Hombre caminando en un camino con una mochila y un bastón

Camino de Santiago: Routes, Maps, Stages and Variants [2022]

Lee este artículo en español: El Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago, or St. James Way, is one of the main attractions of Galicia and undoubtedly one of the most wonderful experiences a traveler can live. It doesn’t matter if you come alone, with family or friends.

The places you can visit while walking the Camino de Santiago are innumerable. It is also a perfect occasion to connect with yourself or with those around you. More than a few people establish special relationships during their journey.

To do the Camino de Santiago we have several different routes and several alternatives. There are many variants of the Camino and we can start from any point of our geography. We can also experience the Camino de Santiago in many different ways, for example, by bike, on horseback or the most common, walking.

Doing the Camino de Santiago for the first time can be overwhelming. It is necessary to plan the trip in great detail if we do not want to suffer undesirable unforeseen events. It is also necessary to take into account the location of the different hostels and accommodation points that we will need. The backpack will be our most faithful companion if we know how to prepare it, or our worst enemy if we do it incorrectly.

Don’t worry, in this complete guide I will talk about how to enjoy the Camino de Santiago without mishaps. I will talk about its history and origins, which are very interesting, the different variants that exist today and I will share some practical tips.

Chapter 1

What is the Camino de Santiago

There are few hiking routes in the world with as much history as the Camino de Santiago, the acclaimed pilgrimage that crosses northern Spain for more than 700 kilometers.

The Camino de Santiago is one of those iconic hikes that is on every adventurer’s list for one reason or another, whether for its religious significance, the epic journey or the unique challenge it presents. Under the warm glow of the Spanish sun, there is much to discover on the Camino de Santiago, not only about the route, the travelers and the breathtaking scenery, but also about oneself.

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago, or St. James Way, is a world-famous Christian pilgrimage through the picturesque countryside of northern Spain.

In addition to being an important religious route, the Camino de Santiago has become a popular long-distance trail for hikers of all faiths, hoping to tackle its immense distance and rolling landscapes on foot.

The Camino de Santiago is believed to have originated when the remains of St. James the Greater were transported by ship from Jerusalem and then across northern Spain to Santiago, where he was eventually laid to rest. Some even believe that the route has pagan origins, evoking a time when pilgrims walked to Finisterre or the “end of the Earth,” braving the many dangers of the road to pay homage to their saint.

Today you are unlikely to encounter bandits, bears or wolves along the way, however, what you will find are breathtaking views, friendly and welcoming people and the opportunity to walk one of the most famous hiking routes in the world. Although there are several routes to Santiago, the most popular and best maintained is the original French Way, starting in San Juan Pie de Puerto, amidst the stunning natural beauty of the French Pyrenees. From here you will meander through the Basque Country and stunning Pamplona before passing through the vineyards of La Rioja to reach the fragrant eucalyptus forest of Galicia.

There are two main final goals for the Camino de Santiago, the first and most obvious being Santiago de Compostela and the second Finisterre, just off the west coast of Spain. Many choose to end their incredible journey by touching the stone at the entrance of the cathedral of Santiago, while others prefer to end their pilgrimage by following the entire path all the way to the coast at Finisterre, or the “edge of the world”, as the pagans believed. It all depends on your preferences and how much time you have available.

It is also worth mentioning that not everyone has the time and resources to walk the more than 700 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago. Many simply choose to walk a section of it.

The Pilgrim and The Pilgrimage

The word pilgrim derives from the Latin peregrīnus and describes a traveler, who by devotion or vow, makes a journey through unknown regions in order to visit a sanctuary or some place considered sacred. In the case of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim is that traveler who goes to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to visit the tomb of the apostle, this being a concept closely related to the Catholic religion and its beliefs.

A believer may undertake a pilgrimage in fulfillment of a vow, as atonement for sins, as a gesture of thanksgiving for positive events or as a means of intercession, among other reasons. Before the age of exploration in Europe, pilgrimage was a primary impetus for travel, especially among non-elites, and played an important role in local economies and the transmission of culture.

Varias personas caminando por el monte en un camino de tierra y piedras. Con mochilas y ropa de montaña.
Image: Henry Xu (Unsplash)

Pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often on foot or on horseback, to a specific destination of importance. It is an inherently transitory experience, which removes the participant from his or her environment and identity. The means or motivations for undertaking a pilgrimage may vary, but the act, however it is performed, combines the physical and the spiritual in a unified experience.

Some say it has been an important event in their lives, while others feel it is a catalyst leading to life-changing decisions later in life. People often say they feel personally invested in the pilgrimage. The variety of spiritual encounters such as talks, reflections, prayer, fellowship, art, nature or community help create the spirituality of the pilgrimage.

The origins of pilgrimage are difficult to determine, but the voluntary visit to important sites is a practice that predates antiquity. Pilgrimages have long been a common feature of many world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism.

The Camino de Santiago has been a pilgrimage route for more than 1,000 years, and there is even evidence that a route existed in pre-Christian times, back in the 8th century. It is believed that this ancient route followed the Milky Way to what people believed at the time to be the end of the Earth.

The Apostolic Tomb and James the Greater

Santiago de Compostela is named after James the Greater, one of Jesus’ disciples. After his martyrdom in Palestine, his mortal remains were supposedly placed in a stone boat by two of his followers. According to legend, the boat sailed to the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain in 7 days, guided by angels.

There the body was buried at the foot of Mount Libredon. The apostolic tomb was forgotten until about 842, when it was rediscovered by the hermit Pelayo. After the discovery, his tomb became an important place for Christianity, due in part to the belief that Santiago personally intervened in the history of Spain.

Santiago el Mayor - Guido Reni, circa 1636 - circa 1638. La obra representa a Santiago el Mayor, hermano de san Juan, uno de los apóstoles más cercanos a Cristo. Óleo sobre Lienzo
James the Greater – Guido Reni, circa 1636 – circa 1638

During a battle between Christians and Moors in Clavijo, the apostle appeared on horseback and participated in the fight. From here comes the nickname of Santiago “matamoros”, killer of Moors. With the desire to get closer to the powerful saint, his worshippers began to make pilgrimages to the city of Santiago believing that the more pilgrims made the journey, the more powerful he would become and the more people he would be able to help.

This made it exceptionally popular, also outside Spain. Originally, it is worth remembering that the Camino de Santiago was not only used by pilgrims, but also by merchants, soldiers and farmers who went in their carts, pulled by mules, to the markets of nearby towns.

Over the supposed tomb of St. James, a mighty basilica arose. The cathedral has the form of a cruciform church and was built from 1077, under the mandate of Alfonso VI of Castile, on the remains of an earlier church from the year 800. The southern portal is Romanesque, the western portal is Baroque, the northern portal is Neoclassical and the ambulatory is Gothic. The cathedral is 97 m long and 22 m high. In 1985, the cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, the cathedral is illustrated on the Spanish 1, 2 and 5 cent euro coins.

Chapter 2

History of the Camino de Santiago

The history of the Camino de Santiago has its origins in the early ninth century when the tomb of St. James the Great, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, patron saint of Spain and evangelizer of the north of the peninsula, was discovered.

Since then and with the passing of the centuries, the Camino de Santiago has become the most important pilgrimage route in medieval Europe, marked by the steps of faith, adoration and illusion of the pilgrims who, guided by their goal of finding the peace of the Apostle, made their way to Compostela from all corners of Europe, marking the origin of a whole social, artistic and economic development that left its traces along its entire route.

However, the road has not always been traveled in the same way at all times, and has also had its shadows, as political, religious and social conditions have also plunged it into darkness. Two examples are the epidemic of the Black Death that struck Northern Europe (particularly in the area of Asia and Europe in the 14th century), other diseases that were common among the population, such as influenza, dysentery, measles and leprosy, and the negative influence of Protestantism.

The religious movement of the Reformation clearly harmed the pilgrimage to Santiago, since Protestantism, which was against (among other things) the cult of the saints, caused the number of pilgrims to decrease notably and this was reflected in lands of great Jacobean tradition such as the Netherlands, the British Isles, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.

The Primitive Way of Saint James

The Primitive Way is the oldest and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015. Today, the original route of this path is still preserved and year after year it gains followers thanks to its historical significance, key to its consolidation. To help today’s pilgrim better understand the journey, it is necessary to know what the Primitive Way of St. James was like. It was the first historical route, the one traveled by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the ninth century with the desire to visit the recently discovered tomb of the Apostle St. James.

This visit to the tomb by the monarch greatly benefited the development of the road, and this was rewarded with the admiration that many pilgrims gave to Alfonso II. Finally, and at the express wish of the king, the first church dedicated to Santiago was ordered to be built, financed economically with the help of the monastery of San Paio de Antealtares.

Escultura de piedra de Alfonso II El Casto, en Oviedo
Alfonso II El Casto, Oviedo (Foto: Nacho)

Geographically speaking and to illustrate the future pilgrim, the starting point starts from the Asturian capital, Oviedo, to continue through the Principality of Asturias passing through the towns of Grado, Salas, Tineo and Pola de Allande. With Asturias behind us, we enter Galicia through A Fonsagrada, in Lugo, after crossing the mountainous area of Acebo, which forms the border between Asturias and the Galician community. This is the hardest point and is full of difficulties for the pilgrim who ventures to do this route. However, all his effort will be rewarded with the privilege of enjoying the Roman heritage of Lugo.

To complete the 13 or 14 stages that make up the Primitive Way, the traveler will have covered just over 300 kilometers and, as an important fact, the last three stages, no less difficult than the previous ones, link up with the French part of the route, in the town of Melide. The beautiful and rugged landscape full of climbs and descents on paths, sometimes muddy and cobbled, of the Primitive Way makes it considered one of the hardest Jacobean Routes. Thanks to the numerous hostels along the route that links Asturias and Galicia, the walk becomes more bearable. In addition, there is no lack of well-marked roads and tracks that keep the pilgrim in contact with civilization.

The Way of San Salvador

The Primitive Way has its variant, the Way of San Salvador, which links León and Oviedo through the Cantabrian Mountains. As everything in history has its explanation, the origin of the Camino de San Salvador is due to the detour that pilgrims took when they reached León and left the Primitive Way to visit the Cathedral of San Salvador, in Oviedo. After their visit, they returned to the route that took them to Santiago.

The Stages

The Primitive Way has 11 stages, each with its own charm and peculiar characteristics:

  1. [30.5 km] that goes from Oviedo to San Juan de Villapañada or Grado. It is worth pointing out to the traveler that in Oviedo there is a medieval source of drinking water that should be visited before undertaking the first stage, which is traveled without major difficulties. Leaving Oviedo behind, a beautiful countryside landscape of comfortable tracks, valleys with little unevenness and asphalted ground begins.
  2. [20.2 km] from San Juan de Villapañada, or Grado, to Salas. At the beginning of this second stage there is a moderate ascent to the Alto de Fresno and then a descent to the Narcea Valley, entering Cornellana (where you can visit the Monastery of San Salvador, a World Heritage Site). The last stretch of this second stage runs gently uphill through forests and rural landscapes of cultivated land towards Salas. Places of interest include Santa Eulalia de la Dóriga, Santiago de Villazón or the collegiate church of Sala.
  3. [20.2 km] from Salas to Tineo. After ascending by quiet forest roads to the Alto de la Espina for about 12 km, we pass the Pereda to rest in Tineo.
  4. [28.2 km] from Tineo to Pola de Allande. This is a mountain stage that passes between villages. After an uphill road and tracks we reach Piedratecha to Obona. Afterwards, it is reached by asphalt to Borres until La Mortera and finally to Pola de Allande.
  5. [22.8 km] from Pola de Allande to La Mesa. This is a tough stage of the route, a hard ascent of about 8 km on trails and dirt roads to the top of El Palo. Then it descends steeply to the village of Berducedo to Lago and La Mesa.
  6. [16.8 km] from Mesa to Grandas de Salime. This short stage is characterized by the long descent of about 8 km that leads to the reservoir of Grandas de Salime. Hard on the legs.
  7. [28.1 km] from Grandas de Salime to Fonsagrada. After seven kilometers of easy road and another four with a steep slope we reach the top of the Acebo and touching Galician lands.
  8. [23.4 km] from Fonsagrada to O’Cadavo, Baleira. Once in Galicia, rural landscapes are crossed leading to O’Cadavo passing through A Degolada and Fontaneira.
  9. [30.5 km] from O’C adavo de Baleira to Lugo. With ascents and descents arriving to Castroverde, passing through rural and cattle zones we arrive to Lucus Augusta.
  10. [19.7 km] from Lugo to San Romao da Retorta. Flat and asphalted route used by medieval pilgrims who visited the tomb of the Apostle.
  11. [27.7 km] from San Romao da Retorta to Melide. The starting point is the church of San Román, towards Burgo Negral passing first through Seixalbos. After passing through several villages we arrive at the hospital das Seixas and Melide.

Chapter 3

The Way of St. James Today

Although, over time, the Camino de Santiago has been changing depending on the time for reasons that have already been mentioned above, it has never lost its essence, which is for pilgrims, to fulfill the goal of reaching the tomb of the Apostle Santiago in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

However, personal motivations have been changing, especially in recent times, since nowadays, walking the Camino is no longer motivated exclusively by faith but also for reasons as varied as enjoying new tourist and sporting sensations, curiosity and the desire to discover cultural and historical heritage, as well as offerings, thanks and promises.

Unlike in the past, when the Camino was full of challenges, sometimes dangerous, such as the presence of assailants, wild animals, and inclement weather, especially in winter, today the pilgrim undertakes an unforgettable adventure and feels accompanied by other pilgrims of many different cultures and nationalities. In addition, the road offers many hostels located specifically as a point of provisioning and rest for the walker, and is well signposted to ensure a smooth route within the normal and foreseeable difficulties.

Señal que indica el camino de santiago con la concha del peregrino y la flecha amarilla.
Image: Subherwal, Flickr

Unfortunately, in recent months the Camino has been affected by a modern pandemic, that of Covid19, causing it to remain closed for a few months and today, fortunately, it has begun to recover its activity thanks to the fact that the various administrations and municipalities have been adapting the Camino to guarantee the safety of pilgrims. The hostels, inns and hotels have been reopening and, although with a limited number of beds, have continued to offer their services.

Pilgrims should inform themselves in advance to know if the hostels will be operational and plan the route to avoid surprises and, of course, be responsible enough to ensure the safety of other fellow travelers by adopting a behavior to prevent the risk of spreading the infection with responsible behavior, such as masks, safety distance, hand washing, etc.

The Way of Saint James: Routes

If we take into account that each pilgrim can start the route even from the door of his house to end in Santiago de Compostela, we could say that there are millions of combinations. Then there are the official or marked routes, with a documented history, which start from many points in Spain and abroad. There are approximately 50 in Spain and hundreds more abroad. The most popular and busiest route is the French, (declared a World Heritage Site in 2015) then, the Portuguese, the Camino del Norte, the Camino Primitivo, the English, the Via de la Plata and others. Most of the routes do not go directly to Santiago de Compostela, but do as the rivers do, they flow into other routes. Some examples are the Camino del Salvador, Camino de Madrid, the Camino Jacobeo del Ebro, El Camino del Baztán…

The Stages of the Way of St. James

The Camino de Santiago is made up of several roads that are divided into stages. The route of each road, or itinerary, usually has a reasonable number of kilometers so that pilgrims can cover it in about a day, since in this way, they leave early and finish at dusk, having completed the day’s stage and looking for a well-deserved rest in one of the many hostels along the route.

The hostels on the Camino de Santiago

The hostels that make up the Camino de Santiago are very numerous and most are located on the French Way, which is the busiest. They can be public or private and most of them have many services for pilgrims. There are hostels that ask for a donation and there are also more complete ones that have fixed prices for overnight stays, and they can even be high.

It is important to know the status of the reservations and the services they offer, for example, that they have wifi, washing machine, clothesline, a place to hang clean clothes, etc. It should be remembered that, as they are intended only for pilgrims, upon arrival each one is asked for the credential to prove that you are really doing the road. In addition, it is there where the document that will later serve to obtain the Compostela is stamped.

What are the Albergues on the Camino de Santiago like?

The Camino de Santiago is a route that follows the pilgrimage of countless pilgrims who, over many centuries, and guided by their faith, went in search of the Apostle St. James, so walking the road is to put yourself in the shoes of those humble believers who walked it, and for that reason the hostels are modest and simple, because what they seek is to offer night shelter and rest. Luxury and comfort are left for hotels that offer other services designed for enjoyment, such as luxury in all its degrees.

The Credential of the Camino de Santiago

The credential is a document similar to a passport, which contains the personal data of the pilgrim and the starting point of the road. It is necessary to travel it, whether on foot, by bicycle, or even on horseback and it is mandatory to have it to record the stages that are being done and to have access to the hostels and obtain the Compostela upon arrival in Santiago. In addition, fraud is avoided by being able to check if it has a logical order to follow the stages and their kilometers.

The credential can be purchased in advance at the various Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago throughout Spain, and also, once there, in parishes, hostels and Brotherhoods of the Apostle St. James. Its cost ranges from 0.50 cents to 2 euros, and in some places they only ask for the will. Once the pilgrim has started the Camino, the pilgrim has to worry about getting the stamp and the date at the end of each stage for it to be valid. (The first stamp and date of the whole route is very important). The places where the credential can be stamped are hostels, hostels, bars, stores or at the post office and authorized places. Remember that the space on the credential for stamps is limited, so only one stamp per stage will suffice. Avoid the mistake of stamping it several times on the same day, otherwise, at the end of the Camino there will be no more space left (even if the pilgrim is very happy to see his or her credential full of stamps).

Chapter 4

All the Routes of the Camino de Santiago

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The French Way of Saint James

As mentioned above, it is the busiest and enjoys the recognition of Unesco as a World Heritage Site. Most of the medieval European pilgrimage routes converge here. Its starting point is the picturesque French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port, and for this you have to cross the Pyrenees, but if the pilgrim wants to save them, you can start in Roncesvalles, then continue to Logroño, Burgos, León, Ponferrada, O’Cebreiro, Sarria and Santiago de Compostela.

The books of the French Way start in St. Jean, and invite the traveler to cross the Pyrenees on the first day, but it depends on the pilgrim and his preferences. It is advisable to arrive in Pamplona and start in Roncesvalles, making from the border to Santiago and once there if you can lengthen the pilgrimage and reach Finisterre.

Mapa del Camino de Santiago Francés y sus variantes
Map: The French Way of Saint James – (Jynus, Wikimedia)

The Way of Saint James from Roncesvalles

Roncesvalles, a town in Navarre located 47.7 km from Pamplona is, together with Saint-Jean-Pied de Port (French part) the starting point of the French Way. (Both towns are separated by about 25 km). Many pilgrims decide to start it in this beautiful and picturesque town that reaches Santiago de Compostela through Navarra, La Rioja, Burgos, Palencia, León and Galicia.

The Way of St. James in Galicia

There are different ways that pass through Galician lands, such as the French Way, the English Way, the Portuguese Way, the Primitive Way, the Silver Way, the North Way, the Finisterre Way, and the Route of the Sea of Arousa, being the longest one the Silver Way and the shortest the Route of the Sea of Arousa, the Via de la Plata and the shortest, the Route of the Sea of Arousa (the latter is not in itself a road, but the set of branches that arise in the coastal towns of the Ria de Arousa and that converge on the same road to Padrón, where it joins the Portuguese Way to Santiago). Each pilgrim chooses the one he/she wishes, and what is guaranteed is the enjoyment of the beautiful Galicia, with its welcoming and hospitable people.

Mapa del Camino de Santiago en Galicia y sus Variantes
Map: The Way of St. James in Galicia- (Paulusburg, Wikimedia)

The Way of Saint James from Sarria

Sarria is a town in Lugo that is within the Camino de Sarria and is also a meeting place of the Camino del Norte and is part of the French Way. 114 km separate Sarria from Santiago de Compostela. There are pilgrims who decide to start the pilgrimage from there and reach the city by car (where there are parking lots), by train, or by bus. If the pilgrim decides to take the road from Sarria, he should avoid the months of July and August, as the heat and the overcrowding will make the road a bit heavy. The best months to walk it are spring and September.

The English Way of Saint James

It owes its name to the English, Scots, Irish and Scandinavians who came to the port of Ferrol and La Coruña by sea in the Middle Ages. Both ports were the destination of many merchant ships that at first arrived with the aim of trading and later were called by the curiosity of pilgrimage and devotion to other saints different from those they knew in their countries. Proof of their presence in those lands are the coins found in excavations in the Cathedral of Santiago.

As mentioned above, the Camino has had its lights and shadows and the rupture between King Henry VIII (1509-1547) and the Catholic Church due to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which led to the creation of the Church of England and Anglicanism, meant another dark period for the English Way for centuries, as it ceased to be traveled. Today, although not as busy as the others, it still welcomes pilgrims. Traveling its 120 km through the Galician Rias Altas, between villages and trails of beautiful scenery and without making great efforts, is completed in a week.

If you also want to make it even shorter, there is the other option, from La Coruña to Santiago and it is only 75 km and 5 days of walking, but it is not possible to obtain the pilgrim’s badge, since 100 km are the minimum required.

The English Way has 6 stages and offers the pilgrim 5 public hostels, so if you do not want to have surprises, it will be necessary to find out (especially in July and August) if you can stay overnight in any of them.

The stages of the English Way are:

  1. Ferrol-Neda (15,3 km)
  2. Neda-Pontedeume (12,4 km)
  3. Pontedeume-Betanzos (19,7 km)
  4. Betanzos-Bruma (24 km, probably the hardest)
  5. A Coruña-Bruma (33,6 km)
  6. Bruma-Sigüeiro (24,4 km)
  7. Sigüeiro-Santiago de Compostela (15,7 km).

The Northern Way of St. James

The Camino del Norte (or Camino de la Costa) starts in Irun and runs along the Cantabrian coast. The road runs along the coast until Ribadeo, the first Galician town. At this point, the route leaves the coastal area and heads towards the capital of Galicia. The Northern Way is the one that has more slopes and that is why historically pilgrims did not walk it too much due to its geography and the fact that there were fewer towns. If the pilgrim wants another option other than the French Way, or the Via de la Plata, the Northern Way is the best option, as it is less crowded than the French Way.

Mapa del Camino de Santiago del Norte de España y sus variantes
Map: The Northern Way of St. James – (Paulusburg, Wikimedia)

The Cantabrian route seems to be gaining popularity among pilgrims and in recent years has been increasing in number, especially foreigners, who prefer a more spiritual and less crowded way. Many of them are looking for new experiences after having walked the French route. Landscape-wise, the Northern Way has spectacular stretches, where sea and mountains compete to not leave the pilgrim indifferent.

The Basque part of the route (better signposted than the Galician) offers even more impressive spectacles. The orography is more mountainous in Guipúzcoa than in Vizcaya, and the route will make you climb mountains that can reach 500 m in altitude. This is the time to take pictures of the farmhouses, streams, large forests, the dangerous coast and the postcard villages… When you reach Guipuzcoa, you will reach the fishing villages passing through Zarautz, San Sebastian and Gernika.

Already in the part of Cantabria (not as well signposted as the Basque part), the pilgrim experiences some relief in the legs, as it runs between tracks and paved roads (the N-634), passing through towns like Castro Urdiales and Santillana del Mar and not forgetting Santander. Following the road and arriving in Asturias, the pilgrim returns to pass through mountainous landscapes and rural areas. Although it still passes through asphalted stretches and along the same N-634, from time to time there is a village, or a fishing village, such as Ribadesella.

The Galician part of the Camino del Norte is less populated and in the first two stages there are some slopes that make the walk somewhat difficult. The coastal area is left behind and the pilgrim goes inland accompanied by livestock landscapes. Already 50 km before reaching Ribadeo, the walker finds moderate slopes in his march and then a set of small parishes. Historical monuments will follow, such as the Monastery of San Salvador and the Cathedral of Santa María, in Mondoñedo.

The Andalusian Way of St. James

The Andalusian Way, also known as the Mozarabic Way, is one of the oldest routes and is made up of several paths, starting in Almeria, Malaga, Granada, Jaen and Cordoba, which converge with the Camino de la Plata to Santiago de Compostela. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims from the Andalusian cities that belonged to the old Muslim territory of al-Andalus followed the Way of St. James and were known as Mozarabs.

Taking advantage of the existing communication routes in Roman times, and keeping their religious beliefs hidden for many generations, their faith led them to show interest in the apostle when the news of the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle St. James spread. After the Reconquest, the road was still important, but not as it was in the Middle Ages. It has been in recent years that the Camino de Santiago has regained its significance thanks to the promotion of its historical and cultural value and significance. The pilgrim can start it from Jaen, Malaga or Almeria.

Mapa del Los Caminos de Santiago Andaluces y sus variantes.
Map: Andalusian Pilgrims’ Roads to Santiago de Compostela – (Paulusburg, Wikimedia)

The stages that make up the Camino de Santiago Andaluz are:

  1. From Jaén to Baena, 69 km (Jaén, Martos, Alcaudete , Baena)
  2. From Almería to Baena, 256 km (Almería, Santa fe de Mondújar, Alboloduy, Abla, Huéneja, Alquife, Guadix, La Peza, Quéntar, Granada, Pinos Puente, Moclín, Alcalá la Real, Alcaudete, Baena).
  3. From Málaga to Baena, 151 km (Málaga, Junta de los Caminos, Almogía, Villanuea de la Concepción, Antequera, Cartaojal, Villanueva de Algaídas, Cueas Bajas, Encinas Reales, Lucena, Cabra, Doña Mencía and Baena).
  4. From Baena to Mérida, 234 km (Baena, Castro del Río, Córdoba, Cerro Muriano, Villaharta, Alcaracejos, Hinojosa del Duque, Monterrubio de la Serena, Campanario, Medellín, San Pedro de Mérida and Mérida.
  5. Mérida connects with the Vía de la Plata and there are 750 km to Santiago de Compostela in 28 stages.

The Portuguese Way of Saint James

The Portuguese Way has a distance of 620 km in 25 stages of an average of 15 to 40 km each and goes from Lisbon to Santiago.

The following: Lisboa, Alhandra, Azambuja, Santarém, Golega, Tomar, Alaiázere, Rabaçal, Coimbra, Mealhada, Águeda, Albegaria a Velha, Oliveira de Azeméis, Grijó, Oporto, Vilarinho, Barcelos, Ponte da Lima, Rubiaes, Tui, O’ Porriño, Redondela, Pontevedra, Caldas de Reis, Padrón y Santiago de Compostela).

Mapa del Camino de Santiago Portugués y sus variantes.
Map: The Portuguese Way of Saint James – (Paulusburg, Wikimedia)

The capital of the Portuguese Way is Pontevedra, a city that hosts the baroque church of the Pilgrim Virgin. It welcomes pilgrims on the Spanish stage of the Portuguese Way, which began to be important in the 12th century as a route for economic and cultural exchanges. The section that goes from Tui (already in Spain) to Santiago, runs through the interior. The section that goes along the coast runs from Caminha to Redondela. The Portuguese Way has no plateaus or steep slopes and is traveled without great stress.

The Central Ways of St. James

The Central Roads are those that run through the central part of the Peninsula, such as the Vía de la Plata, the Madrid Road, the Camino de la Lana, the Camino Castellano-Aragonés, the Camino Manchego and the Camino Sanabrés.

Los Caminos de Santiago en España. Todas las Variantes.
Map: The Central Ways of St. James – (Paulusburg, Wikimedia)

The Way of St. James from Madrid

It is a route that can surprise the pilgrim for the much it offers and joins the capital of Spain with the French Way through Sahagún, passing through Segovia and Valladolid and León. It crosses the Sierra de Guadarrama through the Fuenfría pass, at an altitude of 1,796 meters, the north of the Pilgrim’s Way in the Peninsula.

The Eastern Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostela

The Eastern Ways are those that run through the east of the Peninsula and include Catalan, Aragonese, Valencian and Levantine lands. They are: Camino Catalán (from Barcelona), Camino Catalán por San Juan de la Peña, Camino Jacobeo del Ebro, Camino de Levante, Camino del Sureste, Camino Castellón – Bajo Aragonés, Camino de Requena and the Ruta del Argar.

The Catalan Way of St. James

There are 4 of them and their names are: Camino Jacobeo del Ebro, Camino de Santiago de Montserrat a San Juan de la Peña, Camí Catalá de Sant Jaume, and Camí Catalá de Sant Jaume de Barcelona.

The Southeastern Way of St. James

Camino del Sureste, Camino de la Lana, Ruta del Argar, Camino del Alba, Camino del Sureste from Benidorm, Camino del Sureste Ramal Sur, and Camino del Sureste Cartagena-Murcia.

The Way of St. James in France

Many pilgrims, especially foreigners, decide to undertake the Camino from France, as there are several routes starting in different regions. The route is full of historical monuments, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The routes are:

The Way of Vézelay or Via Lemovicensis with destination Santiago crossing the regions of Libourne, and continuing through Entre-Deux-Mers and the Landes de Gascogne by De Périgueux to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which would be the last French village.

Los Caminos de Santiago en Europa. El Camino de Santiago Francés.
Map: The Way of St. James in France (Imagen: Kimdime69, Wikimedia)

Another route is the Puy road or Via Podiensis, which starts in the town of Puy-en-Velay (Auvergne – Rhône-Alpes), the Puy road is the extension of the Central European road and was once traveled by masses of pilgrims from Hungary, Poland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The Aubrac steppes, Roman works, such as the abbey of Conques, castles, and the Pech-Merle Cave are especially worth mentioning.

The third route through French lands is the road to Arles or Via Tolosana, which starts in the city of Arles and continues to Toulouse. Once in Occitania, the pilgrim can marvel at the granite massif of Sidobre, the forests of the Montagne Noire and the small valleys and vineyards of the Gers.

The Piemonte Pyrenean Way, which passes through Foix, with its county castle, Saint Lizier (with two cathedrals) and Saint Bertrand de Comminges, in the Hautes-Pyrénées.

The Via Turonensis or Way of Tours, which starts at the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris and ends 1800 km later, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on a route with little gradient that crosses the Loire Valley, the Romanesque heritage of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and the areas of Bordeaux and the Landes. From Paris, following the GR®655 route, you can reach Tours (Loire Valley), passing through Chartres or Orléans and from Mirambeau (Nouvelle-Aquitaine).

Chapter 5

Before You Walk the Camino: Planning and Preparation

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Plan your Camino de Santiago

This is surely a pleasant task for pilgrims who are already dreaming about their vacations and counting the days left to start packing their backpacks. There are very useful resources to obtain information about the Camino and the different routes or other Caminos that have already been mentioned. Internet and guidebooks are the main sources of information.

Plan your Stages

It is essential, first of all, to know the route you are going to do, choosing the one you like the most and making the decision calmly. Once you have chosen the route, you will normally follow the routes already stipulated and marked on the route, which are usually no more than 40 km per stage. It is very important not to exceed the number of kilometers per day, since the next day awaits the next stage and there are many that make up the road.

The hostels

As mentioned above, the Camino de Santiago, and its various routes are full of public and private hostels and are reserved for pilgrims to spend the night and rest. Before starting the Camino it is necessary to have well located the hostels of our route and to know the state of their capacity, services, etc. In general, public hostels do not accept reservations and only provide information on the number of beds available. Reservations are only made when the pilgrim is physically at the hostel and is assigned a place after presenting the obligatory credential.

On the other hand, private hostels do accept reservations and usually have more services and the price is somewhat more expensive. In municipal hostels you normally stay overnight, unless the pilgrim has an injury. If upon arriving at a hostel the pilgrim finds that it is already full, he/she should find a private hostel in the area.

Foto en el interior de un albergue en Rotterdam
Image: Marcus Loke (Unsplash)

As for the facilities, these vary a little, but basically they are shared rooms with single beds or bunk beds and are usually separated for men and women. They have basic services and it is important that pilgrims carry their sleeping bags to avoid surprises. They also have showers (with hot and cold water) and spaces for washing and hanging clothes. The washing machine is usually a paid service and there are areas where you can cook. In general, hostels are designed to provide shelter for pilgrims and are often modest, for which the work of the volunteers should be appreciated.

Hotels

Along the entire route of the Camino de Santiago, which passes through many different towns, both urban and rural, pilgrims have at their disposal hotels and hostels of all kinds, which often serve as an emergency resource if they arrive at a hostel and there are no more beds. The services offered depend on the type of hotel and the town where it is located. The closer the pilgrim is to Santiago, the more hotels, hostels and albergues he/she will find.

In the cities there will be more possibilities to spend the night in a hotel, while in the more rural areas there will be more hostels. There are hotels for all budgets and tastes and, as is logical, the comfort will be greater in hotels and hostels. There are different companies that offer organized routes to do part of the Camino and that usually include the hotel. Everything will depend on the pilgrim’s preferences and, of course, on his or her pocket.

The Map

The map is, without a doubt, together with the backpack, the faithful travel companion. It goes without saying that it is very important that it is as up to date as possible, and although the route remains the same since ancient times, the updated map will always indicate elements that other maps may not include.

Many pilgrims resort to the gps of their cell phones or to multiple guides and very useful and updated pages. They are always very necessary resources that will guide us very well in all the stages of the route.

Preparing to do the Camino de Santiago

The ideal is to be somewhat prepared physically when you start the long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and that the pilgrim is already accustomed to walking so that the journey does not become an unbearable ordeal, which would force you to excessively lengthen each stage, and in the worst case, to abandon. Months before, it is recommended to walk at least one hour a day.

Once on the Camino, get up early, have a hearty breakfast and start stretching exercises, especially in the calf area. It is not advisable to start at once with cold muscles. It is very practical to have at hand a bag in which to put the map, the most valuable personal items, such as cell phone, headphones to listen to music, documentation and some money.

What to take on the Camino de Santiago?

Logically, if you are going to walk an average of 5-6 hours a day, it is best not to take more than the essentials, and when you start walking you realize that if you have put unnecessary things in your backpack, then you will be in the way. In the backpack you should carry loose, comfortable, and technical or cotton clothes. Shorts, long pants (or those that are removable), several changes of clothes, socks without seams, T-shirts, a tracksuit jacket, sleeping bag, pajamas or nightgown, flip-flops or slippers, towel, basic toiletries (with gel, shampoo, lizard soap for washing clothes, comb, tissues, lip balm).

To protect yourself from the sun, sunscreen, aftersun, a cap or scarf, raincoat or poncho (which covers even with the backpack on), a mini first aid kit (with betadine, anti-inflammatory, Vaseline for scratches, band-aids or adhesive tape roll), bags to separate, for example, dirty clothes, (better if they are nylon to avoid making noise at night in the hostel), a couple of safety pins to hang the clothes that have not been able to dry in the hostel, some clothespins, a bottle of water to refill, an aluminum cup, a utility knife, a book to read, and the minimum valuables, because, although among pilgrims good faith is what prevails, it does not hurt to be cautious and not to carry neither jewelry nor too much money.

Of course, a map and our documentation. In addition, the papers that we will be stamped on the route, or credential, health card, bank card, a diary to record our observations, cell phone, charger, needle and thread (in case something comes undone). Review the list the night before so as not to forget anything.

Grupo de Gente con mochilas paseando por el campo.
Image: Austin Ban (Unsplash)

The Backpack

When choosing our travel companion we will go to a specialized store and we will opt for a model suitable for excursions. The cost is usually very reasonable and it is worth not skimping as long as it is practical, comfortable and as ergonomic as possible. The backpack should have a padded area for the back, reinforcements, straps to regulate the height. There are several sizes, and for the Camino de Santiago we will choose it from 30 liters approximately, or that it does not exceed 10% of the body weight.

In summer we do not carry so many warm clothes, so a 30-liter size could be enough. Also, if more space is needed, 40 or 50 liters are used by some pilgrims. It depends on the route we do and also if we travel with children because we will need more space. We will try that the backpack has enough compartments and that they allow us to organize things depending if we need to access quickly. Most of them have one at the top, quite large, where you can put the documentation (ID card, health card, bank card, wallet, mobile … etc.). Side compartments, or medium access (where the headphones, credentials, a book, etc. will go), on the other side, the water bottle, cap, etc. and objects that are used along the way, and not having to open the backpack at every moment.

Other considerations

It is advisable, that before starting the route, we are quite clear about the route we are going to do and that we know how to choose the most appropriate one according to our preference and individual conditions. For this we will have the route with the marked route, and that already from home we are familiar with the names of the localities through which we will pass. It is essential to prepare a plan with the daily stages divided into 20-30 km per day.

The ideal is to start with short stages so that we can get used to them and then lengthen them as the days go by. If we are going to go in a group, the ideal is that each member is responsible for specific things so that we do not pile up everything. It is a good idea to create a wasap group with all the members who are going to participate so that, in case of getting lost or dispersed, they can contact each other quickly. Some pilgrims make a checklist with everything that needs to be organized and that is already being completed weeks before.

There are many types of shoes, specific for long-distance walking. It is very important to know how to choose the right shoes and try to avoid trying them out on the road. If your intention is to try out your new shoes or boots, we advise you to try them out and walk a few kilometers before setting off.

The Way of St. James with Children

Sharing the Camino de Santiago with our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and even students is an experience that, if we plan it well, can be wonderful and full of experiences that will remain in their memory for a lifetime. The first thing to do is to motivate the child and explain the meaning of the Camino de Santiago so that he/she can find meaning in so many hours of walking. Motivating him to be the one in charge of carrying the credentials with the stamps in his backpack can be a good idea.

It is advisable to get them used to walking months beforehand, walking only a few kilometers. However, you will have to keep in mind that the route is hard and that children cannot be demanded as adults because it is about enjoying, and not to make the road an obligation. Do not forget good footwear, the stroller (if it is small), a bicycle so that it does not become boring and a children’s camera so that he is the one who takes the pictures.

The Way of Saint James with a dog

If we decide to do the Camino de Santiago with our pet, we are sure that he will thank us because it is an exciting experience full of emotions. You will see how the dog follows your step and if you take care of him he will be able to complete the route without problems. Before, it will be necessary to follow some advice:

It is important that your dog is used to running and walking. A few months before, it is recommended to walk him, not only on green areas, but also on asphalt and paved areas to get used to the cushions of his paws. During the walk we must provide him with water and prevent him from getting dehydrated and when we meet more pilgrims, we must be careful to take him to avoid that someone may feel uncomfortable with his presence. This also depends on the dog’s character. For the rain, put in the backpack a raincoat for dogs, and deworm the dog a couple of weeks before the trip, and do not forget the veterinarian’s card with up to date vaccinations.

When planning the trip, the first thing to think about is which is the best route for your pet and which of them offers the most animal-friendly hostels. The two ideal routes to do with your pet are the French Way and the Portuguese Way. As the Camino de Santiago also thinks about animals, there are canine credentials or perregrinas where, like ours, we can go putting all the stamps wherever we pass, although it is merely symbolic and does not require a minimum distance traveled to obtain the Compostela, but it does require that the dog has been accompanied by the pilgrim.

Chapter 6

How to do the Way of St. James

Walking the Camino de Santiago is an adventure that needs to be planned. Whether we decide to do it in a group, alone, by bike, with children, with your pet, planning will be necessary.

The choice of the route is not a small matter, since it will determine the starting point and the route, which can be very diverse until you reach Santiago de Compostela. There are routes designed for all tastes and preferences, for all levels of difficulty and all have their peculiarities. It is a matter of, a couple or three months before the start of the road, sit down in front of the computer and consult the route that we like or suits us and make a list of all the things that we are going to include so that we do not forget anything. On the Camino de Santiago, it is not worth improvising because we do not want to leave the designed route.

Doing the Camino de Santiago for the First Time

For those pilgrims who are new to the Camino de Santiago, we will dispel your doubts about your first experience. If you ask yourself: how can I not get lost? The answer is: follow the yellow arrows or the shell, symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The little arrows are all along the way: on the trees, on the signs, on the asphalt, on the electricity poles, on stones and cairns, embedded in the ground… It happens very little, but if you get lost, you just have to keep calm and follow the first road you find. It is very common to find somewhat disoriented pilgrims and the friendly locals will not hesitate to give you directions. If you doubt any indication, ask again to make sure and keep going!

It is normal to wonder if you are going to be prepared to undertake such a long journey. Surely your mind has already been preparing for months and you are eager. However, we still wonder if physically we are going to be up to it. To walk the Camino de Santiago you don’t need to be an athlete, but you do need to have followed some previous training sessions. It is enough that your health allows it and, always follow the advice of your doctor in case you have certain physical limitations.

Logically, if you walk accompanied you will feel more supported than if you do it alone. It is best to organize yourself in groups and walk the sections at the pace set by all, enjoying the scenery and sharing the experience. And so as not to end up exhausted, it is best to sit under a leafy tree, or simply stretch out on a meadow and close your eyes.

Another thing to take into account is to get up early, since it will allow you to enjoy the first rays of sunlight and the freshness of the morning. It is best to have breakfast at the hostel, but you can also do it on the way, eat at a good inn, have a snack not too late and stop to sleep at not too late hours. It is not advisable to walk at night. It is especially dangerous to walk at night, or at dusk along a road, since we can be victims of a hit-and-run and few pilgrims wear reflective clothing or any accessory that shines at night.

Pack small snacks in your backpack to help you withstand the loss of calories from walking for hours along the pilgrimage route. Nuts, sugar, sandwiches and a piece of fruit are small sources of energy. You will always find some point along the way where you can stock up in case you run out of provisions. As for hydration, drink at the fountains along the way and tap water, as it is safe to drink, and if you are going to do a mountain section, take extra water to avoid dehydration and, if your head starts to hurt, stop, find a shade, rest and drink. It goes without saying that alcoholic beverages should be avoided, as they will dehydrate you sooner and give you a false sense of comfort.

The Organized Pilgrimage to Santiago

There are many agencies that organize trips to the Camino de Santiago. They are usually done in stages and include the hotel and half board. The advantages of an organized trip are that we do not have to worry about planning the stages, nor the route, nor the hotel, hostel or hostel. The disadvantages are that they are more expensive than if we decide to go on our own and normally we cannot deviate from the organized group. In general, they are interesting because they often include a guide who will explain the history and many curiosities.

Doing the Camino de Santiago alone

If we decide to undertake the millenary pilgrimage route and we finally decide to make the way alone, we must have certain things in mind, such as the previous preparation of the route we will take and the knowledge of the signaling of the route. It is important to communicate our plans to our family or friends so that they know where we are at all times in case of need.

The best time to do the Camino is in spring and early autumn, and the best route, being the busiest, is the French Way, as it is continuously traveled by pilgrims from all over the world. It is safe, and since we are not alone, we will not feel unprotected. It is important to know that the sections with the highest number of pilgrims are the most signposted, especially the last 100 km (on the Camino de Santiago from Sarria), where they are full of yellow arrows everywhere.

In addition, the brotherhood among pilgrims is remarkable and there will be no shortage of people who will gladly help us and tell us in case of doubt, and may even join our march some other lone pilgrim or a group that is willing to tell us stories during the march.

The Way of St. James by Bike

For pilgrims who decide to do the Camino by bicycle, the enjoyment of the scenery and the adventure of the route are served. It is a good way to do the Camino more quickly, and if the pilgrim wishes to obtain the Compostela, he or she will be required to cover at least the last 200 km. Despite the difficulties (ascents and descents, stony and muddy terrain, the presence of other pilgrims), the English and French routes present the fewest problems.

If you decide to do the Camino in good weather (spring and summer), the Camino Primitivo, the Via de la Plata and the Camino del Norte are the most suitable. However, beware of summer and its high temperatures. Also by bicycle we will find the way divided into stages:

These are the 15 stages that every pilgrim on a bike must go through on the French part of the Camino: Saint Jean Pied de-Port – Roncesvalles, Roncesvalles-Pamplona, Pamplona-Estella, Estella-Logroño, Logroño-Santo Domingo, Santo Domingo de La Calzada-Burgos, Burgos-Carrión de los Condes, Carrión de los Condes-Sahagún, Sahagún-León, León-Astorga, Astorga-Ponferrada, Ponferrada-O Cebreiro, O Cebreiro-Sarria, Sarria-Palas de Rei, Palas de Rei-Santiago.

What to take if you do the Camino de Santiago by bike?

Before making the trip we will check the bike so that it does not give us unpleasant surprises and we are left stranded. We will check the brakes, the chain, the air in the wheels, the tires, the inner tubes, the saddle, the spokes, the bolts, etc. For the 10 days that the trip lasts approximately, it is advisable not to overload the saddlebags, or the trolley, if you decide to use it. The basic kit will be: helmet, mountain shoes, gloves, thermal socks (at least two pairs), jerseys (long and short), bib shorts (short and long), if it is winter or autumn, something warm, like a fleece, raincoat in case we get caught in the rain. And it would not be superfluous to bring a mat to rest under a beautiful tree. A puncture repair kit, spare inner tubes, specific screws, oil for the chain, padlock for the chain. Oh, and a flashlight just in case, and don’t make the mistake of carrying the camping gas because you won’t need it.

How to do the Camino de Santiago by Bike: Tips and Tricks

There are three bike options: mountain bike (if you plan to follow the original route, which is more mountainous), road bike (which will allow you to go on the asphalt without problems) or hybrid (for more professionals).

If you are a bikegrim and it is your first time, do the French Way because it is quite cyclable and the one that many cyclists choose. The Portuguese and the Via de la Plata are less mountainous, or have less unevenness. And if you decide to do the Northern route, of great beauty, it is harder and runs between mountain and road.

Do not make the trip against the clock, because then you will not enjoy nature. Take as many pictures as you can, because you are living a unique experience that you will surely like to remember when you are back home. The climbs have to be done calmly because you can get exhausted before time and not be able to continue.

First, you will have to think about what kind of bike you are going to take. Mountain bikes with front suspension are ideal to prevent your arms from getting terrible stiffness. Keep in mind that carbon bikes are not designed to support weight, so they are not suitable. Also, don’t take an old bike and then get rid of it and return by train, because it will most likely leave you stranded. Be patient when it gets a bit crowded, especially in July and August. Before using the bell, ask cordially for passage and only if necessary, use it. Say hello and be polite because with politeness pilgrims are more cooperative.

Practical advice when walking the Camino

Eat a diet rich in carbohydrates (bread, cookies, cereal bars, pasta, nuts). Eat meals less spaced between them and avoid eating in abundance. Breakfast should be complete and as the day ends, eat less and less to facilitate rest.

If you decide to do the walk in summer it is necessary that you do not get direct sunlight on your head, to avoid heat stroke and sunburn. To help the body you should drink plenty and refill the bottle from the fountains along the way. If it is very hot, you can add a little salt to the water to avoid losing many mineral salts and that the water is not too cold, as it will still give us more heat. Wear a hat (and a spare in case of loss), glasses with approved UVA protection lenses, sunscreen (from 30), and of course comfortable loose clothing and if possible, cotton. Footwear is essential as it is the one that will support us throughout the tour. Never wear brand new shoes and take in your backpack a box of band-aids or a roll of adhesive tape, Vaseline and some analgesic and disinfectant in case you need to cure a scratch. Oh, and don’t forget the mat and a pair of trekking poles.

Conclusion

In short, the Camino de Santiago, represents the importance of the cultural and historical heritage of a part of the history of Spain, and is a source of inspiration, hope, enthusiasm and motivation of thousands of pilgrims who from very distant times and very remote places have been traveling the diversity of its routes and landscapes, leaving the imprint of their shoes on the ground of its roads and trails. Surely many will look forward to live with passion the Xacobean year, in 2021, the next Compostelan Holy Year, which is celebrated when July 25, the day of the Martyrdom of the Apostle James, coincides on Sunday and in which the believing pilgrim can get the plenary indulgence, being completely absolved of all his sins by visiting the tomb of the Apostle James and pray a prayer for the wishes of the Pope and receive the sacraments of confession and communion.

How can we improve?

You have reached the end of our guide to the Camino de Santiago. We will try to keep this page updated and we will complete it with more information. Your collaboration is very important. If you think we have left something out, don’t hesitate to comment.

Do you know any good resource or guide to enjoy the Camino de Santiago? Would you like to share your own experience with us and our readers? Share it in the comments below and help us.

If you have an original photo that captures your Camino experience and you want to share it with us please contact us and the photo could be selected to appear in our next Camino de Santiago photo gallery.

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