Use this article to figure out the best Camino de Santiago guidebook and/or app to help you with your pilgrimage. It answers the question of whether you need one at all, and offers pros and cons for each option so that you can chose the Camino app or guide that’s right for you.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
I’ve been on the Camino Frances several times and know a thing or two about how to navigate it. But don’t take my word for it, because I’ve also crowd-sourced opinions from other pilgrims on which Camino guidebooks and apps they found the most useful.
If you are in the planning stages for your Camino, you should also check out my resources for how to build a Camino budget, what to pack, how to do it solo and a list of inspirational memoirs and fiction books on the Camino.
Do You Even Need a Camino de Santiago Guide Book or App?
If you are concerned about simply finding your way along “The Way”, particularly on the Frances route, you need neither an app nor guidebook. The main routes are very clearly marked. Most people who get lost do so because they set out at pre-dawn, they try to take an ill-marked alternative route, or they have become too tired to pay attention.
Many people simply go to their start point and head west, having faith that the Camino will take care of them. However, if you want some back-up, here are some things to consider when deciding whether to take a Camino de Santiago app, a guide book or both.
Pros/Cons of Using a Physical Camino de Santiago guidebook
- The guidebooks do a good job of providing cultural context and historical information for notable sites along the trail. This also includes things like calling out special church services along the route, museum logistics and festivals.
- When there is an alternative routing, the guidebooks will indicate why it’s worth taking and they’ll provide routing information. These routes are often less well-marked than the main trail.
- The guidebooks offer suggestions for stages and distances- which is a good thing if you are trying to stick to a hard timeline.
- Even if the guidebooks are updated every few years, it’s impossible for them to have the latest albuerge information.
- The guide books do a fine job of providing trip planning advice (packing lists, foot-care advice etc), but this information is also widely available on the web (and from my links above). So those sections aren’t necessary once you set out.
- The physical books add about 1 lb (.45 kg) of weight to your pack during a time when every bit of weight really counts.
- The guidebooks offer suggestions for stages and distances- which is a bad thing because other hikers are using those same stages. This causes choke points at certain points on the trail. Also, slavishly sticking to pre-determined stages puts you at risk of ignoring your own physical or spiritual needs on any given day.
Use the physical guide book if: You are an old school lover of books (I hear ya, I used to work in a bookstore) and you really want the historical context. If you don’t mind defacing the book, you can tear out the necessary pages you go, lightening the load.
Pros/Cons of Using a Camino Guide E-Book
- All of the pros above still apply.
- In addition, you lose the weight of the book, when reading via a Kindle app.
- You lose the easy “skimability” of a physical book.
- It’s sometimes harder to read the small e-print, especially in sunlight or if you require reading glasses.
Use the e-book if: You want the historical and cultural context but want to jettison the weight.
Pros/Cons of Using a Camino App
- They do a good job of indicating where to find particular services along the route.
- Some of the apps allow you to design your own custom stages.
- Real-time mapping shows you where you are and where you are going. This is helpful if you are a nervous hiker– but seriously, trust what I said above about it being hard to get lost.
- They are inexpensive.
- They provide little/no historical or cultural context.
- Don’s assume that just because it’s an app, that the albuergue lists are up to date.
Use the apps if: You want to keep it ultralite and you like the idea of real-time mapping.
The Best Camino de Santiago Guidebooks
The following three Camino guides represent the most thorough and popular guidebooks for the Frances route.
Camino de Santiago Village to Village Guide, Anna Dintaman and David Landis
I used this guide as an e-book on my most recent trek on the Frances route. The book does a nice job of offer pros and cons of alternative routing. They offer both hotel, guesthouse and albuergue accommodation. They also offer some historical context and suggestions for sites and museums that you may want to visit.
This guidebook is 320 pages, but is also fairly easy to navigate as an e-book.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, John Brierly
The Brierly book is the grand daddy Camino Frances guide book. He’s been keeping his books updated for decades. I didn’t buy the guide book before my first Camino, but then picked up the physical copy while on the trail. It does an excellent job of offering historical and cultural tidbits which added greatly to my experience on the pilgrimage route.
This Camino guide book is a fairly compact 288 pages.
The new Moon guide is great for pilgrims who are hungry for history, and who are also just plain hungry. It offers the usual albuerge, routing and logistical information. But this guide really excels at calling out historical sites, festivals, special experiences and food. And the photography is beautiful.
If you are interested in the Camino as a tourism experience, and you are willing to brake for museums, churches and a long lunch, this is the best guidebook for you.
Just be aware that at 400 pages, the physical copy of this book is going to weigh down your pack.
The above books are the best all-around guide books. The four that follow aren’t meant to be complete all-around guides, but they do each offer insights into particular aspects of the trail.
This book is a cultural history guide to the terrain, places of interest, history and monuments along the Frances route. It’s a big book and there’s a lot to cover, so I’d suggest buying the Kindle edition and reading slightly ahead of your hike through the region.
Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago, Cheri Powell & Pilgrim Tips & Packing List, S. Yates
Both of these books offer a series of practical tips on how to prepare for the Camino. They include packing tips and information on the nuts and bolts of daily pilgrim life. You can probably get similar information from trolling blogs (including my super detailed packing list), but since these Camino guides are free with Kindle Unlimited, you have nothing to lose by sampling them.
Get tons of free travel books (like Lonely Planet guides) with Kindle Unlimited using an Amazon Prime account. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account, you can get a 30-day free trial HERE.
Preston’s planning guide is targeted for the older pilgrim. His motto is “Have fun. Have an adventure. Don’t kill yourself.” Not all pilgrims want to hike quickly, carry a huge pack or stay in dorms. If this sounds like you, get this guide for how to take an alternative approach.
The Best Camino de Santiago Apps
There are quite a few Camino apps available, however, not all of them are professionally developed. For simplicity, I’m only recommending guides that are in English, have developed for both iOS and Android platforms, and that were recommended by the Camino community.
Wise Pilgrim (by Wisely)
For $.99, the Wisely app provides a lot of value in a very clean design. It will help you stay on the trail, and includes mapping for alternative routes. The UI has access by region, making it easy to find services for wherever you are at the moment. They do provide some tidbits of historical context.
Wisely has listings for albuerges, pensiones and casa rurales which indicate the availability of services such as laundry, meals or wifi. These are available in the regional sections and also conveniently searchable from the accommodation section.
The map is easy to read and available for offline use (but you’ll need to download it in advance). Unlike the other apps, the Wisely maps also show detail for businesses and services in each town. The elevation profile is useful for gauging not only mileage but also elevation gains. However, it only shows 15 kilometer stretches at a time. I wish they had a zoomed out version, which would be more useful for multi-day route planning.
The Frances app does not include Finesterre/Muxia, but you can purchase it for additional $.99. They also have versions which cover the Primitivo, Ingles, Portugues, Invierno, del Salvador, San Salvador, Norte and Vía de la Plata trails.
Pros: Very clean design and easy to navigate. Good map with lots of detail.
Cons: No custom stages.
Guide of the Way of St. James (Buen Camino app)
This free app has a lot of nice features. Most notably, it includes downloads for the French, Baztan, Norte, Primitivo, Aragon, coastal Portuguese and Aragon routes. They tell you what to expect along the route but don’t offer much historical or cultural context.
The app comes with pre-loaded stages, which are similar to those suggested in the Village to Village guide. Following them too closely will put you into the middle of those pilgrim clogs, so don’t be dogmatic about it. Fortunately, you can edit the stages and customize your own experience. Unfortunately, changing one stage, doesn’t cascade down to future stages, so if you change one stage, you’ll need to adjust all of them.
They do offer real-time route mapping, but Buen Camino uses Apple maps, which I find less reliable than Google maps. Getting into the map is awkward as it’s not on the main menu and you have to navigate to it from a city page. But– it is available for offline download. Their profile map is useless as it doesn’t indicate mileage between towns or actual elevation (once you’ve scrolled past the initial screen.)
The albuerge listings seem fairly complete with all of the requisite information.
Pros: Free. Custom stages.
Cons: Uses Apple Maps. Bad profile map.
TrekRight’s $9.99 Camino app differs from the others in that it does provide more historical and cultural context for the towns that you’ll be transiting. They also have some interesting content extras, such as videos that have been loaded in by the community. The app also has a place where you can log your own notes.
TrekRight has the full Frances route, plus Finesterre and Muxia. But they don’t offer routing for other Spanish Caminos.
Their maps work best if you download them in advance, otherwise you get limited detail. They have the best profile map of all of the apps, which gives a good visual cue to both distances and elevation, and you can turn it horizontally for even more detail.
The app allows you to choose between the Brierly or the Eroski stages. You can copy and edit the stages to semi-customize them by adding or deleting section, but it doesn’t allow you to completely customize your stages.
The app has good listings of available accommodation, but it doesn’t show an easy “at a glance” listing of the available services. So, you have to click into each albuerge to find out what they offer.
I found the UI for this app to be frustrating and felt that I had to dig too much to find info on albuerge and town services.
Pros: Better historical and cultural information. Content extras.
Cons: Clunky UI. Poorly detailed maps. High price.
Guthook Atlas Guides
$7.99 for St. Jean to Santiago, with a free version for the St. Jean to Pamplona segment. They also offer a Norte route. They are an experienced app developer, with 43 long distance routes in their portfolio.
Guthook offers online and offline mapping with a pretty easy to follow UI. They have a community based ethic, so you’ll find notes and reviews from other pilgrims that can help you find food or decide if a particular albuerge is right for you.
Unlike a few of the other apps, their profile map does a great job of showing distances and elevation, however it doesn’t label the towns in an easy to view manner.
They do not have good information on town services and their albuerge listings are a bit thin. They also don’t offer any historical or cultural information. This app is a good stripped down guide if you just want to keep an eye on the trail.
Pros: Easy to use map. Decent profile map.
Cons: Weak on albuerge listings and services.
Other Helpful Tech Resources and Documents
Sometimes there is so much information in a Camino guidebook or app, that you can get lost looking for a specific thing. These additional online resources are great at solving some very specific problems.
GPS tracks: If you just want to keep an eye on the trail and aren’t concerned with historical context or albuerge information, then grab the GPS tracks from the Camino Forum. You can then install them into Google maps or Maps.me (for offline use).
Albuerge lists: The most complete and current albuerge list comes from the Camino office in St. Jean. If you are starting there, you can pick-up a paper version at the Pilgrim office. If you are starting elsewhere, then download a PDF from the Camino Forum. It’s a very useful, at-a-glance source. The Forum also maintains a listing of “favorite albuerges“, which are notable for their religious services, group meals, beautiful setting or on-site amenities. It’s worth seeking out a few of those while on the trail.
Profile Map: I was frustrated by the user interface from all of the app-based profile maps. And yet, a good profile map is essential for planning your distances for the next day or two. Download this version from the Forum and keep a paper copy or PDF on hand.
Other Camino de Santiago Planning Resources
- Read up on the Camino with inspirational memoirs and fiction set on the trail.
- Budget your Camino with this article outlining costs for three different budget levels plus a FREE spreadsheet tool.
- Check out my Camino packing list, which includes a FREE downloadable checklist.
- Get inspiration and advice from other women who have done the Camino Solo.
- Learn why, despite how hard it is, I went back for another round.
- If you are planning to spend extra time in country, check out these travel guides for Spain.
- Facebook groups: The Camigas Facebook group a very friendly and active group for female pilgrims. Their advice has informed both this guidebook list and also my packing list. Other good Facebook groups include: St James Way walkers, Slow Strollers on the Camino and American Pilgrims on the Camino.
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