Many have followed the Way of Saint James as a form of enlightenment or retreat towards spiritual growth.
Why the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James)?
Since medieval times, pilgrims have been embarking on long journeys to Santiago de Compostela for spiritual reasons. It is believed that the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the place where the remains of the apostle – St. James – lay. Thus, the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia Spain has become an important symbol of Spanish and European culture based on it’s historical and spiritual significance to the pilgrimage route. Today, more and more people are walking or cycling the Way undoubtedly to experience their own unique journey of spirituality and self-reflection through connecting with nature.
Where do I begin?
There are many routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela. Some people have chosen to begin their pilgrimage from as far away as Poland. Today, the most renown routes include:
- The French Way of St. James – a 740km route to Santiago starting in the town of Le Puy-en Velay, France, joining the Camino Francés route at the Spanish border town of St. Jean Pied de Port. This route is one of the earliest recorded routings in history with pilgrimages dating back to 950AD. Today, it’s popularity continues as modern pilgrims choose this route to take in France’s picturesque UNESCO-sited medieval villages, mountainscapes, valleys, and wine country.
- Camino Francés – a 790km route to Santiago starting in the town of St. Jean Pied de Port in France or Roncesvalles in Spain. St. Jean Pied de Port is where the French Way of St. James joins the Camino Francés. This is the route that carries you through the essence of the Spanish Camino, Northern Spanish culture and wine country.
- Camino del Norte – an 804km route to Santiago starting in the Spanish town of San Sebastian. This route takes in the Basque country including San Sebastian – Spain’s most gastronomic city – and Bilbao. It is also a more coastal route with swimming opportunities during the summer months.
- Camino Primitivo – a 320km route to Santiago starting in the Spanish town Oviedo. Even though there is less distance to walk, this route is considered a more challenging one with fewer crowds. Pilgrims can choose to connect to this route from the Camino del Norte as well.
- The English Way – a 110km route to Santiago starting in the Spanish town of Ferrol. During the 12th century, a pattern of English and Nordic boats began coming ashore in Northern Spain with pilgrims set to embark on their spiritual journey to Santiago. Today, this route is less travelled making it a great option for those wanting to escape the crowds and enjoy their walk in solitude.
- Camino Portuguese – a 613km route to Santiago starting in Lisbon, Portugal. This route is considered the second most popular Way (second to the Camino Francés) to Santiago carrying you through Portugal’s rich maritime history, culture, and coastal scenery.
How do you embark on a journey like this? … By saying yes to one of the most fulfilling decisions you’ll make in your lifetime, of course! =)
It’s interesting how some people decide to take on a journey like the Camino. Some people make their decisions based on their sense of adventure, curiosity, a yearning for enlightenment, to accomplish goals, and the list goes so on. The fact is, walking the Camino is not as challenging as you might think.
- Ask past travellers what they liked about the walking the Camino and choose a route that is right for you.
- Weigh your advantages and disadvantages. Consider your travel style and the benefits of taking on the Camino self-guided or in an organized guided tour. Travelling independently has its benefits such as flexibility and travelling at your own pace. Travelling with a guide in an organized group offers you proper planning, pre-booked accommodations, detailed route maps, security, luggage transfers and on-the-ground-support. Not to mention company! If your travel style is important to you, consider all of your options.
- Prepare yourself well. Every walk presents a different physical challenge based on the distance and terrain covered. Generally, the more active you are, the more you will enjoy your experience walking or cycling the Camino. Talk to experienced trekkers (like us) and ask for feedback and comparison of the different routes.
- Get your hands on good walking/trekking shoes. Make sure you have well worn-in and breathable footwear.
- Pack the right gear. On any trail, regardless of the time of year, make sure you pack for all seasons with adequate protection from the elements (sun, wind, and rain). If travelling independently, some creative packing is required. This could sway your decision to travel with an organized group as most group tour operators offer luggage transfers.