Walking the Camino: Start Here
The train doors opened in Sarria, and we all piled out eager to begin our first day of walking. Each of us slid our packs, full of 12 days of belongings, onto our backs and took the obligatory group photo to mark our first pilgrimage day. Locating the yellow arrow, that would be our navigation tool, was pretty easy. We made our way down the cobbled stone streets and past the tiled roofed buildings of town. But it didn't feel official until a fellow pilgrim shouted, "Buen Camino!" We followed yellow arrows out of town towards a grove of trees and into the countryside.
62 miles (ca. 100 km) and 7 days of walking ahead of us. For hundreds of years, thousands of others have taken this journey to the city of Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain. The pilgrimage culminates at the tomb of St. James, and now it was our turn to take the journey. The Camino is for everyone, young or old. Walking this ancient pilgrimage route will take you through medieval villages, lush countryside, and enchanted forests with gnarled oak trees. Along the way you'll meet fellow pilgrims and enjoy Galician cuisine. There is an infrastructure of support of food and accommodations for the pilgrims. But first you have to decide which one of the many routes to Santiago de Compostela you want to travel.
The Most Popular Routes to Santiago de Compostela
Camino Frances: The French Way
The most popular route, referred to as "the Camino". This route begins at Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, near the Pyrenees Mountains and continues across Spain passing through many villages and towns to Santiago de Compostela. It is an easy route to follow because it is easily marked with yellow arrows or a scallop shell that are on buildings, trees and rocks.
Distance: 800 km (497 miles)
Duration: 40 days depending on your fitness level. You will walk 8-14 miles (13-23km) a day.
Difficulty level: This is a moderate level walking route. The route begins with the pilgrim walking over the Pyrenees for approx. 26 km (16 miles). The highest elevation is 1,200 meters (3,937 ft) in the first miles out of Saint Jean Pied de Port. From France, elevations fluctuate from 200-1,550 meters (656 to 4,921 ft.). You walk mostly on pavement, through vineyards and hills in the countryside.
Sarria to Santiago de Compostela: This route is for you, if you don't have time to walk the full Camino Frances. This part of the route takes you past medieval churches and religious sites. It is rare that you will go a few kilometers/miles without passing through a village.
Distance: Walk the last 100 km (62 miles) of the Camino Frances, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. As long as you walk at last 100 km of the Camino you have earned your compostela, a special certificate given to pilgrims who complete the Camino.
Duration: You can walk this part of the route in 5-6 days, walking 6-7 hours a day.
Camino Portugues: The Portuguese Way is not one route but three routes through Portugal into Spain. The main starting points are Lisbon (600 km/373 miles), Porto (240 km/149 miles) and the most common starting point from Portugal, Tui (119 km/73 miles). This route crosses Portugal from south to north and takes pilgrims through breathtaking nature. There is a detour route that takes you along the coast, but mostly you walk through the historical towns of Portugal and Galicia.
Distance: 600 km (373 miles)
Duration: 24-33 days, depending on your fitness level. You will walk 17-32 km (11-20 miles) a day.