For those who have never heard of it, the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century, moment of the discovery of the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula. Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela becomes a peregrination point of the entire European continent. In this guide, I’m going to share with you the Camino de Santiago Guide, a spiritual journey of self-reflection.
Camino de Santiago Guide
There is something special about Santiago de Compostela. It is a city full of history, art, culture and gastronomy (oh, the tapas are sooo delicious!!). I’ve always known this city very well, but never before had the chance to walk its ways. So, last year I decided to walk one of the ways, the Portuguese Way. This is the second most popular camino in terms of numbers of pilgrims. While the whole Camino Portugues has its starting point in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, most pilgrims start their trip from Portugal’s second largest city, Oporto or from the Portuguese-Spanish border town of Tui.
Camino de Santiago Guide – Best Time to Go
I decided to start in September, in Valença, in the Portuguese side of the border, right in front of Tui. 120+km in 5 days, without hurry, so I could just enjoy the view. The best times to walk the Camino are in the spring, summer and fall. Due to heavy rainfalls, winter is not recommended. Besides the weather, some albergues (pilgrim hostels) will be closed for the winter and there will be less facilities overall. Also, in the summer sometimes it gets too hot to walk, but that can be easily avoided if you start walking early in the morning.
Camino de Santiago Guide – Suggested Itinerary Starting from Valença
- Day 1: Valença, Tui, Ponte das Febres, As Gándaras de Budiño, O Porriño;
- Day 2: Mós, O Souto, Redondela, Arcade, Bergunde, Pontevedra;
- Day 3: Santa Maria de Alba, A Cancela, Briallos, Caldas de Reis;
- Day 4: Carracedo, San Miguel de Valga, Pontecesures, Padrón;
- Day 5: A Escravitude, O Milladoiro, Santiago de Compostela.
Along the way, there are plenty of albergues (hostels for pilgrims). Some are public (around 6€ per night), and some are private (more expensive – although the more you pay, the better the service!!). Also, along the way there are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
When you start your journey, you need to get a credential (you can get it at a Tourist Office or albergue in the city you start), which works as a passport. You can collect stamps from albergues, bars, coffees and restaurants. When you check in at an albergue, you just need to show your credential (which must have at least two stamps from that day) to prove that you walked that day.
The route sections are easy to walk, as most of the way is relatively flat. Most parts of the way are done in dirt roads, some on paved roads, and sometimes you walk near a major road (just to cross it, most of the times). Obviously you need to watch out for cars and other dangers, but most of the way is done in roads with minimum traffic.
Camino de Santiago Guide – Total Cost
The whole journey isn’t very expensive. I didn’t have any travel expenses as I started near home, except for the train back to Portugal (which cost around 15€). I spent around 120€ during the whole 5 days. Albergues cost 6-10€ per day (public ones cost 6€, privates cost more). Each meal varies between 3-10€ (the good thing about the Spanish gastronomy is when you ask only for a beer and they serve you some free tapas (slice of tortilla, olives, fries, …). All in all, it isn’t very expensive.
Camino de Santiago Guide – A Spiritual Journey
Once I have made it all the way to the steps of the Cathedral in Santiago with my completed credential, I went to the Pilgrim’s office so I could get the Compostelana. The Compostelana (or Compostela) is a certificate issued by ecclesiastic authorities certifying I had made at least 100km on foot (or 200km in bike/horse). I was asked some questions about what motivated me to do the Camino (spiritual, religious or tourism/ludic/sports reasons).
As I did the Camino all by myself, it was a journey of introspection. Somehow I was forced outside my comfort zone, and it was a great experience. I met lots of pilgrims along the way, from all around the world with whom I walked and talked and shared experiences; I walked for hours in complete silence; I got to know my limits a little better. It was a spiritual journey. And when I arrived to Santiago de Compostela (a city I already knew very well), I saw it with different eyes; somehow that journey changed something in me.
Currently I am planning to do the Camino Primitivo (the Primitive Way), a 300+km walk starting in Oviedo and finishing in Santiago de Compostela. This Camino was used by the first pilgrims in the IX century. This will be undoubtedly harder than the Camino Portugues, but hopefully will be worthy!
Final Thoughts from Chloe
Camino de Santiago looks like a really amazing journey to embark on. Although walking 120km sounds daunting, it’s definitely an experience of life-time. I’m totally inspired by Manuel A. Cascalheira’s trip, how about you? If you want to find out more about Manuel and his beautiful photography, check out his Instagram (@macascalheira) and biography here.