What is the Camino de Santiago?
Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James is an ancient pilgrimage with its roots in the 9th century, when a shepherd named Pelayo found remains of a body at a place in a field that he was led to by the stars of the milky way. The local bishop declared the remains those of The Apostle St. James The Greater and with this the Camino de Santiago was born.
The bishop ordered a church to be built on the site to house the remains of St. James or Sant Iago and as word spread pilgrims started walking from all across Europe and even further afield to visit the sacred burial site of one of Jesus’s apostles. Over the years that small church grew to the epic Catedral de Santiago de Compostela that it is today.
The Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James was originally travelled by King Alphonse II in the 9th century. He travelled there to confirm that the remains discovered were those of the Apostle Saint James. He left from Oviedo and travelled to Santiago de Compostela along the route that is now known as the Camino Primitivo or the Original Way. After King Alphonse II’s trip, many pilgrims began walking the Camino to the resting place of Saint James, taking different routes from their homes to reach Santiago de Compostela.
Camino de Santiago is not just one route. As you can imagine thousands of people walking from their homes throughout the middle ages paved many roads all across Europe, however they all come together like branches of a tree and all arrive in what has now become a city called, Santiago de Compostela. All except for the Finisterre Way which starts in Santiago and goes out to Cape Finisterre, ‘the end of the world’ .
The Most Popular Routes Along Camino de Santiago Today Are:
- Camino Frances
- Camino del Norte
- Camino Portugues
- Le Puy Route
- Via de la Plata
- Camino Primitivo
- Camino Ingles
The words Camino de Santiago literally mean the way of St. James when translated from Spanish to English.
Nowadays, the Way is walked by thousands of pilgrims every year and is growing in popularity. Each pilgrim usually walks between 15-35kms per day, depending on their speed and level of fitness. Walking though isn’t the only way to get to Santiago. King Alphonse II traveled on horseback to visit the remains of Saint James and many pilgirms today do this journey using various methods. Moreover, walking, cycling and horse-riding can give each person a unique experience of his/her own. Cycling and horse-riding, for example, allow you to cover a lot more ground and also give you an elevated perspective from which to view the beautiful sceneries of Camino, whereas, walking can be a personal challenge and a grand achievement in the end. Some people also choose to take our experienced guides to help them along the way.
On the Camino there are many amenities dotted along the Way, so pilgrims have plenty of facilities to offer home comforts as well as places to stop for coffee, chats and a bite to eat. Some of the routes are more popular than others so they may have more places to stop off to eat or stay over night. The French Way for example is so popular that you’ll never really walk more than 3kms before seeing a restaurant, coffee shop or hotel to stop for a rest, in particular, the Sarria – Santiago section or last 100kms of the French Way. Whereas, other routes, you may have to walk further before your next stop which would be a similar experience to those of the pilgrims who walked the Camino hundreds of years ago. We leave the magic of finding your unique treasures along your journey for you to discover yourself, whichever route you may choose.
The Camino de Santiago is walked each year by people of all ages and fitness levels, so you don’t have to be an expert trekker in order to take such a holiday. The terrain is, in fact, very manageable and some even walk it in regular sports shoes. Some days are more hilly that others yet you will never be climbing up high mountains, so a decent 20km day is very doable for a person of average fitness.
Most pilgrims choose to walk the famous last 100kms in to Santiago. Anyone who completes the last 100kms of the Camino de Santiago is entitled to get their pilgrim certificate or Compostela as proof and souvenir of your experience along the famous Camino de Santiago. In order to get the Compostela you simply need to each day get a stamp in your pilgrim passport. These stamps can be gotten at hotels, restaurants, cafes and churches along the route. Some are very pretty and they make a beautiful record of where you stopped on your walk.
Although the Camino de Santiago has been traditionally a religious pilgrimage, there are many people who choose it as a walking holiday for many different reasons. Some walk the Way for fitness or as a goal to achieve better physical health. Others walk to clear their head or to feel a connection with nature for the mental benefits of unplugging from their daily lives, allowing time simply for peace or self-development. Walking for weeks completely isolated with nothing but a backpack on your shoulders and few companions at your side on the road can be a strangely spiritual experience. Although walking for your own personal betterment is why many do the pilgrimage, others take a more philanthropic approach and use it as an opportunity to fund-raise for charity groups. There is one thing, however, that we will promise you: whatever your reason, you will find something that will last a life time – be it an unforgettable memory, friends or even yourself.
Follow the Camino organises walking and cycling holidays in Europe for adventure seekers from all over the world. Since 2006, we’ve offered a great range of manageable walks and cycles for all age groups, in particular on the famous Camino de Santiago. We were the first ever tour operator to operate the Camino de Santiago by creating manageable sections along the main routes to Santiago de Compostela. We are often copied but never equalled!
To find out which route might be best for you, contact our Camino Planners through the form on the top-right-hand side of the page to get your free customised Camino itinerary.