Camino de Santiago travel guide

The Camino is a vast network of tributary roads and paths along which pilgrims flow from across Europe, before being channelled across northern Spain to the ancient city of Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of Saint James, Spain’s patron saint. The pilgrimage began in the 9th century, but it has not always been popular; in 1976, just seven pilgrims were awarded the Compostela certificate of completion. Now, over 200,000 pilgrims make the journey on foot, bicycle or horseback each year – and there are as many reasons for completing the route as there are pilgrims.
Everyone who walks this ancient trail is a pilgrim – though not all are religious. The trip, however, is always spiritual – it is a journey into rural Spain, of simple pleasures, of pushing limits, of making friends, of self discovery.
Trekking for a week or longer is a kind of meditation for many; a chance to escape the distractions of the modern world, to be immersed in the beautiful landscapes of Galicia and Castilla y León. The scallop shell, with its grooves all leading to a single point, lines the route – guiding modern pilgrims to their final destination. ¡Buen camino!
Read on in our Camino de Santiago travel guide.

Is the Camino de Santiago for you?

Walk the Camino if…

… you want to feel like a pilgrim. It may be hugely popular, but this is no walk in the park. You’ll cover distances of 15-21km per day over varied terrain, and the weather is notoriously changeable in northern Spain, so be prepared for sunburns and soakings – sometimes all in one day. It all adds to the sense of pilgrimage though – and this is one of the world’s truly iconic walks. … you want a challenge. Your stamp-filled Pilgrim’s Passport, along with the Compostela certificate, are pretty unique as far as souvenirs go. Even more rewarding is the sense of achievement you’ll feel on walking into Santiago’s cathedral after a week or more of challenging terrain, and sharing the special moment with the other exhausted yet exultant pilgrims. … you’d like to improve your Spanish. You won’t be short of company on the Camino Francés – it’s the most popular route, and you’ll be trekking alongside others the whole way. It’s a great chance to practice your Spanish with other pilgrims – from Spain, or further afield. Alternatively, take a Spanish course in the Picos de Europa – and head out each day after class to walk selected sections of the Camino del Norte.

Don’t walk the Camino if…

… you’re not in shape. You don’t need to be super fit to walk the Camino de Santiago, especially if choosing one of the shorter sections – but if you’ve done no exercise at all, this may not be the trip for you. The hilly nature of the route is a challenge, with knees, feet and toenails all suffering. If you want to enjoy rather than endure your holiday, then planning long walks at weekends, wearing in your walking boots and hiking up a few hills is advised. … you want to walk in the wilderness. The Camino Francés is a well trodden route passing through cities, towns and villages and lined with albergues and thousands of other pilgrims, especially in summer. This is all part of the experience. If you want to be immersed in nature, try another route – or perhaps forget the Camino altogether and head to one of Spain’s many true wilderness areas. … you’re more of a cyclist. There are options to traverse the route by bike instead – covering the route from León in just one week.

Brief history of the Camino de Santiago

This pilgrimage trail is otherwise known as the Way of St James, or St James’ Way and dates back over 1,000 years, with worshippers walking from various points to eventually congregate at the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, where the much revered apostle, Saint James the Great is believed to have been buried. Read more
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Camino de Santiago or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fresco Tours] [Walk/don't walk if: Oula Lehtinen]