People choose to walk the Camino for many different reasons. Whether you want to take some time to reflect on your life or simply enjoy the Spanish culture, the Camino is right for everyone, it really is.
If you plan to embark on this physical and spiritual journey, here is a short guide to five of the most well-established routes to help you find the best one and make your trip that much more enjoyable.
The Camino Frances (or the French Way) is possibly the most famous and most walked of all the major Camino de Santiago routes. Its 780 km (nearly 500 miles) of trail has motivated many great artists and filmmakers to document their reflective journey – such as the 2010 Hollywood movie The Way starring Martin Sheen, or Paulo Coelho in his bestselling book The Pilgrimage.
St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France marks the starting point of Camino Frances, before crossing the Pyrenees and continuing through the La Rioja region and along the rolling hills of northern Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela. A typical walk on this route takes about 4 weeks, permitting two rest days on the way.
More than 60% of pilgrims, or almost 200,000 people walk this route every year as this is where you can get the most pilgrim experience. Since people from around the globe come together to take this journey, the French Way is also the route best suited to pilgrims who want to meet many other pilgrims along the way. It is obviously also the most crowded, so if you are looking for a solitary journey, the French Way is not for you.
The Camino Portuguese is the second most popular Camino de Santiago route after the Camino Frances in terms of the number of pilgrims. Among the most iconic figures to walk this way was King Sancho II in 1244, Queen Isabel of Portugal in 1326 and 1335 as well as Francisco de Holanda, a renowned Portuguese painter, humanist and architect, in 1549. The Portuguese Way provides an excellent option if you want to get away from the crowds and are looking for a more authentic and culturally rich experience.
The entire route from Lisbon to Santiago is 616 kilometers long. On average, it can be comfortably conquered in approximately 24 days. It starts in Lisbon – Portugal’s capital and home to several UNESCO sites – and takes pilgrims across stunning countryside, villages, towns, and cities. It crosses Portugal from south to north and leads pilgrims through the natural and historical beauties of Portugal and Spain. While you take in the gorgeous scenery, you can also taste some of the finest food and wine the two countries have to offer.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte or Ruta de la Costa is the third most popular pilgrimage route you can choose. This 824-kilometer walk is also known as one of the toughest routes of the Camino de Santiago, due to its mountainous terrain with numerous climbs and drops. Spanish pilgrims used it for centuries making their way along the wonderful coasts of the Basque region and Asturias to finally arrive in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
The Camino del Norte is a combination of historic towns, stunning coastlines, dramatic cliffs, green mountains and lush forests. If you want to see both the sea and the mountains, this is a good alternative to the more popular French and Portuguese routes. It is also suitable for food lovers as the journey starts in San Sebastian – Europe’s culinary capital and the city with the second highest number of Michelin stars in the world. Here and along the way, pilgrims will discover charming fishing villages, swim at beautiful beaches, and taste fresh seafood.
The Camino Ingles, or the English Way, is one of the shortest routes on land to get to Santiago de Compostela. The route can be traced all the way to the 12th century, when pilgrims from England, Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavian countries arrived in the ports of Northern Spain to continue their way to Santiago. There are two starting points for the Camino Ingles – one from Ferrol and one from La Coruña. The distance between Ferrol and Santiago is 110 kilometers while the distance between La Coruña and Santiago is only 96 kilometers. A pilgrim cannot earn a compostela by completing a journey that is less than 100 kilometers, so choose wisely.
The Camino Inglés is the route for you if you only have a few days to spare, if you do not like mountainous and demanding terrain or simply cannot take the overwhelming heat. It takes no more than five days to hike and the terrain is relatively easy and gives you nothing to be worried about. Although it has become more popular among pilgrims over the years, it still offers one of the most solitary and authentic experiences.
The Camino Primitivo or the Original Way is considered the very first of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago. This was the route taken by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the 9th century from the city of Oviedo in Asturias to Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino Primitivo is one of the hardest yet most rewarding routes on the Camino de Santiago, as you will pass through the untouched nature of Asturias. It is perfect for those wanting a quieter and more challenging alternative to other well-known routes. The first part of the 321-kilometer journey is particularly challenging; from Oviedo to Lugo, you will mainly pass through a mountainous area with many difficulties. The terrain will be unsteady and most of the time will be muddy. Pilgrims need to be well prepared for this journey both physically and in terms of gear. If you can walk for 22-24 kilometers per day, the Camino can be comfortably done in 12-14 days. There are fewer people and pilgrims can enjoy the scenery all for themselves at certain times.
About the author: Rebecca Brown is a freelance writer/blogger. You can check out more of her work at Rought Draft.
Photo Credit: Miguel Ángel García, Gustavo Maximo