So here I am. I know that I want to walk the Camino, but there is that big decision I need to take before: which Camino should it be?
Once you start to learn more about the Camino de Santiago and you browse in books, guides and of course on internet, very soon you discover that there is not only one route leading your steps to Santiago de Compostela. It is this moment when you realize that there should be no such thing as THE Camino and we should rather talk in plural about the CAMINOS.
The Galician song of the folk-pop group Luar na Lubre tells us about the traditional seven routes:
“Hai un paraíso nos confíns da terra
A cidade santa, chámase Compostela (…)
Por sete camiños chegan ata aquí,
Por sete camiños, son os pelegríns.”
(“There is a paradise in the place where the land ends,
There is a sacred town called Compostela (…)
People arrive here following 7 ways.
Following 7 ways. They are pilgrims.”)
We could point out especially these 7 routes:
Camino del Norte
Via de la Plata
Camino a Fisterra & Muxía
But… of course there are much more routes and we can make an almost infinite list if we start to add: Camino Aragonés, Camino de Invierno, Camino de Madrid…
Each European country has also a net of paths where you can start your pilgrimage or where you can just train. Many of them are even signposted, yellow arrows are painted and many statues of Saint James are raised along those ways. For instance in such countries like Holland, Belgium, Germany or Poland you will find easily St. James routes.
(Few examples here:
Well, we do not believe that you will want to walk 4.000 kilometers to get to Santiago and it is more likely that you will first try out something shorter, with the possibility to start either in France, Spain or Portugal.
The most important thing before making a choice is to know is that the choice of the route should depend on your needs.
You need to ask yourself that very first inner question: why I want to walk and which are my expectations?
We tried to summarize all of those basic needs.
We know that the spiritual need is the main and the obvious one, so we did not take it into the account. Thinking of all secondary reasons, this is what we got:
1. My goal is to do something different in my life, break a dull routine for a while and have a good time. I do not want to be all by myself, but I want to share the pilgrimage with other people. I heard someone who walked it, (s)he met fantastic people. I also would like to meet people from all over the world and to share my time and experience with them.
Follow the secular tradition and choose the French way.
It is crowded in Summer, but it is the best choice if you are afraid of being alone.
2. I prefer something more private. I need a challenge – I want to test my body, my forces, I need to check my limits and resistance.
Go for the difficult ones: Camino Primitivo or Camino del Norte. The high hills, mountains and long kilometers of coastlines will be a real challenge. But do not forget to train hard before you start!
3. My interest in this route is also cultural. I would like to know new culture(s) and I am interested in a history – during my walk I plan to stop several times and do some sightseeing.
Almost all Caminos are good for this: Camino Frances, Vía de la Plata, but there is one special where you can have a double amount of history and culture: Camino Portugues. Starting for instance in Porto in a very short time (only 2 weeks) you will be able to know 2 different cultures and learn much about the history.
4. I do not believe the pilgrimage is only about suffering. I would like to get myself a small reward from time to time, have a glass of a tasty wine, and try out local cuisine specialties. *
Camino Frances is quite good for it. Also the initial part of Camino del Norte – the Basque Country will not disappoint you. Basques are real masters in the food matters. There is also another interesting choice: Camino Portuguese, which will open a possibility to taste 2 types of flavors in 2 countries.
And remember: we keep on working to add more suggestions in order to help you with your choice. ☺
I want to experience the unexpected, to be with myself and grow spiritually while also meeting others and experiencing their cultures. I enjoy a challenge, (I just hiked Mount Whitney 22 miles at 6,500 feet gain to 14,508 feet at age 55. I also hiked the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail in California.) I do not want to carry a 40+ pound backpack on this experience. It is my understanding that a pilgrim can walk to a bed and shelter everyday on the journey. I am in the middle of the number 1 & 2 above. What route or routes do you suggest I look into?
Thank you for your comment, Jeff.
In your case there is an extra value to take into account – you are an experienced hiker, so you should not have problems with any of the existing “Caminos”.
The difficulty of the French Route is lower than Camino del Norte or Primitivo, so if you enjoy a challenge we would suggest Camino del Norte. You would meet less people there than on the French Route, but it does not mean that you would be all alone. There are always some hikers, we even met some at the beginning of November.
The French Route is more “social”, but also less challenging in some parts. It is great in many aspects, however it might be an easier choice.
The cultural aspects of both are comparable and outstanding in both cases. The advantage of the French Route is the fact that it has the infrastructures for pilgrims more developed than all other routes.
This is right that you do not need to carry a heavy bag, you can use a luggage transfer service (provided on all routes) and you can stay in private establishments that offer bed and breakfast to the pilgrims.