The Camino de Santiago or the Way of St.James is a network of pilgrimage to the tomb of Apotles St.James in Santiago de Compostela. Walking the Camino is a lifetime experience. One of the best things about it is that anybody can do it. You don’t have to be an experienced hiker or super athlete to walk it. Camino de Santiago has many different route options from a short 120 km walk to the long and challenging 800 km and even 1000 km routes. Depending on how much time you have, what you want to see, and how far you can walk you can choose any of the existing routes. I must warn you the Camino might be addictive, many people come back again and again after completing their first route.
As of March 2023, we’ve completed 9 different Camino routes. You can find many detailed Camino posts on our Camino de Santiago page. We tried to create the best resource that pilgrims can use to plan their journey.
The Way of St.James routes that we’ve completed:
- Portuguese Camino (from Lisbon) – May 2018
- Camino Primitivo – June 2018
- Camino del Norte – October 2018
- Camino Finisterre-Muxía – November 2018
- Vía de la Plata (part of it, 214 km from Seville to Mérida) – April 2019
- Camino Inglés – May 2019
- Camino Francés – September 2019
- Camino de San Salvador – September 2022
- Camino de Gran Canaria – October 2022
We couldn’t do any Camino in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021 our daughter was born we didn’t get a chance to walk. In 2022 we restarted our Camino journey. We’re going to walk more routes in 2023 some of them with our toddler daughter. Now we live in Portugal and we can dedicate more time to the Camino de Santiago.
Watch our YouTube video about things to know before walking the Camino de Santiago
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James is a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, a city in Galicia (Spain). It’s believed that in the cathedral of Santiago, the body of the apostle Saint James was buried. The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back to the 9th century when Spanish King Alfonso II completed the first-ever pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from Oviedo. Nowadays this route is known as the Camino Primitivo. The Camino de Santiago is not a single route but a network of routes that start in different cities, mainly in Spain (some in Portugal and France), and finish in Santiago.
Why is the Way of St.James so important?
The Camino de Santiago is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in Europe that has been walked by millions of pilgrims over centuries. The final point of the pilgrimage the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of the three Christian temples built over the tomb of the twelve Apostles. People who walk the Way for religious reasons see it as the way to seek penance and forgiveness. In the old times, it was the main reason for walking the Camino. Nowadays everybody has different reasons and motivations for completing the pilgrimage.
If you get overwhelmed at the beginning of your Camino planning and have many questions that need to be answered we created a dedicated post answering many FAQs about the Camino de Santiago.
Different routes of the Way of St.James
As I mentioned above the Camino de Santiago is not a single route, as some people think referring to the most popular route – Camino Frances. It‘s a network of routes. In fact, you can start walking towards Santiago from anywhere in Europe but outside the established Camino routes it will be difficult to find a good infrastructure for pilgrims; accommodation, route markings, etc.
There are several established routes of the Way of St.James, they all start in different cities and end in Santiago de Compostela;
Camino Frances (the French Way) – the most popular route, about 55% of all pilgrims choose this Camino. The French route starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port, a French town near the border with Spain. Total distance 790 km. If you’re planning to complete the entire route read our post on how to get to St.Jean Pied de Port. 50% of pilgrims who complete this route walk only the last 100 km from Sarria. The last 100 kilometers to Santiago on any Camino is a required minimum for getting the Compostela (the Certificate of the Camino de Santiago).
Camino Portugues (the Portuguese Way) – the second popular route. It starts in Lisbon but most people walk it from Porto. Total distance from Lisbon – 616 km, from Porto 260 km or 280 km, depending on the route you take. There are two different routes from Porto; the Coastal route, it’s walked only by 4% of the pilgrims, and the Central route, which is walked by 20% of the pilgrims. The Coastal Route goes along the coast from Porto to Vigo, the Central Route goes inland all the way to Santiago.
Camino del Norte (the Northern Way) – this route is growing in popularity, In 2019 6% of all pilgrims who arrived in Santiago completed this Camino. The Northern Way is a great alternative to the French Camino. I’ve walked both and liked the scenery on the Camino del Norte more. The route starts in Irún, a small Spanish town on the border with France. The total distance of the Camino is 825 km.
Camino Primitivo (the Original Way) – one of the lesser walked Camino routes, about 5% of all pilgrims. It’s relatively short, 321 km but it’s considered to be one of the toughest routes due to many steep ascents and descents. The Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo, Spain.
Via de la Plata (the Silver Way) – the longest established route of St.James, about 1000 km, one of the least walked routes, 3%. It’s not the best route to walk as the first Camino, it has less infrastructure, longer stages, etc. It starts in Seville, Spain.
Camino Inglés (the English Way) – a short, 120 km walk, from A Coruña/Ferrol, Spain. One of the least walked routes (3,5%) on the Camino. It’s probably the best option for those who just want to get a taste of the Camino before embracing a long walk.
There are many more routes of the Way of St.James; from Valencia – Camino de Levante; from Almería – Camino Mozárabe (joins with Via de la Plata after Merida); from Barcelona – Camino Catalán; from Madrid – Camino de Madrid – the last two join with the French Way after about two weeks. There is even a route on the Canary Islands called the Camino de Gran Canaria. All these routes combined are walked by less than 1% of the pilgrims a year so you can imagine how little infrastructure they have.
There is one “special” route Camino Finisterre-Muxía, unlike the other routes, it starts in Santiago de Compostela and goes to Finisterre and Muxía, two coastal towns in Galicia. People usually walk it after completing one of the other Camino routes. Total distance from Santiago to Finisterre – 89 km and to Muxía – 86 km.
You can find more details on route options in our post on the Best routes of the Camino de Santiago.
How long does it take to walk the Camino de Santiago?
The time and distance required for completing the Way of St.James depend on the chosen route. It can be from 4 days on the Camino de Gran Canaria to 45+ days on the Via de la Plata. The most popular route the Camino Frances takes on average between 30 and 35 days to complete. If you don’t have time to complete one of the longer routes and still want to get the Compostela Certificate you can walk the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela on any Camino route.
If you want to complete one of the longer routes of the Way of St.James but don’t have enough time you can split it into parts and walk them over a couple of years every time you have a holiday.
Where does the Way of St.James start and end?
The starting point of the Way of St.James depends on the chosen route. All Camino routes start in different cities across Europe, mostly Spain. All Camino de Santiago routes end in one place – Santiago de Compostela. There are only two exceptions: the Camino de Gran Canaria which is on the Canary Islands and the Camino Finisterre-Muxia which starts in Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago de Compostela is a great city with many things to do. If you have a couple of days after finishing the Way of St.James I would recommend spending them there.
How hard is it to walk the Camino?
The Camino de Santiago is a challenging route, especially for first-timers who have never done a multi-day walk/trek before. It’s physically demanding to walk on average 20-25 km daily even if you walk one of the shorter routes or do only the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela. I would recommend doing some training for the Camino de Santiago beforehand.
On longer routes (from our experience) you can get emotionally burned out as well. Just imagine getting up every day packing your stuff in a backpack walking for the most part of the day sleeping every night in a different place often in a shared room with strangers. Of course, it’s a unique experience and the challenges that we overcome form a part of it but it’s not an easy stroll in the park.
How many hours a day do you walk?
You walk 20-25 km/12,4-15,5 mi per day on the Camino de Santiago on average. If you take an average walking speed of 5 km/3,1 mi per hour it’ll give you 4-5 walking hours a day. Add to that an hour or two because you usually stop on the way to take photos, drink coffee, eat lunch, etc. Be ready to spend on the road between 5 and 7 hours a day. Some people walk slower some faster. Even on the same Camino route walking time may vary depending on the landscape; in the mountains (due to ascents and descents), you walk slower than on the plain.
What is the best month to walk the Camino de Santiago?
The best months for doing the Camino depend on the route you choose, some routes are great in summer e.g. Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo – it’s nice and warm, with no rain; on some Caminos, the heat is unbearable e.g. Via de la Plata, and the Portuguese Camino (Lisbon part) – it’s scorching hot, dry with no shadow to hide.
The busiest time for most of the routes is July and August we’ve never walked any Camino during these months because we just don’t like it when it’s too busy with too many people. In our experience, the best walking months in sense of weather and people are; May, June, September (not for the Via de la Plata, it’s still too hot in September), and the first half of October.
We had great weather in May on the Portuguese Camino, ok weather in June on the Camino Primitivo (it was warmish but we got a lot of rain which wasn’t normal for June), good weather in October on the Camino del Norte, and bad (rainy and windy) weather in November on the Camino Finisterre. For Via de la Plata we’d suggest late March-April-beginning of May – it’s warm, no rain, and not too hot yet.
As for walking the Way of St.James completely off-season from November to February, the French Way is probably the best to walk mainly because there is more infrastructure (more albergues) and some of them are open all year round. On other routes e.g. Camino del Norte, most albergues are closed for the offseason and you’ll have to stay in hotels though it’ll be cheaper than in the season.
Weather-wise winter is not the best time it can rain quite a lot and it gets chilly (not all albergues have heating), in the mountains you can get snow and some passes might be closed. If you want a very quiet Camino with no people – winter is a good time otherwise try to do it between March and the beginning of November.
What do I need for walking the Camino de Santiago?
Anybody can walk the Camino de Santiago. You don’t need any special documents or permits. All you really need is a pair of good shoes and a backpack. Of course, you’ll have to do some planning and preparation but even if you make a spontaneous decision to walk the Way of St.James you’ll be fine.
The only special thing you need for the Camino de Santiago is a Credential – a printed book or spreadsheet with pilgrim’s data (name, country, birth date, etc) and empty spaces for stamps. In this book, you collect stamps from albergues, churches, restaurants, and bars on the route. At the end of the Camino in Santiago de Compostela you’ll need your Creential with stamps in order to get the Compostela, a certificate that is granted for completing the Camino. The Credential is compulsory to have if you want to stay in public (municipal) albergues as well.
How much does it cost to walk the Camino?
Walking the Camino is not expensive rather cheap, but it depends on how much of your comfort you can sacrifice. The cheapest way to walk the Camino is;
- to stay mainly in public (municipal) albergues
- to make your own food
- not to stop on the way for coffee, cool drinks, etc.
- not to go out for beer or drinks
If you stick to these rules your Camino budget will be as little as 15-20 Euro per person per day. Just remember don’t sacrifice too much to save more, try to make your walk enjoyable.
Camino de Santiago one week cost, per person
- Accommodation – 8 Euro x 7 days = 56 Euro per week, per person
- Shopping – 10 Euro x 7 days = 70 Euro
- Eating out (optional, you can buy all food in supermarkets) – 10 Euro x 7 days = 70 Euro
- Laundry – 6 Euro, can be divided between 2 or more people
- Other – 10 Euro, in case you need to buy plasters or medicine
Total; 212 Euro pp. per week or 30 Euro pp. per day, plus transport to get to and back. For a comfortable walk, we’d suggest planning 30-32 Euro pp. per day including eating, going out for a drink, and staying in albergues. If you cut off on eating out you can do it for under 147 Euro pp. per week or 20 Euro pp. per day.
You can find more details on the cost of walking the Camino including money-saving tips, a detailed explanation of what you can get on 20, 30, and 40 Euro per day, and a comparison of the cost of different routes in our post The cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Luggage transfer on the Camino de Santiago
If you don’t want to walk with a big backpack every day it’s possible to arrange backpack delivery on the Way of St.James. It works very easily; your backpack gets delivered every day from place to place. They pick it up in the morning at the reception of your albergue/hotel and drop it off by lunchtime at your next accommodation place. There are several companies that offer luggage transfer services on the Camino de Santiago. The Spanish post office Correos is the main one, they cover most Camino routes. The price is around 7 Euros per backpack per stage.
Travel insurance for the Way of St.James
Walking like any other outdoor activity involves a risk of getting an injury or losing some of the gear. It’s recommended to have travel insurance for the Camino de Santiago. Though Camino is not a high-altitude hike through remote areas it’s still a physically challenging experience and injuries are quite frequent. Make sure you will be able to get medical assistance any time you need it. It’s quite handy to have insurance in case of a gear or device break/loss you can always claim it back. It makes the walk less stressful when you know you’re covered in case of any unpredictable emergencies.
How to plan the Camino de Santiago?
These simple steps will help you in planning and preparing for the walk.
Choose the route you want to walk. Don’t be afraid to choose an off-the-beaten-track route, base your choice on what you’d like to see and experience.
Make sure the time you have available is a good season to walk the route (not too hot, not too cold or rainy, etc.).
Book your plane, train, bus ticket, and hotel (recommended to do if you’re planning to walk in peak season – June – September).
Buy travel insurance that covers the period of the walk.
If you think it’s necessary to start training (walk more, do a couple of hikes, etc.).
Check packing recommendations and make sure you have all the essentials e.g. good shoes, a backpack, etc. Don’t leave shopping for these till the last moment, you’ll need some time to get used to new hiking boots.
Get the Credential in your country or check if you’ll be able to get it at the starting point of your Camino route; some albergues, cathedrals, or pilgrim information offices sell them.
Make a list of things you want to see or places you want to stop to make sure you won’t miss something on the way.
Make a draft of your walking itinerary (stages) based on places you want to stay, albergues, and distances. You don’t have to stick to it but it’s nice to have some sort of a walking plan.
Get a good book/audiobook for reading/listening to you’ll have time for that on the Camino.
When you have everything ready pack your backpack and try to walk with it for a couple of kilometers. If it feels too heavy reconsider your luggage and leave unnecessary stuff at home. It’s important to pack light for the Camino to make your walk easier.
One of my main Camino de Santiago tips is don’t stress out – as the experienced pilgrims say “The Camino provides”. Everything will work out in the end and you’ll be fine.
What is the accommodation like on the Camino de Santiago?
Hostels for pilgrims are called albergues. They can be municipal (public) or private. The municipal albergues are run by the municipality with the help of volunteers. Private albergues belong to a person or organization. In high season municipal albergues on the popular routes fill quite quickly if you want to get a spot you must be there before 1 pm and wait in the queue. Even if you don’t get a spot there will be one or two private albergues where you can stay for 4 Euro more.
There are albergues for a donation they can be private or public, they don’t have an established price, and pilgrims donate as much as they want or can. Note! Many people take advantage of this and don’t leave any donation or give 1 Euro. For this reason, there are fewer and fewer donation albergues on the Camino de Santiago. Donation albergues are only for pilgrims with Credentials, can’t be booked, and usually have the same facilities as public and private albergues.
Of course, there are plenty of hotels and guesthouses on the Way of St.James. It works out more expensive to stay in private every night, especially on longer routes but it’s 100% worth it. We usually try to stay in private at least once or twice a week to have better rest.
- The price is 8 Euro per person.
- Are exclusively for pilgrims (need a Credential to stay there).
- Can’t be booked, first come first serve principle.
- Check-in usually starts between 1 pm and 3 pm.
- Check out by 8 am the next morning.
- Don’t allow to stay for more than one night.
- Usually, they have disposable bedding included or for 1 Euro extra.
- Normally have a kitchen, sometimes without utensils or cutlery.
- Usually, they are quite big and can accommodate between 20-40 people on average. There are some quite small municipal albergues.
- Price 14 Euro average.
- Not only for pilgrims but more like hostels where anybody can stay.
- They can be booked in advance, many albergues are on booking.com.
- Normally open for check-in from 1 pm.
- Check out before 9 am-10 am.
- Allow staying as long as you want.
- Usually but not always have better facilities than public albergues.
- Disposable bedding is included, some places have normal sheets and bedding.
- Usually but not always have a kitchen. Some private albergues have a bar and don’t have a kitchen they expect you’ll eat at the bar.
- Normally they are smaller than public albergues, which can accommodate 10-15 people. There are some massive private albergues as well.
How do I find albergues on the Camino?
No need to worry about it, they will find you. The way to municipal albergues is always marked, just follow the arrows and very likely you will end up at the albergue. Most private albergues have indications pointing their way (they want you to find them), some might be slightly off the route but usually, they are located pretty close to the Camino. In the peak season (July, August) if you want to stay in a specific private albergue (because it’s very nice or somebody recommended it to you, etc.) it’s better to book it in advance, some albergues can be found in booking.com, some can be booked over the phone.
More information on accommodation on the Camino you can find in our comprehensive post Albergues on the Camino de Santiago.
What is the food like on the Camino?
It’s not a problem to find places to eat on the Camino, most routes, especially the more popular ones, have plenty of restaurants and bars. Menu del Día is the most popular meal on the Camino. It’s a set menu that includes salad or soup, a main dish (meat, chicken, fish), wine/water/cool drink to choose from, bread, coffee, or dessert. The menu costs 12 Euro on average and it’s usually a big meal. Many restaurants, bars, and private albergues serve it for lunch, and some places offer a dinner menu but it’s a bit more expensive.
Many bars and cafes offer breakfast. It’s usually a cup of coffee with a sandwich or pastry and a glass of orange juice. In some tourist places, you can find a big English or American breakfast but it’s not something typical in Spain. Locals drink a cup of coffee with a cookie or a small pastry for breakfast.
Tapas or pinchos (depending on the region) is very popular in Spain. Tapas or pinchos can be anything; a small portion of paella, a little sandwich, a piece of tortilla, etc. Some bars give tapas for free with your drink, and some charge extra, usually 2 Euro. Pinchos are typical for Northern Spain (the Basque County, Navarra). You always pay for pinchos, the price is 3-4 Euro.
The main food problem on the Camino is if you stick to a specific diet e.g. vegetarian or vegan. In big cities, you can find restaurants serving vegan or vegetarian menus but in smaller places, it might be difficult. The best option is to find a place to stay with a kitchen where you can cook your own meal. Most towns and villages on the route have supermarkets or grocery shops. Some private albergues offer communal dinners for donation, these dinners are usually vegetarian or vegan.
How do I find the Camino de Santiago route?
All established Camino de Santiago routes are well-marked from the start to the end. We rarely had a problem finding the way. A couple of times in big cities we lost the trek because the route sometimes is marked with metal scallop shells on sidewalks, but usually, it’s very easy to follow. The Caminos are marked with yellow arrows and yellow scallop shells painted on sidewalks, tiles, walls, poles, etc. In Galicia, the route markers show the distance left to the cathedral in Santiago.
From our experience, we never needed GPS or a map for walking the Way of St.James.
Is it safe to walk the Camino solo?
We’ve walked four different Camino routes and never felt unsafe; walking out of big cities through so-called industrial areas, walking through the forest, or field, or along the beach. The most unpleasant for me is walking on or along the road I just don’t like when I hear a car or even worse a truck approaching from behind but even when we had to walk on the road it never felt like a car will drive over us, people try to be careful and slow down if they see a pilgrim on the road. The main “danger” on the Way of St.James is theft, don’t leave your valuable stuff unattended anywhere; albergues, restaurants, picnic spots.
The best guidebooks for the Way of St.James
In our opinion, Brierley’s guides are the best guidebooks for the Camino de Santiago. Unfortunately, he has only guides for the most popular Camino routes: Camino Frances, Camino Portuguese, Camino Ingles, and Camino Finisterre.
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean Pied de Port • Santiago de Compostela, John Brierley, 2022
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués Lisbon – Porto – Santiago: including Camino Central, Variente Espiritual, Camino da Costa, & Senda Litoral, John Brierley, 2022
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Finisterre: Including Muxía Circuit: Santiago ― Finisterre ― Muxía ― Santiago, John Brierley, 2022
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Inglés: The English Way also known as the Celtic Camino: Ferrol & Coruña — Santiago, John Brierley, 2021
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Sanabrés & Camino Invierno: Ourense or Ponferrada ― Lalín ― Santiago, John Brierley, 2021
- Camino del Norte: Irún to Santiago along Spain’s Northern Coast (Village to Village Map Guide), 2019
- The Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés – A Guide to the Camino from Sevilla to Santiago [2022 Edition]
The Way of St.James planning resources
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The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.