What is an official Camino de Santiago?
Many people who want to do the Camino de Santiago contact us to ask us what the official route is. However, we cannot speak of a single official Camino de Santiago.
As we have mentioned, on numerous occasions, in this blog, the Camino de Santiago is a network of Caminos. The common link of all its routes is that they are directed to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Santiago the Apostle are guarded.
If you want to do the Camino de Santiago from Sarria, enjoy the beauty of the green forests in Galicia and meet other pilgrims to share the experience, do not think about it anymore! Tell us the details of your travel plans and let us arrange it for you.
In the Middle Ages, official Caminos de Santiago didn’t exist
During the first centuries of pilgrim tradition, there were no official routes and no official starting points. The usual thing at the time was for pilgrims to start walking from the front door of their house.
What happened during the recovery of the Camino de Santiago, at the end of the 20th century, was that in order to signal the Camino de Santiago well enough to facilitate that pilgrims could arrive, and without risk of getting lost going towards the Cathedral of Compostela, official starting points were established. The assignment was not random, but was based on historical tradition.
Although during the Middle Ages most people began their journey from home, pilgrims were following marks and signs that previous walkers were leaving along the Camino. This caused many of the pilgrims to follow common routes.
Delimitation of the Camino de Santiago
With the help of recovered documentation about the Camino de Santiago, such as the Codex Calixtinus among others, the paths followed by the ancient pilgrims were recovered as far as possible. Many of which had been covered by roads or town centres.
That is why the Camino de Santiago today is also not totally faithful to the ancient layout during the Middle Ages. This work of route delimitation on the Camino de Santiago was necessary to be able to provide the different routes the necessary infrastructure for pilgrimage.
Therefore, today, the official Caminos de Santiago are all those recovered routes which have the appropriate signage. As we explained in the post about the symbols on the Camino de Santiago, not just any sign is valid.
The Xunta de Galicia has regulated the signals that are used to mark the Camino de Santiago. Today, the only official symbols are the yellow arrow and the scallop shell.
One of the reasons why, today, there is talk of an official Camino de Santiago is because to obtain the Compostela it is necessary to present, in the Pilgrim’s Office, the credential with the stamps collected during the Camino. These stamps can be obtained in cafes, restaurants and accommodations located on the edges of recovered routes.
If you follow another walking route to Santiago de Compostela, you will not be able to seal the credential and therefore, you will not get the Compostela. For spiritual or religious purposes, you will have made the Camino de Santiago, but not so for the Diocese of Compostela. Below we explain what are the official routes of the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino Frances is the first route that comes to the head of most pilgrims when talking about the official Camino de Santiago. This is because it is the most popular route and also the first route to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
El Camino Frances is the one that links Saint Jean Pied de Port with Compostela. The route has a total of763.5 kilometres. If you want to see a description of its stages, you can check our guide to the Camino de Santiago Frances.
Many people think that the Camino de Santiago Portugues is not an official one, and that the official route of Portugal is the one that leads to Fatima. However, both itineraries travel through the country, living with each other.
In fact, the Camino Portugues, despite competing within Portugal with the Sanctuary of Fatima, is the second most popular route on the Camino de Santiago. According to the Pilgrim’s Office, 1 in 4 pilgrims choose the Portuguese routes to reach Compostela.
This route, despite being a route on the official Camino de Santiago, does not count, for the moment, with being catalogued as a World Heritage Site. This is partly because the consolidation of this route was later.
If you want to know more about the two sections of the Camino de Santiago that run through Portugal you can consult the blog post that we dedicate to the Camino Portugues. In it you will find information about the Camino Portugues Central Route, whose official start is in Lisbon, and about the layout of the Coastal Route, which departs from Porto.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is the third busiest route and the second most difficult one. The Camino del Norte has its official start in Irun and is 833.1 km long.
Recently, UNESCO included this route within the World Heritage list, along with other routes along the north of the peninsula. No one puts in doubt the official status of this route on the Camino de Santiago. In chronological order, this was the second Jacobean route to appear.
The Camino Primitivo was the first route of the Camino de Santiago. Although it is a little-travelled path, UNESCO has recognized it as a World Heritage Site within the Caminos de Santiago del Norte, given its important role in the development of Jacobean pilgrimage.
This route departs from the Cathedral of Oviedo. For many years, no matter what route the medieval pilgrims chose, passage through that cathedral was obligatory. Hence there is a route known as the Camino del Salvador that links the Camino Frances with the Camino Primitivo.
The Camino Primitivo is one of the most difficult sections on the Camino de Santiago. If you want to know more about its features you can visit our guide to the Camino Primitivo.
The Camino Olvidado
The Camino Olvidado is the route that links the Camino del Norte, from Bilbao, with the Camino Frances, in Villafranca del Bierzo. It is an itinerary that, as its name suggests, fell into oblivion for many centuries.
In 2012, the recovery of this route and its signage began. However, even today, it remains a rather unknown route for pilgrims.
This road is considered a route of the so-called Caminos de Santiago del Norte. However, UNESCO did not include it on the World Heritage list when it expanded, in 2015, the cataloguing of the Camino de Santiago.
However, it is considered an official route on the Camino de Santiago. Historically, this route allowed pilgrims in the Middle Ages to avoid the sections of the Camino Frances that were immersed in the battles of the Reconquista and flee from the pirates who threatened on the shores of the Camino del Norte.
If you want to know more about this unknown route you can consult our guide to the Camino Olvidado. In it we will tell you about the signage on this section and the characteristics of its stages.
The Camino Ingles is the route that links the city of Ferrol with Santiago de Compostela, crossing the province of A Coruña. It is one of the shortest itineraries on the Camino de Santiago, but it complies with the minimum 100 kilometres required by the Pilgrim’s Office to grant the Compostela, therefore, it is also an official route.
Given the low level of popularity of this route and that UNESCO has not recognized it as a World Heritage Site, many people might think that it is not one of the official paths on the Camino de Santiago. But nothing further from reality. This route has been used since the origins of the Camino de Santiago by the inhabitants of the northwest of Galicia.
This route has the peculiarity that runs entirely through the lands of Santiago the Apostle. It is, therefore, a route that surprises you with its intense greenery. In the following article you can learn more about the stages on the Camino Ingles.
Via de la Plata
With La Via de la Plata, something similar happens in comparison to the Camino Ingles. Many pilgrims think it is not an official route of the Camino de Santiago. This is because few pilgrims are encouraged to take this route and also that UNESCO does not include it on the World Heritage list.
However, like the Camino Ingles, the Via de la Plata is an official route. The only difference from this is that it is the longest route, hence it has different sections, some of which have recognition as a Camino, such as the Camino Mozarabe and the Camino Sanabres.
Camino de Santiago Finisterre-Muxía
Another route on the Camino de Santiago that people think is not official or even that it is not a pilgrim route is the itinerary that joins Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre-Muxía. As we told you in the post we dedicated to the Epilogue to the Camino de Santiago, this section can actually function as a pilgrim route or as an extension of your pilgrimage.
In both cases, the tour is officially recognised by the Catholic Church. If the tour is made from the Cathedral of Santiago to Cape Finisterre and Muxía, the Diocese of Compostela recognizes the pilgrimage as an Extension of the Camino de Santiago.
When the Camino de Santiago de Finisterre is made in the other direction, that is, departing from Muxía to set off for the Cathedral of Santiago, the Pilgrim’s Office recognizes the route as an official one and grants the Compostela. What happens is that very few pilgrims make this route in that direction.
If you want to know more about this route as a Camino de Santiago you can consult the post that we dedicate to the Camino in reverse. We also recommend that you check the post where we talked about the history of Finisterre, you will better understand the role that this route has played, regarding pagan tradition in Jacobean culture.
The Strange Case of the Camino Lebaniego
The Camino Lebaniego is not itself a Camino de Santiago, since the route is not directed to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. However, given the great importance of the Monastery of Santo Toribio as a place of pilgrimage within the Jacobean tradition, UNESCO recognizes this route within the so-called Caminos de Santiago del Norte.
However, if you take this route, concluding the tour in the Monastery of Santo Toribio, it is not an official Camino de Santiago, since you will not get the Compostela. What you can do is deviate to visit the Liébana Monastery and then continue on to the Cathedral of Compostela.
If you want to know more about the stages of this peculiar route on the Camino de Santiago, you can consult the blog post that we dedicate to the Camino Lebaniego. In it, we tell you about its stages and how to link up with the Camino de Santiago.
Other official routes on the Camino de Santiago
The Pilgrim’s Office also recognizes other routes of the Camino de Santiago that are not very busy. Within this group are other routes that are included in the so-called Caminos de Santiago del Norte. Some of them are the Camino Vasco del Interior, Camino Vadiniense, Calzada de los Blendios or the Camino del Valle del Mena, among others.
With this last item, we say goodbye. We hope that this article will be useful when choosing your official Camino de Santiago. You see, you have a lot of options.
Finally, just remind you that if you are preparing to do the Camino de Santiago and would like to have support from a specialized agency, do not hesitate to contact us. No matter which route of the Camino de Santiago you choose, we work with all of them, even with some considered as unofficial, such as the Camino dos Faros.
Call us or write to us on our official Facebook page. Our team will resolve all your doubts and help you organize your trip.