How many routes are there in Camino de Santiago?
Well, let me tell you, there are almost as many Camino routes as there are flavors of ice cream (and that’s a lot!). Historically, people just walked out of their front door and headed towards Santiago de Compostela. Nowadays, the most popular routes are the ones that go through Spain and Portugal. We’ve got the Camino Frances, Camino Ingles, Via de la Plata, Primitivo, Camino del Norte, Camino Central and Camino de la Costa, just to name a few.
Each route has its own unique charm, terrain, and cultural experiences, so it’s up to the pilgrim to decide which one they want to conquer. Think of it like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but instead of turning pages, you’re walking your way to Santiago de Compostela!
The Camino Frances, or French Way, is the quintessential route of the Camino de Santiago, the best-known path to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It’s like the main dish of a banquet, the star of the show, or the Mona Lisa of the Louvre Museum. This trail is steeped in history and has been walked by pilgrims for centuries, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back in the 12th century, the Codex Calixtinus (the first Camino de Santiago guidebook ever) described the route in all its glory – from the sanctuaries to the food to the people (who apparently were pretty hospitable, even way back when). Kings and queens got in on the action, building bridges, castles, and hospitals to help out weary pilgrims. Today, the Camino Frances starts in the French Basque town of St Jean Pied de Port, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees. It’s the most popular route by far, attracting over 60% of all Camino walkers. And if that wasn’t enough, it even has a Hollywood connection thanks to the movie ‘The Way’ (starring Martin Sheen). So what’s the journey like? Well, pilgrims will trek across the rugged terrain of northern Spain, passing through vineyards, quaint medieval villages, and lush green pastures. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but with a lot more blisters and sore muscles. Assuming a pace of 20-25km per day (with one rest day per week), it takes about a month to complete the Camino Frances. But hey, no one said walking 500 miles was going to be a breeze, right? It’s all about that magical ‘Spirit of the Camino’, where history and modern-day adventure collide.
The Camino de Santiago Portugues is the second most popular pilgrimage route after Camino Frances, attracting pilgrims to both its Central and Coastal routes. It strikes the perfect balance between breathtaking landscapes and a manageable number of fellow walkers. From stunning coastlines and forests to historical sites, medieval bridges, Roman ruins, and Baroque churches, this Camino has it all. And let’s not forget about the fantastic cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Pontevedra that it passes through. Traditionally, pilgrims from Portugal, mainly from Lisbon and Porto, would start their journey on this route. These UNESCO World Heritage cities are still two of the main starting points today, although you can join the Camino at any point along the way.
The Central route starts from Lisbon, spanning approximately 620 km, crossing charming little villages, and old towns. As you head north, the landscape opens up to more forest tracks. Walking the full Camino Portugues Central from Lisbon takes around 25 days, although rest days are highly recommended, and some stages can be split in two depending on accommodation availability. Alternatively, the Coastal Camino Portugues begins in Porto and covers approximately 230 km, taking pilgrims on a trail along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, passing natural parks, beaches, and lovely coastal and fishing towns. Completing the Coastal Camino Portugues from Porto takes 12 walking days, plus resting days. But why choose? Consider combining both routes, starting your Camino journey on the Camino Portugues Central and, once reaching Porto, continuing on the Coastal route. The Camino Portugues has low difficulty levels, making it an excellent choice for beginners. Although it has long-distance trails, you can split the day in two in some areas, depending on the available accommodation. It also has well-developed infrastructure throughout the year. But let’s talk about the real reason to do this Camino – Portuguese food! With a cod dish for each day of the year, all taste buds are guaranteed to be satisfied. And don’t miss out on the Pasteis de Nata and Pasteis de Belem custard tarts. Seafood and Albariño white wine should also be on your must-taste list while on the Atlantic shores of Northern Portugal and the Rias Baixas of Southern Galicia. So, pack your appetite and walking shoes and let’s hit the Camino Portugues!
Camino Primitivo is not for the faint-hearted. It’s like the Mount Everest of pilgrimages – challenging, but oh-so-rewarding. Legend has it that the hermit Pelayo stumbled upon the remains of Saint James while following the Milky Way. I mean, talk about a lucky discovery! And when King Alfonso II of Asturias heard of this, he thought to himself, “I gotta check this out for myself.” So he walked all the way from Oviedo to confirm the authenticity of the discovery. I bet he was pretty tired after that journey. But his approval kick-started the first-ever Camino pilgrimage trail – Camino Primitivo. Nowadays, the Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo, Asturia, and takes pilgrims on a 320 km journey across mountainous landscapes and quiet tracks. It’s not for the novice walker – you’ll need some serious hiking experience to tackle those 1100m above sea level peaks. But fear not, as the stages before joining the French Way are not too crowded, so you’ll have plenty of space to catch your breath and appreciate the breathtaking scenery. Just be prepared for some long sections and dispersed accommodation. But hey, who needs luxury when you have stunning Roman walls and remote villages? This route takes approximately two weeks, so make sure to pack some snacks and a comfy pair of shoes. In summary, if you’re looking for a challenge and want to follow in the footsteps of the original Camino, then the Camino Primitivo is for you.
Looking for a quick taste of the Camino without sacrificing too much time? Look no further than the Camino Ingles! This pint-sized pilgrimage path is the shortest in Northern Galicia, perfect for those with small legs or big deadlines. You can choose to start in A Coruña and walk a mere 75 km to Santiago, or if you’re feeling adventurous, start in Ferrol and add a few extra kilometers to your journey (113 km to be exact). Historically, the Camino Ingles was popular among pilgrims from Northern Europe, especially from Northern Ireland and Great Britain. They would arrive in Spain by boat and continue their journey on foot. But don’t worry if you’re not from these parts – you can still get your Compostela by covering 100 km on foot. If you start from A Coruña, you have a few options to make up the extra kilometers. You can either request a Certificate of Distance, available to any pilgrim walking any stage of the Camino, or you can walk some pilgrimage routes in your home country before setting off for Spain. The kilometers covered on the Camino Ingles routes in the United Kingdom and Ireland (accredited with the corresponding stamps on the credential) count towards obtaining the Compostela when starting the Camino Ingles in A Coruña. So, whether you’re a seasoned pilgrim or a newbie looking for a taste of the Camino, the Camino Ingles is a great option. And if you’re from the UK or Ireland, you’re in luck – you can even start your journey from home! You can find a list of approved pilgrim trails in Ireland here at Camino Society Ireland. On the website of the Confraternity of St James you can find a list of all official pilgrim routes in the UK.
Camino del Norte
Looking for a challenging adventure that also satisfies your inner foodie? The Camino de Santiago del Norte, or as we call it in English, the Northern Way, is the perfect route for you! This is the longest of all the Camino routes – after Via de La Plata – so make sure to pack plenty of snacks and comfy shoes. It’s so long, it even beats the famous French and Original Way, making it perfect for those who like to go the extra mile (or 824 km to be exact). This route has been travelled by European kings of the Middle Ages, who were basically the original influencers of their time. So, if you’re looking to travel like royalty, then the Northern Way is your chance to walk in their footsteps. Starting in Irún on the border with France, you’ll pass through some stunning cities along the way, including San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, and Oviedo. And, of course, you can indulge in some of the best food in Spain. Trust us, the pintxos in San Sebastian are worth the walk alone.
But don’t let the stunning scenery and delicious food fool you, this route has a high level of difficulty. You’ll encounter all sorts of weather conditions, from sunburn to hailstorms, and the terrain is no walk in the park (even though that’s exactly what you’ll be doing). So, make sure to train and be prepared for an intense and authentic experience that will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and a much-deserved appetite.
Via de La Plata
Are you ready to hit the Silver Way, the longest of all Camino routes? This journey starts in Seville, the land of flamenco and tapas, and takes you on an epic adventure through the regions of Extremadura and Castilla y Leon, before reaching Santiago de Compostela. This ancient route has a storied history, dating back to the days when it linked the Roman cities of Emerita Augusta and Asturica Augusta. When Christianity came to Spain, the trail was adapted and expanded to include older, pre-existing paths.
Eventually, it became known as the “Silver Way,” not because of precious metals trading, but because of the Arabic word “Bal’latta,” used by Muslims to describe the big, stony road that led north to Christian lands. Of course, that didn’t stop the road from being used for trading silver arriving in Seville from the New World. The distance of over 1000 km might sound daunting, but fear not, because this route is easier in terms of terrain than the French Way. But don’t get too comfortable, because the Silver Way presents a new challenge: it’s quieter and has fewer facilities. Plus, the summer months can get pretty hot so it is best to avoid them completely. Completing the Via de la Plata takes around 40 to 50 days, depending on your daily distances and how many rest days you take in between. But don’t worry, you won’t be alone on this journey. You’ll encounter beautiful countryside scenery, impressive Roman ruins, and spectacular mediaeval cities and towns. And if you’re lucky, you might even find some solitude.
The Finisterre Camino route is definitely the oddball of the Camino family. It’s the only one that starts in Santiago de Compostela, instead of ending there like all the others. This route takes pilgrims on a journey to the wild West, all the way to Cape Finisterra and then along the Atlantic coast to Muxia. Legend has it that this route started back in the day when pagan communities would follow the Sun to the far West. I mean, who wouldn’t want to follow the Sun? Especially if it meant ending up at Land’s End, which is what “Finisterra” means in Latin. And the Romans thought it was the end of the world. Can you imagine their disappointment when they realized there was no actual cliff for people to jump off and float away to the other world? But fear not, brave pilgrim! If walking to Santiago just isn’t enough for you, and your feet just won’t stop itching, consider walking to Finisterra and then on to Muxia. It’s like the extended cut of your favorite movie. This camino is only four days long along 90km, and it’s packed with history, rural countryside, ocean views, rugged coastline, beautiful beaches, and delicious fish and seafood. It’s like a smorgasbord of awesomeness for your senses. So go ahead, take that detour, and explore the end of the world!
Which route of the Camino de Santiago is the best to start?
This is a subjective choice, but we can share with you some tips to help you choose:
IF YOU’RE A BIT ANXIOUS AND IN NEED OF SOCIAL INTERACTION:
You should probably choose the French Way, my dear. It’s like a pilgrimage on steroids – there are so many pilgrims, you’ll feel like you’re in a bustling city. Plus, the infrastructure is solid, and the signage is so clear that you’ll think you’re playing a real-life game of Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
IF YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME BUT STILL WANT A TASTE OF THE CAMINO:
Try the Camino Ingles or the Portuguese Way from Tui. They’re the shortest routes, and they’ll give you just enough of a taste of the Camino to make you want more. And don’t forget, you can start at any stage of the way and create an itinerary adapted to the time you have available.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR PEACE AND QUIET:
Ah, the silent treatment, I see. Well, in that case, the Via de la Plata, the Camino de Invierno, or the Camino Primitivo are your best bets. You’ll have plenty of time to meditate, reflect, and talk to yourself without anyone interrupting you. Just don’t get too lonely, okay?
IF YOU’RE AN EXPERIENCED WALKER:
Oh, you’re a seasoned pro, are you? Well, then you should try the Camino Primitivo. It’s like a rollercoaster – full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and a whole lot of adventure. Or, if you’re feeling up for a challenge, try the Via de la Plata, the longest route. Warning: you may need some extra snacks for that one.
IF YOU LOVE TO WALK BY THE SEA:
The Portuguese Coastal Camino is perfect for you, my friend. You’ll be able to take in the salty sea air, feel the sand between your toes, and maybe even take a dip in the ocean if you’re feeling brave. And if you’re up for it, you could also try the Camino to Finisterre and Muxía, where you can discover the fabulous Costa da Morte with its pristine villages.
IF YOU’RE CRAVING ADVENTURE:
Well, well, well, aren’t you a daredevil? If you’re looking for a challenge, you should try the Camino Primitivo. It’s like the rollercoaster we talked about earlier, but with a little extra spice. And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, try starting from the South and walking the Via de la Plata. Or, heck, why not repeat the same Camino? It’ll be like Groundhog Day, but with more blisters.
IF YOU’RE CRAZY ABOUT CYCLING:
Then, my dear, any Camino is suitable for you to do by bike. Just be sure to wear a helmet, okay? Safety first! And if all else fails, remember, there are plenty of other pilgrimages around the world to choose from. You could try the via Francigena in Italy, 88 temples pilgrimage or Kumano Kodo in Japan, the Dandi march in India, or the Transilvanic Trail in Romania.