Use this article to figure out the best Camino de Santiago guidebook help you plan and navigate your pilgrimage. Determine whether you need a Camino guidebook at all— or whether an app better would be better for your needs. Get pros and cons for physical guidebooks vs ebooks and find the right option for you.
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 they found the most useful.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
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. It’s amazing how well that works!
However, if you want some back-up, here are some things to consider when deciding whether to take a Camino de Santiago guide book, app 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 can be a good thing if you are trying to stick to a hard timeline.
- Brierly himself has said that his physical books are far more popular than his e-books.
- Even if the guidebooks are updated every few years, it’s impossible for them to have the latest albergue 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 below). So those sections aren’t necessary once you set out.
- The physical books add about 1 lb (.45 kg) of weight to your pack at a time when every bit of weight really counts.
- The guidebooks offer suggestions for stages and distances- which can be a bad thing because other hikers are using those same stages. This causes choke 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 albergue lists are up to date.
Use the apps if: You want to keep it ultralite and you like the idea of real-time mapping.
Get more info with our list of the best Camino apps.
Of course all this assumes that you know which route you’re taking. If you are still unsure, check out our guide for the most popular Camino starting points.
The Best Camino de Santiago Guidebooks
The following three Camino guides represent the most thorough and popular guidebooks for the various routes.
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 albergue 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 granddaddy of all Camino Frances guidebooks. He’s been keeping his books updated for decades, and they are well-researched and grounded in real experience. 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 routing and logistical information but offers limited albergue information. 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.
Camino Frances, Cicerone Guide, Sandy Brown
Brown is a retired minister who spends a LOT of his time on pilgrimage trails. This guidebook has all of the requisites that the other books have…but it’s smaller and lighter. So it’s a good choice if you want a physical book. Another benefit is that he includes the segment to Finesterre, so no need to get a separate guide for that segment.
Brown’s guide has very easy to follow maps and he goes to some trouble to keep the albergue listings updated. He also understands that everyone walks at their own pace and his stage planning guide is flexible and easy to use.
In addition to the Frances, Brown has published guides for the Via Francigena, with three editions covering the 1,600 kilometer route.
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 and other resources at the bottom of this article), 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.
FREE Camino Tools
Score a printable Camino packing list and an editable budgeting spreadsheet.
Other Helpful Resources and Documents
Supplement your guidebook with a good Camino app and other tech resources using our guide. It reviews the 5 best apps and has a list of other resources, like GPS tracks, offline maps, and train, bus and albergue booking sites that you can use.
Beyond that, here are a few additional resources that we found to be indispensable:
Albergue lists: The most complete and current albergue 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 for the Frances or this one for the Portugues. They are a bit out of date, but still very useful, at-a-glance sources. The Forum also maintains a listing of “favorite aluergues“, 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. We’ve also got a guide for what it’s like to stay in the albergues.
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 Frances version from the Forum and keep a paper copy or PDF on hand.
Gronze: Gronze.com is a website dedicated that does a good job of showing the standard stages and albergue options for six Spanish Camino routes. It doesn’t have a profile map and doesn’t have info on available services (such as pharmacies). It’s in Spanish, so you’ll need to set your phone to translate to English.
Other Camino de Santiago Planning Resources
- Check out our first-timer’s guide, which is chock full of useful Camino tips.
- 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.
- Find your perfect pack with our Camino backpack buying guide.
- Get ready for your pilgrimage using our Camino training guide, which includes trail tested tips and a 12-week fitness planner.
- If you are planning the Frances, use out guide for getting to the start point in Saint Jean or Burgos.
Other Camino Inspiration
- Learn why, despite how hard it is, I went back for another round.
- Read up on the Camino with inspirational memoirs and fiction set on the trail.
- Get inspiration and advice from other women who have done the Camino Solo.
- If you are planning to spend extra time in country, check out these travel guides for Spain.
- Learn more about local culture and history with these fiction and nonfiction books on Spain.
- Facebook groups: The Camigas Facebook group a very friendly and active group for female pilgrims. Other good Facebook groups include: St James Way walkers, Slow Strollers on the Camino and American Pilgrims on the Camino.
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