- 1 Why you need a Camino de Santiago guidebook?
- 2 What makes a Great Guidebook?
- 3 Are all Guidebooks the Same?
- 4 What About a Camino App?
- 5 Camino Frances Guidebooks
- 6 Camino Portugues Guidebooks
- 7 Camino del Norte Guidebooks
- 8 Camino Finisterre and Muxia Guidebook
- 9 Via de la Plata Guidebook
- 10 Camino Ingles Guidebook
- 11 Camino Primitivo Guidebook
- 12 Camino de Madrid Guidebook
- 13 Conclusion
- 14 Camino de Santiago FAQ
- 15 Is Camino de Santiago safe?
- 16 Where can I sleep on the Camino de Santiago?
- 17 I’m Vegan
- 18 Which is the best route for small groups?
- 19 Is it true a route starts from Santiago?
The following traditional Camino de Santiago guidebooks offer route direction and allow you to reconnect with these historic and spiritual routes. Packed with information, guidebooks can cover one or the entire network of routes and they are the best source of information.
And the overall winner is John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés).
The books have been created by dedicated individuals who have hiked and walked the routes. Maybe this is why I find each guidebook to offer something unique, or at least see each route with a new perspective. There are a few established routes, covered by most guidebooks. Other less-traveled routes are also covered by some publishers. The Camino Frances with its 800km of history and tradition is the most popular route. But other routes are covered in popular guidebooks.
- Camino Portugues
- Camino del Norte
- Camino Primitivo
- Via de la Plata
- Le Puy Camino
- Camino Ingles
- Camino Finisterre
Most of these routes have Middle Age origins. For me, it would be nearly impossible to learn so much about a route without a good guidebook. At first, I thought all guidebooks are the same. But I soon realized that this is far from the truth.
Why you need a Camino de Santiago guidebook?
Did you know that you can walk the Camino the Santiago with a 2.2-pound backpack? Or did you know that you don’t need to bring any food with you on the walk? I found out that there are little shops and cafes along The Way and that you only need to carry minimal supplies each day.
Many amenities are only listed in a guidebook. The lighter the load, the more relaxed the walk is. As a result, getting your hands on the best guidebook can mean traveling stress-free for weeks.
What makes a Great Guidebook?
- The best guidebook needs to be easy to read
- A guidebook needs to offer detailed maps
- it should include planned stops
- Historical information is a major advantage
- Elevation information is great to know
- Temperature information can help with clothing options
- Helpful Spanish phrases would have helped my journey
- Camino legends can be a great conversation topic with fellow trekkers and pilgrims
Some of this information was already included in the first guide I used. But others, such as Spanish phrases were not. If I were to write a guidebook it would probably include all of the above.
Are all Guidebooks the Same?
This brings me to the next point. Are all guidebooks the same? Isn’t Camino de Santiago the same for centuries? It’s only those who’ve done a route to Santiago de Compostela that can say if a guidebook is good or bad.
By my experience, there are no truly bad guidebooks. However, incomplete guidebooks are published every year. For many pilgrims, I believe the walk is much more than a simple adventure. It is also about reconnecting and refreshing the mind and the soul. This can be hard to achieve without the right information and understanding the true value of each place along the route.
What About a Camino App?
Walking the route, I saw a few trekkers simply on their smartphones, checking maps, taking photos and updating their Instagram accounts. But is this true to what the Camino de Santiago is? What happens in case the battery runs out?
There are various apps already dedicated to the main routes to Santiago de Compostela. But they all lack one major component.
That is a personal experience.
Most apps are made in a remote office. They are coded and designed by people who’ve never even been on the network of routes. In return, most Camino de Santiago guidebooks have been written by people who’ve walked the paths. The writers slept in local villages, they woke up early morning and they started to walk.
Some days, they walked 45km while others they walked 20km. At the end of their day’s itinerary, they write about how fresh or how tired one is expected to feel. This type of personal information might still be lacking in many app-based guides.
Here is a list of the best Camino guidebooks by route.
Camino Frances Guidebooks
Camino Frances is the most popular route towards Santiago de Compostela. It starts in France at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This route also covered by multiple guidebooks.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés) by John Brierley
The guidebook covers Camino Francés, which is the route walked by most people. It contains maps, pictures, and great general information. There are a few extra pages which can be used to write personal notes on. Here’s what I like and what I don’t like about it.
- Includes detailed maps, split into sections
- Includes altitude information
- Includes intermediate accommodation outside villages and towns
- Marks various routes (yellow-pilgrims, green-scenic, gray-asphalt, and purple-contemplative/remote)
- Shows the locations of local rivers and lakes
- Marks tourist information spots
- Points out pharmacies along the route
- Describes the historic importance of certain locations
- Too popular with pilgrims which means most will sleep in the same overcrowded locations
- No rating information on accommodation
- Heavy for some trekkers, especially starting from the second week
Camino de Santiago (Village to Village Guide): Camino Frances by Anna Dintaman
With detailed information on the villages on the route from France, the guidebook has simple graphics. As a result, it is recommended for all ages as it is easy to follow. It might not be revolutionary, but it has updated information and it even gives access to online GPS files. Point by point, it has many good parts and a few possible drawbacks.
- Covers the entire 800km route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela
- Includes the Camino the Finisterre 90km route
- Maps out albergues (hostels) within and outside village limits
- Includes contact information for hostels and hotels
- Delivers short blurbs on local fauna and culture
- Includes some historical information
- Warm personal style of writing
- Includes respectful information on faith and local habits
- Maps out elevation and climbing sections
- Includes offset accommodation suggestions to avoid overcrowded locations
- Good translations of Spanish phrases
- Available in a Kindle edition
- No information on possible rest days
- Still heavy for some pilgrims
- Paperback version comes at the same price as the Kindle edition
Walking Guide to the Camino de Santiago by Gerald Kelly
Updated in 2019, the guidebook is useful for basic information such as the number of available beds in popular accommodation locations. Here’s what you can expect.
- Information on the number of beds
- Albergue locations
- Café and supermarket locations
- Elevation information and graphics
- Includes a daily walking schedule
- Poor graphics
- Small maps
Camino Portugues Guidebooks
The route is a popular choice if you’re enjoying rural walks. It starts in Lisbon and it takes pilgrims to various UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués by John Brierley
Covering Camino Central and Camino da Costa, the guidebook is true to John Brierley’s profile. It includes complete information with added historic information.
- Includes pictures from the route
- Each daily section is detailed with elevation information
- Includes personal anecdotes
- Made with updated information
- Only available on paperback
Camino Portugués: Lisbon – Porto – Santiago, Central and Coastal Routes
This small guidebook is the pocket-friendly solution for minimum guidance across two walks to Santiago de Compostela.
- Includes detailed route information on the Way of Saint James
- Details local routes from Lisbon and Porto
- Covers inland and coastal routes
- Includes colored maps
- Made with detailed city maps
- Available on Kindle
- Little cultural and religious importance information
The Camino Portugués by Katrina Davis
Covering planning and preparation stages, the guidebook covers the entire 620km Camino Portugués walk.
- Covers the religious importance of the route
- Offers information on pilgrim etiquette
- Describes each stage with difficulty levels
- Includes English, Portuguese and Spanish phrases
- Heavy paperback
- Doesn’t include route photos
Camino Portugués Coastal and Seaside Route Guidebook
Even though this guidebook is already 2-years old, it might still be a worthy option for the coastal route.
- Includes detailed distance information
- Indexes internet resources for the route
- Details infrastructure information and route detours
- Only available on Kindle
Camino del Norte Guidebooks
Running in Northern Spain, the green route takes pilgrims along the picture-perfect Basque Country. The following guidebooks are suitable for extra information on beaches and local foods.
Camino del Norte: Irún to Santiago along Spain’s Northern Coast
Available in both Kindle and paperback versions, the guidebook details the route along the local regions of Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia.
- Includes WiFi hotspot locations
- Shares a packing gear lists for 30L and 40L backpacks
- Maps out drinkable water sources
- Includes ATM locations
- Detailed information on accommodation (booking options, washing machines, foods, dryers, etc.)
- Available in Kindle and paperback
- Poor information on towns and villages
The Northern Caminos by Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli
The route is detailed in this guidebook is based on the authors walk in 2009 and 2011, the guidebook covers essential information on stage distance and accommodation alternatives.
- Covers the Camino del Norte walk
- Camino Primitivo, Camino Ingles, and Camino Finisterre are covered as well
- Includes basic routes and alternative routes
- Map scale in kilometers and miles
- Includes clothing and hiking gear tips
- Maps accommodation options
- Available on Kindle and paperback
- Distances may not be realistic in some stages
- No contact information for pensions
Camino Finisterre and Muxia Guidebook
Camino Finisterre is a quiet route. It is the only route starting at Santiago de Compostela and it takes pilgrims to Cape Fisterra, also called the “Edge of The World”. Camino Muxia is a shorter route to Finisterre with a length of nearly 80km.
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Inglés: & Camino Finisterre by John Brierley
I like this guidebook because it’s one of the easiest to follow. It shows pilgrims the shortest way to Santiago de Compostela. As a result, it is the guide to the quickest method of getting a Compostela. But it has a few other benefits and drawbacks to consider.
- Detailed 128-page guide
- Takes pilgrims along an ancient route starting from the sea
- Recommendations for those seeking a solitary experience in North Galicia
- Continues the journey from Santiago to Finis Terrae
- Includes map translations from English to Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch
- Follows the main route as well as secondary routes
- Includes information on accommodation and the number of free beds
- Offers basic preparation information
- Detailed information on every turn
- Uses local landmarks to guide pilgrims
- Offers basic space for personal notes
- Needs more shops, cafes and restaurants marked
- Could use more religious references
The Camino Finisterre and the Camino Muxia
Based on a personal walking experience in 2015, the guidebook is now available both in an e-book and in a paperback version.
- Includes information on accommodation and food
- Covers vegan food options along the route
- Splits the route into walkable daily stages
- Includes a minimalistic packing list
- Shows terrain information
- No cultural information
- Insufficient coverage of religious significance
A Camino Pilgrim’s Guide Sarria – Santiago – Finisterre
The book covers the final stages of Camino Francés and its extensions to Finisterre and Muxia as a separate trek.
- Covers three short routes into Santiago de Compostela
- Written in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian
- Includes daily route planners
- Based on detailed maps
- Covers terrain information extensively
- Maps out local attractions and their religious significance
- Not available as an e-book
Via de la Plata Guidebook
Known as the longest Spanish route to Santiago, Via de la Plata has a total length of 1.000km. Traditionally, this route would guide North African Christians.
Walking Guide to the Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabres Second Edition by Gerald Kelly
Updated in 2019, the guidebook is based on the author’s 2009 walking experience. Parts of the guide are also available to download.
- Details daily walking stages from Seville
- Daily walks vary from 5km to 29km
- Features improved maps over the original edition
- Includes altitude profiles
- Maps out shops, restaurants, and banks
- Includes information on historic locations along the route
- Only printed on black and white
- Some out of date information on accommodation
A Pilgrim’s Diary on the Camino de Santiago: The Via de la Plata by Luisa Sousa
This guidebook is more like a journey description and it can be a good read before embarking on Via de Plata.
- Based on daily walks recommendations
- Maps out recreation options
- Describes accommodation booking processes
- Includes daily reflection blurbs
- Doesn’t include maps
- Doesn’t offer hotels and hostels contact information
Camino Ingles Guidebook
This walk has been historically welcoming pilgrims from Northern Europe. Believers from England, Ireland and Scandinavia would embark on this Northern route. It can take up to 7 days to reach the tomb of St. James from the coast.
Camino Inglés: Ferrol to Santiago on Spain s English Way by Anna Dintaman, David Landis and Matthew Harms
Popular with British pilgrims, this route is described in the guidebook. It takes pilgrims or trekkers through cities such as A Coruña or Ferrol.
- Based on daily walks varying from 12km to 24km
- Includes extensive packing list suggestions
- Made with added route pictures
- Includes detailed city maps
- Shows all accommodation options from hostels to monastery stays
- Available on Kindle and paperback
- Short read for an immersive experience
- Maps can be hard to read due to its compact size
The Camino Ingles: 6 days to Santiago by Susan Jagannath
Based on the author’s personal experience along Camino Ingles, the guidebook is a good read before or during the pilgrimage.
- The writing style is easy to read
- Some information on packed goods and emergency kit
- Information on when to start daily walks according to temperature
- Underlines the importance of good fitness for the journey
- Doesn’t include quick information on accommodation options
- Doesn’t include maps
Camino Ingles – The Road Less Travelled by Max Cordell
Including information on how to prepare for the route, it is a guidebook which describes the author’s personal experience with this quiet trek.
- Shows information on required paperwork for international travelers
- Includes tips on how to include fitness level before the walk
- Describes the utility of various equipment and footwear on the route
- Includes useful links
- Describes the route in manageable stages
- Available on Kindle and paperback
- Long paragraphs make it hard to read
- Insufficient information on accommodation
Camino Primitivo Guidebook
Part of Northern Caminos, Camino Primitivo has a length of 321km. It can take up to two weeks to complete it and it is often considered the most difficult pilgrimage to Santiago.
Camino Primitivo, Oviedo to Santiago on Spain s Original Way (Village to Village Map Guide) by Matthew Harms
Based on the Camino Primitivo, the guidebook offers an alternative for those seeking a less-traveled route. It provides additional route options with the possible detour via the Camino del Norte. Apart from its minimalist style, here’s what I like about it.
- Includes full-page maps
- Offers trip planning information such as schedules during summer and winter
- The journey is divided into 13 daily stages
- Maps out a daily budget
- Warns on possible bugs and insects along the way
- Lists essential gear such as a sleeping bag, toiletries or first aid kits
- Shows crucial outdoor gear store locations
- Details possible swimming areas
- Glossy pages might be hard to read out in the sun
- Can be confusing with multiple route variations
The Northern Caminos by Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli
The guidebook includes all Northern Caminos and it includes a section dedicated to the Camino Primitivo. It covers historic localities such as Oviedo or San Juan.
- Information on the ascent and descent length
- Includes detailed road maps
- Shares pictures of local attractions
- Details historic information on towns and villages
- Shows pictures from the route outside towns and villages
- Could use bigger fold-out maps
- Kindle version maps need higher resolution
Camino de Madrid Guidebook
Starting from the regions of Madrid, Segovia, and Valladolid, the route takes pilgrims through the province of Leon. Eventually, it joins the popular Camino Frances.
Camino de Madrid Guidebook: Pilgrim Guides: Madrid to Sahagún by Johnnie Walker and Angelika Schneider
As the only guidebook detailing Camino de Madrid, there are a lot of expectations placed on it.
- Includes complete addresses and phone numbers of local accommodations
- Covers a route less traveled (around 500 yearly registered pilgrims)
- Minimum walking directions as the route are well-marked
- Describes picturesque locations to enjoy on the route
- Includes internet resources with links
- Only available in Kindle edition
There are so many other inspiring Camino de Santiago guidebooks. But not many of them manage to offer detailed information as the ones listed above.
While I like all of them since they offer such unique perspectives, the A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés) by John Brierley is the best choice. Anna Dintaman’s guide is a close second place, especially due to its very personal experience.
However, the detailed information and maps John Brierley offers are hard to match. There is plenty of information on accommodation, services, tourist attraction, weather, and elevation. I like that the guidebook also offers local historic information along with interesting coverage of local legends.
But most of all I like that it splits the route into manageable daily stages. Of course, these are just recommendations. You can decide for yourself how to split the walk. However, I think it’s reassuring to know that small detours are also included in the guidebook so no local attraction can be overlooked by those who seek an immersive experience.
Camino de Santiago FAQ
I’d like to address a few common questions for those who are currently planning.
Is Camino de Santiago safe?
Camino de Santiago is generally safe. It is rare for anyone to be truly alone for more than a few minutes while staying on the route. Coming from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, most pilgrims would meet people and make friends along the way.
Some days, I had to wake up early if I wanted to pass the 50km per day mark. This meant using a flashlight. But even so, the route was calm and uneventful. This is even why solo women walkers are seen so often on the route. Read how safe is the Camino.
Where can I sleep on the Camino de Santiago?
A good guidebook should offer accommodation information. Accommodation is available for all tastes and budgets. I love how you can just sleep in a clean hostel for 10 euros per night. Hotels and even campsites are available along the route. However, even if these locations are listed in a guidebook, it is still advisable to call in advance to check for vacancies during the summer.
Being vegan in a country where you don’t speak the language is not easy. Most hikers should learn a few basic Spanish words for types of vegan food. Some of the local meals can even be made without meat. Others are simply delicious for vegans. For example, the paella de verduras is vegan. I would also recommend a few vegan protein bars to fuel the muscles as needed along the way. Read vegan on the Camino.
Which is the best route for small groups?
Everyone new to Camino de Santiago can start with Camino Frances. This is where most groups should head. Some of the quieter routes are preferred by solo pilgrims and larger groups might be disturbing the entire spiritual experience for these solo pilgrims. Camino de Invierno is certainly not recommended for groups as it is less traveled and highly contemplative for its pilgrims. Read best Camino for one week.
Is it true a route starts from Santiago?
Yes. Camino Finisterre starts in Santiago and it reaches Cape Fisterra, also known as the end of the known world. Traditionally, pilgrims would throw their shoes into the sea to symbolize the end of their long pilgrimage.