The Camino de Santiago, otherwise known as the Way of St James, is a series of pilgrim routes leading to his shrine at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwest Spain. These walks, which traditionally ran from one’s home to Santiago, were once embarked on as a sign of penance. Today, they are a part of a popular network of walking holidays, and are walked by the faithful and skeptics alike.
The Best Route of the Camino de Santiago
As mentioned, there are numerous routes to Compostela. The most popular one is the Camino Frances, or the French Way. It starts at St. Jean Pied de Port in France, and passes through cities like Pamplona and Leon and all through the gorgeous countryside to your destination. Your way will clearly be marked by the yellow arrows and the traditional scallop shells, the symbol of the Camino.
The French Way is the busiest and most frequented route, probably because of the clearly marked routes, the convenient infrastructure which makes it easily navigable, and the sense of safety along the path. It is approximately 780 kilometers long, which translates to about a month’s walking distance, which is quite a long time, especially for most of us who only get two weeks off work at a time. You can of course choose to walk only a part, or even just the final leg, and reach Santiago in less than a week.
It is advisable to keep your backpack light – naturally. The French Way is kind to backpackers, because it runs through enough towns to make occasional restocking and shopping easily accessible.
Although these paths were originally made for walking, you also have the option of cycling some of them. This may not be what you are looking for, but be aware that someone might whizz by you on a bike on some of them.
Shelter is easy to find and is often quite affordable. Along the paths, there are a number of hostels or albergues, specifically designed for pilgrims. Some of the public hostels are reserved strictly for pilgrims, so you have to have a pilgrim passport. You should have one even if you don’t plan on spending a night here, as a way of identification.
The mountainous regions and vast countryside offer a marvelous view and a meditative background. Most people make the pilgrimage in spring because the weather allows for leisurely, long and less risky walks. The view is at its best at this time as well, with the sounds of birds in synchrony with the environment, to make the walk the meditative experience it is meant to be. At the beginning of spring, there is a considerable number of pilgrims on the routes and the hostels are al open.
How about the Weather?
The weather gets better as spring arrives and consequently, the number of pilgrims increases. This means that the routes are more populated and that you need to book your evening’s resting point in advance, or get an agency to do this for you. Even private albergues that allow stays without a reservation will only allow check-ins before 4pm.
It is important to consider the seasons in Spain when planning the pilgrimage: too much heat or rain could be inconvenient and hinder your walking. The rainy season could also make the routes too muddy. The end of spring and the beginning of summer are the most popular times for pilgrimages, as mentioned.
For those who wish to embark on a true adventure, winter is the time to visit. During winter, the routes are devoid of nearly all humanity. The snow makes for quite a challenge, and getting lost is an option – so don’t do it if you are not a very experienced outdoorsman.
This however, means that a pilgrim seeking solace or seeking a challenge will certainly find one. The walk in winter takes more preparation, because not all albergues are open, so one has to find out which are and schedule their walk so as to avoid unexpectedly long distances in the cold. A pilgrimage in winter, if well planned, can be a perfect reflection experience.
The Camino de Santiago Residents
The people along these routes are mainly either pilgrims or volunteers who have found a way of giving back to the Camino through work, mainly in the albergues.
It is therefore prudent to be polite and follow house rules, such as the deadlines for admission time, which are normally around ten to eleven, and wake up time, which varies from 6 to 7 in the morning. Admission is restricted to a night unless there is a medical issue at hand, which is normally something mild, like sore feet.
Walking the Camino, any Camino, can be an amazing experience – all you need to do is settle on a route, get a backpack, prepare your body, and head out on the road!