The Camino is many things. It’s challenging and exciting, spiritual and peaceful. It’s also quite complex, consisting of many different routes that all converge on the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. Why Santiago? Because its Archcathedral Basilica is believed to be the shrine of Saint James, an apostle of Jesus. This is why the Camino de Santiago is also known as the Way of St. James. He died a martyr in AD44, but it wasn’t until the 9th century that pilgrims started to travel from near and far, on various routes, to pay homage at his place of rest. To walk the camino is, therefore, to follow in the footsteps of worshippers and wanderers dating back centuries. The question is, which journey speaks to you? Here are the Camino de Santiago routes we offer to help you choose. For more information on timings, see our blog, The best time to walk the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino Frances
This is the most popular of the Camino routes, between St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. In contrast with the Camino del Norte, it takes you on an inland journey and covers 780km in total, but you don’t have to do it all at once. We provide holidays along the complete Camino Frances (41 days), or stages one, two, three, four and (the final) five, which vary between seven and 12 days. The last section can be shortened even further down to the camino’s final 100km between Sarria and Santiago, which is the shortest sub-section that you can do and still get your Compostela Certificate.
Depending on the sections you choose on the Camino Frances, you can trek through the French Pyrenees, explore the medieval towns of Spain’s Navarre region and raise a glass in Rioja Wine Country. Landscapes are ever changing with, for example, the Oca Mountains one day and the Meseta, or central Spanish plateau, the next. You also have the Serra de Ranadoiro mountains to contend with as you enter Galicia, where you eventually join up with the Camino Primitivo in the Melide River Valley.
Fascinating cities along the Camino Frances include Astorga and Burgos, the former dating back to Roman times but also home to some Gaudi greatness at the Episcopal Palace, and the latter often referred to as the Gothic capital of Spain. The elegant city of León is a starting point for some, with a handsome old quarter and Gothic cathedral at its core.
You can also cycle the Camino Frances, and it’s easier to book too, as the majority are pilgrims à pied.
The Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is the coastal camino and a Basque beauty too, covering 800km of Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and then Galicia before heading south to Santiago. It’s not quite as busy as the Camino Frances, but the word is being carried on that sea breeze that north is the new south.
You can walk the complete Camino del Norte (36 days) or opt for different holidays along stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four or stage five. The complete Camino del Norte takes 36 days, and the other sections range between six and 11 days. Starting in San Sebastián and ending in Santiago de Compostela, of course, the Camino del Norte also includes the great cities of Bilbao, San Sebastián, Gijón and Santander if you want to mix your camino with cultural events.
The Camino del Norte also takes you through traditional Basque fishing villages, to Asturian beaches such as Palombina and Barro or its medieval coastal town of Llanes, in the shadow of the Picos de Europa Mountains. If you are walking the complete Camino del Norte, although you dip in and out of the coast along the way, it’s not until about day 27 that you head inland at Ribadeo in Galicia. After that, you enter a world of Galician rural meadows, the Terra Chá (flatlands) and the eucalyptus groves that line the way to Santiago.
The Camino Portugues
The Camino Portugues or Portuguese Way’s pilgrims have carved out two separate caminos en route to Santiago over the years, one inland (or Central Way) and the other clinging to the coast, or Coastal Way. The former covers approximately 280km and takes 15 days; the latter covers 230km and 14 days to complete.
The Central Way (Caminho Central) is considered the traditional Portuguese Camino, and it’s relatively flat and easy to navigate. Heading inland after Porto, your walk takes you through eucalyptus and pine-filled woodlands to tranquil rural villages, market towns such as Barcelos and medieval spots like Ponte de Lima. You cross the natural border of the Miño River into Galicia in Spain, the hilltop cathedral town of Tui welcoming you into the next stage of your camino, where your path joins with the Coastal Way at Arcade.
The Coastal Way (Caminho da Costa) is a quieter but equally impressive alternative route to the traditional central way of the Portuguese Camino. Follow the rugged Atlantic coastline from Porto, past Northern Portugal’s dune-rich and sandy beaches such as Povoa de Varzim or Vila Praia de Âncora. Crossing the Miño River again to enter Galicia, you get to follow more coastal paths and forest tracks to the small beachfront village of Oia, just one of many spots to tuck into Galicia’s fine seafood and wine.
All of our Camino Portugues holidays are open between March and October, as well as the complete Camino Portugues options, and you can opt to walk the final 100km section between Tui and Santiago (so just walking in Spain, not Portugal). You can walk this beautiful last section in either eight or 11 days, depending on how you want to pace yourself. By completing this 116km section, you are entitled to get your Compostela Certificate. You can also cycle the Camino Portugues, again following the Coastal Way or the Central Way, and there is an option to hire e-bikes for these holidays.
The Camino Primitivo
The Camino Primitivo is considered and also called the Original Way because it is believed to be the original route taken by pilgrims to Santiago and, in particular, King Alfonso II of Asturias. He is said to have walked this route in the 9th century when this was the only part of Spain that remained independent from the Moor’s conquered lands known as Al-Andalus.
Even though it’s the original one, it’s actually one of the quietest of the caminos, perhaps because it is also more demanding in parts. It takes you between the cathedral in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, and Santiago, approximately 312km, and you can walk the complete route in 16 days, stage 1 between Ovideo and Lugo in nine days and stage 2 between Lugo and Santiago in seven days.
There are many highlights along the way, but the biggest plus about this camino is the remoteness of it all. It’s a lot less busy, and you can walk for 20km without seeing another building, never mind another person, so if it’s peace and nature that you seek, this may be the best Camino de Santiago route for you. However, it gets busier after Melide, where the Camino Primitivo joins the Camino Frances.
The elevations mean that you also enjoy views across Asturias, such as at the top of the Ruta de los Hospitales, so-called because pilgrims’ hospitals were built centuries ago to give respite during extreme weather conditions in winter. Our trips generally only run between March and November, so no hospitals are required, hopefully! Galicia’s oak and eucalyptus forests are also good for the soul, and the sleepy hamlets and villages that you pass through, or rest at, are always welcoming to all pilgrims. You can also cycle the complete Camino Primitivo, with options over eight or 11 days.
Camino dos Finisterre
Finisterre translates as ‘the end of the world’, and the Camino dos Finisterre, between Santiago and Cape Finisterre, is the last lap for many pilgrims to push themselves into nature as far as they possibly can go. The full name is the Camino Finisterre-Muxía or Fisterra in Galician, and it’s an official part of the Camino de Santiago, still marked by the iconic golden scallop shell (or vieira).
The scallop is thought to be the symbol because they are such a common feature of the Galician coast and would have been a source of food for many pilgrims. If you want to really feel as if you have done the coast, then the Camino dos Finisterre extension is a superb add-on, or you can just do it on its own, of course. It’s 90km long, and you can walk it in six days as far as Cape Finisterre or continue along the coastline even further to the fishing village of Muxía, which takes eight days in total (120km). Another popular option is to combine it with the last section of the Camino Frances between Sarria and Santiago, continuing on to Finisterre on our spiritual and salty Sarria to the sea holiday over 12 days.
All in all, this is a route of dramatic sunsets and celebrations, fishing villages and forests, wild seascapes and remote landscapes, all coming to a finale at Finisterre lighthouse, still powerful and active, thankfully, so that you can see the light at the end of the yellow-scalloped road.
Which of the Camino de Santiago routes can I do solo?
The great news is that no matter which of these Camino de Santiago routes you choose, all are open to solo travellers. Supplemental costs do apply due to the fact that transfer costs of luggage are not shared, and the same goes for accommodation. For more information on walking holidays for solo travellers, see our blog Solo travel – we have your back.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any more camino queries. We are here to support you along your way, not only to transport your bags and make sure you have a comfy bed for the night but also to help make it as meaningful and mindful as possible. You may also enjoy our blogs, Camino de Santiago packing list and The best time to walk the Camino de Santiago.