The Way of St James (Camino de Santiago de Compostela) is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, located in Galicia, northweste of Spain. The pilgrimage path can be covered by walking or cycling and some routes start from Europe.
For more than 1,000 years pilgrims have traveled along the many ways to Santiago. In 1985 only 2,491 pilgrims completed the Way. Since then, the route has been increasing its attractions to pilgrims from around the globe and not pilgrims. Ten years later, 19,821 people covered the Way.
The Camino de Santiago is for everyone, young, old, fit, unfit, religious or otherwise. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987. UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site. In 2005 there were 93,921 visitors according to the city of Compostela.
In your way to Santiago from wherever place you start in Europe or Spain; the scallop shell will guide you to arrive in Santiago. Historically, the shell had also metaphorical and practical meanings for the pilgrims. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God´s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago. The pilgrims used to use the shells as an instrument to gather water from wells and rivers.
There are five main Camino pilgrimage paths in Spain: the Silver route (starting in Seville, southwest Spain 621 miles), the Northern route (starting in Irun, north of Spain 512 miles), the Portuguese route (starting in Porto, Portugal 143 miles), and the English road (starting in Coruna or Ferrol, Northern Spain 68 miles). There are more paths in Spain but these ones are the most popular.
However, the French Way is the most popular route to start for people who do their first Camino. This Camino starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, near the Pyrenees and has 484 miles distance to Santiago. You will need a document called the credencial (pilgrim’s passport) which provides cheap (between $3,7 and $8,8 per night) and sometimes free accommodation in official or municipal pilgrim hostels along the route. There are also private hostels, but they are little bit more expensive, around $12,5.
The credencial can be purchased in any Spanish tourist agency or in a confraternity in your country. The credencial provides record of where pilgrims have eaten or slept, but also is a proof to the Pilgrim´s Office in Santiago to show that the journey has been accomplished according to an official route.
The infrastructure along the French Way is very good and it is very difficult to get lost. You will spend between 7 and 10 days to complete the French Way to Santiago; it depends on how many days you stay in the Spanish cities that you will find in your route. The route passes along a few major Spanish cities such as Pamplona, Burgos and Leon.