By Sharon Sullivan
For thousands of years, pilgrims have journeyed to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to pay tribute to the shrine of the apostle St. James whose tomb lies in the city’s famous cathedral. Even today, thousands of people – some for religious reasons, others simply for the joy and scenery – walk El Camino de Santiago (St. James Way). There are several different routes from which to choose, all leading to Santiago.
After the late parish priest Don Elias Valina Sampedro began cleaning and marking the trails during the 1980s, a resurgence of modern-day pilgrimages occurred. The priest is responsible for the iconic yellow arrows found on sides of buildings, signposts and roads preventing pilgrims from wandering off in the wrong direction. The 2011 movie “The Way” also likely sparked interest in the journey.
There are at least two companies that offer tours: one a self-guided trip that can begin any day of the week, and the other a group excursion that includes a local guide.
Mac Adventures, with offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Boulder, Colorado, offers self-guided trips that can start on any day of the week, from April through October. In 2018, 2,200 people walked the Camino via Mac Adventures.
“We arrange the logistics of the trip, including lodging and breakfast every morning,” says Kellen MacFadyen, Mac Adventures senior adventure specialist. Additionally, “we do one bag transfer per person every day, so people only have to carry a day pack.” The company also provides guidebooks and information about the region.
“We use local bed and breakfast inns along the route,” MacFadyen adds. “We always provide private rooms.” Clients are on their own for lunch and dinner, typically choosing to dine at cafes in villages and towns along the way.
While the most popular route is the Camino Frances, Macs Adventures offers self-guided tours on other, less traveled paths as well. Clients can choose to walk the entire Camino in 40 days or do just a segment in eight days or less. “We can work with folks to customize their trips,” MacFadyen says. “We provide peace of mind, taking care of all the logistics.”
Prices range from $850 per person for an eight-day, seven-night trip, up to a full Camino experience of 40 days and 39 nights for a base price of $4,780.
Another company, REI Adventures, offers group trips led by local guides. “It’s a central element of our adventures as we focus on accessing off-the-beaten path locations with an expert who knows the area and is passionate about the outdoors,” says REI public relations associate Marjory Elwell.
This spring, REI is leading Camino treks along a couple of the oldest and least traveled routes: the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo, which offer “spectacular ocean views” while traversing “breathtaking coastal cliffs,” according to its website. Pilgrims explore hidden coves and charming fishing villages, and receive a guided tour of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral.
Nine-day trips are $4,299 for REI members and $4,699 for nonmembers, and are scheduled from April to October. REI is an outdoor gear co-op store, which people can join to receive membership discounts.
The Portuguese Way is a new route offered by REI that crosses northern Portugal and northwestern Spain, ending in Santiago. This seven-day, six-night adventure is $3,499 for REI members and $3,899 for nonmembers. The cost includes lodging and meals, professional guide services and transportation during the course of the trip. Dates of these trips are from March to October.