Choosing to go on a Camino is just the first step of your journey. There will be many, many more to make, but the second one is choosing the route you are about to take. As there are dozens of them, you might have to do some reading, before you can make an educated choice. Make sure to check out some of the best Camino de Santiago forums as well, and read up on others’ experiences, and join in the discussion. Here are some of the things to consider for your Camino:
You can choose to set out from several European countries, including Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The main routes are those leading from France, Portugal and Spain itself. Depending on the total mileage you are aiming for, as well as your current location, you can choose to walk any of them.
The two shortest paths you can take are the Camino Finisterre, 87 kilometers long, or the Camino Ingles, which totals 110 kilometers. Then there are the much longer routes. In Spain, they are the Camí San Jaume, and its 600 kilometers, the Camino de Levante, which is 900 kilometers long, and finally the Via de la Plata, and the thousand kilometers leading into Santiago de Compostela. In France, you can go for the Chemin du Puy and its 740 kilometers, the most popular Camino Frances, 790 kilometers in total, or even the Chemin de Paris, and its 1000 kilometers.
Make sure you do not overestimate your fitness levels, or the time it will take you to complete a route.
Speaking of fitness levels, this is definitely a factor you need to consider. You may feel up for 300 kilometers, but in reality, this is rather a long way to go. Even if you do feel fit, bear in mind that you will be walking, not lifting. If you are younger and healthy, you should be able to tackle even some of the longest routes. Again, bear in mind that some of them have more challenging bits than others, even though they are shorter. For example, the French Way is both long, and has a rather difficult stretch as well, after you have reached the Meseta.
If you are traveling as a family, or if you simply don’t quite feel up for the challenge, you can choose the Portuguese Way, which is both easier, and more suited for families. Don’t think you will be missing out on anything, as the walk will take you through many picturesque fishing villages, and you will be able to sample some amazing seafood along the way.
Naturally, come of the Camino routes are more frequented than others, which is a factor you should most definitely take into account. If you would rather not mingle too much, and are looking for some solitary times, you should choose a less travelled road.
The most popular and crowded routes are the French and the Portuguese way. You will be able to meet many different pilgrims from all walks of life if you choose them, which can be a thrilling experience, if you are up for socializing.
Both of these routes also offer great accommodation options, numerous restaurants to choose from along the way, as there are villages every 5 kilometers or so, so you can stop and rest whenever you need to. You are not likely to get lost on either of them.
The French Way is also great for those walking the Camino for the first time, as there is public transportation available if you need it, and there are larger towns spread out across the road, in case you need medical assistance.
If you are planning to cycle to Santiago, you should go for the Portuguese Coastal Way, or the Northern Way, as they are most suited for this kind of experience. You should definitely avoid the French Way on wheels.
If you are looking for solitude, the Via de la Plata, or even the Camino de Invierno are perfect choices. Not many people walk them, so you can enjoy some alone time, and contemplate.
Whichever way you choose, make sure to pack the right gear, and to prepare yourself, both physically and mentally, for the experience. If you are going alone, make sure you can be found, and if you are going with a family, make sure to encourage each other, and make the most of this unique experience.