Last updated: October, 2016
The Camino de Santiago is a set of historic pilgrimage routes from France, Spain and Portugal to Santiago de Campostela, Spain. While it has its origins in religious practice, many (including me) walk the routes for more general spiritual and personal enrichment reasons.
I chose to walk the Camino Portugues da Costa, which hugs the Atlantic coast until merging with the traditional Portuguese route near Redondela, Spain. I started in Porto, Portugal and walked a total of 282 kilometers (175 statute miles) to Santiago over a 12 day period. Many of the days were spent walking alone, in near isolation, interacting with only a few other hikers and locals along the way. It was both peaceful and exhilarating to walk the coast with the sights, sounds, and smells of the sea. The scenery, history, food and people along the route were wonderful.
I can heartily recommend this route in particular and the Camino in general as a positive and rewarding experience.
My GPS tracker KML files are below. They can be viewed in Google Earth and other compatible applications.
You will be walking distances of 18 to 32 kilometers per day (11 to 20 miles) on the Camino. Including the short breaks to get a passo (pilgrim passport stamp), refreshment, and talk to other walkers, this is 5 to 8 hours on your feet every day. Start walking, and slowly work up to that distance and duration. Learn how to take care of foot issues. There will be foot issues.
Some folks love the uncertainty of finding ad-hoc lodging in hostels or albergues each day along the way. And carrying the full backpacks necessary to have the sleeping bags, gear and several days worth of clothes. Other folks pre-book their lodging and use luggage forwarding so that one need only carry water and the bare essentials in a day pack. I chose the latter, and used Follow the Camino. This outfit did very well in my estimation. No hesitation recommending them.
Porto is a cool city, with light rail direct from the airport to destinations of interest all over the city, not just another train/subway connection. Other cities should take note - this is the right way to do rail connections to your airport. New York, Boston, not there yet. Hartford, Providence, really not there yet.
The 130 year old double-deck Ponte Luis I bridge over the Douro River is very cool. The builder, Theophile Seyrig, had worked with Gustave Eiffel on other bridge projects. The top pedestrian walkway (and light rail) is 146 feet above the river. It connects the medieval Ribeira area and 12th century Cathedral (north side) to the Jardim de Morro and the church and monastery of Serra do Pilar (south side).
Vilo do Conde
I stayed at Casa Mindela, a 19th century agricultural house which is closer to the traditional than the coastal route. It's very, very nice.
Esposende is on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Cavado River. I stayed at Hotel Suave Mar. Very nice outdoor patio off the room, and great restaurant.
Viano do Castelo
Viano do Castelo has very nice parks along the Limia River, along with museums and concert halls. The large fisheries support ship Gil Eannes is also moored there as a museum and youth hostel. There's also an interesting old fort west of the Gil Eannes. Paralleling the parks, but across the main streets, are many nice restaurants.
I stayed at Hotel do Parque. A bit old-fashioned, with the large heavy keys, but still very nice. It had one of the old magnetic tape-based entertainment systems in clear view behind the check-in desk, and the corresponding remote units in the rooms. Not operating, unfortunately. The hotel is conveniently close to both the main bridge (with pedestrian walkway) into town over the Limia River and the parks and downtown area.
Vila Praia de Ancor
I arrived in this shore-side town on the same day as my employer's Farm Day celebration back in Connecticut. Well, that's what was happening here as well - an agricultural fair with farmers market, shows, donkey rides, the works. Nice coincidence. I sampled several of the local delicacies, wines, and craft beers at the event. The only rain on my trip washed out the later evening entertainment events.
The Royal Monastery at Oia is an impressive XII century structure that dominates the shore side of this small town.
I stayed at the Hotel A Raina. Kudos to the proprietors, who cooked a special dinner for me and another pilgrim. All the regular restaurants were closed due to a village celebration on the plaza out in front of the monastery. 21st century bouncy slide right in front of 12th century monastery? Yes.
This is a lovely beach town with many, many restaurants, bars, and tapas joints. The Islas CIes are visible in the distance to the north. I would not mind being stranded here for a few days....
When the Nina and Pinta returned from Columbus's first voyage to the new world, the Nina (and Columbus) were delayed in the Azores. The Pinta was the first ship to return to Europe, and its news spread like wildfire. In Baiona, they still celebrate this event and take it seriously. There's a replica of the Pinta in the harbor available to tour.
The Fortress of Monterreal is an impressive structure built from 11th through the 17th centuries. The crenellated walls are more than 3 kilometers in length.
There is a very old bridge (13th century) crossing the Rio Minor on the way out of town. This particular bridge probably replaced an earlier Roman bridge at the same location on Via Romana XX. This road was described in the 3rd century Itinerary of Antoninus.
Vigo is a very busy port and university town. Busier and more densely populated than I like, but with a great selection of places to see, and at which to eat and stay. The Islas Cies are just outside the mouth of Vigo Bay.
The shellfish industry is very important in Vigo and all around Vigo Bay. There are literally hundreds of barges and rafts, laid out in grids, to support the harvest of shellfish. You can see them in Google Earth if you look closely....
The traditional (middle) and coastal Camino Portugues routes meet here, so one begins to see more hikers.
The Isla de San Simon are at the northeast end of VIgo Bay. My hotel, the Antolin, was directly across from these islands, as close as you can get without being there....
At dawn on the day of my departure, there were hundreds of people digging for shellfish along the shores of Vigo Bay near the Isla de San Simon.
As the name implies, there's an old bridge here. The current bridge is 12th century, but built near the original Roman-era bridge.
On the way from Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis, the Camino route goes over sections of Via Romana XIX, from the time of Roman Emperor Augustus, again documented in the 3rd century Itinerary of Antoninus.
Caldas de Reis
As the name implies (if you remember your Latin or Spanish), there are natural hot springs here. One of them is piped to a traditional Iberian lavanderia (wash house), where many hikers pause to soak their feet in the 38 - 40 degree C water. I did.....
Padron / Dodro
There's a nice regional producers market on Praza de Abastos, right on the Camino route. I stayed across the Rio Sar at Pazo de Lestrove, an honest-to-goodness sixteenth century palace. It was extraordinary in all respects.
There was a wedding in progress when I trudged into the courtyard, and the videographer/photographer had set up a red carpet that actually blocked my path to the reception desk. I waited patiently to cross the carpet while they photographed bridesmaids. When they signaled for me to cross, I did, but paused on the red carpet and feigned a pose. The camera flashes went off, and I received applause.
Padron is famous for its peppers (pimientos de Padrón in Spanish, or pementos de Padron in Galician). They are delicious.
Santiago de Campostela
Santiago is a very happening place. The outskirts may not seem remarkable, but as you get closer and closer to the Cathedral, the density of bars, restaurants, and tapa joints gets greater and greater. Everyone's happy because they've finished their one to 8 week long journeys...
There are 15 universities in Santiago, several of which are adjacent to the Cathedral. Lots of young people out and about in addition to the pilgrims.
Expect long lines to get your certificates at the Pilgrim Reception Office. By the afternoon, 1.5 to 2 hours in normal. It's a great chance to talk to other hikers, and even have reunions with others you may have seen along the way. Just don't try to cut in line....