What's everyone raving about?
Approaching Salceda
O Courel Mountains
Leaving Arzúa
Leaving O Cebreiro

Since 813, when Pelayo discovered Santiago’s remains and Alfonso II ordered the first church to be built, pilgrims have been walking to Santiago de Compostela.
Historians have argued that a good part of the initial impulse and continuous patronage by the church and state was due to its strategic military and political importance against the Muslim kingdoms in the south and central parts of the Iberian Peninsula. By the 11th century the pilgrimage to Santiago had been consolidated. Thousands of pilgrims had come from all over Europe and many had decided to stay and settle. Camino safety was guaranteed by religious military orders (such as the Knights Templar) and monasteries ran a network of hospices for pilgrims. Royalty and aristocracy donated money to these hospices as well as building newer and bigger churches, monasteries and cathedrals.
The protestant schism, sparked in part by the indulgence controversy, the expulsion of the last Muslim territories from western Europe in 1492, the on-going wars between European kingdoms, the continuous plagues, and the decrease of state and religious patronage led to a gradual decline in the number of pilgrims. This decline was exacerbated when the bishop of Santiago cleverly hid the apostle’s remains before Sir Francis Drake raided the city in 1589 to the extent that the bones and casket were lost for the next 300 years.
Thankfully, the relics were happily found in 1879. However, it was not until the end of the 20th century (and the consolidation of affordable mass tourism) that the pilgrimage to Santiago would return to its former glory, at least regarding the numbers of pilgrims.

According to the Pilgrim’s Office, in October 2016, just over 260.000 pilgrims had completed their pilgrimage and had requested their Compostela. This means that most likely the all time record of 2010 will be broken by the end of 2016. In 2013 there were over 190.000 pilgrims, and in 2010, which was the last holy year, the office received the all time record of 272.135 pilgrims. In 2009 there were just over 145.000 pilgrims. So the trend, excluding the holy years, is clearly a significant increase in pilgrims every year. And if you consider that in 1992 there were fewer than 10.000 pilgrims, then this is definitely food for thought about where we are heading (in 1973, only 37 people completed the pilgrimage).What is surprising is that Spaniards have now become a minority on the Camino, accounting for 45% of the total number of pilgrims.
The Camino is a big business again, although surprisingly it has not been developed as much as you would have expected. The large corporations have ignored the Camino so far. Do not expect to see any of the classic chain fast-food restaurants (except in the major cities) or hotels. The dozens of new pilgrim hostels are found mainly within the villages and towns, usually in renovated old homes and injecting much needed funds into these dying communities. Regarding the municipal pilgrim hostels, a huge effort was made for the 1993 holy year and these hostels are still well maintained although now charging a symbolic 5 to 10 euro fee to cover maintenance expenses. Many of these hostels are run by volunteers who always have an inspirational story to share. Regarding food and drinks, you can (roughly) count on a bar/cafeteria every 5 kilometres, and in many cases these bars have renovated old village homes and are providing life to the local villages and communities.
Small shops, markets and supermarkets, banks and ATMs, pharmacies, post offices and police stations can be found in the larger towns.

Tui Cathedral
Belesar Reservoir
Leaving Sarria
Leaving Castañeda

Galicia is the northwest region in Spain where the Apostle Santiago’s (St. James’s) remains are venerated in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The region is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and to the north, by Portugal to the south and by Castile and Asturias to the east.
Galicia, in contrast to the rest of Spain (except for the three regions bordering the Bay of Biscay in the north) is green and lush. And that is because it rains a lot more here than in the rest of Spain. Indeed, you may hear the cliché that Galicia is the Ireland of Spain. For those that have walked across Castile, the contrast is startling as you enter Galicia with its forests, grass and rain. It appears that things have not changed too much since medieval times as Aymeric Picaud describes Galicia in the 12th century as ‘well-wooded, with rivers, meadows, and orchards, and the deepest clearest springs, but with few towns, farmsteads or wheat fields’. Aymeric Picaud complains about there being a lack of ‘wheat-bread and wine’. Thank goodness that this is clearly not the case nowadays and Galicia is one of the leading producers of wine in Spain, especially white wine.
As for the terrain, you will not be walking in the wild. The Camino is not the Inca trail or the PCT. There is no need to spend all your savings at REI (or similar) to get fitted in state-of-the-art mountain and hiking gear. There are no cliffs to fall off, no walls to scale, no rivers to swim across, no altitude sickness, no water to purify, no animals (not even dogs) to protect yourself from, and unless you walk in Winter, there will be no snow or ice.
The wilds in Galicia are rolling hills and farmland, with hamlets or towns every 5 kilometres (approximately), and toilets and freshly made espressos (or ice cold beer), and mobile phone coverage 90% of the time, and well marked and prepared trails, and bored cows and farm dogs that may have a look at you as you walk by.

Navigating the Camino is easy; just follow the yellow arrows that will lead you across Galicia. And there are yellow arrows everywhere, on signs, on poles, on rocks, on trees… Other signage you will encounter are pilgrim panels indicating the way, sometimes scallop shells engraved in the pavement and milestone markers (but expressed in kilometres). For the Galicia stage of the Camino, there really is no need for detailed maps or GPS backup; it really is that hard to get lost.

A lot less then you think you’ll need and leave the fancy gear behind, there’s nothing worse than looking like you are on your way to the North Pole as you walk through a farming village.
Some people find that trainers are fine; others prefer their hiking boots (remember that your shoes are your best friend). It may rain and it can be very sunny and even hot. Check the weather and decide. You can always purchase what you need here in Galicia, there are lots of small clothing stores. Remember that there is usually a bar every five kilometres, so you really do not need that 2 litre heavy-duty water flask. Have a look on Google Images and you’ll get a fairly good idea of what we look like on the Camino.
And consider walking a little further than the two kilometres to the supermarket and back as your training for the Camino. Age, weight and fitness can be an issue (you are walking 150 kilometres!); however, I have seen all types and shapes reach Santiago with a smile on their faces. It is nonetheless a lot harder than you probably expect, so come prepared, mentally and physically. You also might want to get your pilgrim’s credential before coming; in theory they can be purchased at churches and tourism offices, but don’t count on it. You can buy your scallop shell at any of the tourist shops for a couple euros.

You have walked it so you have earned it. The Compostela is now requested at the brand new Pilgrim’s Office on Rúa das Carretas, which is your first right as you come down the stairs from the Praza do Obradoiro.
The Compostela is free (donations welcome) and the office is usually manned (or womanned) by volunteers. The office also sells for a euro a very handy small travel carton tube for your Compostela.
The Compostela is a replicate of the century-old certificate that has been awarded to pilgrims since anyone can remember. It is written in Latin and you get your name translated into Latin too.
When you request it you will be asked to provide proof of your pilgrimage. This is when you produce your Pilgrim’s Credential with all the stamps properly dated. The friendly people at the office will ask you where you started, where you are from and the reason for doing the pilgrimage, and anything else they feel like related to your pilgrimage.
The office awards a slightly different Compostela for those pilgrims that have walked the Camino for cultural reasons and not spiritual or religious ones; it is also in Latin but the layout is a bit different and you don’t get the Saint’s blessing. Likewise, you can also now request a Distance Certificate, which is pretty, costs 3 euros, is written in Spanish and certifies who you are, where you started and how many kilometres you have walked.

The Compostela   The Cultural Compostela   Classic Pilgrim  
The Pilgrim's Credential
The Pilgrim's Credential

44 - St. James the Greater is martyred in Palestine by beheading. 813 - Pelayo discovers the Tomb of St. James. Asturian King Alfonso II visits the site and construction of the first church is begun. 834 - First church in Santiago consecrated. 844 - Battle of Clavijo. Santiago appears on his horse to win the day for Christian king Ramiro I against the Muslims. 997.- City and cathedral sacked by Muslims. 1075 - Construction of the third and current cathedral is begun. 1122 - First Holy Year declared by Pope Calixtus II. 1139 - The Codex Calixtinus is written by Aymeric Picaud. 1179 - Pope Alexander III ratifies plenary indulgence for pilgrims and ratifies Holy Years. 1188 - Maestro Mateo finishes the Pórtico de la Gloria. 1211 - Current cathedral is consecrated. 1213 - Possible pilgrimage of Saint Francis of Assisi. 1378 - Western schism. Start of the decline in pilgrims. 1488 - Pilgrimage of Ferdinand and Isabel, monarchs of Spain. 1517 - Start of the Protestant reform. Further decline in pilgrims. 1589 - Remains of Santiago are hidden before Sir Francis Drake’s attempt to raid the city. The remains are lost. 1673 - Italian pilgrim Domenico Laffi completes his last pilgrimage to Santiago and beginnings writing and editing his ‘Diary’. 1879 - Remains of three bodies are found under the altar in the cathedral. 1884 - Leon XIII confirms that the body of Santiago and two of his disciples have been found. 1971 - Don Elías Valiña publishes the first pocketsize guidebook for pilgrims. 1982 - John Paul II becomes the first pope to visit Santiago de Compostela 1993 - More than 100.000 pilgrims receive their Compostela. 2010 - Martin Sheen stars in the film ‘The Way’, multiplying the interest of North American pilgrims to Santiago. 2013 - More than 200.000 pilgrims receive their Compostela. 2017 - More than 300.000 pilgrims receive their Compostela.
Towards Portomarín
Little Flowers
Camino Cows
© 2015 Barrera Books. All rights reserved. Images on this website are property of Jeffery Barrera & Fresco Tours. Website Updated: March 12, 2018