The Camino de Santiago
People and pilgrims around the world are rediscovering Spain’s Camino de Santiago, Medieval Europe’s version of the thru-hike. A veteran of the pilgrimage shares his tips for getting your boots on the path.
Today, believers make up a small proportion of people walking the Camino de Santiago. The vast majority of pilgrims are on their own quests, either recreational or spiritual. A month-long hike sounded like an amazing challenge, but an achievable one too. Read here
The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, extends from different countries in Europe, and even North Africa, on its way to Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre.
Links are the following
- 1Routes of Northern Spain
- 2Camino Francés
- 2In Spain and Portugal
- 3In France
- 4In Belgium and the Netherlands
- 5In Germany
- 6In Switzerland
- 7In Ireland
- 8In Poland
- 9In Slovakia
The El Camino is known by different names. Each route is named according to its country/place of origin and route
The most popular route, the Camino Francés, stretches 780 km (nearly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. This route is fed by three major French routes: the Voie de Tours, the Voie de Vezelay, and the Voie du Puy. It is also joined along its route by the Camino Aragones fed by the Voie d’Arles. It crosses the Pyrenees at Somport Pass, by the Camí de Saint Jaume from Montserrat near Barcelona, the Ruta de Tunel from Irun, the Camino Primitivo from Bilbao and Oviedo, and by the Camino de Levante from Valencia and Toledo.
Other Spanish routes are the Camino Inglés from Ferrol to La Coruña, the Via de la Plata from Seville and Salamanca, and the Camino Portugues from Oporto.
Today’s pilgrims/believers make up a only small proportion of people walking the Camino de Santiago. The vast majority of pilgrims are their own quests, either recreational or spiritual. A month-long hike sounds like an amazing challenge, but an achievable one too. Like any long-distance walk, there’s a physical and mental commitment to the task, a simple rhythm of daily needs to meet.
The number of people walking the Camino Francés has jumped from under 10,000 in 1992, to over 190,000 in 2012. The focal point and namesake of the Camino de Santiago is the city of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, in Spain’s northwest. Legend has it that the martyr St. James is buried in Compostela. He became a rallying point for Europeans fighting the Moors in the eighth century, after a shepherd claimed to have seen a bright light in the skies above.
During the Middle Ages, the Camino was responsible for the largest movement of people in Europe: millions of people, both rich and poor, made their way to Santiago de Compostela, where the pilgrim mass and certificate of pilgrimage ensured they would spend less time in purgatory. The route was nearly lost to history until recently, when a growing body of literature around the Camino sparked a resurgence of interest in it
When people talk about “the Camino”, they’re referring to one of many routes to Santiago de Compostela. Also known as the Camino Francés (the French Way), this route starts at St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France, crosses the Pyrenees, and continues westwards across Spain about 60 miles south of the coast. It passes through Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and a host of smaller towns and villages, and is about 500 miles in length, depending on how many detours you take
The network is similar to a river system – small brooks join together to make streams, which join together to make rivers, most of which join together to make the Camino Francés. During the middle ages, people walked out of their front doors and started off to Santiago, which was how the network grew up. Today, cheap air travel has given many the opportunity to fly to their starting point, and often to do different sections in successive years. Some people set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons; many others find spiritual reasons along the Way as they meet other pilgrims, attend pilgrim masses in churches and monasteries and cathedrals, and see the large infrastructure of buildings provided for pilgrims over many centuries.
The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century (year 814) moment of the discovery of the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula. Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela becomes a peregrination point of the entire European continent.
The Way was defined then by the net of Roman routes that joined the neuralgic points of the Peninsula. The impressive human flow that from very soon went towards Galicia made quickly appear lots of hospitals, churches, monasteries, abbeys and towns around the route. During the 14th century the pilgrimage began to decay, fact brought by the wars, the epidemics and the natural catastrophes.
The recovery of the route begins at the end of the 19th century, but it is during the last quarter of the 20th century when the authentic contemporary resurge of the peregrination takes place. There is no doubt that the social, tourist, cultural or sport components have had a great importance in the “jacobea” revitalization but we cannot forget that the route has gained its prestige thanks to its spiritual value.
The network of Caminos crosses Europe, and you can follow a Way from Finland or Turkey. The possibilities are beyond the scope of this article, but these are the main routes.
Camino Francés (the French Way)
The Camino Francés is the most popular option for a reason: The varied scenery and good infrastructure means that it’s an enjoyable walk. Most of the routes from other parts of Europe converge in St Jean Pied-du-Port, which is where the Camino Francés officially starts.
Camino del Norte (the Northern Way)
Hugging the northern coast of Spain, this route starts in Irún on the border with France and travels west through Bilbao, Santander and Oveido. The 510 miles of pathway will take about 35 days to complete, and though the distances between towns are reasonable, the sparse accommodations mean that you have to stick to a fairly rigid itinerary.
Camino Portugués (the Portuguese Way)
In contrast with many of the other routes, the Camino Portugués is relatively flat, without too many hills. It starts in Lisbon and passes through Porto and Pontevedra on its way north through Portugal, and is approximately 380 miles long. The infrastructure is reasonable but much of the route takes you alongside motorways.
Via de la Plata
The “plata” in the Via de la Plata’s name comes from a corruption of an Arabic word that means “wide surfaced road.” In this sense, it’s well named, as most of the route follows an old Roman road north from Seville; if you’re interested in Roman history, this is the route for you. At 620 miles, it’s the longest route through Spain, and it passes through Merida, Cáceres, Salamanca, and Zamora, as well as other cities.
Camino Inglés (the English Way)
English pilgrims arriving by boat from Britain started their walk at either La Coruña or Ferrol, and the English Way is a Y-shaped route which can be started in either of these cities. The 75km from La Coruña can be walked in three days, though you won’t earn a Compostela as it’s under 62 miles. From Ferrol, the 70-mile walk will take five days.
Camino Primitivo (the Original Route)
Oveido isn’t on the Camino Francés, but many pilgrims detour there to visit the city’s cathedral. The Camino Primitivo is the most direct route from Oveido to Santiago (passing through Lugo), and it rejoins the Camino Francés about 40 miles from Santiago. The walk is about 180 miles long and is quite challenging, as it includes a fair amount of hill climbing and the weather can be very erratic.
Camino de Finisterre (the Finisterre Way)
Instead of finishing their walk in Santiago, many pilgrims continue on to one of the westernmost points in Europe: Finisterre, whose name literally translates to “end of the world.” The route from Santiago to Finisterre adds on 55 miles and is best walked in five stages, with an optional extra 18-mile walk to Muxia afterwards. Organizations in Finisterre and Muxia both offer Compostelas to those that complete these routes.
A compostela is the “pilgrim certificate” you get at the end of the walk if you’ve completed 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) or more on foot. If you are not Catholic, but did the Camino for ‘spiritual reasons’ you can get a compostela. If you say your goals were non-spiritual, you get a rather plain certificate of completion.
Albergues and refugios are the pilgrim’s accommodation stops. Run by churches, town councils, non-profit organizations, and private for-profit groups, they provide cheap beds in dorm rooms, mattresses in church bell towers, or provide hotel-like rooms with prices starting at five euros a night.
A credential is the ‘pilgrim passport’ issued by various Camino-friendly organizations. Each albergue or refugio has its own stamp, which you’ll receive each night. You need a credential to stay in pilgrim accommodations, and a complete record of stamps to get your compostela. Arrange to have one posted to you in advance if you’re not starting at a popular stepping-off point. Accommodations are first come, first served, with preference given first to walkers, then horse-riders, then cyclists.
Starting Towns and Cities
If you don’t plan on doing a long trek, you can start at one of the towns on the way. These are:
If you’re not doing the Camino Frances, the other routes begin at these places:
- Camino del Norte: Irun
- Camino Aragones: Soport
- Via de la Plata: Seville
- Camino Ingles: A Coruña
- Camino Portugues: Porto
- Camino Primitivo: Oviedo
There are about thirty stages of pilgrimage from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. You average 24 kilometres per day for each stage. Many accommodations dot the different Ways of Compostela. We cannot detail exactly each step here. However, here is the detail of the map of the stages along the Camino Francés:
Expand the map here
The Camino Francés (The French Way) may be considered in Steps as follows
Step 1: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Roncesvalles: 26.9 kilomètres,
Step 4: Pamplona to Puente-la-Reina: 24.3 kilometres, 93 km travelled,
Step 6: Estrella in Los Arcos: 21 kilometers, 137.3 km covered,
Step 8: Logroo in Najera: 30.1 kilometres, 195.4 km in total,
Step 21: Mansilla de las Mulas in Leon: 23.2 kilometres, 489.6 km in total,
Step 24: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino: 22 kilometers, 560.5 km in total,
Step 33: Santa Irene to Santiago de Compostela: 25.3 kilometers, 811.9 km in total.
© Craig Martin Pilgrimage Tours
Stages on foot on The French Way ▷ Camino Frances: Route Planner, Stages & Map | French Way | Pilgrim
Camino Frances route overview (Click for any stage)
St.Jean Pied de Port the beginning of the Camino Frances
Detailed one-month itinerary for the Camino Frances
Day 1. St.Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles
Day 2. Roncesvalles to Zubiri
Day 3. Zubiri to Pamplona
Day 4. Pamplona – Puente La Reina
Day 5. Puente La Reina to Estella
Day 6. Estella to Los Arcos
Day 7. Los Arcos to Logroño
Day 8. Logroño – Navarrete
Day 9. Navarrete to Azafra
Day 10. Azofra to Grañon
Day 11. Grañon to Villafranca Montes de Oca
Day 12. Villafranca Montes de Oca to Cardeñuela Riopico
Day 13. Cardeñuela Riopico to Tardajos
Day 14. Tardajos to Castrojeriz
Day 15. Castrojeriz to Frómista
Day 16. Frómista to Carrión de los Condes
Day 17. Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios
Day 18. Terradillos de los Templarios to Bercianos del Real Camino
Day 19. Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas
Day 20. Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon
Day 21. León to Villar de Mazarife
Day 22. Villar de Mazarife to Astorga
Day 23. Astorga to Foncebadón
Day 24. Foncebadón to Ponferrada
Day 25. Ponferrada to Villafranca de Bierzo
Day 26. Villafranca de Bierzo to O Cebreiro
Day 27. O Cebreiro to Triacastela
Day 28. Triacastela to Sarria
Days 29-33. Sarria to Santiago de Compostela