Which Camino de Santiago should you choose?
Many people who want to complete the Camino de Santiago ask us which route of the Camino de Santiago they should choose. Our answer is always the same: it depends.
It depends on how much time you want to spend and the level of difficulty you wish to take on. It also depends on whether you prefer to walk along the coast or through the interior, the time of the year, if you are going to do the Camino de Santiago on foot or bike, etc. Each Jacobean route has something special that makes it different.
Therefore, there is no objective answer to the question of what is the best Camino de Santiago. We have been fortunate enough to be able to accompany hundreds of pilgrims throughout different routes. We have developed this article based on this experience. We hope that it will help you to decide which is the best route of the Camino de Santiago for you.
The Camino Frances
The Camino Frances begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port, in France. The route is 763.5 kilometres long. It can be carried out in 33 stages of approximately 20 or 25 kilometres each. This route runs through the interior of the north of the Iberian Peninsula, crossing 8 Spanish provinces.
However, given the long route that this Jacobean route entails, there are various points that the pilgrims choose to join the Camino Frances. Many opt to start it from Roncesvalles, to avoid a hard first stage on the Camino de Santiago.
Other popular starting points on the Camino Frances are Pamplona (30 stages), Logroño (26 stages), Burgos (21 stages), León (13 stages), Ponferrada (9 stages) and Sarria (5 stages). Some pilgrims perform the complete tour, in various visits and a good number of them performs only the Camino de Santiago between Sarria and Santiago de Compostela .
Characteristics of the Camino Frances
This is the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago and has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In this sense, it is a very attractive route. It has an excellent historical and cultural heritage (Templar castles, Benedictine monasteries, churches with rich architecture and a multitude of legends).
Since it is the most well-known pilgrim route, in high season it tends to be quite crowded. In the last stages of the Camino Frances, there is an especially high density of pilgrims.
This is because many of the pilgrim routes converge on the Camino Frances. For example, the Camino Primitivo joins the Camino Frances in Melide and the Camino del Norte in Arzúa.
This influx of pilgrims allows it to be the route with the best infrastructure and also the one that is best signposted. This is why it is ideal for people who are thinking of making the Camino de Santiago alone or that they should consider very short stages.
Its good infrastructure makes it an advisable route both to make the Camino de Santiago on bike and for people with reduced mobility. Since most of the stages, with added difficulties for this type of pilgrims, offer an alternative.
The Camino Frances can be done at any time of the year. However, some stages (Foncebadón and O Cebreiro, for example) rise above 1,000 metres of altitude, so that in winter it is necessary to be informed adequately about meteorological conditions.
The Camino Portugues (Central)
The Camino Portugues (Central) starts in Lisbon, crossing half of Portugal from south to north. 618.9 km separate the Portuguese capital from Santiago de Compostela. This distance can be completed in 28 stages. The route of the stages varies between 15 and 25 kilometres.
Many pilgrims who have a few days to complete the Camino de Santiago decide to choose different starting points. The most popular starting stages on the Camino Portugues (Central) are Santarém (24 stages), Coimbra (18 stages), Oporto (12 stages) and Tui (6 stages).
The Camino Portugues can be considered as the official route of the Camino de Santiago in Portugal. This route has not as much tradition as the ones that run through Spain, since it competes with the Fátima route within Portugal itself.
The discovery of the Virgin of Fatima began a strong decline in the number of Portuguese pilgrims who were heading to Santiago de Compostela. In the last few years, however, it has gained great popularity at international level.
Characteristics of the Camino Portugues (Central)
This Jacobean route is much simpler than the one that runs along the Iberian Peninsula. The Camino Portugues (Central) does not have any hard or uneven mountain stages, as happens on other routes, such as the Camino Frances, for example.
This makes the Portuguese pilgrim route an ideal option to complete the Camino de Santiago in winter. The only drawback is that, being low season and not being a very popular layout, possibly at that time of the year there are few pilgrims on the way.
The infrastructure and signage on this route are somewhat deficient at the beginning of the route. Starting in Oporto , accommodation and signposting improves immensely.
The Camino Portugues coastal route
The Camino Portugues coastal route begins in Porto. However, many pilgrims follow the Camino Portugues (Central) until they reach Oporto and from there they divert to join the route along the coast.
This Jacobean route has 8 stages from Oporto to Redondela. In this locality, it meets the Camino Portugues (Central) and both paths share the way to Santiago de Compostela.
The entire Camino Portugues coastal route is made up of 12 stages, with a total of 265 kilometres. However, many pilgrims choose Bayona as the starting point for the Camino Portugues coastal route, reducing it to 6 stages and 127.3 kilometres in length.
Characteristics of the Camino Portugues coastal route
Like the Portugues central route, the coastline’s layout is not difficult. It runs through fundamentally flat terrain. This makes it one of the most recommended routes of the Camino de Santiago to do by bike.
It is an easy itinerary to complete in summer and winter. However, as it runs by the sea, in summer, you can enjoy it much more.
The Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is also known as the Camino de la Costa. This route runs along the Cantabrian coast, crossing the Spanish north from east to west.
This is the second longest pilgrim route: 833.1 km from Irún to Santiago de Compostela. In total 34 stages, of which the last two are carried out following the Camino Frances.
However, many pilgrims choose San Sebastián to start the Camino del Norte, thus reducing the stages to 33. Other popular points for joining the northern path are Bilbao (27 stages), Santander (22 stages), Ribadesella (17 stages) or Vilalba (5 stages).
Characteristics of the Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is a rather demanding route. It has hard climbs on its route and requires stages with an average of 25 or 30 kilometres, because, not being a very popular route, does not have a large infrastructure. However, since it is one of the oldest paths, it does have good signs.
This Jacobean route offers pilgrims willing to endure a demanding route will receive a beautiful reward. Its beautiful scenery, one of the most beautiful on the Santiago network, dotted with tranquil fishing villages, has made more than one pilgrim fall in love with it.
As all the paths on the Camino de Santiago, it is an itinerary that can be done in both summer and winter. However, since it is a route that runs along the coast, it is much more enjoyable in summer.
The Camino del Norte presents two peculiarities with respect to other routes on the Camino de Santiago. One is that it has many branches that unite it with the Camino Primitivo so that the pilgrim has many opportunities to change between one route and another.
The other peculiarity of this pilgrim route is that it is surrounded by a large number of rivers. Therefore, even today the pilgrims are forced to take a boat to reach the tomb of Santiago the Apostle, just like the pilgrims did in the Middle Ages.
The Camino Ingles
The Camino Ingles is one of the shortest roads on the Camino de Santiago. This Jacobean route begins in Ferrol and runs through Galicia. Only 122.3 kilometres on a route that can be completed in 5 stages.
This is a very unpopular Camino. Although it has good signage, its offer of lodging is low. This means that in high season it may be difficult to find accommodation.
Characteristics of the Camino Ingles
Despite being an interior route, this is not a demanding one. The pilgrim faces mild or moderate unevenness along the way.
Like other pilgrim routes, the Camino Ingles can be done in both winter and summer. As it runs at an altitude of fewer than 500 metres, it is one of the best routes of the Camino de Santiago to do during the winter.
Unlike other paths, the Camino Ingles does not join the Camino Frances in its last stages. This peculiarity and its low popularity, make it ideal for those people who seek pilgrimage away from overcrowding.
The Camino Primitivo is the original route, followed by the first Pilgrim, King Alfonso II. This Jacobean route has 316.2 kilometres of travel and begins in Oviedo, so it is also known too as the Camino de Oviedo.
In total it has 14 stages, of which 3 are carried out following the Camino Frances. However, many pilgrims decide to start the Camino Primitivo in Lugo, reducing the number of stages to 5.
The existence of numerous links between the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo has led some theorists to point out that this route is a branch of the Camino Primitivo. Because of this fact, it is also known as the Interior Camino de Santiago route to the north.
Charcteristics of the Camino Primitivo
It should be noted that the Camino Primitivo is one of the most difficult pilgrim routes, hence it is not very busy. Its layout faces pronounced and frequent climbs. One of the most feared is the ascent to the Palo mountain pass.
The altitude in which much of this route takes place, together with the frequent rains that fall in this part of Spain, complicate the route even more. In fact, in winter the primitive path can be completely inhospitable, so it is the least recommended routes during the winter season.
The pilgrims who are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of Alfonso II will especially enjoy this tour, as it is the route that has fewer kilometres of asphalt. Therefore, it is an ideal route to complete on foot, but it is not advisable for cyclists.
The Vía de la Plata
The Vía de la Plata or the Ruta de la Plata is the longest Jacobean path and joins the Spanish south with the heart of Santiago. The path begins in Seville and from there it passes through millenary cities like Mérida or Salamanca.
Arriving in the province of Zamora, specifically in the municipality of Granja de Moreruela, the road to La Plata forks. One option is to continue on the itinerary that goes through Astorga and that then joins the French route.
The other is to follow the path of the Camino Sanabres, which does not converge with the Camino Frances. This alternative is especially advisable for those pilgrims who wish to flee from the agglomerations that are formed on the last stages of the French route.
Characteristics of the Vía de la Plata
If you plan to complete the Via de la Plata from the south of Spain, it is not advisable to do it in summer, given the high temperatures that this region registers in the summer season. Spring or autumn are the best seasons to complete the Via de la Plata.
The Camino de Finisterre
The Camino de Finisterre is the route that joins Santiago de Compostela with Cape Finisterre and Muxía. The peculiarity of this pilgrim route is that it is not directed to Santiago de Compostela, but begins there.
Characteristics of the Camino de Finisterre
Most pilgrims complete this route after reaching Santiago de Compostela, following one of the Jacobean paths. For this reason, it is considered an epilogue to the Camino de Santiago. However, some people move to the Galician capital, specifically to complete the Camino Finisterre.
The route can be made from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre and Muxía. It is possible to link Finisterre and Muxía without having to walk the road. The complete route is 114.6 km in length and can be carried out in 5 or 6 stages.
In this article, we have tried to give you the main keys of each of the Jacobeos paths. From Santiago Ways, we hope you find it helpful to choose which route of the Camino de Santiago to do, depending on your personal characteristics.
Now that you know what pilgrim route to choose, follow these steps to prepare the Camino de Santiago . Or if you prefer, contact us and we will help you to organize your pilgrimage. We would love to share this experience with you.