When you follow the pilgrim shell, generally, the hinge should always points towards Santiago de Compostela, just like the movement of the clam shell in the water. This may not be the case in some signs, so in doubt, just look for and follow the yellow arrows.
The Camino Frances
The most popular of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes is the Camino Francés, or French Way, a 775 kilometer (482 mile) route, which takes an average of about 32 days. The route starts in the French side at the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the foot of the Pyrenees, and crosses over to the Spanish side in Roncesvalles, Spain. The route is the most popular and well-travelled of all the Camino de Santiago routes, and passes through the major Spanish cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, Leon and ends in Santiago de Compostela. Due to its popularity, this route has excellent infrastructure, with albergues, restaurants, groceries, pharmacies, and teller machines in great supply, specially in the last 100 kms (62 miles). This route is also very well-marked with camino shell signs and yellow arrows, so there is no getting lost as long as you pay attention.
The route is beautiful, passing through the different regions of Spain -- through Navarre, Rioja, Castille y Leon, and ending in Galicia. The lovely and varied scenery and landscape accompany and lift you up along your walk. You will pass through high windy passes, lush muddy forests with chirping birds, wide green pastures, undulating hillsides with tended vineyards, rocky paths -- which you appreciate when it is time to walk beside flat country roads and loud busy highways with fast trucks and speeding cars. The altitude changes often, from plains to hills and mountains, also resulting in unpredictable weather -- snow, wind, rains, cold, heat. There was one day along our walk (April) when we experienced cold, rain, hail, snow, sun -- all in a few hours. How wonderful it is to arrive in your destination to a hot shower, a warm pilgrim meal, welcoming smiles and a comfortable albergue bunk bed!
Passing through these different regions of Spain also means changes in culture, dialect and culinary specialties. As sure as the landscape changes, the food changes too! Be sure to try the different specialties of the region. I remember the trout in Roncesvalles and the chorizos of Pamplona in the Navarre region, the tapas and wines in Logroño of La Rioja, the Cocido Maragato in Astorga of the Leon region, the Caldo de Gallego in Galicia. The Pilgrim Meal, ranging in price from 7 to 12 Euros, usually offers the region's specialties, includes a glass or even a bottle of wine, and is always a good bet for a deeply fulfilling meal.
In 2013, about 70% of all pilgrims went through the Camino Frances route.
There are several routes that feed into the Camino Frances. This means that you can also begin your pilgrimage starting with these routes and later connect with the Camino Frances. Some of these routes include the following:
- Camino Aragones, 164 kms (102 miles), or about 6 days, that starts from Somport in the French Pyrenees near the border to Spain, crosses over a pass then connects back to the Camino Frances at Puenta la Reina/Gares in the Navarre Region, which leaves still about 656 kms (408 miles) till Santiago de Compostela;
- Le Puy Route, 736 kms (457 miles), or about 32 days, that starts from Le Puy-en-Velay in the French Pyrenees, close to Lyon, France and connects back to the Camino Frances in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the normal start of the Camino Frances. The Le Puy Route is the most popular Camino route in France, and is marked clearly with the red and white waymark symbols of the GR65 (Grand Randonée network of France).
The Camino Finisterre, to "the end of the world"
After the Camino Frances, pilgrims also sometimes continue on to the Camino Finisterre. Truly, when you reach Santiago de Compostela, it seems you do not want the pilgrimage to end! This 90 kilometer (56 mile) route takes from 3 to 4 days, from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterra, and particularly, the lighthouse of the Cape Finisterre, where if you are lucky, you witness a beautiful sunset from one of the westernmost points of Europe. That is why Finisterre was called the "end of the world" and pilgrims stop here, as you cannot walk any farther west. (See also my blog post: on arriving in Finisterre.)
This route passes through Negreira, Olveiroa, Cee, Corcubión and ends at the seaside town and beach of Finisterre. The traditional end of the Camino Finisterre is another 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the center of the town of Finisterre, to the Cape Finisterre Lighthouse. From here, you may also opt to go further on, from Finisterre to another beautiful seaside town called Muxia, adding another 29 kilometers (18 miles) to the route. There is a famous church here called the Santuario da Virxe da Barca which is located by the rocky coast. Sadly, this church was destroyed by a fire due to lightning last December 25, 2013, according to a Wikipedia article on Muxia. A legend tells that the stones near the church are from the stone boat of the Virgin Mary, who was said to have appeared to apostles who had lost hope of being able to convert the locals to Christianity. Muxia is also famous as the site in the final scenes of the movie "The Way."
From Muxia or Finisterrre, most pilgrims take a bus back to Santiago de Compostela. You can also get a Compostela certificate in Finisterre.
|At "the end of the world" - Camino Finisterre|
The Camino Portugues, or the Portuguese Way, starts from Portugal and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The route can start from either Lisbon (610 kms or 379 miles), Porto (227 kms or 141 miles) or Tui (119 kms or 74 miles). From Lisbon, the way takes about 28 to 30 days, from Porto, about 12 to 14 days, while the route from Tui takes about 6 to 7 days. The route goes northward from Portugal, and is the next most popular route after the Camino Frances, with about 14% of pilgrims passing this way in 2013. There are a considerable amount of albergues and restaurants, with a portion of the route passing beside motorways.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte, or the Northern Way, runs for 815 kms (506 miles), or about 35 days, starting from Irún, Spain, on the border with France, passing close to the northern coastline of Spain westwards into Galicia, through the cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo, then joining back into the Camino Frances at Arzua. From Arzua, it is another 40 kms (25 miles) to arrive at Santiago de Compostela. This route passes through some portions of the Via Agrippa or Old Roman Road. It is also becoming quite popular and the route has been described as very beautiful as it passes right by the Spanish coastline. It is said to be more difficult hiking with albergues spread farther apart (from 20 to 25 kms, or 12 to 15 miles apart) in contrast to that of the Camino Frances (about 5 kms or 3 miles apart), meaning that more planning is needed to ensure that you are at a town with an albergue at day's end, specially at the beginning portions of the route. Not all albergues are open year-round, so it would be better to go in summer. There are also not as many waymarks as in the Camino Frances. About 6% of pilgrims in 2013 passed this way.
Via de la Plata
The Via de la Plata is a 705 km (438 mile) or about 31 days, pilgrimage route from Sevilla to Astorga, Spain. From Astorga, it is another 259 kms (161 miles) or about 11 more days, to Santiago de Compostela. This route first goes north from Sevilla to Zamora passing through Merida, Cáceres and Salamanca, then continues on to Astorga to rejoin the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela. This route follows an old Roman road (the Via de la Plata). It is a less frequented route thus you can expect less albergues and facilities along the way, and only about 4% of all pilgrims passed this way in 2013.
The Camino Primitivo, or the Original Route, 270 kms (168 miles), takes about 10 days starting from the town of Oveido to Melide, This walk rejoins the Camino Frances at Melide, and is described as a challenging route with lots of hills, with more unpredictable weather patterns. From Melide, it is still about 53 kms (33 miles) or about 2 to 3 days to reach Santiago de Compostela. About 3% of all pilgrims passed this route in 2013.
The Camino Ingles, or the English Way, is a 155 km (96 mi) route of about 7 days, that starts from Ferrol, Spain, passes A Coruña then goes on to Santiago de Compostela. This route is "Y-shaped" and got its name because it was said that during the Middle Ages, English pilgrims arrived by boat from Britain and started their walk in Ferrol. From Ferrol directly to Santiago de Compostela, it is about 110 kms (6 miles), or 5 days, and from A Coruña, about 75 kms (47 miles), or 3 days. To receive the Compostela, you should have walked at least 100 kms (62 miles), thus you have to either start from Ferrol, or start from Ferrol, fork up to O Coruña then continue on south to Santiago de Compostela. The route forks at Hospital de Bruma. About 2% of all pilgrims went this way in 2013.
Here is a nice overview map showing some of the major Camino Routes. (From the Pilgrim-FAQ website.) Thanks to http://www.pilger-faq.de.vu/.
Here is a link to other maps provided by www.pilger-faq.de.vu: Camino Route maps.
For more details on these routes, including itineraries, see the Eroski Website (in Spanish). Also available on the web is a guide to the Northern Routes: Camino del Norte and Camino Primitivo, and a map for these northern routes. There are also lots of information on route planning, with maps and planners provided by fellow pilgrims at the Camino de Santiago Forum and corresponding main site Camino de Santiago Website. Another informative website is Confraternity of Saint James with a comprehensive map of the different routes here.
Wiki References: Way of St. James, Way of St. James (route descriptions), Muxia