The Camino de Santiago routes in Portugal are known as the Camino Portugues or Camino Portuguese Way of St James, (the Portugues and English). They are not one route but three routes through Portugal into Spain finishing in Santiago de Compostela.
The main starting points for the Camino Portugues are:
- Lisbon – 612km
- Porto – 240km
- Tui – 119km – about half of all pilgrims start at this point
You can though start your Camino at any point along the route, bear in mind to have your Pilgrim’s Passport, which is required to stay in the pilgrim’s hostels and to be awarded your Compostela when you arrive in Santiago de Compostela. Normally you only need one stamp per day in your pilgrim’s passport, unless you start at Tui – in that case you need two stamps per day to be eligible for the Compostela.
The Way of St James in Portugal is quieter than the Camino Frances, thought it is the second most popular Camino route. Along with the Camino del Norte, they are the only two long Caminos on the Iberian peninsular where you can walk alongside the sea at various stages.
Camino Central Portugués
El Camino Portugués also known as Camino Central Portugués (to distinguish it from other minor Portuguese route variations) is the main pilgrimage route connecting Lisbon with Santiago de Compostela. Similarly to other routes, its roots can be traced to medieval ages as the most popular route for pilgrims coming from all over Portugal. Among the most iconic figures to walk this way are the King Sancho II in 1244, Queen Isabel of Portugal in 1326 and 1335 as well as Francisco de Holanda, a famous Portuguese painter, humanist and architect in1549.
El Camino Portugués provides an excellent option for pilgrims looking for a picturesque rural experience following a winding, non-demanding terrain and rich on historical monuments.
Overview of Camino Portugues
The Portuguese Way winds for roughly 600km from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela in parallel to the coast. It can be comfortably conquered in approximately 24 days, walking 25km per day on average. Although the official start of the route is in Lisbon, most pilgrims commence their journey in Porto or Tui, which are 240km (10 days) and 119km (5-6 days) before Santiago de Compostela respectively.
Historic towns, cities, bridges, churches and other reminders of its long and wealthy history, line the entire route to Santiago. It crosses Portugal from south to north and leads the pilgrims through the natural and historical beauties of Portugal and Galicia.
From all the pilgrim routes available, Camino Portugués is probably the least demanding regarding the elevations of the terrain. Even though the road winds up and down hilly areas, it is nothing like a climb and descent to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances or the river-riddled path in the Basque Country section of Camino Norte. The only climb worthy of noting is Alto da Portela Grande de Labruja in the stage from Ponte de Lima to Rubiães which has the pilgrims ascending 315 meters in 4.2 km. Still, it is fairly undemanding and pleasant.
The Portuguese part of the journey first crosses the plain in the Portuguese province of Ribatejo, then enters the hilly terrain of Beira Litoral and, at last, takes you through the nature-rich regions of Douro Litoral and Minho. It is undoubtedly exciting, filled with delightful rural sceneries and forests. Nonetheless, it needs to be noted that in a few instances it follows secondary motor routes without a shoulder. Fortunately, between the years 2010-2012, the Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués created alternative paths for most of these sections.
As you enter Galicia, the route continues parallel to the Rías Bajas de Vigo and Pontevedra, but the shore remains hidden from the pilgrim’s sight for the most part. Galician stages are dominated by an extensive rural urbanism, and most of the route is on asphalt roads.
Given the accessibility of the terrain, the route is very popular among cyclists.
One of the biggest advantages of the Portuguese Way is the impeccable waymarking along the entire route. This is a result of joined efforts of the Galician and Portuguese “Friends of The Camino” associations.
Similarly to the other pilgrim routes, the way is marked with a familiar yellow arrow. In the first part of the journey the yellow arrow is accompanied by blue arrows signaling the route to Fatima. Camino Portugués and the pilgrimage to Fatima share the same path from Lisbon to Santarem. Fatima is considered a holy place since the apparition of Virgin Mary to three children, Lucia, Jacinto, and Francisco, in 1917 in a cave close to the to the town. You are welcome to take a detour either by foot, bus or a taxi.
Also, after Porto, you can decide to follow an alternative route along the coast. Beginning in Matosinhos, the path is very well marked following the shore.
Cities & Distances
El Camino Portugués passes through numerous villages, towns, and cities, entering Spain via Tui. A particularity of this route is the abundant availability of services such as bars, restaurants and shops available, which are a result of a rather dense demographic. It is very rare to walk more than an hour without coming across a bar or a restaurant. Thus, there is no need to carry excessive amounts of water or food on you making it a great option newbies or those who do not want to give up certain standards.
When To Go on the Camino
Given that Portugal and Galicia are outlined by the Atlantic Ocean, the climate is quite whimsical and generous on rainfall. Every pilgrim should be adequately prepared for the possibility of rain regardless of the season.
The busiest moths are, naturally, July and August. Thus, beware of crowded facilities as well as considerably hot and humid weather. For those who want to witness nature in its bloom, the month of April, May and June offer refresh weather and a sprout of greenery. Early autumn is also still fairly dry and considerably less busy.
The availability of pilgrim accommodation along the Camino Portugués is quite uneven. In the first half of the journey, between Lisbon and Porto, there are no albergues that typical for other pilgrim routes to Santiago. Instead, you can find refuge in the barracks of the volunteer firefighters (also known as A.H.B.V. or Bombeiros Voluntários), youth hostels or parish houses.
Between Porto and Valença do Minho, one can already encounter several albergues de peregrinos or accommodation provided by various religious orders available only for pilgrims. The closer you get to Santiago de Compostela the easier it will be to find albergues.
In any case, due to many changes (usually positive) in the infrastructure of the Camino Portugués, you should opt for the most recent guide as the information changes from year to year.
What to See
Quite probably none of the other famous Camino routes provide as many sightseeing joys and jewels as Camino Portugués. The route is riddled with historic villages, towns, and cities giving you the option to see numerous churches, chapels, monasteries and other common examples of medieval architecture.
If you decide to start from Lisbon, make sure you soak in as much of this historic city as you can, especially the cathedral. Other noteworthy cathedrals can be visited in Porto and Tui while Tomar and Coimbra are home to of one of the oldest European universities.
Best Guide Books
At the moment, the most up-to-date guidebook on the market is “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués: Lisbon – Porto – Santiago (Camino Central – Camino de la Costa)” written John Brierley and published by Camino Guides. When purchasing, make sure you are getting the newest 8th edition of the book published in 2016.
The book offers a nice overview of the route including detailed maps if individual stages and alternative routes. Also, it provides you with an updated list of accommodation facilities, town plans as well as practical tips on preparation and packing.
Travel Along The Route
Whether you start your way in Lisbon, Porto or Tui, you should not have any trouble arriving at the location. The easiest way to find flight, bus or train links is via goeuro.com. The site is very conveniently in English and provides a straightforward search system. It is a great website to find long as well as short distance transport in case you need to speed up your journey. You can purchase the tickets directly on the site.
Why Camino Portugués?
El Camino Portugués is one of the most popular routes to Santiago de Compostela. It is not as crowded as Camino Frances and not as physically demanding as Camino del Norte. All its stages offer an abundance of services while letting you enjoy the peacefulness of picturesque fields and forests. This makes it an amazing choice for first-time pilgrims or those whose physical health would be challenged by the steep ascends and descends of the other routes.
From Porto to Tui / Valenca and Redondela there are two routes.
The first route travels directly north from Porto; this is the continuation of the central route, above.
The second route is called the Coastal Route. As the name suggests it travels along the western coast of Portugal heading north. The coastal route starts at Porto. There is the option of joining the central route again at Valenca / Tui or staying on the coast and joining at Redondela.
The Camino Portugues Interior, Caminho Interior, starts at Viseu and joins the central Portuguese route at Ponte de Lima or alternatively heads east and joins the Camino Sanabres at Verin. Currently this route is not well marked and has few pilgrims’ hostels, though the marking is getting better each year.
The Camino routes in Portugal have not developed as quickly as the routes in Spain to accommodate the many pilgrims hiking each year. This can make some of the hostels a little bit more expensive than Spain and less frequent. However Portugal is racing to catch up and the Portuguese Association Via Lusitana are making tremendous improvements every year.