So you have made the decision to walk the Camino de Santiago. The next step is to decide which Camino you are going to walk and what your starting point will be. To some this may seem silly, but many of us do not have the ability to get 6 weeks or more off of work to be able to walk the entire Camino Frances. So there are actually many people who break up the Camino into smaller more manageable bits. So, first we will discuss the traditional starting points for the more prominent Camino’s and then offer some options to split them up.
Traditional Starting Points
- Camino Frances – Saint Jean Pied de Port, France
- Camino Del Norte – Irun, Spain
- Camino Via de la Plata – Seville, Spain
- Camino Portuguese – either Lisbon or Porto, Portugal
- Chemin du Puy – The Le Puy Route – Le Puy-en-Velay, France
Camino Frances – About 75% of all pilgrims walk this very traditional pilgrim route. It traditionally begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) France. You can get to SJPP from either France or Spain.
- From France Many people fly into Paris and then take the train from Paris to SJPP. The other alternative is to fly into Paris and then fly from Paris to Biarritz. I have found in less expensive and quicker to fly then take the train but some people really enjoy having the opportunity to see the French countryside. Once in Biarritz you can either take the local train to SJPP or use Express Bouricott to transport you to SJPP.
- From Spain most people fly into Madrid and then either take a bus or the train to Pamplona. There is a bus station conveniently located right at the airport for bus travel to many cities in Spain. It is also possible, depending on the airline that you choose, to get a connecting flight from Madrid to Pamplona with your original ticket. Once in Pamplona you have several options as to how to get the SJPP. The first option would be to take the ALSA bus. Depending on the time of year you choose to go there are up to 2 bus’s per day that go between Pamplona and SJPP. The Second option is to take a taxi. The taxi’s are expensive, costing roughly 100€. However, sometimes you can share the taxi with up to 3 other people making it more cost effective. Finally, you can use a pickup and delivery service such as Corazon Puro. They will pick you up from the bus/train station, or airport, in Pamplona, and drive you to spend an evening at their Pension in Pamplona. They will feed you dinner, answer any questions you might have about your Camino, and in the morning, after breakfast, they will drive you around 50 minutes to SJPP to begin your journey.
Camino del Norte – Irun, Spain is the traditional starting point for the Camino Del Norte. You can get to Irun either from Spain or France.
- From France most people fly into Paris and then on to Biarritz. From Biarritz there is a bus route starting from the Airport, the ATCRB runs a regular bus route to Hendaye, stopping at Biarritz-La Négresse train station and then in the towns of Bidart, Guéthary, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and finally Hendaye. It is a short 1/2 mile walk to Irun from Hendaye. The bus ride is approximately 1 hour. Find bus schedules here
- From Spain – There are several options when traveling through Spain. You can fly to Madrid and take either a Bus or a Train to Irun. The trip is about 6 hours, plus or minus. Fly into Bilbao and take a train or a bus. A bus from Bilbao to Irun takes roughly 2 hrs.
Camino Via de la Plata – Seville is the traditional starting place for the Camino Via de la Plata. There is a high speed train from Madrid to Seville. It take roughly two hours. Fly into Madrid take the big yellow express bus directly to the Atocha train station from the airport and then take the train to Seville.
Camino Portuguese – Fly into either Porto or Lisbon, Portugal, to start the Camino Portugués.
Chemin du Puy – From Paris you will take the train to Le Puy-en-Velay, France, the starting point of this Camino.
For those pilgrims with less time available
For many pilgrims, the ability or opportunity to secure 6 weeks vacation is simply just not possible. That should not stop you from walking the Camino. First and most importantly! We all walk our own Camino in our own way. So, if you only have 2,3 or even 4 weeks and feel called to the Camino, find a starting point that works for you. Saint Jean pied du Port is the traditional starting point. According to the most widely used guidebook written in English by John Brierly it takes 34 total days to walk the entire Camino. This is just a number. If it takes you a longer or shorter time that is great. Based upon the 34 day guide if you were to start in Burgos you would walk 21 days to get to Santiago. If you started in Leon it would take roughly 14 days to walk to Santiago. Lastly, to receive your Compostela you must walk at least 100 km. Traditionally, that means starting in Sarria. The majority of all pilgrims who complete the Camino Frances start their Camino in Sarria. It is roughly 100 km from Sarria to Santiago. It takes about 5 days. A great starter and amazing accomplishment for any new pilgrim.
You might also consider walking the Camino Portuguese from Porto as it only takes between 12 to 14 days to make the full Camino.
It is important to add at least 2 days on the front side of your journey to travel from the United State to your starting point. I would recommend adding at least 3 days onto the end of your journey. I think it is worth it to spend at least two days in Santiago which leaves one travel day home. So all in all if you have two weeks you should plan on walking about 10 days.
Have you walked a different Camino? Could you tell us how you decided where you would fly into and how you would get to your starting point?