One of the best trips I did in 2022 was hiking the Portuguese Camino. I would say it is one of my favorite vacations that I’ve ever done!
I hiked the 280 km from Porto to Santiago de Compostella in 13 days. It was challenging, but very rewarding. And most of all: it was a lot of fun. The route along the coast was beautiful, the people friendly, and the food tasty.
If you’re looking for an active vacation with a bit of culture sprinkled in, I highly recommend hiking the Way of St. James. Although this pilgrimage doesn’t require a lot of planning, there are a few things you should know about hiking the Portuguese Camino.
Why do people hike the Camino?
There are a lot of different reasons why someone might want to hike the Camino. Traditionally, it is a religious pilgrimage. The Camino started as a route that pilgrims took to the shrine of the apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. In the Middle Ages, it was common to take a pilgrimage to a holy place, either for penance, for healing or spiritual growth.
And that reason still holds up today. Many modern day pilgrims do the Camino for spiritual and religious reasons. For some, it stems from the Christian (Catholic) faith, but it also attracts pilgrims of different faiths and spiritual denominations. Many consider it a way to come closer to yourself or God.
However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be religious to walk the Way of St. James. It can also simply be a personal challenge, a fitness goal, or a something on your travel bucket list.
I met many people on the Camino who had recently quit their job, ended a relationship or overcame hardship. For them, the Camino offered a time for solitude, reflection, and escape. A way to figure out their next steps.
But there were also plenty of people who were simply on vacation, like me. As an avid hiker, walking the Camino de Santiago had been a longstanding goal. It is one of the most famous trails in the world, and it draws travelers from all over the globe.
When I read about the Portuguese Way in a Lonely Planet book called Epic Hikes of Europe, I was immediately sold. The length of two weeks seemed perfect for me, the chance to explore a new part of Portugal and Spain appealed to me, and the road itself looked gorgeous. I booked my trip just a couple of weeks later.
I didn’t have any religious reason to hike the Camino, nor was it a spiritual experience for me. It simply ended up being a lot of fun and a great vacation. It was physically challenging, though, and I did feel very proud of myself for finishing it.
So any reason for hiking the Camino is a good reason!
What makes the Portuguese Camino different from the other routes?
You might not know this, but there actually isn’t just one Camino. In fact, the Camino is a network of connected trails running throughout Europe, all eventually leading to Santiago de Compostella.
You could start your pilgrimage pretty much anywhere on the continent, and I did meet a few people who had simply started from their house. Next time you’re in Europe, keep an eye out for the blue shells marking the Way of St. James, you’ll notice them everywhere.
However, when most people hear “the Camino”, they think of the French Way. This route is by far the most famous. It starts in the south of France and goes over the Pyrenees and through northern Spain. The French Way is the most popular and crowded and takes between 4-5 weeks.
There are six other well established routes, such as the Camino del Norte (the Northern Way), Camino Primitivo (the Original Way), Via de la Plata (the Silver Way), Camino Inglés (the English Way) and Camino Finisterre-Muxía. And the Camino Portugués (the Portuguese Way) of course.
The Portuguese Camino is rising in popularity, because it is such a beautiful route to take. It starts in Porto (or Lisbon) and runs along the northern Portuguese coast to the Spanish border. Here is splits in two. One route goes east through the inland of Galicia, the other goes west along the coast. I picked the coastal route, since it is a little bit quieter and it gave me a chance to visit friends who live in Vigo. I was very happy with my choice, as the Galician Coast is stunning!
In general, the Camino Portugues is very well established. There are plenty of accommodations and restaurants along the way, making it easy to determine your itinerary day by day. It is not as full as the French Way, so you don’t have to worry about hostels running out of space and get plenty of solitude. Because you keep running into the same people, it is easy to establish a sense of community and make friends.
The part in northern Portugal was my favorite. Locals were very friendly and the trails were well maintained. Long stretches were made up of wooded boardwalks, which were very pleasant to walk on. In Galicia, the trail more often goes along busy roads and on asphalt.
To me, the Portuguese Camino is the best route. And many people I met who walked multiple Caminos preferred it as well.
How long do I need to hike the Portuguese Camino?
How long you will need to hike the Portuguese Camino depends on your speed. Generally, people take between 12-14 days to walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostella. It took me 13 days to walk to roughly 280 km distance, you can read the exact itinerary here.
However, I met some very ambitious people who did it in 10 days or less. Keep in mind that this requires an average distance of 30 km or more a day. That might not sound like a lot, but unless you’re very well-trained and experienced; it is. If this is your first Camino, I would recommend sticking to an average of 20 km a day. It is also good to factor in a few rest days, in case of injury.
The last factor in determining how long you need to hike the Portuguese Camino is which route you pick. The Coastal Route, which I took, is about 20 km longer than the inland route. You could even start your Camino in Lisbon, in which case it will be 630 km in total, which takes at least 30 days.
Do I need to train for the Portuguese Camino?
Something you probably want to know about hiking the Portuguese Camino is if you need to train. Well, that depends. If you’re young and reasonably fit, then you probably don’t need to train. I’m not particularly athletic and don’t work out regularly, but I managed to walk the Camino without much training. The Portuguese Camino, specifically, is mostly flat terrain and less asphalt than the other routes.
I recommend doing some cardio and strength training in the months leading up to your hike. You want to make sure you’re in the right shape to walk around 20 km a day (or however much you’re planning to do).
If you have any injuries or health concerns, please consult with a doctor or physical therapist beforehand. I am prone to shin splints and bought a pair of compression sleeves for my legs, which helped a lot. A lot of people also used trekking poles.
Even more important that working out, is to do a practice hike. Do at least one day hike of the distance you’re planning to walk on average during your Camino, and one overnight hike. That way, you can get used to the feeling and learn how to pace yourself and spread your energy over the day. You should also do at least one day hike with your full backpack, to experience that.
For me, something different hurt every day while hiking the Portuguese Camino. The second day it was my legs, the third my hips, the fourth my shoulders and on day eight I got blisters. But it was never so bad that I couldn’t go on or take a rest day to recover.
How can I plan my Camino?
The first thing to know about hiking the Portuguese Camino is how to plan your trip. To start, you need to pick the route, or at least the starting point. Most people start the Portuguese Way in Porto and follow the inland route to Santiago de Compostella. However, it is also possible to start all the way in Lisbon. This will double your Camino in length.
Many of the people I met said the first part from Lisbon to Porto wasn’t as much fun as the second part. So unless you have your heart set on a long trek, I would start in Porto.
I personally also recommend taking the Coastal Route along the Galician coast. This is a little longer than the inland road, but absolutely beautiful. It is also less crowded, making it more comfortable to walk. But you don’t have to decide on this until you read Caminha, the last stop in Portugal.
Once you have a starting point picked, you can plan a rough itinerary and book transport. Consider your experience and fitness level when determining how long you’ll need to walk the Camino, and add a couple of rest days and a day or two to explore Porto and Santiago. When booking my flights to Porto and from Santiago de Compostella, I planned that I would walk around 20 km a day, with 2 rest days and a day to explore on each end. I ultimately only ended up using one rest day, which left me with an extra day to spend in Santiago de Compostella.
Other than that, you don’t really need to plan much, unless you want to use a luggage transport service. This requires establishing a firm itinerary and pre-booking your accommodation.
Of course, this is all for people who want to do the Camino all by themselves. If this idea seems daunting to you, or you don’t feel like doing all the planning yourself, you can always go through a travel agency or book a guided tour. However, planning and hiking the Portuguese Camino by yourself is really easy!
What is the best time to hike the Portuguese Way?
I chose to hike the Portuguese Camino in May/June 2022. The main reason for this was that I could make use of a few bank holidays, so I didn’t need to take as many vacation days.
Spring is also the best time to hike the Camino, as the weather is mild and relatively dry. No one likes to hike in blazing heat or endless rain. The peak season for the Camino is April-June and September-November. These months offer the best weather conditions.
You could of course hike in the winter, but a lot of the hostels and restaurants will be closed. I also wouldn’t recommend summer, as it will be much too hot to walk for hours a day. I had 30 C weather on one of my hiking days, and it was exhausting. It is also dangerous as you might get heat stroke.
Another upside of hiking the Portuguese Camino in the spring or fall, is that you’re there in the shoulder season of the regular tourism. Which means that prices are lower and accommodations don’t book out.
How expensive is the Portuguese Camino?
Hiking is one of the most affordable ways to travel, since walking is literally free. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly, active vacation, then hiking the Portuguese Camino is perfect for you. Portugal is one of the most affordable vacation destinations in Europe. The cost of living is relatively low here (as are the salaries!), so even for tourists, it’s easy to travel in Portugal on a budget.
If you’re a budget traveler, you will probably want to know how expensive hiking the Portuguese Camino is, which depends on the level of comfort. If you’re happy to stay in dorms in pilgrim hostels, eat basic meals, and buying your own snacks, then it can be very cheap. I spent roughly €20-€25 a day when I walked the Camino.
You can, of course, make it more expensive. If you prefer to stay in private rooms in guesthouses or hotels, those are also available along the Camino. If you do this, you can even opt for a luggage service that will transport your bags for you. This obviously costs money as well.
And while I ate in local hole-in-the-wall restaurants, you can opt for more luxury restaurants in many towns that you pass. In Portugal, a simple lunch would cost around €5-10 and a coffee or a glass of wine as cheap as €1-2. Spain was a little more expensive than Portugal. With meals and drinks in Spain costing €2-3 more on average.
I usually spent my afternoons relaxing after finishing my hike for the day, reading, lounging or walking around. However, in some of the bigger towns there are museums, churches and more to see that might require an admission fee. I ended up spending the most money in Porto and Santiago de Compostella at the beginning and end of my trip, because I did more sightseeing and tours.
What type of accommodation can I book for the Portuguese Camino?
The Portuguese Way is one of the newer routes, but it is very established in terms of accommodations. There are plenty of hotels, hostels and guesthouses available, so you’ll always have a place to sleep. Even if you don’t book in advance!
Depending on your budget and travel style, you can choose the type of accommodation most suited to you. You should know your options when hiking the Portuguese Camino.
The classic option is the pilgrim hostel. These hostels are operated by churches and municipalities and exclusively available to people hiking the Camino. Pilgrim hostels generally cost €8-15 a night and are very basic. You get a bed in a dorm, shared bathrooms and sometimes a common room and kitchen. These hostels cannot be booked in advance and do not accept luggage drop-offs. To get a bed here, you just need to show up on time. They usually open around 13:00/14:00, and it’s first come, first served. Once they are full, you’ll have to find a different place to stay. Pilgrim hostels usually have a curfew of 22:00, and you have to check out by 08:00. I do recommend staying here at least a couple of times for the quintessential Camino pilgrim experience.
If this isn’t your cup of tea, there are also plenty of regular hostels along the Camino. These work just as everywhere else and can be booked in advance. The level of comfort depends on the hostel, and some offer private rooms as well as dorms. Some of these are really fun, and worth staying at instead of a pilgrim hostel, even if they’re a little bit more expensive.
For more luxury and privacy, you can of course book local hotels, B&B’s and guesthouses. There are plenty of option on the Portuguese Camino from 2 to 5 stars. If you’re staying here, you can use a luggage transport service.
How is the food on the Camino?
Now, for the most important part: the food. Depending on your budget and dietary preferences, you can have really great or very average food during your Camino.
Most of the time, you’re walking through small towns with limited options for food. Most restaurants along the Camino cater to hikers with special pilgrim menus. These are simple but filling meals at a great price. Expect lots of carbs and limited vegetables, don’t be surprised if you’re served rice and fries on a single plate. Bigger towns will have a wider variety of restaurants at different price points.
As a vegetarian, my options were pretty limited. Vegetarianism isn’t exactly wide-spread in rural Portugal and Spain, and I often had to request it specifically. However, all were happy to make me something without meat or fish, usually an omelet. I’ve never eaten so many eggs in my life. If you’re a vegan, you’re going to have to a very hard time. I recommend bringing a lot of snacks and cooking simple meals.
If you’re a fan of fish, you’re in for a treat. Since you’re walking along the coast, there is an abundance of fresh fish and seafood.
I wasn’t sure what the food situation was going to be like, so I bought some staples to cook with in Porto before I started. This turned out to be completely unnecessary extra weight. Not all pilgrim hostels have a kitchen, but some do. This means you could cook some of your own meals. However, considering the low cost of pilgrim meals compared to the cost of ingredients, this isn’t really worth it. In one place, a couple of friends I made on the hike and I had a little picknick with snacks from the supermarket.
I do recommend getting some snacks like protein bars, nuts, and fruit. You’re burning a lot of calories while hiking the Portuguese Camino, and it’s nice to take a snack break now and then. For cheap and easy lunches, you can buy some bread and cheese from a supermarket. However, there are cafés and street vendors conveniently placed all along the Camino, always showing right as you’re getting hungry or thirsty.
While you’re going to want to drink a lot of water, especially on warm days, you don’t need to carry it all with you. Especially along the road in Portugal, there were ample water fountains. And every bar or café I passed was happy to fill up my bottle for me. So a 500 ml to 750 ml reusable water bottle is plenty.
What should I pack for the Portuguese Way?
Speaking of packing too much food, you’re going to want to pack as light as possible for hiking the Portuguese Camino. Walking 20 km a day might seem easy, but don’t forget that you’re carrying a backpack!
As a general rule, your bag shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your body weight. If you cannot imagine packing that light or carrying that much stuff, you can always opt for a luggage transport service.
However, the “real” way to do the Camino is by backpacking. And packing light for the Camino is easier than you might expect. You really only need 3 outfits: two to hike in and one to relax in. After all, everyone will be sweaty, so you won’t stand out. Comfort is key on the Camino!
If you need a little help deciding what to bring, you can check my packing guide for women for the Camino, which includes a packing list to download for free! The most important thing is to get the right shoes. I highly recommend a pair of good trail runners.
How can I receive my Camino Compostella Certificate?
Walking 280 km is no easy feat! So of course, you’ll want to show off your accomplishment. Aside from taking lots of pictures, you can also get an official certificate to show that you hiked the Portuguese Camino.
This certificate is called the Compostella, named after the finishing point of the Camino: Santiago de Compostella. You obtain this certificate after completing your pilgrimage and arriving in Santiago de Compostella. It is completely free, but there are a few requirements.
First, you need a pilgrim passport. You can get this at the starting point of your trip. In Porto, it is at the Cathedral. The passport costs €2, and you’ll need to fill in your name and contact information. You will use the passport to collect stamps along the way. You need to collect at least two a day (more if you’re doing the Camino on bicycle or horseback).
But don’t worry, these stamps are easy to come by. Accommodations, churches, museums, tourist information points, restaurants and cafés all give them out. So just stop in anywhere and ask. It’s also a fun way to remember all the places you stopped for a break or spent the night.
While the full Portuguese Way is 280 km, you only need to walk the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostella to qualify for the certificate. That’s why this stretch is much busier than the rest.
Once you arrive in Santiago de Compostella with your filled out pilgrim passport, go to the Pilgrim Reception Office. It will probably be busy here, and you could be waiting for a few hours to get your certificate. So I recommend checking in having a break first. You don’t need to do this right away, you can even do it the day after you arrive.
At the Pilgrim Office, they will check your passport and issue the Compostella. It’s free, but you can pay extra to have them print the distance you walked as well. Once you have it in hand, I recommend going to the Cathedral to attend Pilgrim Mass. It’s the perfect way to end your Camino.
As you can tell, there’s a lot to know about hiking the Portuguese Camino. This is one of those adventures that requires a little planning for the best result. It’s essential to know roughly where to go, what to pack, and what to expect on a trip like hiking the Camino. It will make your pilgrimage a lot more enjoyable.
But don’t over plan! One of the things that makes this Camino so fun, is the flexibility and freedom. You can do it all without booking anything in advance. In fact, I met plenty of people who shortened or extended their hike. Hopefully, all my advice will help you have the best Camino possible.
And if you are left with questions, feel free to leave a comment!
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