Two weeks ago 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.
The trip had been organized through a company called G Adventures, and prior to taking off they sent me a detailed itinerary with an outline of how the hike was going to be. This was a great planning tool and allowed me to gain a basic idea of the distances each day and the towns we would pass through along the route. In this post 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!