Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

The tradition of walking the pilgrim trails across Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain - the supposed final resting place of the apostle Saint James - dates back to the Middle Ages. Today, many travellers choose to take on the Camino trails for the challenge rather than out of religious devotion. Joanne Karcz checks in following a historic hike on the Camino Portugues…

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Camino routes across Europe lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Once is never enough on an adventure like the Camino de Santiago and thankfully there are many Camino routes to choose from.

Having taken on the Camino Frances last year, I recently had the luxury of walking for five weeks through Portugal from Lisbon to Santiago in Spain on the Camino Portugues. Initially following the centuries-old pilgrim path to Porto, we then left the traditional route to hug the coastline. What an experience!

It was hard. Much harder than the Camino Frances. And this time we carried everything. But it was certainly worth it. Here are some tips for walking the Camino Portugues.

While the road walking (of which there is plenty) was unpleasant and sometimes dangerous, our path often took us through fields and villages. The traditional connection with the land in regional Portugal remains strong: people tending their plots; tractors passing us in the street, parked on the side of the road or working the fields.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues. Image: João Octávio Meira

People were always friendly, giving of their time to offer assistance, directions or just encouragement to those walking the Camino Portugues. Like the man in a red hat ploughing his land, who called to us loudly above the sound of his tractor. With a big wave and thumbs up, he wished us well on our journey.

We slept in accommodation ranging from simple cabins in campgrounds to dormitory style albergues (pilgrim hostels) or private rooms in hostels or pensiones.

Having minimal clothes with us, we hand-washed daily – or occasionally had our laundry done for us. More than once, after we were brought our clean, dry and on one occasion, even ironed laundry, payment was refused.

I was regularly overcome by the kindness shown to us. I recall the doddery old man who stood up with difficulty to take us through his sparsely furnished fishing hut to point out our accommodation for the night, or the woman who gave us slices of cake to have with our morning coffee.

We paced ourselves, walking an average of twenty kilometres each day. It was autumn, so there was no pressure on accommodation. Much like the pilgrims of old, each night we just turned up and asked for a room. There was always something available.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues. Image: Joanne Karcz

Hoisting my belongings onto my back each morning and setting off for the day’s walk pared life back to absolute simplicity. Sometimes we walked further than planned. Other times not so far. It depended on how we felt at the time.

The kind, generous and helpful people we met welcomed us into their lives, enriching the experience. Farm workers who were preparing to machine harvest a field of ripe tomatoes happily posed for photos, excited that the images would be seen in Australia.

As the harvester started moving, they quickly pulled themselves on board, inviting me to join them. Grabbing my hands, they hoisted me onto the running board. I watched fascinated as they set to work removing any green or rotten fruit, before the good tomatoes passed down a chute into the waiting truck.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues. Image: Joanne Karcz

One pleasant day as we walked through a field we came across a large extended family taking a lunch break under the trees. Grandpa sat on a box, walking stick in hand, watching the proceedings. Young children, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins talked and joked together. We shared their delicious home-made wine and tasty fish croquettes, chatting as best we could with our limited Portuguese.

The Fosters t-shirt worn by one of the uncles was an obvious talking point, while the youths were keen to practice their English.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues. Image: Joanne Karcz

Then it was back to work picking the grapes and we continued on with a spring in our step.

Many villagers make their own wine, usually in a room under their house. As we passed an open garage with a home cellar, I asked to look inside. Señor Maia happily showed us around, explaining that his grapes grew on his plot down the road and up the hill.

I climbed the ladder leaning against a steel vat. The liquid inside bubbled and frothed, giving off the pungent smell of fermentation. Bottled wine stood ageing in homemade stands opposite the vats. Señor Maia thrust a bottle of spumante into our hands as we left. It perfectly complemented our simple meal that night.

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues

Tips for walking the Camino Portugues: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Life slows down when walking the Camino and I’ll return home more patient, relaxed and better able to manage life’s challenges. The most important of all our tips for walking the Camino Portugues? Be careful! It’s addictive!

Writer’s note: The Camino de Santiago forum is a useful resource for planning a Camino trip.

Do you have any tips for walking the Camino Portugues? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Joanne Karcz published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs. She has travelled through Europe and South America and taken a group of friends on the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Her visits to Cuba and India were bucket list items, but she still has a few destinations to tick off!

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