Camino de Santiago Routes: How To Choose The Best For You
You have certainly heard the saying “all roads lead to Rome”.
Same goes with the Camino de Santiago routes. Regardless of the starting point of the trail, every pilgrim route leads to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
So, which Camino route should you take?
Before deciding, answer the following questions as precisely as possible. By the end of this post, you should know which Camino de Santiago route is the best for you.
1. What Are The Most Popular Camino de Santiago Routes?
Below are the most popular Camino de Santiago routes. These also offer the most extensive infrastructure for pilgrims.
- Camino frances (The French Way) is by far the busiest route. It starts in France, takes you over the Pyrenees, and continues through Spain.
- Camino portugues (The Portuguese Way) is the second busiest. It starts in Portugal and runs along the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
- Camino primitivo (The Original Way) is the oldest and most authentic Camino route.
- Camino del Norte (The North Camino) runs along the seashore of the Bay of Biscay and has the most challenging terrain.
- Camino ingles (The English Road) is the shortest one.
- Via de la Plata (The Silver Way) is the longest Camino route.
- Camino de Madrid starts in the Spanish capital and joins Camino frances at Sahagún.
- Camino Finisterre (The Path to the End of the Earth) runs east from the Atlantic Ocean’s coast. Many pilgrims choose to walk the 3-day-long trail after reaching Santiago de Compostela.
The history of the religious pilgrimage to the burial site of Saint James – Santiago de Compostela Cathedral – dates back to the Middle Ages. Nowadays, people walk the Way of Saint James (English for Camino de Santiago) for all kinds of reasons.
Travellers from all over the world embark on the Camino de Santiago in search of personal growth, new friendships, stunning landscapes, captivating history, or even tasty dishes. Whatever you’re seeking on the Camino, if you choose your route wisely, you’ll come back transformed.
To have the greatest experience, you should follow the Camino de Santiago route that suits you best. Below, I go into detail about the first three paths since they’re the most popular and well-developed routes.
Now that you know your options, let’s figure out the other aspects of the pilgrimage.
2. How Much Time Can You Spare To Walk The Camino?
Your available time is the first thing you need to consider when choosing the right Camino route for you.
Here are the top three Camino de Santiago routes and their lengths:
- Camino frances: 780 km / 485 mi.
- Camino portugues: 640 km / 398 mi.
- Camino primitivo: 321 km / 200 mi.
As you can see, their lengths vary hugely. This is how much time you’ll need for them:
You Need A Month For The Whole Camino Frances
In about a month, you can walk the most popular path, the French Way. Its whole length is 780 km. It starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France and runs west over the Pyrenees and the border with Spain. Some of the bigger stops along the way are Pamplona, Burgos, and León.
Pilgrims usually spend from 31 to 35 days walking the Camino frances. Consider that you need to walk approximately 25 km per day, for a month. (Check more about the required fitness level in the next section.)
You Need Less Time For Other Popular Camino de Santiago Routes
The Portuguese Way is second in terms of popularity.
The 321-kilometre-long Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo, Spain. You can complete this Camino route in about two weeks.
For the shortest Camino de Santiago experience – or if you want to continue walking after you’ve reached the Cathedral – try Camino Finisterre.
Usually, pilgrims walk the 3-day-long trail from the Cathedral to the rugged Atlantic Ocean coast. There, they might burn their shoes and clothes. The fire symbolises the end of their journey and the beginning of their new life chapter.
Tip: If your time is limited, you have the following options:
- choose a shorter route,
- begin your pilgrimage closer to Santiago de Compostela, or
- use transportation for some of the stages of the Camino.
You will receive your pilgrimage certificate at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral if you’ve walked at least 100 km (62 mi) to the burial site of St. James. So that’s your minimum distance goal!
3. Are You Fit Enough To Finish The Pilgrimage To Santiago de Compostela?
When choosing your Camino de Santiago route, consider that you won’t be walking just a day or two for 25+ kilometres. You’ll need to have a fitness level that allows you to cover the distance for numerous days in a row.
Additionally, some routes have more challenging terrain than others.
For example, Camino frances takes you over the Pyrenees. Although picturesque, the hike in the border region might not be your cup of tea.
On the other side, Camino portugues is a coastal walk with equally stunning views but much flatter terrain. Plus, you get to explore the stunning historical cities of Lisbon and Porto!
Consider also that some of the stages will take you through towns and villages with cobble-stoned streets and over asphalt roads. These surfaces are much harder on your legs than nature trails.
Don’t forget to consider the fact that you’ll be carrying your backpack for hours on end. Learn the tricks other pilgrims have used to optimise their luggage. For example, read this Camino del Norte packing list or check how to pack effectively for the Camino here.
Tip: If you don’t want to carry your luggage all the time, you can hire a service to deliver it from one accommodation to the next. This way, you can enjoy your Camino walk without worrying about your back.
4. When Do You Plan to Walk El Camino de Santiago?
One of the questions all future pilgrims ask is “when is the best time to walk the Camino?”
You can walk most of the Camino routes all year round. However, the best time is from April to October. Have in mind that in spring and autumn, rains are common, while in the summer months, the temperatures can be sizzling high.
Here’s an idea of when to walk the most popular paths:
- You can walk Camino frances almost all of the year. Just keep in mind that the first section through the mountains becomes difficult to pass in the winter months.
- The coastal routes like Camino portugues are perfect for spring and summer, from April to October, but might be too rainy and windy in winter.
- Camino primitivo takes you through mountains and along the rugged coastline. It can get muddy, windy, and cold in early spring and late autumn. Walking this route in winter is not advisable.
5. What Are You Searching For When Walking The Camino?
The most important aspect of walking the Camino is the journey itself, not the destination.
Many roads will take you to Santiago de Compostela. Of course, it is important to consider the length of the route, your fitness level, and the time of the year. But so is the kind of experience you want to have.
Ask yourself, “why do you want to walk the Camino de Santiago?”
- Are you searching for solitude and time with your own thoughts?
- Do you want to meet new people and explore new places with them?
- Do you want to disconnect from your daily life and enjoy nature?
- Are you a food aficionado trying to discover the tastiest Galician dishes? (Hey, I’m not judging, that’s what I would do! )
Here are the things you need to consider when choosing a Camino route to match your personality and expectations:
Camino Primitivo: For Those In Search Of Solitude And Spirituality
If you are looking to disconnect from the world, consider walking the Camino primitivo.
The Original Way is the oldest Camino de Santiago route. Records show that King Alfonso II took this path to visit the tomb of Saint James in the 9th century.
On this route, you’ll explore sparsely populated, mountainous areas and admire breathtaking scenery. Not many pilgrims choose to walk it. Therefore, you can expect a peaceful and liberating experience.
However, since the route is less popular, it has fewer tourist attractions and restaurants than other paths. Your solitude might come at a high price. So, consider both sides of the coin before venturing on your journey.
Camino Frances: For Making New Friends And Discovering New Places Together
On the other end of the spectrum is Camino frances. The French Way is the busiest and most popular of all Camino de Santiago routes.
If you want to meet new people, share the pilgrimage experience, and explore new places with fellow travellers, this is the right option for you. Many pilgrims consider it the most beautiful route, so you won’t run out of things to see and do. This route also has the best infrastructure for pilgrims.
However, the price you have to pay is the huge number of people roaming the streets of every charming town you’ll pass. Racing to accommodations to secure a bed for the night is also a thing on the Camino frances.
To avoid the stress of arriving at a fully booked house, you can make a reservation in advance. Check my resource on how to find cheap travel accommodation. Of course, pre-booking takes away the spontaneity of the walk, so make sure you leave some room for flexibility as well.
Tip: If you select the French Way over other options but want to avoid the crowds, don’t walk it in the summer.
Camino Portugues: For Admiring Mesmerising Landscapes And Enjoying Fewer Crowds
The Portuguese Way is a nice blend of all the pros and cons of the other two mentioned Camino de Santiago routes.
It is neither lonely nor crowded. Its infrastructure for pilgrims is well-developed so you won’t have any problems finding places to eat and sleep. But most importantly, you’ll be spell-bound by the landscapes and astonished by the historical sites.
Camino portugues has a captivating past. The first people who walked it didn’t go on a religious pilgrimage. They were creating commercial connections between their neighbouring countries, which are still in use today.
Which Camino de Santiago Route Would You Choose?
To recap, here is what the three most popular Camino de Santiago routes have to offer:
- Camino frances:
- the best infrastructure,
- great sightseeing options,
- diverse terrain,
- walkable almost all-year round,
- different options for starting points along the way, and
- many fellow pilgrims to start new friendships with.
- Camino portugues:
- good infrastructure,
- mostly flat terrain,
- stunning views,
- different starting points to suit your available time, and
- fewer crowds but enough people to share the experience with.
- Camino primitivo:
- authentic experience,
- diverse terrain, and
- it can be walked in two weeks’ time.
Every Camino is different.
No matter which route you choose, be open to every new experience and new person you meet. Leave all prejudice behind, forget your problems, and try to rediscover your strengths while walking to Santiago de Compostela.
Whatever you are searching for, you can find it along the way.
¡Buen Camino! Bom Caminho! Bon chemin! Bon Camiño!