey day by day is as meaningful.
It does not happen too often, but there are still plenty of people who for one reason or another can not finish it. Many will return later to continue doing so when they have the time or their wounds heal. Others won’t. But each and every one of them deserves our utmost respect and can be called pilgrims.
HOW MUCH: Handling logistics
With the great promotion and funds that the Camino de Santiago has enjoyed since the end of the last century, what once was an activity that only a few carried out, has become one of the main attractions of the Iberian Peninsula.
With this great development, in addition to the recovery of historic routes, the most important ones have been equipped with infrastructures and mechanisms that have brought them closer to being enjoyed by everyone. Depending on your WHY, values, and budget; Today there are a few different ways to walk the Camino:
- As it was done before, sleeping in public shelters.
- With a little more comfort, sleeping in private hostels.
- Through a dedicated company. From accommodation in hotels with rural charm, meals in awarded restaurants, dedicated accompanying guides, and walking without feeling the weight of the backpack on your back during all day among others are possible today. Take a look at the different proposals of walking Camino de Santiago with Santiago Ways.
WHO: Walking the Camino alone versus doing it with a group
Both have pros and cons, but remember: do not be afraid of walking it solo. Especially if one of the busiest routes is on your mind, it will be really easy to meet people if that’s what you want!
HOW: Training to get ready
Walking an average of 20 or 25km a day might not be what you are used to. In that case, preparing your body for walking the Camino is key. For that, schedule your Camino de Santiago adventure in a few months time and start walking a few km every couple of days at least until it becomes enjoyable and not something putting your body to a test.
Also, do not forget to walk with the shoes you’ll be using to do the actual Camino. This way you’ll avoid blisters and wounds in your feet later on.
WHAT: Camino de Santiago packing musts
As I suppose you would imagine, the fewer things you carry in your backpack, the better. In an ode to minimalism, here are the essentials:
- 1 light and comfy backpack
- 1 raincoat for you, another for your bag
- 1 sweater
- 1 cap
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 short trousers
- 1 long trousers
- 1 Walking boots
- 1 Flip-flops
- 1 swimming suit
- 3 underwear choices
- 2 pairs of socks
- 1 bags
- 1 small towel
- First-aid kit
- Toiletry bag
WHEN: Seasons, weather and right timing
To be honest, there is no ideal time to make the way of Santiago, as it is always a great idea no matter the season. Still, here are three things to keep in mind:
- If you want to avoid crowds of people on the busiest roads like the French, I’d recommend you to avoid walking it during Easter or public holidays.
- On the other hand, if the cold weather and the rain put you in a bad mood, it is better for you to choose Spring and Fall.
- Finally, the heat when crossing the Iberian Peninsula can be too extreme during the summer months, keep this in mind too!
I hope this short guide to Camino de Santiago will help you kickstart your Camino adventures. If you have any other tips or questions, please let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile, Buen Camino!