the Camino de Santiago Path

What is the Camino de Santiago path

I am asked this all the time, and as a Pilgrim that walks the route every year I know a lot about the journey to Santiago de Compostela. In fact It’s my favourite walk in the world.

The Camino de Santiago is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where people believe the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.

The most famous route is known as the French Way, or Camino Frances in Spanish. The path starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and crosses the pyrenees and through northern Spain to Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage

This 500 mile path is an arduous physical challenge, with lots of ups and downs along the way. You’ll be walking through different terrain every day, such as dirt and gravel trails, mountains with steep ascents and descents, Roman roads and paved paths through forests.

The best part is that you don’t have to walk alone! There’s a huge community of travellers who walk this route each year! A lot of people call them your pilgrim family or tribe ! 

On my walks on The Camino I have made lots of friends along the way from countries all over the world.

The first known pilgrim to walk the Camino was King Alfonso II of Asturias in 814 AD. His pilgrimage was recorded as he walked to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia – now a region in northwest Spain – where legend says that a stone tomb holds Saint James’ (also known as Santiago) earthly remains. 

That pilgrim tradition continued for hundreds of years and is now so important that it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1993

pilgrims on The Camino de Santiago path

How long have pilgrims been walking the Camino

Pilgrims have been walking the Camino for over a 1,000 years. The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is one of the most famous pilgrimage walks in the world. 

Dating back to the 9th century, it has strong links with Christian history that were documented by many who walked the route over the years.

Check out these other great trekking trails around Europe.

Camino De Santiago routes

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that people take to the North West of Spain where legend holds that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. 

There are many different routes, but the most famous is the Camino Frances along with The Camino del Norte and Camino Ingles.

map of camino de Santiago

One of the most famous guidebooks is written and updated every year by John Brierley. Get the guidebook here. 

If you like reading books about The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage check out my article about my Top 5 Camino books

Pilgrims walked for religious reasons

In medieval times walkers of the Camino de Santiago had many reasons for traveling to the faraway cathedral. 

Some pilgrims hoped to atone for sins, seek forgiveness, ask for a miracle, or give thanks for answered prayers. 

Others were on the path in order to pray for loved ones. Many were fulfilling a vow or asking for help with a problem by following the pilgrimage route.

The Camino also offered those pilgrims who were unhappy with their lives an opportunity to find a new path and start over with a clean slate.

Todays Pilgrims follow the same route for many different reasons

Although the Camino de Santiago path started as a religious pilgrimage, today’s spiritual seekers use it for many other reasons. Some travel to experience the strains and triumphs of physical activity. 

Others use it to push themselves mentally, testing their endurance and willingness to persevere against harsh conditions. Even those who are not religious often cite the route’s spiritual rewards as one of its biggest draws.

The Camino de Santiago is far more than a simple walk through the woods; it is an experience that tests its participants daily in all aspects of their personhood. 

It is a walk through human history and through humanity itself, an opportunity to meet new people—both pilgrims and local villagers. 

It is also a chance to step outside your comfort zone in every way possible: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, culturally, linguistically… you name it!

Do you have to be religious to walk The Camino ?

Some people think that you have to be religious to walk the Camino de Santiago. It’s a fair assumption when you take a look at the destination: an ancient cathedral in northern Spain that holds the remains of St. James, one of Jesus’ apostles. 

But in reality, people from all backgrounds and religions walk this trail for all kinds of reasons, both spiritual and not. Many simply enjoy the challenge of walking such a long distance or appreciate the history of this old pilgrimage tradition.

Other pilgrims find comfort in meeting fellow travelers from around the world who share their sense of adventure. 

A few even use it as an opportunity to reflect on life choices or search for answers about their future paths, they may consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

Whether you’re religious or not, you can still get your own compostela (the official certificate awarded at the end of your pilgrimage) by arriving in Santiago de Compostela after walking at least 100 km on foot or 200 km on bike!

How many people have walked The Camino path

No one knows exactly how many pilgrims have walked the Camino over the last 1,000+ years. It’s a safe bet to assume that it’s in the millions. 

These days, tens of thousands of people complete their pilgrimage each year. The most popular route is the one from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. 

In fact, this route has become so popular that it can be difficult to find accommodation during peak season (June – August).

The length of time it takes you to walk the Camino depends on which route you choose and your physical ability. However, most people can reasonably expect to finish in 30-40 days. 

There’s no need for you to rush, most pilgrims take several months on their journey and spend as much time as they need reflecting, resting, and soaking up all that Spain has to offer along the way!

Many people who walk the Camino assume that it will cost them next-to-nothing because they can sleep outside or at shelters along the way. I only came across a few pilgrims sleeping outside as most stay in albergues along the path.

You won’t need fancy hotels or private rooms while walking through rural Spain—at least not often—but don’t forget about other expenses like food and transportation. 

The best way to ensure an enjoyable trip is by budgeting wisely before setting out on your journey rather than being caught off guard by financial difficulties later. I would allow a total of €30-€50 euros a day.

walking The Camino de Santiago path

What will I learn along the way

Many who begin with a religious goal find that along the way they learn something totally different about themselves or their faith. Be prepared to flex…

Remember that this is a journey, both in distance and in time. 

You are going to have good days and bad days, and you will likely change your mind along the way about what you want to get out of it. 

Being aware of your own limitations will help you adjust your goals as necessary, keeping yourself sane and healthy for the long haul (physically and emotionally).

You can walk, bike or even ride a horse on The Camino

People come from all over the world to walk the Camino pilgrimage, also known as the Way of St. James, or simply the Camino. Pilgrims can walk, bike, or even ride a horse on some parts of the path.

As with any pilgrimage route worth its salt, there’s more to the Camino than meets the eye. 

It’s not just about a physical journey through beautiful and historic environments; it’s also about what kind of pilgrim you are, and what kind of personal challenges you might face along the way.

A lot of people love to say that it is “not about the destination but about the journey”…but I would argue it is both! And in this case we think it is more about who you meet on your journey and how they inspire you and make your experiences better by being there with you.

What do you get when you finish ?

If you walk 100km (62 miles) or more to get to Santiago, or 200km on a bike (125 miles) or more starting somewhere else in Spain, you can receive a certificate in Latin called a compostela. 

There are different categories of compostelas: religious, spiritual and cultural. If you’re not religious but still want the certificate, ask for one of the latter two types!

It’s best to go into the Pilgrim’s Office on your last day in Santiago before 1pm. The office is called Oficina del Peregrino and is located near the cathedral. There will be queue’s ! I queued for 2 hours but really enjoyed it, talking with other pilgrims about our journeys. Enjoy the time you have.

Read all about how to get your Compostela in Santiago.

Learn more about this amazing journey

The Camino de Santiago is a journey. It’s a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey and an opportunity to discover yourself in new ways. It’s also your chance to meet people from all over the world, make new friends and see the world through fresh eyes. 

The route you choose to take will depend on your level of experience, your fitness level and how much time you have available for the hike.

However, there are dozens of different routes that meander through Spain and France, so no matter where you start or where you go you’ll always find something new around every corner. 

The Camino Del Norte and Camino Ingles are two routes that are particularly good and I enjoyed walking them both.

There is a great free Camino Forum resource to help you on your way with research etc in a great supportive community The Camino de Santiago Forum. as well as some really goof Facebook groups. I have listed some resources to help with planning and research.

Accommodation on The Camino

To start on any Camino route you will need a Camino passport and will need to get this stamped every night. It can also be stamped at bars and cafes along the way.

Read everything you need to know about getting your Camino Passport.

Camino passport

Each day you’ll want to make your reservations at a pilgrim hostel (albergue) when you arrive at your destination after each day of walking. 

Many of these hostels will be full of pilgrims by early afternoon so it’s best to plan ahead; however, if you arrive late there are usually municipal buildings or churches near albergues where you can sleep overnight.

Other options for lodging include hotels and private homes listed in guidebooks which can be found in bookstores as well as online and from tourist offices along the way. 

The Camino Ninja app is especially good for daily reference as you walk The Camino de Santiago path. I used it and would recommend it.

Arrival in Santiago de Compostela

Arrival into Santiago is an amazing achievement for everyone that completes the walk. 

I personally completed my Camino Frances in 28 days and had an amazing time learning about myself as well as enjoying a level of camaraderie with my best friends that was just wonderful and the celebrations we’re fantastic.  

We didn’t want the journey to finish.

I hope your camino is everything you want and need it to be. Buen Camino

Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens

I am a long distance walking nerd and fell in love with the Camino de Santiago in 2016 when I walked the French Way for the first time. I've been blogging since then and my aim is to help all Pilgrims with hiking and walking advice.

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Free Camino packing List

I have developed a simple lightweight Camino packing list after walking The Camino de Santiago numerous times. If you want to travel with a lightweight pack this is the packing list for you.

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