Lace up your boots, we’re in for an adventure! 116km by foot kind of adventure. Over rolling hills of lush grass and past golden fields of wheat, through ancient stone villages and with greetings from friendly locals at every turn.
El Camino de Santiago, or The Way, is an absolute classic European pilgrimage and a perfect hike for those looking to get out and explore.
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Our trip began from the quiet town of Sarria with six days and 116km to go. The morning was fresh and clear, not too cold but just not quite warm enough for shorts. I knew that the Spanish sun would soon heat up the air and had my change of clothes ready.
Our group was made up of seven others including our chief experience officer (CEO) Lalo, a local from Santiago de Compostela, and an amazing advocate for the wonderful history and landscape of the region. After a quick briefing on the days distance and highlights we were off.
It’s amazing how hiking brings strangers together. There is something special about being on the same trail, heading in the same direction, that allows one another to open up to each other and share their stories.
Within the first few hours I had gotten a good idea of the first impression personalities from everyone the group and we were all jovial and excited to be part of this adventure together. Most were British, but we were also joined by two Canadians and one Kiwi.
By lunch of the first day we were moving at a pretty good pace. The itinerary with G Adventures is broken up first into two difficult(ish) days, followed by two easy days, then one difficult, and the last an easy arrival day into Stantiago.
There is also a departure day and tour arrival day included to introduce and say goodbye without rushing the tour. Overall it is designed really well, and albeit slightly challenging, it was nothing we couldn’t handle.
I have decided to write this piece as an overall review style of the El Camino experience with G Adventures. I will dive into more detail later in this article.
The tour was led by local leader Lalo and he was basically our walking encyclopaedia. He also works as a National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures guide and was an incredible resource with detailed explanations to all of our ranging questions.
I know the G guides are usually top notch and Lalo was no exception. It was a treat to be walking El Camino with him and everyone in our group felt it.
The accommodation was standard and comfortable, but by no means four star. We each had a room to share (unless you book My Own Room) and each hotel was nice. We saw a lot of other hikers staying at Peregrino Albergues and honestly I was happy to not be sharing with 50 other snoring and stinking hikers, this was a bonus.
The food on the tour was great!! Galicia (north western state of Spain) is known for incredible cuisine and it did not disappoint. From Pulpo (octopus), to roasted peppers, fresh bread, olive oil, crisp salad, ripe and juicy tomatoes, everything was exceptional and delicious. A hearty breakfast followed by minimum 15km walking builds up quite the appetite and we were all so impressed with the quality and quantity of the food, and the prices!!! Amazing.
Spain in general is a diverse and beautiful country and Galicia state matches this reputation. The scenery was breath-taking, the towns cute and quaint, the local villagers friendly and welcoming, and the gem at the end of the road, Santiago de Compostela, incredible!
One of my personal highlights from the tour was getting to know the others in our group as well as passing and speaking with other hikers along the way. These people are from all over the world, from all different walks (get it) of life and it was amazing to hear their stories and to be part of everyone going in the same direction, all with the same destination in mind.
El Camino is hiked for all different reasons and it seems that everyone is inspired. Whether it be by the challenge of the distance, by an inner desire, or for religious reasons. There is something here for everyone and everyone is here for something, and there is one common saying you must always remember, Buen Camino!!
The Three Main Stages of an Eight-Day Camino Hike
I set out to walk 116km over 6 days through the final stretch of the famed El Camino, or The Way, in north western Spain. It was a big undertaking and even though I am in relatively good shape, love hiking and being outdoors, 116 in 6 days is a big push.
I want to give you an idea of what I believe are the 3 main stages of the final 6 days.
Stage 1: The First 2 Big Ones
Upon arrival in Spain your actual first day is just an introduction and meeting with the tour leader and other group members. It’s relatively chilled and for us took place in the centre of Lugo.
The real challenge starts the next day (officially day 2 of the tour, but day 1 of hiking) and this is only the first, the second day of hiking is equally as challenging, which is why I gropued them together as stage 1.
Let us begin 23km from the quaint town of Sarria to Portomarin. I know most of you have likely done 23 in one day but I’ll delve into a bit of the details.
With a normal pace through rolling hillsides and good weather we should be able to do this in about 6-8 hours. That means a departure at 8am or earlier and arrival sometime around 15:00-16:00 just in time to check into the hotel have a shower and a mini break before a classic 9pm Spanish dinner.
This first day took us through the beautiful villages of Barbadelo, Renta, and Ferreiros, as well as many farm steads, past fields of wheat and corn. It was a great walk and nice introduction to the area, history, and other group members.
Day 2 (of hiking) was another big one and why I’ve bunched it together with Day 1. Portomarin to Palas de Rei, 24km through rolling ascents and decents and really beautiful scenery overall. The Way tends to go through the forests and along farmer villages, hardly every following a major road. It is a big undertaking to immediately walk another 24km after 23km the day before, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my feet were a little sore after the hike was complete.
Luckily though after another 6-8 hours walking you reach Palas de Rei with the knowledge that the next stage is a bit more relaxing and less of an intense push forward. Enter Stage 2.
Stage 2: The Middle St’ages’
The next two days of hiking are shorter distances which immediately makes them less daunting and overall a bit easier. It is also a nice break for the feet and allows people time to focus on gear and blisters, or catching up on photography. On day 3 of hiking we set out from Palas de Rei to Melide, about 15km.
That walk is a gorgeous stroll through Galician hills ending in the stunning medieval town of Melide. There are great restaurant options and architecture to admire. The early arrival makes for some much needed free time and allows you a chill afternoon in a beautiful location.
On day 4, after a nice rested arvo, we head out from Melide to Arzua, only 13km. It’s funny that on a normal day if I wanted to walk 13km in one stretch I might find that relatively far, but after two full 20+km days, 13 is a walk in the park. And really it feels relatively light and fun, it’s an easy stroll after your rest day to Melide and makes for a great chance to catch up with the group and meet others travellers along The Way. Don’t get too comfortable through because the final stage is about to begin!!
Stage 3: The Final Countdown
The last two days are the big push. After your middle stages of relatively easy distances it’s time to tie up those laces and go for gold. The second last day is another big one with 23km from Arzua to Amenal. This day also had a lot of ups and downs with a couple of stream crossings (with bridges) and even a highway crossing. It’s a giant push but well worth it as you get ever closer to the final destination.
Once arrived in Amenal you can almost sense the city of Santiago just over the hills in the distance. There is a great feeling within the group of excitement and anticipation for the final day to come.
On day 6 of hiking it’s an early morning start for the final 15kms into the heart of Santiago de Compostela. This doesn’t seem like an incredible distance, but you are walking among city life once again and have to make your way into the urban area through a maze of streets and suburbs. It’s somewhat hectic but luckily our local guide knew exactly where to go and kept us on the more tame parts of the Way leading into town.
Finally you begin to enter Santiago old town and the historic essence of this timeless pilgrimage begins to take shape. Surrounded by people from all walks of life, some crying, some hugging, everyone happy, filled with joy to have completed an immense personal challenge for reasons only they know. It is a powerful end to an incredible adventure and something you can only experience for yourself, it is a feeling difficult to put into words.
That afternoon we had a tour of the cathedral, visited the old town markets and had an amazing final dinner with the group and local guide. It was a perfect end to the final stage and the trip overall. El Camino final 6 days, complete!
The cathedral is a sight of immense beauty and a solid image portraying of the power of The Way. This is El Camino de Santiago and no matter why you choose to walk a portion of the route, the final destination has a sense of meaning and belonging that is hard to put into words. You must simply feel it for yourself.