El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James in English, is a pilgrimage for everyone that leads to the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle Saint James the Great is allegedly buried.
The Camino used to be one of the most praised Christian pilgrimages of the Middle Ages. And it still is an important pilgrimage, but nowadays its routes are walked for various reasons. People from all over the world venture into walking one of the Caminos seeking spiritual growth, better physical health, or a splendid holiday.
Whether you are interested in finding yourself, connecting with nature and unplugging from daily life, or just having a memorable adventure, it is said that whatever you are looking for, you will find it on El Camino. It’s a pilgrimage for everyone, with different routes to choose from. Because people are different, you should follow the Camino route that suits you the most.
So, continue reading this article, and, hopefully, by the end of it, you will know which route you should take.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Before you decide on the route, you should know how much time you have. If you have more than a month, you can walk the French Way, which is the most popular path. It is 780 km long, starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France and ends in Santiago at the Cathedral.
Planning to walk the Camino Frances requires you to take 30 to 35 days off work. However, you should also be fit enough to walk about 25 km every day. If you don’t have that much time or you’re not in good enough shape, but you still want to enjoy the most popular Camino path, you can always hop on a train or bus from time to time. Alternatively, you can cycle to Santiago. The French Way has an excellent infrastructure.
Of course, there are other options. The Portuguese Way is 620 km long if you begin in Lisbon, 240 km long from Porto and 115 km from Tui. Also, if you want a more spiritual adventure, you can always enjoy the 260 km Camino Primitivo.
If time is not on your side, not only can you choose from different routes, but you also have the option to begin your pilgrimage as close to Santiago as you want. So, before you decide, make sure you know exactly how many days you can spend on El Camino.
How Fit Are You?
Though the Camino is a pilgrimage for everyone, having a good fitness level when planning to walk for many days is important. There are some routes that have more challenging terrain, while others are a little easier on the feet. For instance, if you are a passionate hiker, you will fall in love with the mesmerizing first section of The French Way, which gives you the chance to pass over the Pyrenees.
At the same time, people who aren’t experienced hikers might enjoy the relatively flat routes more. The Portuguese Coastal Camino is a great choice for pilgrims with less training.
If you want to figure out your fitness level before beginning your adventure, you can hit a local trail. This way you will see what kind of terrain you find difficult and how far you can walk.
The best way to discover how fit you are, is to put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and hit the trail locally. See how far you can walk, and what kind of terrain you find the most difficult. Then, you can choose your route. If you feel you are not prepared for the Camino you prefer, you can always train before you start it. A few months of training should be enough.
When Do You Plan to Walk El Camino?
Before choosing a route, you should also think about when you plan to have this experience. One of the questions all people who want to walk El Camino ask is, “When is the best time?”
There are multiple options, and it all depends on your preferences and comfort level. If you prefer the Camino Frances, you can do it most of the year, except winter months, when the first section, which takes you across mountainous regions, is too challenging. Coastal routes like the charming Portuguese Coastal Way are perfect for spring and summer, from April to September, and even October.
Most of the pilgrimage routes can be enjoyed all year round, though the best time would be from Spring to Autumn, with July and August being the busiest months.
What Are You Expecting From Walking El Camino?
As already mentioned, there are many ways to Santiago de Compostela. While the number of days you have, the level of fitness, and the weather are important aspects to consider when choosing your path, so are your personal preferences.
For instance, if you are looking for a more spiritual experience, you should think about walking El Camino Primitivo. It is the oldest route, dating back to when the Spanish lands were controlled by the Moors, and it’s a great option if you want to get closer to the true roots of the pilgrimage while exploring sparsely populated mountainous areas and admiring the breathtaking scenery.
For many pilgrims who are interested in a meaningful experience, this route is the answer. Also, not many choose it, which means it’s usually very quiet and liberating. And since it’s less popular nowadays, it also has fewer tourist attractions and restaurants than other paths. Before starting on this adventure, you have to think about both aspects and decide what you’re comfortable with.
Are you a solo traveler who dreams of spending time in the middle of nature and getting to know yourself better? Then, the Primitive Way is exactly what you’re looking for.
joining other pilgrims
But if you are interested in a more social experience where you can check out great restaurants and see tourist attractions, maybe the French Way is a better option. Not only is the Camino Frances the most popular route of the Way of Saint James, but many pilgrims also consider it the most beautiful, especially for those who are interested in socializing while discovering beautiful places.
Saint Jean Pied de Port, for instance, is one of the places you will instantly fall in love with if you are a social bee. Its charming streets are always filled with excited pilgrims from every corner of the world. The route is 790 km long, and it takes more than four weeks to get to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Camino Frances is a great choice for meeting interesting people from everywhere, but it can get very crowded, especially during summer. If you love being among people, but crowds aren’t exactly what you are looking for, you might want to choose another path, or just avoid the summer months.
Beautiful Landscapes & history
The Portuguese Way is a fantastic choice for pilgrims who aren’t interested in the lonely, spiritual walk to Santiago, but also dislike roads that are too crowded. El Camino Portuguese, as it is known in Spanish, is also known for its mesmerising landscapes, making it a perfect option for passionate photographers.
This path has an interesting past. Those who began walking this route had more than spiritual and religious reasons. They needed to create links between their territories and neighbouring lands because of cultural and economic reasons, and these connections are still alive today.
So, if you want to walk along the path that brought about commercial and cultural exchange between Portugal and Galicia, get closer to history, see beautiful nature, charming vineyards, welcoming villages, and have great options for both eating and sleeping, the Portuguese Way is for you.
Just make sure you pack your camera, and keep in mind that it is 620 km long if you have enough time to begin walking in lovely Lisbon. Otherwise, you can start in Porto and walk 240 km, or in Tui and enjoy 115 km of beauty until you arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
A pilgrimage for everyone
These are some of the aspects you have to keep in mind when choosing your Camino. As mentioned in the beginning, this pilgrimage is for everyone, no matter the differences, likes, and dislikes or the reason behind walking all the way to Santiago.
The paths that get you to the beautiful Cathedral are many, and they offer different benefits. There are people who love the experience so much they repeat it, choosing a different route. If time allows you to enjoy a pilgrimage every now and then, you are very lucky. Otherwise, you have to choose one way, and it can be a tough choice.
Why I went to Santiago
I decided to walk to Santiago after I lost my dream job and I broke up with my boyfriend. I read about all the routes, and I joined a few online pilgrims’ groups. After deep research and asking around, I took the Camino Portuguese, from Porto. I didn’t consider myself fit enough to walk all the way from Lisbon.
The reasons behind my decision were delicious food, beautiful nature, vineyards and villages, as well as great company without too many crowds. It was a memorable experience, but so was walking El Camino Frances the next year, El Camino Primitivo a few years after, and finally El Camino Portugues once more, from Lisbon.
Now it’s your turn to choose
All the routes mentioned have great things to offer. And no matter which one you choose, go with all your heart, try to relax and connect with nature if that is what you need, become more open to communicating with strangers, find yourself, or even forget about who you were and create a new you, while walking to Santiago de Compostela.
Whatever you are searching for, you will find it on El Camino, no matter which path you choose, as long as your heart and mind are open. So, choose wisely, make sure you carry a well-packed bag, and let the path to Santiago surprise you. Buen Camino!
Rebecca is a translator, an interpreter and a digital nomad, living her best life while traveling the world and breaking out of her shell. Her ultimate dream is to visit every country in the world, and she has so far been to 49. When not writing or trying to find the perfect cappuccino, she tries to blog at RoughDraft. Once a social media addict, she now has a very rarely used Twitter account.