The Portuguese Way (Portuguese: Caminho Português, Galician: Camiño Portugués, Spanish: Camino Portugués) is the collective name for the various routes of the Way of St. James from several places in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
The Portuguese Way is the second most popular Camino route after the French Way and is generally rated as easier than the latter due to minimum elevation differences. One needs not climb mountain ranges of up to a thousand meters in height and is not as crowded as well. Those that want to have a good balance of solitude & camaraderie without the need for a bed rush at the places of accommodation may find this trail as the best option.
Another advantage of the trail is the many alternatives that one can easily switch onto. One can walk alongside the seashore at the start and move inland to see historical towns & fresh plains the next few days. Entering Spain, some of the itineraries include a boat ride, something that the other Camino routes do not provide.
Although the official route starts from Lisbon, 600 kilometers away from Santiago de Compostela, most people would start at Porto, slightly less than half the distance, or Tui in Spain, only 120 kilometers from Santiago. Walking from the latter would have already qualified you to obtain a compostela.
The official start of the Portuguese Route starts from Lisbon. However the portion from the Portuguese capital to Porto is not as much visited. As such accommodations are fewer and further between, though wayfinding has been significantly improved in the past 20 years.
Most people would start the Route from Porto, roughly 260 kilometers away from Santiago. Normally this route would be traversed for two weeks on foot, but depending on the route and detours one chooses to take, this can range precisely from 12 to 15 days. Fortunately, there are many options to sleep and eat en route, so that one can rest and continue whenever they wish.
One advantage of the Portuguese camino is the generally flat terrain with few fluctuations in elevation, and as such very friendly for beginners. However, as is the norm in Portuguese towns, cobblestones are used widespreadly as street and walking surfaces, which is hard on the feet.
Another good thing on the Portuguese Way is the lack of extreme weather. Compared to the Pyrenees and the mountains of northern Spain on the French Camino that are covered with snow in the winter, hence making the route cold and sometimes impassable, the worst that can happen here would be downpours and high winds from the coast. From spring to early autumn, the weather starts to warm up and become more hospitable. In summer however, it can be especially hot on the inland stretch between Lisbon and Porto. Walking along the coast from Porto exposes you to the sea breeze that cools the temperature. Hence, the Portuguese Camino has a larger window in terms of the best time to visit, normally from March until October.
In general, you have to be in reasonably good condition and to have good hiking shoes (trail runners). If you wish to camp, you need to carry clothing and a sleeping bag in a comfortable backpack. Most pilgrims stay in hostels (called albergues or refugios) at little cost. Unless you plan to camp in the most crowded months of the summer season, it is unnecessary to carry camping and cooking gear. "Wild camping" is illegal in most parts of Spain, and very few official campsites are to be found along the route.
As all of the journey involves walking or cycling to a very good distance while staying in rudimentary hostels, most pilgrims would usually travel in backpacker style. Have a couple of snacks (or protein bars) and plenty of water with you. Don’t bring too many clothes (you can wash and dry them overnight at most lodgings) but add a layer when the weather gets cool. A camera is highly recommended to capture some fascinating spots along the way or even memories with a fellow pilgrim you just met, but leaving your laptop or tablet at home is best to avoid distractions.
Pilgrims typically begin their journey in Lisbon or Porto, with the former having good accessibility from within and a number of countries outside Europe, and the latter being a destination for many low cost airlines from within Europe. Transfer between the two cities are easy by bus and by train, each taking up to four hours one way.
Alternatively, one may arrive in Santiago de Compostela and take a bus to any of the towns within the route.
The towns listed here are major checkpoints where pilgrims normally stop and are also referred to by most guide books. Albergues, restaurants and other accommodations are peppered at towns along the way and all change with time. The list here is thus not exhaustive.
The route is marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells, with numbers in descending order indicating the walking distance to Santiago de Compostela. The shell markers have a modern, stylized appearance. Older markers look more like real scallop shells.
The Central Portuguese Way is the main route through Portugal, from Lisbon to Porto, then continuing north into Spain. Following are the major cities from south to north.
Lisbon to Porto
Although the official Portuguese Way starts from Lisbon, the meager accommodation facilities and hiking paths hinder many from starting their walk from here. Should one choose to start from here however, it would take 3 to 4 weeks to walk to Santiago de Compostela.
- 1 Lisbon (Portuguese: Lisboa) — The way begins at Lisbon Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa).
- 2 Coimbra
- 3 Porto
Most pilgrims traversing the Portuguese Camino start from this city.
Porto to the Spanish Border
Most pilgrims using the Portuguese Way start their journey from Porto, as the town is easily accessible and provides two options, as explained below. It generally takes 11 to 14 days to walk the entire way, depending on the path and any deviations.
From Porto, the Camino splits into two ways: the Coastal Route, which despite its name doesn't entirely hug the Atlantic seashore, and the Central Route that goes inland all the way. Both routes meet at Redondela just before entering Spain.
From Vila do Conde (just outside Porto), a branch from the Coastal Route called the Senda Litoral (lit.: Coastal Path) slithers along the Portuguese Coast until it meets the Coastal Route again at Redondela in Spain.
Most hikers choose to get out of Porto using the Sendo Litoral, as both the central and coastal route goes through the unenticing industrial area and asphalt roads. Go along the Douro River westward towards the sea and you will notice a wooden boardwalk, on which it is more comfortable to walk than asphalt or cobblestone.
At this town, one can decide to take a detour to the Central Route, on which the next major town would be Rates; the way is unmarked, but plenty of pilgrims do this. If one chooses to continue along the Coastal Route, the next town would be less than 5 kilometers away.
At Caminha, you can take a ferry to cross to A Guarda in Spain while still walking alongside the coast. If you wish to rejoin the Central Route, walk alongside the Minho river to Valença.
The Coastal Route merges with the Central Route at Redondela, just outside Vigo.
From Pontevedra, you can take the so-called 'Spiritual Variant that gives you up to an extra 3 days of walking. The last day of walking involves taking a boat from Vilanova de Aurosa to Pontecesures, just outside Padron, where you will follow what would be the same route of the ferried body of Saint James the Apostle in the year 44 AD from Palestine to his final resting place at what is now Santiago de Compostela.
- 11 Caldas de Reis (Spanish: Caldas de Reyes)
- 12 Padrón
- 13 Santiago de Compostela — Your final destination, the city of Saint James.