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I will be a first time "pilgrim" in July of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) and am deciding on the various routes. Can someone explain what differences are encountered on the routes - how strenuous, distances between places, popularity, for example?

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Welcome to Travel.SE. As per the faq, polling/discussions/opinion is not suitable for the site. I'm going to reword it to be a bit more suitable, I hope that's ok. –  Mark Mayo Mar 14 '13 at 2:09
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Where do you plan to start? –  Jonas Mar 14 '13 at 2:10

2 Answers 2

I've been researching routes for my trip to the Camino in June/July. It appears that the most popular routes are the Northern way and the French way. Here are the differences between the two.

The French Way

  • More popular and crowded.
  • Great route if you're looking for people to meet. Not so great if you like solitude.
  • Albergues are more frequent (~15-20km between each), but more crowded so you'd have to leave early and try to arrive by 5 or 6 to get a bed.
  • Walking through a lot of prairies. Some gradually rising hills, but nothing too intense. Still decent scenery.
  • Very well marked path. Almost impossible to lose your way.
  • Some parts of the route are on busy highways. Just be cautious of traffic. Nearly 70% of deaths on the French way are due to pilgrims being ran over by motorists.
  • A lot of accommodations for pilgrims along the path. Water fountains and quick shops are abundant, so no need to carry a ton of stuff with you.
  • A lot of English-speaking locals.
  • A lot of walking on gravel, but also a quite a bit of walking on pavement. This can really grind your feet.
  • Great route for beginners and inexperienced hikers/walkers.
  • Great route for "spiritual awakening."

The Northern Way

  • Beautiful coastal scenery along the entire path.
  • More hills making this route more challenging than the French way.
  • Weather is a bit of an issue being near the coast. I hear it rains a lot up north except for June/July months. The route has signs which provide alternate ways in case of bad weather. I read that those things are not to be underestimated and there have been cases of people dying here taking chances.
  • I also read that there is a ton of walking on pavement. More so than on the French way. This can take a toll on your legs, but you'll probably get used to this after several days.
  • Not as popular as the French way, but still fairly active. Great if you like walking by yourself and still gives you plenty of chances to find a walking partner.
  • Not a lot of albergues or pilgrim accommodations, but still enough to find a place to stay every day. Finding a bed at an albergue is easier because this route doesn't see a lot of pilgrims.
  • I read that the route is fairly well marked but not as well as the French way. Still pretty hard to get lost.
  • Not a lot of locals speak English, so you should equip yourself with minimal knowledge of Spanish or at least carry a dictionary or a list of helpful phrases.

So to sum this up, if you want a truly spiritual, authentic Camino experience which includes meeting a ton of people and hearing their stories - take the French route. If you like challenge, don't mind solitude and want gorgeous scenery - take the Northern route.

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Note that there a several french ways, at least one from Italy (chemin d'Arles), one from Switzerland (chemin du Puy) and another one from Germany (chemin de Veselay). –  mouviciel Mar 14 '13 at 5:51
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There are dozens of ways. The ones spoken here are the most known, but There are several coming from Portugal, and from the southern spain and several ramifications on Europe. There are always places to sleep. It may no be an Albergue but a room of the local parish for example. Take a look at the map I posted here travel.stackexchange.com/questions/13680/… (Even though quite complete it has some missing routes in Portugal and Spain) –  nsn Mar 14 '13 at 7:57
    
I would like to add that on the picture posted by greg the french way is the red one and the nothern way is the blue one. –  Lyrion Mar 14 '13 at 12:50
    
@Lyrion good point, I add that in my answer –  greg121 Mar 14 '13 at 14:54

Update: From Sergei's answer the french way is the red one and the nothern way is the blue one.

Here is an overview of the routes closer to Santiago. The red route "Camino Francés" is "The Way", the well known one. Very busy at the end. It starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. I'm starting there in the end of April to walk the 800km to Santiago.

The other routes are not as popular therefore the infrastructure isn't as good as on the Camino Francés.

Buen Camino

Overview Thanks to Hermann from www.pilger-faq.de.vu

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