Friday 19 October 2018

Six alternatives to the Camino: Beat the crowds on the world's greatest walk

The majority of pilgrims take the French Way, but Nicola Brady has six other suggestions for tackling the world’s greatest walk...

End of the road at Cape Finisterre
End of the road at Cape Finisterre
The Camino del Norte from San Sebastian
Lugo on the Camino Primitivo. Photo: Caminoways.com
The cathedral at Santiago
Ruta Maritima with Camino by the Way
Cape Finisterre
Cycling the Camino. Photo: Caminoways.com

Nicola Brady

Done the French Way? Glutton for punishment? Nicola Brady picks six alternatives to Spain's most popular Camino.

For Walkaholics: Santiago to Finisterre

So you’ve reached Santiago. You’ve gone to mass. You’ve swapped war stories with your fellow pilgrims. But what if you’re not ready for it all to be over? Well, then get those hiking boots back on and head out to Finisterre (pictured above). The only Camino de Santiago route that actually starts in the city, this walk takes you to Cape Finisterre, a wild and windswept spot that was once believed to be the most western point of the world. When you get there, tradition dictates that you burn your boots and your clothes… but good luck getting a lift back to Santiago in the nip.

How: Fly into Santiago.

More: Italy's Camino: Walk a road less travelled on the Via Francigena

For waterbunnies: Ruta Maritima

Ruta Maritima with Camino by the Way IMG_20180721_121605_197.jpg
Ruta Maritima with Camino by the Way

Don’t fancy doing the whole thing on foot? The Ruta Maritima incorporates both walking and kayaking, with 35km of the route taking place on the water, and 23km on dry land. You’ll weave past gorgeous white sand beaches and heavenly waters, and stroll through forests and farmlands. It commemorates the arrival of the body of the Apostle Saint James to the Galician coast.

How: The eight-day trip costs €1,195pp with caminobytheway.com (ex. flights). 

Read more: Camino Love Affair: Why the Irish love the world's best walk

For underdogs: Via de la Plata 

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The cathedral at Santiago

Probably the least known and toughest of all the routes, Via de la Plata stretches 1,000km. If you want to take on the whole thing, you’ll be starting in Andalucia and, realistically, you’ll be looking at a good seven weeks on the road. But the final 100km is a doozy, and considered by most to be the most beautiful final stretch of them all.  How: Fly to Santiago for the final stretch.  

Read more: Kindness on the Camino: My three lessons from the world's greatest walk

For Seasoned Hikers: Camino del Norte

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The Camino del Norte from San Sebastian

If you really want to impress your fellow pilgrims in Santiago, tell them that you arrived via the infamous Camino del Norte. Known as one of the stronger routes you can tackle, the full stretch winds 827km along the coast from San Sebastián, or you can tackle the final 100km from Vilalba. Wherever you start, you’ll be challenged — this is a route for seasoned hikers.

How: Fly into Bilbao for the full route, or Santiago for the final stretch.

Read more: My quick-fix Camino

For Mountain Goats: Camino Primitivo

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Lugo on the Camino Primitivo. Photo: Caminoways.com

This was the first ever route of the Camino de Santiago, and one which was followed by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the 9th century. The final 100km shares some of its route with the French Way, but the initial stretch, which takes in harsh mountain terrain, is some of the hardest (and most rewarding) you could ask for. At 311km in total, it’s also one of the shortest full routes you can do — you could knock it out in just over two weeks.

How: Fly into Santander for the full walk.

More: Chic Camino: Take the path of the pampered in Spain

For Cyclists: English Camino

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Cycling the Camino. Photo: Caminoways.com

If you want to fly through the kilometres, then get on your bike. Cycling the Camino may be frowned upon by purists, but you’ll get a unique perspective on the route (and tone some killer thigh muscles to boot). Traditionally the favoured route for pilgrims coming from the UK and Ireland, the English Way generally starts in the coastal town of Ferrol. The trail includes a bit of rugged coastline before hitting the green fields of rural Galicia.

How: Try a four-night, self-guided cycling trip from €380pp with caminoways.com (ex. flights).

More info

For tips, guided and self-guided tours, see Caminoways.com and Caminobytheway.com.

Read more:

10 tips for the Camino de Santiago

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