Have you ever heard of the Camino de Santiago? Extending across the French Pyrenees, this historic Spanish trail was the stomping grounds of over 300,000 visitors in 2017 alone. Also known as the “Way of Saint James,” the Camino de Santiago has morphed from a holy Catholic site to a hiker’s paradise. Take a look at the ultimate guide to hiking Camino de Santiago.

Preparing for El Camino de Santiago

You might be wondering: what is the Camino de Santiago anyway? Basically, the Way of Saint James is an ancient path that devout Catholics took during their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Since the ninth century, the Camino has been traveled upon by royalty, government leaders, and pilgrims. Why? According to author Beth Jusino, “Walking the Camino is a chance to intentionally slow down and move at a human pace, to join a history that’s so much bigger than any of us individually.”

So, how do you get there? Although you can walk along the Camino de Santiago at any time of the year, the best months to visit are April, May, June, September, and October. Pro tip? Make sure that you don’t visit the Camino Francés trail during the winter, as it’s usually covered by layers of snow. Plus, a ton of “albergues,” or hostels, are closed at that time of the year as well. Bonus points if you plan your trip during the special Semana Santa holiday!

After you’ve planned your trip, it’s time to get your hiking gear together. First of all, the most important thing that you need to pack is some solid hiking boots. Since you’re going on a 500-mile trek, you’ll definitely want to keep a few things in mind: arch support, breathable fabric, and lightweight material. Think about which season (dry, wet, heat, snow) that you’re planning to travel to the Camino and pack accordingly. Want some expert advice? Jusino suggested that you test out your shoes before your trip, walking a couple of miles a day with a loaded backpack.

Camino de Santiago Routes

Here’s the deal: there are several winding routes on the Camino that you can choose from, so it might be smart to invest in a Camino de Santiago map just in case. That being said, more than 60 percent of travelers choose to venture along the Camino Francés. Also known as the “French Way,” the Camino Francés spans from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. Want to know the best part? There are a bunch of albergues, restaurants, and travel guides available on this route. Expect to spend a month walking on this gorgeous path.

Another popular route on the Camino de Santiago is the Camino del Norte. Traveling across Spain’s northern coastline, Camino del Norte begins in the town of Irún, Spain and winds throughout the cities of Bilbao, Santander, and Oviedo. Punctuated by breath-taking cliffs and small fisherman huts, this route has way less lodging and eateries than the other paths. That means that you should pack your own food. On average, you can expect to spend 35 days hiking this trail.

If you’re looking to travel the Camino de Santiago from Portugal, then the Camino Portugués is the route for you. Referred to as the “Portuguese Way,” the Camino Portugués is the most mellow hiking trail due to its flat, even terrain. This path passes through the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto and eventually ends up in Spain. Not to mention the incredible views of the Atlantic ocean that can be spotted on this route. Just watch out for the motorways!

Hiking the Camino de Santiago

Before you leave on your Spanish pilgrimage, there are a few additional things that you should know about the Camino de Santiago. For those who have walked over 62 miles before they hit the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, they’ll receive a Compostela, or certification that you finished your hike. Remember to make it to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela earlier in the day, since there’s typically a very long line.

It gets better: you can even receive a Credencial del Peregrino, or “pilgrim passport” to make your pilgrimage official. Of course, it’s always fun to get your passport stamped and verified at the Pilgrims Reception Office in Santiago, Spain. Benefits of having a pilgrim passport include hostel and restaurant discounts. If you’re an American traveler, then you can buy a pilgrim passport at the American Pilgrims on the Camino at the beginning of your walk.

What happens if you get lost on the Camino de Santiago? Fortunately, there are many Scallop Shell markers placed on the trail to lead the way. When in doubt, just follow the Scallop Shell marker. While many types of pilgrims make the journey along the Camino, most of them do it on their own as a sort of soul-searching expedition. However, it’s standard for multiple solo explorers to join up together into small groups.

As stated by Jusino, “The Camino is a unique blend of physical challenge and cultural holiday. It’s more than simply hiking for sport.” Jusino continued, “You become part of a community from all around the world who come together for a shared purpose, and those [people] quickly start to feel like family.” Now that you’ve read the ultimate guide to Camino de Santiago, you’re ready to start your adventure!