Several different routes can be called
The Way of St. James

The Camino Frances, the Camino Norte and the Camino Primitivo are among the most experienced journeys. There are many stopping points along each route, and none are mandatory. The stopping points will vary for each peregrino, just as each peregrino’s experience will be different.

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Pilgrims on the Way of St. James walk for weeks or months to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela. They follow many routes but the most popular route is Via Regia and its last part, the Camino Francés. Historically, most of the pilgrims came from France, from Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles and Saint Gilles, due to the Codex Calixtinus, and which today are important starting points. The Spanish consider the Pyrenees a starting point. Common starting points along the French border are Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Somport on the French side of the Pyrenees and Roncesvalles or Jaca on the Spanish side. (The distance from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella through León is about 800 km.).

Another possibility is to do the Northern Route nearer the Spanish coast along the Bay of Biscay, which was first used by pilgrims in order to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages. The Camino Norte, while definitely less populated, is not as well developed and there may be longer distances between established Albergues.

There are many stopping points along the route, and none are mandatory

While most of the route is fairly gentle with only a few long ascents, some days can be challenging. Over the past 20 years a great deal of effort has gone into improving the walkers’ route, and most of the route is now well marked, reasonably well surfaced, and separated from the increasingly heavy traffic on Spanish highways.

If one begins in France, the route passes over two major mountain chains and several smaller ones. There is a joke that the Camino never meets a mountain it doesn’t cross. While that is not really true, there are many ascents and descents, and some of the latter can be quite steep. The walk from the French border to Santiago de Compostela on the main routes of the Camino Frances, beginning at Roncesvalles or Jaca, takes about a month. Speed hikers can make it in as little as two weeks (about the time bicyclists usually require), but that requires walking 40 km or more each day.

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.

One needs to be in reasonably good condition and to have good hiking boots. 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.

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.

To earn the Compostela 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.

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.

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Camino de Santiago  •   Locations & Activities


• Routes

• Camino Frances

• Camino Norte

• Camino Primitivo

• Santiago de Compostela

• History