Although traditionally used by pilgrims, you don’t necessarily have to be a pilgrim to walk the Camino de Santiago and many walkers come from all over the world with different motivations, not just religion, to take part in the walk.
The Camino de Santiago has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an incredible experience whether you are participating for religious reasons, fitness reasons or just if you are seeking an adventure.
The Camino de Santiago has a vastly varied topography due to the routes extending across multiple countries in Europe.
Each route has its own unique features. The Camino Francés is characterised by woodland paths, hills, mountains, villages and towns. Whereas, the Camino de Norte is characterised by Coastline, grassy fields, marshland and beaches. Each route is beautifully unique each with its own topography.
The Camino Primitivo has farmland, forests, mountains and villages. The Via de Plata varies as the route progresses as it is such a long walk. It can be dry and rocky at some points and lush and green at others.
Finally, the Camino Portugués consists of river valleys, steeper slopes and rural villages.
As mentioned with the topography of the Camino de Santiago, the topography and landscapes are extremely varied due to the routes existing in such a wide range of areas.
This means that the fauna and flora of the Camino de Santiago is also greatly varied.
There are a wide range of flowers, butterflies and birds along the routes and you are guaranteed to see more than a few farm animals on your walk as well as some wild animals, such as a wild fox or some smaller creatures, like tadpoles in the streams or caterpillars along the path.
There are beautiful plant species throughout and your senses will never be bored.
When walking the Camino de Santiago, your choice of routes is seemingly endless as you can choose to complete entire routes or choose short portions and some of the routes converge with one another closer to the destination.
Although traditionally a pilgrimage you do not necessarily have to be a pilgrim to take part and enjoy the walk.
Pilgrims will however, be required to purchase a Camino passport if they are seeking to get their Compostela certificate.
Pilgrims need to walk at least 100km in order to obtain this certificate and they will also be required to get their Camino passport stamped at least once a day.
This is the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago. It officially begins in the very important pilgrim town of St Jean Pied-du-Port in the French Pyrenees, this is the point where French pilgrims would traditionally begin their journey.
This is a remarkable and spectacular route, traversing through mountains and flat terrain and you will experience some of the most beautiful parts of Spain. It is a unique cultural and social experience.
This is an enjoyable walk with varied scenery and good infrastructure. This route is highly social, so if you are seeking a quieter experience this may not be the ideal route for you.
This is a well-trodden route with many hotels, cafés and restaurants along the way.
The last 111km of this route, starting in Sarria, is very popular as it perfectly captures the essence of the Camino de Santiago. 100km is the shortest distance you can walk and still receive your pilgrim certificate.
This route starts in Irún on the border with France and travels west through Bilbao, Santander and Oveido hugging the northern coast of Spain.
You will experience the magnificent Spanish coastline and joins the Camino Primivito for the final leg of the walk.
The route does include some hilly parts and the weather is not as warm as some of the more inland routes. The distance between towns is reasonable so you will never be too far away from refreshments and comfort.
This route is very scenic with lush green hills and mountains as well as stunning unspoilt beaches where you can take a dip if you choose to visit during the hot summer months.
Experience the narrow footpaths, panoramic estuaries, inland meadows and mountain backdrops.
You can expect to have a less crowded and more solitary and authentic experience along this route.
If you are a foodie, this route is definitely a must do as it passes through culinary cities that boast Michelin star restaurants.
This route starts in Lisbon and goes north through Portugal and is the second most popular route behind the Camino Francés.
The route is relatively flat without too many hills and has reasonable infrastructure, however, most of the route goes alongside motorways.
The route takes you through stunning coastlines and sandy beaches. It is a great option if you are looking to get away from crowds but still have access to amenities.
This is a less, travelled more rural experience.
This is the longest route by far and covers almost the whole of Spain’s south-north length. The route begins in Seville and mostly follows an old Roman road, so this route is great if you are interested in Roman history.
The route is well-marked and is mostly paths and paved rock, it is very possible to do this route without a guide. It is easier than some of the other routes in terms of terrain, but some days can be very long with few facilities available.
The terrain is undulating and not very difficult with varied scenery. The route is quiet and easier than the other routes.
The Camino Primitivo, also known as the “Original Route,” is the most direct route from Oviedo to Santiago. This route re-joins the Camino Francés about 40-miles (64km).
The route is well-marked and begins in hilly farmland before crossing the Cantabrian Mountains. The route becomes challenging as it crosses through wild, wooded and sparsely populated sections with long ascents and descents.
But the route does become easier, so it won’t be challenging throughout your entire walk.
This route is challenging as it involves a lot of hill climbing and erratic weather. The first half can be particularly challenging, but the gorgeous views are definitely worth it.
This guidebook by John Brierley includes route descriptions and planners, maps, information about accommodation as well as facts about the Camino de Santiago.
It is the perfect companion on your journey, whether you are a pilgrim or not.
Although the odds of any major medical emergencies along the Camino are slim, it is always recommended to get travel insurance to avoid having to pay a great deal if something bad were to happen.
If you are from Europe, your European Health Insurance card will only cover the basics and it has been said that it may even be rejected in Spanish hospitals.
Therefore, purchase travel insurance before you depart to be safe.
This article on travel and hiking insurance proves great information on what type of insurance you need, as well as provides an easy quote calculator from a leading travel operator.
Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.