A steady stream of pilgrims make their way to the Cathedral of Santiago A steady stream of pilgrims make their way to the Cathedral of Santiago

Walking the Camino

Since the 820s, when the tomb of St James the Apostle (Santiago in Spanish) was discovered in Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, pilgrims have made their way on foot to the mythical city.
The end point is the Cathedral of Santiago and pilgrims start arriving daily from mid-morning, having walked an average of 25km a day – some for months, others for a few days – to earn a certificate (compostela) proving they have completed at least 100kms of the Way of St James or Camino de Santiago.

And although 300,000 walk the ways annually, Kiwis officially numbered just 536 of them last year. But, despite the distance from down under, the appeal is there: good food and wine, the outdoors, friendly people and, of course, the history.
When asked why Kiwis should consider walking the camino instead of Italy’s Cinque Terre or the Himalayas in Nepal, independent tour guide Desiree Vidal Juncal says is it the about the facilities and support that walkers have along the routes.
‘In the middle of nowhere you can find a bar and somewhere to rest. It’s also about authenticity and the people – locals and fellow walkers alike. We get a lot of repeat visitors who return to walk a different way.’
Pilgrims spoken to by TRAVELinc Memo while in Santiago de Compostela this week, agree.
Robert from Belgium was on his fourteenth walk when we caught up with him at the End of the World at the cape on Camino de Fisterra. ‘It’s less touristy and cheaper than walking in Italy, I like Spanish wine and food, the accommodation is good and you meet fantastic people.’
While some walkers are making a religious pilgrimage, more often than not the ways are more of a spiritual experience, an opportunity to take time out for personal reflection.
It was Steve from Sydney’s first walk on the camino  – 38 days and one million steps. ‘It started as a challenge and became a spiritual pilgrimage, ‘ he says. ‘I’m amazed that I’ve walked in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims before me and that millions more will follow.’
There are six main ways into Santiago de Compostela: the English, Northern, Primitive, French, Southeast and Portuguese, as well as the Route of Sea of Arousa-Ulla River and the Camino Fisterra, which starts in Santiago de Compostela and heads to the End of the World on the Atlantic Coast. Walkers can start anywhere along the routes depending on how long they wish to walk.
Accommodation ranges from the government-run albergues (hostels) for as less than 10 euros a night to the five-star paradors in converted historical buildings.