Everyone has their own reasons for walking the Camino de Santiago, aka Way of Saint James, which is part of what makes it such a special journey.
Personal reasons for walking the Camino Português vary
For many, the Camino is deeply connected to their religious beliefs and they do the pilgrimage as a form of penance, atonement or a show of devotion.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic or even a Christian to walk the Camino.
Religious or not, walking the Way of Saint James marks a turning point in many people’s lives, perhaps the end of a particular phase and a fresh start for the next.
For others, working towards a goal and the sense of achievement upon reaching the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is the greatest satisfaction. That and the certificate (compostela)!
The Camino Português as a way of exploring Portugal and Spain on foot
For me, it was not only about rising to the physical and mental challenge of walking an average of 20 km day after day.
As an insatiably curious traveller, I relished the opportunity to walk through verdant landscapes, authentic villages and historical towns and experience them in a different way from my usual travels.
I found I had time to stop and look at things that caught my eye, like these unusual haystacks, and to listen to the frogs croaking in ponds and the bright chatter of birds.
I’ve always loved the Minho region of Portugal but I welcomed the chance to explore neighbouring Galicia and notice similarities and differences between these northern regions of Spain and Portugal.
The Camino offers easy-to-follow walking routes
Having attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to follow short local walking trails in Portugal using leaflets and patchy signage, the (mostly) clear directions of the Camino were a welcome relief.
With a few minor exceptions, the Portuguese Way of St. James is marked by yellow arrows or scallop shells and locals often preempt any moments of indecision if you hover at a junction.
Not having to worry about whether or not you are heading in the right direction is one of the key attractions of walking the Camino. Even so, I managed to get lost a couple of times but if you have a good guide book or route description, it should point out these potential problems. (I was also researching and updating the route description for a Camino tour company and have made sure to mention these.)
Support while walking the Portuguese Camino
I was unprepared for, and amazed by, the sense of comradeship I encountered on the Camino. I walked some stages alone and others with a friend and met some remarkable people, some of whom I have stayed in touch with since.
The day Dori and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela we bumped into Michael, a cheerful Australian guy we’d chatted to on several occasions along the central route, which made our arrival even more special for having shared it with others.
Even those you meet only briefly can stick in your mind – we saw one poor guy wincing with every step and stopped to offer him support. He declined but this spirit of helpfulness and kindness seems to be a common theme, judging by the stories I heard from fellow walkers.
Tip: Avoid blisters by using the right footwear.
Note: While you are bound to meet other pilgrims at some point during your Portuguese Camino, it will depend on the route and time of year. I have spent entire days walking alone without seeing other pilgrims. In situations like this, the emergency phone number provided by a tour operator can be reassuring.
Your Camino will be unique
Everyone is different and your personal motivations combined with the experiences and encounters you have when you’re walking the Camino will make it a truly unique experience, despite walking along routes that are over 1,200 years old.