5 Reasons Why You Should Do the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage

camino de santiago routes

by Homer Nievera | Every year, thousands of Catholic pilgrims and tourists walk the “Way of Saint James”or more popularly known as the Camino de Santiago. Many do it on their own or join organized groups. The Camino de Santiago is actually part of a huge network of ancient Catholic and Christian pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and intersecting at  at the tomb of Saint James (ie. Santiago in Spanish) located in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is fairly easy whatever age you are. Most of the routes are fairly flat and on good paths. Since many of pilgrims have not walked continuously for ten to thirty days, the challenge is really psychological.

Why go on a Catholic pilgrimage here?

#1 Reflection

It is believed that people needing peace of mind will greatly benefit from this. Any self-guided or organized tour for Camino de Santiago will allow the same effect. This is because the most popular route known as the Camino Frances, stretches for 780 kilometers, or about 500 miles, from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. Refelcting on your life’s purpose, mission and other things while praying for clarity can be done here.

#2 Unplug

According to Traveler magazine, “this is one of the rare times you won’t be able to rely on technology.” Indeed, as there is practically no Internet and phone signals are intermittent or sparse on the trail. A guidebook is essential, unless you like the experience of not knowing how far you’ll walk or where you’ll sleep that night.

#3 Test Your Limits

If you take theSantiago de Compostela in Spain, that will roughly take you 28 days of walking and cross 400 miles. That will surely be a feat in itself because for sure, you haven’t done that in your life — ever!

#4 Meet New People, Make New Friends

Whether you’re walking 100 kilometers or 400 kilometers, you will be meeting people from all over the world, literally walking side by side with you. This is if you’re doing a self-guided tour. So if you’re with a tour group, you will never be alone. Remember, you don’t need to be a backpacker to experience it. As you learn to travel light, you’ll also learn a whole new meaning to “sharing-the-load”with people you meet. Having some conversation and praying with them makes your heart’s burden lighter. There isn’t an app for that.

#5 Walk the Same Path as Pilgrims Did 2,000+ Years Ago

Historically speaking, the Camino de Santiago has been around way before Saint James trekked it. In a blog entry by Francis Tapon, he wrote that “pagans were walking across northern Spain in a born-again ritual. They would finish at Fisterra (the end of the world), burn their clothes, and watch the sun fall into the infinite sea next to La Costa de Morta (the Coast of Death). This ritual symbolized a pilgrim’s death and rebirth.” But when Christians brought the body of Saint James to be buried in Santiago de Compostela, this eventually became a Catholic and Christian pilgrimage path. Imagine being one with your Christian brethren and many other people who came before you who have walked the path.

The Certificate

pilgrims certificate-camino
The Pilgrim Certificate- Camino Santiago Compostela (photo c/o caminoways.com)

Yes, there is a certificate that people get for completing their journey.

To obtain a certificate, you should do the following:

  • You need to have made the pilgrimage for religious reasons or for a similar motivation such as a vow.
  • You need to have walked or traveled on horseback at least the last 100kms, or cycled the last 200kms, to arrive at the tomb of the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
  • You should collect at least two sellos (stamps) each day on your credencial. This will usually be where you sleep and one other place such as a Church, ayuntamiento, café etc. You must ensure that you do this at least in the last 100 kms from the Cathedral of Santiago if you are walking or on horseback and 200 kms if you are travelling by bicycle.

You may walk the Camino in stages. However if you are walking the last 100kms, or cycling the last 200kms, in stages you must obtain a sello with the date in the place you stopped and obtain another sello with the date from the same place on the day you start again.

The Pilgrims Office in Santiago (Oficina de Acogida del Peregrino) has just launched a new Camino certificate called the ‘Certificate of Distance’.

new-camino-certificate-distanceThis new Camino certificate can be obtained in addition to the traditional Compostela or the Certificate of Welcome, after reaching Santiago de Compostela. The Pilgrims Office has created this new certificate in response to requests from pilgrims over the years. This new certificate includes arrival date, as well as starting date and starting point, the amount of kilometres completed and the pilgrim’s chosen route (Camino Francés, Camino Portugués, Vía de la Plata, etc.) The cost of this new Camino certificate is 3€.

The Routes

The most popular routes

Three major French routes feed the longest route, know as the Camino Frances as it riginates in France — the Voie de Tours, the Voie de Vezelay, and the Voie du Puy. It is also joined along its route by the Camino Aragones (which is fed by the Voie d’Arles which crosses the Pyrenees at the Somport Pass), by the Camí de Sant Jaume from Montserrat near Barcelona, the Ruta de Tunel from Irun, the Camino Primitivo from Bilbao and Oviedo, and by the Camino de Levante from Valencia and Toledo. Other Spanish routes are the Camino Inglés from Ferrol & A Coruña, the Via de la Plata from Seville and Salamanca, and the Camino Portugues from Oporto.

Here are other routes suggested by caminoadventures.com:

Via de la Plata / Silver Route

The Via de la Plata runs south to north starting in Seville, although it is possible to start the route in Granada.  The Silver Route is about 1000km and normally takes 6/7 weeks walking.  This route is becoming more popular as the infrastructure improves and as the Camino Frances becomes increasingly busy.

The Via de la Plata follows an old Roman Road all the way from Seville to Astorga where the route joins the Camino Frances.  There is an option after Montamarta to go west through Galicia towards Santiago de Compostela, however, currently there are few hostels on this route.

Northern Route / Road

The Northern Route has the advantage of traveling along the coast where there are opportunities to swim sometimes at the end of a days walking.  However, this would be considered the most challenging of the routes listed here due to the rough terrain and continuous climbs and descents.

The Northern Route is also considered more dangerous due to the unclear signposting and stretches along winding roads with little visibility.  However, it is said the level of satisfaction increases with the level of difficulty.

The Northern Route begins by crossing the Santiago Bridge into Irun, the start of this route has few pilgrims hostels.  The route is about 825km.

Portuguese Route / Road

The main Portuguese Route starts in Porto although there are many other Camino Routes in Portugal.  From Porto, it is sign posted all the way to Santiago.  This is one of the shorter Camino Routes at about 230km.

This route is well signposted and there are enough pilgrim hostels along the way.

Camino Ingles / The English Road

The Camino Ingles has two possible starting points; both are ports in Northern Spain: A Coruna and Ferrol.  From Ferrol to Santiago it is about 110km and from A Coruna only 75km – not enough to claim a Compostela in Santiago.  Both of these routes meet up near a village called Hospital de Bruma.

There are few pilgrims’ hostels on this short route and there has been much road building during the last few years.  This is not a route “to get away from it all” – if you want a short route perhaps consider the Camino Portuguese or just walk part of the Camino Frances as you can start and stop anywhere you wish.

The above are the main Camino routes in Spain.  However the Camino de Madrid is starting to become popular, the extension from Santiago to Finisterre has always been popular with those who have the time and the Camino Aragones is a quieter alternative to starting at St. Jean.

Ready for your Camino adventure?


Homer Nievera maintains a blog on his site and writes for Negosentro.com, World Executives Digest, South of Metro, and He Said/She Said.

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