Making the trek along Spain’s Camino de Santiago isn’t just for soul-searching pilgrims. This 780km path, based on a Roman trade route, takes travellers through pretty Spanish towns, up mountains and across plains along a walking trail that has been used for thousands of years. If nothing else, it’s a walk through history.
The walk itself has many different routes, coming from all over Europe to finally channel together in the north of Spain and end at Santiago de Compostela. Depending on time and endurance you can cut the walk down to around 100km if you want the experience without needing an entire month to do it. Wherever you start, just follow the shell, the sign of the pilgrimage.
Where to start
Many travellers only hike the last 100km before Santiago from Sarria which is all that is needed for the compostela, a Christian blessing given at the end of the route, but during peak season this part of the route can be crowded and space at the hostels along the way can be scarce. Alternatively, it’s possible to hike the earlier half of the route from Pamplona, Burgos or Leon. There are five main routes, all with different departure points with varying lengths.
Camino Frances – This route runs 780km from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. It’s the most popular and best developed as far as amenities are concerned for travellers.
Silver Route – Starts in Seville (or Granada) and runs 1000km north. Travellers need at least 6 or 7 weeks to walk this.
Northern Route – Since this route runs along the coast, there are plenty of opportunities to swim and relax at the end of the day. That being said, the terrain is much more difficult with frequent climbs and descents. It starts from the Santiago Bridge in Irun and runs 825km.
Portuguese Route – Starts in Porto and runs 230km. It is has very good signs pointing the way and plenty of accommodations.
Camino Ingles – There are two starting points here, either A Coruna or Ferrol. From A Coruna the trail is 75km while from Ferrol it’s 110km. If you want to “get away,” this isn’t the best route as there is a lot of city building along the way.
What to pack
Bring a light backpack with as little as possible since you’ll be the one carrying it the entire time. Rain coat, pain killers, sunscreen, small torch, sleeping bag, fleece for the night, hat, quick dry towel, hiking clothes, sandals and good quality hiking books are just the beginning of what you should bring. Some backpackers even mail themselves supplies to collect later on down the path.
This all depends on which route you choose but if you are going to hike in northern Spain and follow the standard route then the nearest airports are in Biarritz (France), Zaragoza, Barcelona and Pamplona. From there it’s possible to take regional buses to the starting point of the route. As far as getting home is concerned, there are cheap flights to London from Santiago with Ryanair as well as Iberia.
Have you ever made a pilgrimage or a long hiking journey? Would you ever undertake a trek this long?