Camino de Santiago is one of the most popular pilgrimages and general hiking destinations on the planet. That’s no coincidence. There are some great reasons to walk Camino de Santiago. We’ll get into some of them, but remember, there are even more.
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Getting Away from Everyday Reality
The way most people in the developed world live today may be safe and comfortable, but it doesn’t meet the true demands of the human body and, if you want, soul. A lot of us are overworked. A lot of us are stressed out. A lot of us are stuck in routines that don’t feel very good. We even get stuck in traffic almost every day.
Walking the pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago is a way to reset your life. By going back to basics – walking, enjoying open spaces, spontaneously talking to people, with the only worry being to rest enough, to heal blisters on your feet if they happen, to eat just enough to give you straight for your journey, you will be able will re-define what freedom is.
Time Travel on Foot
Humans have walked long distances since the dawn of mankind, and that’s what our bodies are basically built for. If you manage to let go of your modern worries, (and your phone), a pilgrimage might let you get a glimpse of that basic, primordial state of simply being human, but you’ll still remain in the modern comfort zone – luckily, you don’t have to hunt for food, or worry about being eaten by a bear, or, fast-forward to Medival times, about being mugged while traveling, which used to be a common occurrence on the Camino back then (and especially on the most popular Camino Frances). Today, traveling the Camino is safe, and modern walking equipment makes it more comfortable than ever. Sources of drinkable water are also common and accessible along the way.
E.O. Wilson, a renowned biologist, claims that humans are hardwired to have a love for the colors green and blue, and their original sources – vast open landscapes. His hypothesis, but our everyday experience too, suggest that being surrounded by nature relaxes us and makes us happy. Depending on the route you’ll pick, walking Camino de Santiago can take you through all kinds of impressive natural landscapes – green pastoral land, lush mountain forests, eucalyptus forests, the Atlantic coastline… Soaking all this in is sure to help your mind find new meaning and inspiration. Just realizing how beautiful the world is will make us appreciate our lives more.
The Spiritual Experience
Walking for a long time every day is like a moving meditation or a prayer. That’s why pilgrimage is very important part of all major world religions and has even been important in pagan days. Many Catholics choose to carry a rosary with them, so they could perform a constant prayer as they’re walking.
But you don’t have to be religious in the classical way to have a spiritual experience on a pilgrimage. The famous Danish philosopher and writer, Søren Kierkegaard, used to walk up and down and all around Copenhagen while thinking about the deep existential questions that haunted him, and he was (in)famous for it. According to his own testimony, it helped him out greatly when considering great topic he had written about.
Meeting Like-minded People
If the company you’re surrounded within your everyday life prefers to go to parties or go on shopping sprees, and you like spending time in quiet places having meaningful conversations, eventually you’ll be left feeling alienated.
The Camino de Santiago acts like a kind of a social filter because people have to sacrifice a lot in order to participate in this simple act of walking, of doing a pilgrimage. This means they can’t allow themselves to be too hypocritical about their strivings and motivation. Some are there for the religious or spiritual experience, and some go just because of the simple need to walk and walk far. This gives you plenty of options on who to pick as your company.
Choosing different paths to get to Santiago will condition the type of people you meet on the way. If you’re a social, gregarious type, walking the classics such as Camino Frances and its last part, from Sarria, will suit you fine. If you’re a nature-loving loner, who likes to spend his time with a few chosen ones, less busy routes such as Muxia might be a better option.
In either case, you’ll get to meet people from all over the world. And that could open up a world of new possibilities (pun intended).
The Sense of Accomplishment
Camino de Santiago has a final destination, and that’s a UNESCO world heritage site Santiago de Compostela, and it’s beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Besides feasting your eyes upon the glorious gothic architecture of the Cathedral, if you walked at least 100 kilometers of The Way and you state that your motivation was primarily religious, you will be eligible for receiving a Compostela in Latin, an official certificate of accomplishment for the pilgrimage. If your motivation is secular, you can get another type of certificate.
But many people don’t opt in for any of the certificates. It seems that their personal experience of finishing the Camino is so profound, that they don’t require any document to prove it.
As a final motivation to take upon Camino de Santiago, let’s get back to Søren Kierkegaard and his famous quote about walking:
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
Why walk the Camino de Santiago?
I hope that you find one of the above reason enough to inspire your journey. Do you have any other reasons to walk the Camino? Let me know in the comments below.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.