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Way of St. James

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The Way of St. James (Spanish: El Camino de Santiago, El Camino, Galician: O Camiño de Santiago, Ruta Xacobea) is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages, with Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as the final destination.

History of the Camino de Santiago

The pilgrimage goes to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. Legend has it that St. James' body was taken to Galicia by boat from Jerusalem and carried inland to where Santiago de Compostela is now located, inside of the Cathedral of Santiago the Compostela. The pilgrimage is believed by some to be one of three pilgrimages for which the sins of the pilgrim will be forgiven.

We can consider that King Alfonso II, King of Asturias to 842, was the first pilgrim. He went from Oviedo to Santiago to verify the finding of St James’ mortal remains and also to worship them. This was the beginning of the first official Way known as the Primitive Way. Another famous pilgrim was Aymeric Picaud who wrote part of the Codex Calixtinus, the book number five known as A Guide for the Traveller. Aymeric Picaud decided to go through The French Way, taking notes about all the useful information such as accommodation, temples, gastronomy, cultures, and customs. In the 12 century, this tradition became as famous that Alfonso VII of León and Castile, Louis VII of France and Philip II of Spain walked to Santiago. People used to build monuments in some of the cities that they crossed or put a plaque in the places where they stayed the night.

There are several routes that can be taken, the most popular being the Camino Frances, which begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. Other popular Camino de Santiago routes are:

  • Camino Portugues
  • Camino del Norte
  • Camino Ingles
  • Camino Primitivo
  • Via de la Plata

Prepare for the pilgrimage

First, you should decide which route is more suitable for you. For beginners, the Camino Frances is the best way to complete the first pilgrimage experience, as is fairly easy to complete. The Camino Portugues is also a good option for those who prefer a more coastal walk. There are different ways, most of them are well indicated and well prepared to walk along them without any problem. But there are also some parts that are not for everyone, this is not inconvenient because there is always an alternative route through paths that allow you to continue your way. You have to take into account your physical fitness before starting to be able to set the kilometers that you are going to walk per day; you have to bear in mind that maybe you would have to change your route along the way due to contingencies.

As far as for training, depends on the way, although is recommended to do some walking training beforehand to get used to walking with the backpacking.

Packing is considered by pilgrims the most important part by far, including the type of backpack and shoes. The shoes are one of the most important things in your walking path. You shouldn’t use a new pair of shoes because your feet are not used to them. You should buy them, use them for a while and then you can do the way with them. The best option is using trekking boots or sports shoes because they would be perfect for rough terrains. You should also take with you a spare pair of shoes, the best option is to take a pair of flip-flops that are perfect for hot days when your feet need to breathe.

You also have to bear in mind the season when you are going to walk. It is really important to take a hat or cap to protect yourself from the sun and also a raincoat.

If you wish to camp, you need to carry clothing and a sleeping bag in a comfortable backpack. But you can stay in hostels (called albergues or refugios) for low cost. Unless one plans to camp in the most crowded months of the summer season, it is unnecessary to carry camping and cooking gear.

There are many websites offering information and advice about this pilgrimage or about hiking/biking in general. If you are inexperienced, you would do well to consult one or more of these for more information than would be appropriate here. Keep in mind that many sites, including this one, will have information that is obsolete, as much changes every year.

Get in

One can start in France at Le Puy en Velay or Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and follow one of the routes of Santiago de Compostela in France to Spain.

Other popular starting points are Lisbon in Portugal for the Camino Portuguese or Jaca, Sevilla in Spain for the Via de la Plata route.


To earn the Compostela (certificate of accomplishment) one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. For walkers, that means in practical terms starting in the small city of Sarria, for it has transportation connections by bus and rail to other places in Spain.

While many pilgrims only do that final portion of the route, there are great rewards for starting much further away. Some Europeans walk from their homes, following one of the many routes from virtually all corners of central and western Europe. Most of those routes, save the maritime one from the UK and the routes from Portugal and those from southern Spain, converge to funnel walkers across one of two Pyrenees passes, Somport or the route between St. Jean Pied-de-Port and Roncesvalles. A few days onward, those two routes converge at Puente la Reina and follow the traditional Camino Frances across Navarra, Castilla y León, over the pass at O Cebreiro and on to Santiago.

If one has the time and inclination, there are several lovely routes across France leading to Somport and St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the most popular the Chemin St. Jacques beginning at Le Puy-en-Velay and passing through Conques enroute to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. Another French route, the Chemin de Arles passes through the southern tier of Languedoc toward Oloron St. Marie and the pass into Spain at Somport. While those routes are beautiful and interesting, they add weeks to the pilgrimage.

Due to time constraints, many non-Europeans begin at St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France or Roncesvalles in Spain. Beginning in the French city means the first day of walking requires a long and steep climb, perhaps the most arduous single day on the route. Roncesvalles, steeped in history and the site of the defeat and death of Charlemagne's lieutenant Roland, is a usual starting point for Spaniards.


Once on the Camino, the pilgrim has three duties: to sleep, to eat, and to walk. Those duties are made less onerous by paying attention to the quality of the path, a large number of bars, restaurants, and cafes, and the albergues.

Alternatively it is possible to walk the Camino using a number of different travel companies that take all the organisational work out (including organising your luggage transfer for you) leaving you free to enjoy the Camino in style.


More and more pilgrims decide to come to Santiago by bike, it is the second most used way of doing it. The first thing that you have to bear in mind is that it is not possible to do all the original ways by bike, sometimes you will have to change the route a little bit to get to the end of the stages.

The most popular route to cycle is the Camino Portuguese, which has a bike path along the coast during some stages.

On horseback

Doing the way on horseback is an option that has been recently increasing more and more. This tradition began in the middle ages when some pilgrims started to go to Santiago horseback.

This way of reaching Santiago needs an exhaustive planning. Before starting you should know that you have to be well prepared and also trained because otherwise, you could get hurt.


There is a ship that makes two trips per year, one from France and one from England, to the Spanish coast for pilgrims who make the rest of the pilgrimage inland to Santiago de Compostela.

In 2018, the Cathedral gave certificates to 79 people who arrived by wheelchair.


This section is an attempt to encourage sharing practical information about travelling the Camino. Peregrinos (Spanish for "pilgrim" in English or "pelerin" in French) as they are called in Spain should feel free to use the information in this section and contribute to it. Albergues, restaurants and other accomodations all change with time, and this information should be updated accordingly.

There are several different routes that can be called The Way of St. James, such as the Camino Frances, the Camino Norte and Camino Portuges. There are also many stopping points along each route, and none are mandatory. The stopping points listed will vary for each peregrino, just as each peregrino's experience will be different. The route listings are by no means complete, but are an attempt to share information about the possibilities.

A pilgrim interested in walking less crowded routes may consider starting before the more popular starting lines, including beginning in Bayonne and crossing the Valley of Baztan to Pamplona. This takes just under a week and is less travelled than the St. Jean-pied-du-port route to Pamplona. Beware of the poorly marked trail during the last two days, though one needs only follow the valley.

The Camino del Norte, while definitely less populated, is not as well developed and there may be longer distances between established Albergues.

Camino Frances

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino Frances.

Camino Portugues

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino Portugues.

Camino del Norte

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino del Norte.

Camino Primitivo

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino Primitivo.

Camino Ingles

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino Ingles.

Camino Finisterre-Muxia

This section is just a brief outline. For a full description of the route please refer to Camino Finisterre-Muxia.

Get Out

Santiago is well served by busses and airports and the traditional final (final not main) is the seaport Finisterre only 94km away.

From here you might go to Finisterre (thought from roman times to western point of Europe) or Cabo da Roca, Portugal (discovered in the twentieth century to be the western tip of Europe). You could also take the Via Francigena another traditional pilgrimage.

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