The Camino de Santiago, or the “Way of Saint James”, is a famous Christian pilgrimage leading to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where Saint James is said to be buried. Since medieval times, pilgrims have travelled to Santiago from various starting points, so that there are now a range of established routes to choose from.
The Camino Frances, or the “French Way,” is the most famous route, and the most popular for first-time pilgrims. The Camino Frances is well marked with yellow arrows and scallop shell symbols so that you will not get lost. The Camino Frances is nearly 800 kilometers in length and takes about 5 weeks to complete. It starts in St Jean Pied de Port in Southern France and ends in Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino Frances passes through several large cities like Pamplona, Burgos and León, which are convenient places to plan for a rest day. It is also relatively easy to get to these cities from Madrid, making them popular places for pilgrims to start the Camino if they want to walk less kilometers to Santiago.
People who walk the Camino are known as “pilgrims”, but not everyone walks for religious reasons. Many do so simply because they enjoy walking and meeting interesting people. The Camino is one of the longest established hiking routes in the world and attracts many international visitors.
Other famous Camino routes include the Camino Portuguese, which runs up through Portugal, and the Camino del Norte, which runs along the northern Spanish coast through cities like Bilbao and A Coruña.
I have just recently finished six days of walking the Camino de Santiago. I know that walking for only six days doesn’t sound like much when the full Camino takes 5 weeks, but it was still the longest hike I’ve ever done in my life.
I believe that people do the Camino for different reasons. Some people simply want to try something new, while others want to make friends and experience the Spanish atmosphere and culture. Every person’s Camino is different. For my father and I, we wanted to take a break from city life and challenge ourselves physically.
We started our Camino in Burgos and walked most of the way to Leon. This stretch of the Camino is roughly 180 kilometers and takes about 8 to 9 days to walk the full distance.
We chose this section because it is easier to travel from Madrid and back. Our goal was not to obtain the Compostela (the certificate pilgrims get for completing the Camino), nor were we worried about making it to Santiago de Compostela.
Some people do the Camino for religious reasons. My father and I are not religious, so our Camino did not have the same spiritual significance that it would have for those undertaking it as a religious pilgrimage. But it was still a meaningful journey for us.
For modern people it is a luxury to get away from the hectic pace of city life and to enjoy the beautiful scenery Spain has to offer. We enjoyed the simplicity of waking up each day with only one goal, which was to walk 20 kilometers to the next albergue. It was a perfect opportunity to reflect on life and gain some clarity to our thoughts.
Walking 20 kilometers everyday is definitely challenging, especially for those who don’t exercise regularly. It is common to get minor injuries like blisters or tendonitis along the way, so please make sure that you bring appropriate gear for the Camino and allow time for rest. I will be sharing what I packed for my Camino and other tips over the next few days.