Camino de Santiago vacations

The Camino de Santiago – also known as the Way of Saint James – is probably the most famous pilgrimage walk in the Western world. Upwards of 200,000 people take up the challenge every year, a vast increase over the last 40 years; in 1976 only seven people are known to have completed it! There are in fact more than a few routes that you can take across Europe and northern Spain, but all of them finish in one place: Santiago de Compostela, the town where it is said the remains of Saint James are buried. This is beautifully illustrated by the scallop shell, all of its grooves meeting at the same point, a symbol that you will encounter everywhere along the Camino de Santiago.
The two most popular routes are the UNESCO-listed French Way (Camino Francés) crossing the Pyrenees, and the Portugal Way up from Lisbon or Porto. The Northern Way is not as well travelled as the changes in elevation involved while trekking the Spanish coast make it even more of a challenge. Because make no mistake, this is an ambitious trek even for very experienced walkers; just the Spanish section from the Pyrenees onwards is some 800km, which can take several months walking at a click.
Throughout the journey you will pass numerous towns and villages that bear historic significance, such as Astorga which has one of the few Gaudi buildings outside Catalonia; O Cebreiro with several protected pre-Roman dwellings; and the magnificent León. Some walkers like to slow things up with an extra night here and there to explore these attractive communities.

What does walking the Camino de Santiago entail?

The walk can easily be broken down into short stages, which is convenient for those with not much time, or not so much stamina as to attempt it all in one shot.

Organised tours, whether self guided or traveling as part of a small group, are the best way to tackle the Camino de Santiago, especially if it’s your first time taking on something of this scale. You will benefit not only from the peace of mind that comes with 24-hour support in case something goes wrong, but also the great convenience of having everything organised and booked for you. These tours typically focus on the most scenic stretches of the route, and skip over sections that run through unsightly industrial areas or along busy roads. On all tours, your baggage is transferred as standard, leaving you to hike with just a daypack. Tailor made tours also give you the flexibility to select your dates, your accommodation and to alter your route.

You can expect to be walking daily distances of between 15km and 30km, with variable terrain. Making a few practice walks on tarmac surfaces before departure is strongly recommended, as many people are surprised to find how tough the going on the Camino de Santiago actually is. Perhaps for this reason some pilgrims choose to travel it by bike, on horseback, or even by kayak on the sea route!
Accommodation is traditionally in multi-bed dorms in hostels (refuges) but there is a growing number of boutique hotels springing up that offer a higher level of comfort. Dorms usually require bringing your own towel and sleeping bag. At every stage of the journey you will encounter people from all over Europe and further afield, each of them proudly bearing their own ‘Pilgrim Passport’. The stamps you get in this document confirm how far you’ve walked, and if you manage over 100km then on arrival at Santiago de Compostela you’ll be given a certificate of completion – the two together make for a great memento.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Pilgrimage walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to walk the Camino

You can walk the Camino de Santiago at any time of year, but some seasons are definitely preferable to others. In midsummer the sun can be blisteringly hot, and the trails tend to be crowded. Easter, likewise, is a very popular time to walk. Winter carries the risk of ice and snow, so the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago is the shoulder months of May to early June, and September to early October. The weather is usually pleasantly warm, there are fewer showers, and the crowds are smaller. It’s worth noting however that as there are so many different routes available there can be significant variations in weather conditions on each at the same time of year. The Northern Way, for instance, covers higher altitudes, so it can be quite mild even in June and July.
¡Buen camino!
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mario Cales] [Santiago Compostela: Alejandro Moreno Calvo] [Walking group, Spain: Erik Brockdorff] [Windy spanish road: Ricardo Frantz]