Asking “where does the Camino de Santiago start” will net you a rather complicated answer.
And here’s why. The original Latin name for Santiago de Compostela was “Campus Stellae”, or field of stars. The name refers to a shower of stars that came as a vision to the hermit Pelayo. And so, the original chapel in Santiago was called Campus Stellae.
But a relevant modern-day interpretation should also consider the constellation of many Camino trails which all converge in Santiago– the traditional end point for a Camino pilgrimage. You can see this in the shell symbol that marks the routing and which many pilgrims wear as a token. The shell symbolizes the many routes that end in Santiago.
All of this means that there is no single start point for a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. But we get it. You’re trying to figure out where to start your own pilgrimage. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This guide will give you information on the most popular starting points for the Camino, with some practical information about what those routes entail.
Considerations For Where to Start the Camino de Santiago
There are quite a few considerations for designing your own personal pilgrimage. It’s said that your Camino starts when you leave your front door, just as Frodo Baggins did when he set out on his adventure. A pilgrimage is a highly personal venture and you should, first and foremost, take your own wants and need into consideration when deciding the where, when and how of it.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
How Much Time Do I Have for the Camino?
If you have work or family commitments, then you may not have time to do a full, long route. In that case, you may want to choose a shorter route (like the Portuguese) or just do part of a longer route (like the Frances).
You should also consider your own fitness when budgeting time for the Camino. The guidebooks recommend stages that are fine for people who are pretty fit, but if you are older, slower or have medical considerations, it will affect how many miles you can log in the time allotted.
We’ve got a training guide that will help you level up your fitness.
How Much Money Do I Have for the Camino?
By North American and Western European standards, doing a Camino is a pretty cheap trip. You can spend ~€45 per day on food, lodging and incidentals. But if you are on a tight budget, it may affect how many days you can spend on your pilgrimage, which may then affect your start point.
We have a whole guide for how to budget your Camino, which will help you with that.
Do I Want to Get a Compostela Certificate?
The Compostela certificate is issued by the church in Santiago and it certifies your completed pilgrimage. You don’t have to get one. But if you want one, you need to produce a pilgrim passport with stamps representing at least the last 100 kilometers (62 miles) of pilgrim trail.
For this reason, Sarria on the Frances trail is the most popular starting point for the Camino de Santiago because it’s 116/k from Santiago. But the final 100/k on the Norte, Portuguese, Ingles or Primitivo will work as well.
Are You The Kind of Person Who Likes to “Do The Whole Thing”?
Yea, me too. If if you are a completist, then you’ll need choose a route where you can “do the whole thing” in the time that you have.
Where Does the Camino End?
The traditional end of the Camino de Santiago is in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. That said, many people do their Camino in segments over multiple trips. For instance, they may start in St Jean Pied de Port and end in Leon, returning later to walk to Santiago.
And some folks who end up in Santiago, then keep on walking to the coastal towns of Finesterre and Muxia.
Where Does the Camino de Santiago Start: Top 10 Spots
The following list of Camino starting points are listed in order of popularity, according to the Santiago pilgrimage office. They gather stats from people seeking their Compostela. So, this means that the list is probably most representative of where people start for their first Camino.
I’ve noted the kilometers and rough number of days that each will take to get to Santiago. This assumes an average of 20-24 kilometers (12.5-15 miles) per day.
Sarria (Camino Frances route)
This where people start the Camino if they really want to ensure that they get a Compostela. It’s particularly popular with Spaniards or folks who only have ~6 days to spend walking. Because of its popularity, the Sarria section can get very busy, particularly in the summer
- 5-6 days
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (Camino Frances)
When people ask if you are going to “do the whole thing” on the Camino, they usually mean starting in St. Jean and ending in Santiago. And indeed 35,000 people a year do just that. St. Jean is a cute little French town. The first day of the Frances route starts here and then goes over the Pyrenees, crossing the border into Spain en-route.
If you chose this route, use our guide for getting to St Jean and tips for starting the Frances there.
- 33-39 days
Another fairly popular Camino start point is in Roncesvalles, which is 1-2 days and 25/k southwest from St Jean. Or you start in Pamplona, which shaves off 3-4 days and 67/k from St. Jean.
Porto (Camino Portuguese)
The Portuguese route officially starts in Lisbon. But many people choose Porto because they can do the routing from there in the span of a typical 2-week vacation. There is a coastal route and an inland route which meet up after Vigo.
- 10-12 days
Tui/Valença do Minho (Camino Portuguese)
Valença do Minho is in far northern Portugal and Tui is 5 kilometers over the border into Spain. Like Sarria, they are just the right distance to qualify for a Compostela.
- 5-6 days
Ferrol (Camino Ingles)
Ferrol is a coastal town almost directly north of Santiago. This routing is popular for the 100/k rule and a fairly flat, forgiving terrain. You can also start the Ingles in A Coruña, but at 74/k, it won’t qualify you for a Compostela.
- 5-6 days
León (Camino Frances)
León is a good start point for folks who want a good long walk, but who can’t take off 30+ days. It’s also very easy to get there by train from Madrid. There are also some folks who don’t like the flat Meseta landscape between Burgos and León, so they skip it by starting further on.
- 13-16 days
That said, if you are interested in visiting Burgos, it’s further east and an additional 184/k (8-9 days). We’ve got a guide for how to start your Camino in Burgos.
Oviedo (Camino Primitivo)
The Primitivo was called the “original way”, back when Oviedo was a cultural and political center for Spain. This routing is known for its hilly, pastoral terrain and a quieter, more contemplative vibe. It starts in Oviedo, go through Lugo and then connects with the Frances after Melide.
- 13-16 days
O’Cebreiro (Camino Frances)
Well, starting in O’Cebreiro will certainly spare you the ankle twisting hill that you have to climb getting there. It’s also a cute town in Galicia. This is a good start point for folks with shorter vacation time.
- 6-8 days
Ponferrada (Camino Frances)
If you have a bit more time and don’t mind that ankle twisting hill, then you can back it up a bit and start in Ponferrada. It’s a medieval walled town steeped in Templar lore. This is a great spot to start the Camino if you want a heavy dose of Spanish history and you only have 2 weeks for vacation.
- 9-11 days
Another popular starting spot in this region is Astorga, which is also a historic town. It’s located 53/k (2-3 days) further east of Ponferrada.
Irún (Camino Norte)
Irún is the starting point for the long Camino Norte. This routing is stuffed full of coastal views as it treks across the northern-most part of Spain. About 2/3 of the way through, you also have the option to branch off to the Primitivo, just north of Oviedo.
- 38-45 days
Where Do I Fly to Start the Camino?
If you are starting in St. Jean, an overseas flight to Paris, Barcelona or Madrid will do. But getting to St. Jean will require multiple transfers. It’s doable, but kinda complicated, so we have a whole guide for getting to St. Jean.
For the Portuguese, there are many flights that go to Lisbon and Porto. You can also get to Porto by train from Santiago.
There are flights from Madrid to various Camino start points including: Oviedo/Primitivo, San Sebastian (near Irun/Norte), Pamplona (west of St. Jean/Frances), A Coruña (near Ferrol/Ingles), Santiago (then bus to Ferrol/Ingles or Sarria/Frances), Vigo (then bus to Tui/Portuguese).
If you are starting on spots along the Frances like Burgos, Leon or Ponferrada, there are fairly frequent train and bus services that leave from the Madrid Airport and the two main Madrid train stations.
FREE Camino Tools
Score a printable Camino packing list and an editable budgeting spreadsheet.
Resources for Planning Your Camino
- If you are a first-timer, start with our Camino planning tips.
- Once you’ve chosen your route, get advice on the best Camino apps and guidebooks. Both articles offer advice to help you decide whether an app or guide book (or both) would be best for you and then each article offers our suggestions for the best of.
- Learn about Camino albergue life and how to plan your lodging.
- Your complete packing list, including everything you need to keep it light.
- Plus more gear advice on how to find the perfect pack and popular trail shoes for the Camino.
- How to train for the Camino, which has practical tips on how to get ready, but also advice on how not to obsess about it.
- How to budget for the Camino, which options for a low cost and mid-range option and a link to a spreadsheet for doing your own budget (because I live by the the spreadsheets).
- Find inspiration by reading Camino books or watching Camino movies.
- Inspiration for doing the Camino solo.
Regardless of where you start the Camino de Santiago, be assured that it can be a very transformative experience. As they say on the trail….Buen Camino!
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