Starting in the vibrant beautiful city of Lisboa in Portugal and walking north over 675km to the equally beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain is the Caminho Portuguese. This route is one of many Camino routes that end at the cathedral in Santiago, Spain. In fact did you know that there is over 15 different Camino Routes in Spain alone! Walking a pilgrimage has become more popular over recent years thanks to movies and documentaries like ‘The Way’, ‘Walking the Camino: Six ways to Santiago’, as well as more information that is available on social media sites like Facebook. The most well-known of the Camino walks being the Frances Route, starting in St Jean Pied de Port in France, then heads west to Santiago.
The signs or waymarkers –
When walking one of these Camino’s (Caminho in Portuguese) you are following yellow painted arrows across a country collecting stamps in a pilgrim’s passport or credential. I liken this to a ‘Where’s Wally’ game. The arrows can be painted anywhere, for example on a rock, a tree, side of the road, a fence, a house. There are also signs of a scallop shell or concha de vieira. You will often see these with a blue background and they will be on sign posts or even locals houses and fences. The Concha is also carried by pilgrims on their packs, it has a painted red symbol of the Santiago cross on it. I have found through research that there a many reasons being given for the shell. Some religious stories, some the pilgrim used it for drinking from a stream or fountain, some proof of the pilgrimage. Whatever the reason I think it is nice to have.
Pilgrims Passpor or Credential –
The pilgrims passport or credential is a document that one carries with them and along the way and the pilgrim must have it stamped each day, twice a day once they get to the last 100km mark. This is done in the Albergues (pilgrims accommodation), churches, bars etc. It is to show that the pilgrim has walked the way and enables them to receive a certificate (Compostela) at the end in Santiago. The other thing is the credential enables the pilgrim to stay in the Albergues, Monasteries and even give discounts in hotels as well.
Where to start –
You start at the Se Cathedral where you will find your first yellow arrow painted just on the wall beside the main doors. You can also get your credential stamped inside. Most pilgrims then will catch the train out of the city up to Vilafranca de Xira missing the first 30kms and avoiding the industrial parts. I personally don’t as I find the industrial parts are still part of the journey. Not every section will be scenically beautiful to the eye, but still have stories to tell. I will advise However on this first section to put on insect repellent as you will at the 13km mark cross over the N10 and head into what I call swamp land and the Mosquitos are like something out of a horror movie, this is only for about 4-5km then all is good.
The Route –
You could say there are two sections of this route.
Lisbon – Porto then Porto – Santiago.
A lot of people choose to start in Porto and walk the final 232km. This second section of the route is well established with more pilgrim accommodation available. Lisbon – Porto is however now becoming more popular and each year there are more Albergues opening.
It is said there is a lot of road walking through having done this route myself I don’t think any more than some of the other trails and what there is are mostly country roads. There are (like a lot of distance hikes, it’s unavoidable) some major roads that the trail takes you on. Some can be quite dangerous. One time I had 5km’s to go and was not feeling very safe on the road so I went into a petrol station and got them to call me a taxi. I think be smart and live another day to walk another day.
I do suggest that when leaving Porto to take the coast option instead of heading north on the major Hwy, as that is supposed to be the most dangerous part of this route. The coast you head straight out to Matosinhos then follow, the mostly Board walked coastline, to Vilar do Conde. There are many great seaside cafes and bars along the way and views worth seeing. The next day the, well-marked, trail heads back inland to join the main route.
Towns along the way well worth exploring –
I would always recommend to anyone if you are spending your hard-earned money on taking a trip somewhere then take it and take your time with it. Get your money’s worth and see the place not whiz on through. On this route there is so much interesting history and beautiful countryside to see. It will take you on medieval roads through villages, historical towns, magical woodlands, across ancient stone bridges and rolling farmlands. All has a story to tell, you will meet some of the most friendly locals as well as other amazing pilgrims from all over the world and eat delicious meals.
So in saying all that, do research and check out some of these towns.
Tomar. (One of my Favourites)
Vila do Conde.
Ponte de Lima.
Valenca. (Worth the old town visit)
When to go –
Best time to walk in my opinion is Spring and Autumn. Summer can get quite hot and humid especially closer to Lisbon and winter too wet and cold.
There are dedicated pilgrim hostels called Alburgues as well as Pensions, otherwise there are hotels and B&B’s. With the pilgrim credential you can receive discounted prices you just need to tell them you are a pilgrim, show your credential and ask if a discount applies. Don’t be shy, you won’t be frowned on for asking.
Must stay Albergues recommended by me.
Hostel Santarem: Santarem,
Hostel 2300: Tomar,
Albergaría Pinheiros: Alvaiazere,
The church in Alvorge,
Albergue Hilario: Mealhada,
Bellamar Hostel: Vila do Conde,
Antonio: Pedra Furada,
Casa da Fernanda: Lugar do Corgo,
What to take –
You pack it you carry it is what I would say, so do think long and hard about what you DO need over what you THINK you need. Do remember that you are entering into villages and large towns often so I would only carry food provisions for the day.
You can however get your bags carried from town to town. This can be a great option for those who have trouble or just simply don’t want to carry all your gear and just want a small day bag. Please do not think that doing this means by anymeans is not a good thing, or, as I have heard people say, ‘not being a true pilgrim’ because it is simply not true. We all walk our walk the way that works for us and the fact is you are out there walking, exploring and creating YOUR journey and that is fantastic! There are not rule to doing this!
If you do get your gear carried there are many choices of companies that are out there for you to use, with the average price being between €5 -€8 each day. The only down side to doing this is you must know where you are going to end each day so you are locked into your nights accommodation. You can arrange this all in advance or you can do it day by day. If you are carrying your bag and then decide for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to you can get it transported.
Water especially in the warmer months is very important and some sections you will go quite a few hours before hitting a town so always carry 2-3 litres depending on weather and section that you are walking. Check your map each day before taking off to see where towns are. There are many water fountains along the way, don’t rely on it, but when you do find them they are a welcome relief.
I do recommend a sleeping bag or silk liner or both as not all pilgrim accommodation has bedding.
As for clothes it really boils down to time of year. My suggestion would be if you decide or realise you no longer need certain clothes, eg: thermal top etc, post it home so not to be carrying unnecessary stuff.
The Basic List –
- Boots or shoes you would be walking in
- A back pack, the size will depend on you and what you are able to carry. I carry a 75ltr as I need it for my extra equipment plus I prefer this size
- Spare light weight shoes that you can put on in the evenings
- 3 pair underwear, yes that is all you need. One you wear, One you wash and one spare as a just in case
- 2 sets of socks. Liners are good to wear under the thicker socks as it not only can help prevent blisters they are also easier to wash more regularly as they dry quicker
- 2 hiking T-shirts
- 2 zip-off hiking pants. (this will give you two pairs of shorts as well)
- Jacket for warmth
- a thermal top, pants optional, up to you and the weather
- poncho or rain jacket, rain pants are personal choice
- 2 hats, one for warmth and one to keep off the sun, you can also use a buff
- gloves to keep the fingers warm
- sarong – I recommend this as a must have item as it is so versatile, it can be a – towel, scarf, lightweight blanket, a bag, put on after your shower. rug to sit on and the list is endless
- something to sleep in esp if sharing a room
- sleeping bag and silk liner
- 1st aid kit
- hiking sticks (if you use them)
- water bottles/hydration bladder
- head torch, (helps find the toilet at night)
- earplugs, to avoid listening to others snore
- map and guide-book
Helpful information including guidebooks –
Please note that all guide books are exactly that…GUIDE BOOKS! These are just a guideline for the route in front of you and ALL differ from time to time. The books vary from the yellow arrows at some points along the way, this doesn’t mean they are incorrect just means it’s the author’s idea of what they think would be the best path to follow. I personally followed the yellow arrows only though I did carry a guide-book to see what towns where ahead, where I could stay and more importantly where I could get a coffee!
Camino Guides ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino’ John Brieley.
Also have a look at our Documentary on the Camino Camino Documentary