Winding through the Spanish countryside, with a seashell on a string bouncing on our backpack, we by reflex say a friendly “Buen Camino” to a passing hiker. Making a quick stop at a local’s fruit stand, we grab a basket of strawberries for a euro. We can feel the history of the footprints we follow and the nature that fully captures the imagination – this is the Camino de Santiago.
Hiking the Camino is an explorer’s dream and tops many hiker’s bucket list treks.
This same path has been traversed for centuries and was initially established as a pilgrimage for people to cross Europe to visit the place where St. James is theoretically buried. In recent history this pathway has become popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts looking to soak up the tradition, face a challenge, and wittiness the beauty of the European countryside.
The seashell is the unofficial icon of this hike representing the multiple paths across Europe that all point to the city of Santiago. The most famous of these paths is the “Camino Francés” which is a 780km from the southern border of France down and across the northern width of Spain. That entire route takes roughly 30 days of hiking to complete.
Kelsey and I had a lot of ground to cover in Spain so opted for the most popular final 5 days of the hike (125km) from Sarria, Spain to the final destination of Santiago de Compostela.
We left our big travel backpacks at a locker storage in Santiago, packed small day bags with an extra outfit and a toothbrush, and took a bus to our starting point in Sarria.
Our video recap of the Camino:
Our favorite sections of our hike was in the first two days, hiking through what felt similar to French countryside. We passed farm animals, saw ancient stone walls, and crossed cobblestone bridges.
We hiked each day for about 8 hours, and then arrived into the next town to enjoy a “pilgrim menu” dinner. These were pre-set menus that are not only were super affordable (about 8-10 euros) but are massive, with bread, appetizers, a main course, and typically with a whole bottle of wine! After a long day of trail foraging, these were very welcome feasts. Our favorite desserts were the Tarta de Santiago, which is a fluffy almond cake.
Another fun element to this hike was getting stamps at participating restaurants/churches in our Pilgrim passport (which you get at the beginning of your hike). With enough stamps to show you walked at least 100km of the hike, you get a certificate at the end in Santiago. This certificate has a lot of history tied to it and in the catholic religion represents a penance (a forgiveness for a previous sin).
It was lovely to pass hikers on the path and then bump into them later that evening at restaurants in the next town, sharing stories of things we passed that day. The sense of camaraderie with the other hikers was palpable, all heading to the same city, from all across the world.
The Camino was the longest continuous hike we’d ever done before, and enjoyed the quiet and slower rhythm away from our typical non-stop travel routine.
This also was by far one of our favorite excursions to date. The beauty of the path, the deep tradition of the pilgrimage, the food, and friendly travelers – we loved it all. We would highly recommend this hike and plan on someday coming back to do the full 30 day version.
Bonus if you have time at the end in Santiago. After visiting the cathedral we really enjoyed the Museo Peregrinaciones – a history of the pilgrimage people have made. A fun way to wrap up the journey. Also if you didn’t see our video highlight of this hike – see it here.