El Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of Saint James, is a network of pilgrim’s ways, leading to the charming Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in which it’s believed the apostle Saint James the Great is buried.
In the Middle Ages, The Camino was widely travelled and one of the most important Christian pilgrimages. It is still very popular today, although nowadays people walk the routes for many different reasons, including spiritual growth, getting fit, finding yourself by spending time alone and having an adventure with friends.
Whatever your reasons, El Camino de Santiago promises an unforgettable journey that will change you in unexpected ways, bring you new friends, and offer you a cultural experience you will always remember.
However, to make sure you have the time of your life, take some time to choose the Camino route that is most suitable for your needs and goals. So, continue reading this article, and find your own way to beautiful Santiago de Compostela.
First Things First: Your Freedom and Fitness Level
The first question to ask yourself before starting to plan your Camino adventure is: How much time do I have?
If you’re a student and you have the whole summer free, you will have no problem walking the French Way, the most popular route, which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France. The route is 780 km long, and will take you around one whole month to complete it.
Choosing a route also depends on your fitness level. If you want to do the Camino Francés in 35 days, you’ll need to walk about 25 km each day. However, if you’re not limited by time, you can always do it at a slower pace of course.
And if you’re not a big hiker, you can always opt for cycling to Santiago or hop on a bus or train from time to time. Luckily, the Camino Francés has a fantastic infrastructure.
If you are thinking about a shorter pilgrimage, El Camino Portugués might be your answer. This route is 620 km if you start from Lisbon, but many pilgrims prefer to begin Porto, which is only 240 km far from Santiago, or even in Tui, located 115 km from your destination. Also, the Portuguese Way has relatively flatter routes, which makes it easier.
Planning el Camino: the When and the What
Another thing to decide is when you want to walk The Camino. The best time of year depends on the route you choose, but most of the year works apart from the winter months.
EL Camino Portugués, for instance, is best enjoyed from Spring to Autumn. However, keep in mind that July and August are very busy months because of the summer vacation. The summer is great if you want to meet people from all over the world, but it won’t be a peaceful, quiet experience for introspection.
After figuring out how many days you want to spend walking, your fitness level and what time of year you want to do it, you need to think about your expectations and your personal reasons for adventuring on this pilgrimage.
I did El Camino Francés with a few friends from University. None of us had any other reason but to have a great adventure and lots of fun. And this is what we did, and more.
We started at the beginning of July, and we completed it in one month and a few days. It was difficult for some of us but easy for those who were used to hiking. Not only did we have the time of our lives, but we met exceptional people on the way. The Camino Francés was very busy, but it wasn’t overwhelming because the pilgrims had a different vibe than the agitated tourists you usually meet in a city.
We loved it so much that we spent our next holiday walking El Camino Primitivo, the oldest route of El Camino, dating back to when the Spanish lands were governed by the Moors. The experience was fascinating, but different. It was quieter, and it gave us more time to connect with ourselves, as well as with each other. Again, we had no particular reason for choosing this route; or maybe we did, but we weren’t aware of it. What I can say is that both experiences changed us, but in different ways.
After doing the Camino Francés, I became more outgoing and less anxious when meeting new people, and El Camino Primitivo made me changes my attitude towards myself, and the way I connect with the present.
It is said that whatever you are searching for, you will find it on El Camino. My experience has shown me this is true, even when you don’t know what you are looking for. When choosing the Camino you want to walk, take into consideration the things mentioned above, but keep in mind that what matters more than the path you choose is how you walk it: with your heart and mind open. 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.