The Camino Portugués is not a single route, but offers the pilgrimage traveler many options. The main, central route travels 640 kilometers from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela.
In our opinion, the section from Lisbon to Porto that we walked had an altogether different feel than the section from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. In our experience, they were two very distinct caminos!
To add confusion and/or interest, depending on your point of view, there are three distinct routes from Porto: the Interior, classic route, the Coastal route which rarely hugs the actual coastline and the Senda Litoral which does. We chose a mixture of the Coastal and the Senda Literal, walking by the actual coastline only where it was practical.
Then, add to the mix that you are traveling in two separate and unique countries, and the Camino Portugués from Porto has two distinct sections, the part that walks through Portugal and the part that walks through Spain.
It is easy to see why I call this Camino, "the many ways of the Camino Portugues!"
"Give me my scallop-shell of quiet, My staff of faith to walk upon, My scrip of joy, immortal diet, My bottle of Salvation, My gown of glory (hope's true gage), And then I'll take my Pilgrimage." ~ Sir Walter Raleigh, The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage, 1603
In this introduction to the Portuguese Camino we will attempt the following:
The Portuguese Camino rose to significance in the mid-12th Century, soon after the country gained its independence. Traveling on established cultural, economic and spiritual roads, often utilizing original Roman roads, the human bonds that were created then, as now, transcended political boundaries.
Major networks of roads in Portugal were established along the Pilgrim's' Way, passing through Lisboa, Santarém, Coimbra, Porto, Barcelos, Ponte de Lima and crossing the River Minho into Galicia.
Portugal's "Holy Queen," Queen Isabel in the 14th Century traveled to Santiago from Lisbon. Along with other nobles and high-ranking clergy, she contributed to the popularity and devotion to the Jacobean cult.
Queen Isabel even offered up her crown to the altar in Santiago and was buried in Coimbra with a pilgrim's staff to show her devotion.
Likewise, in 1502, King Manuel I left orders for a lamp to be lit around the clock in the cathedral of Santiago, as a memoir of his stay, and even assigned an annual payment to cover its cost.
In the 19th century, the Portuguese Camino enjoyed even more popularity, becoming the most-traveled Jacobean route, because of strife in France who was in revolution, and the French invasion of Spain by Napoleon. In this century, over 80% of foreign pilgrims were from Portugal. *
In recent history, the Camino Portugués is becoming more and more popular, especially the 300 km route from Porto.
*Historical information taken from the brochure on the Portuguese Way, provided by the Portuguese Tourist Office.
I geo-tracked my entire Camino using a cell phone application called Geotracker. I highly recommend this app, because it primarily uses GPS satellite information and very little cellular data. I know this for sure, because when my SIM card from Portugal ceased to function when I crossed into Spain, the app still tracked my steps, even though I wasn't able to visualize the actual map very well.
The free Geotracker app really works well, without having to purchase another GPS device.
Finding my way when I wasn't sure where to go, I would use an overlay of another person's GPS data that I had uploaded to Geotracker (using their kmz files - I found on Ivar's forum. Click here if you want them - you may have to join the forum to access this file). I would compare where I was, with the uploaded track on file. I could easily confirm that I was lost or right on track! If I was lost, I could find my way back easily using the Geotracker's map.
If you are a data geek like me, like to use Google maps as well as a geotracker, and need an international data plan, consider getting a Portuguese SIM card when you arrive. Only 20 Euro for 5 gb of data. This was plenty for me, for the entire time we were in Portugal.
The only problem is that when you arrive in Spain, you must purchase another Spanish SIM card, for a similar price, as the countries are on different networks. I used Vodafone and they have shops everywhere, at the airport and in every city/town in both countries.
Below is the map I created with my Geotracker files, which I uploaded to Google Maps. If you zoom into the route, you may notice some points which appear to be missing. I tried to edit these, but the data points and files on Geotracker are not perfect, so you will see some holes.
Fully Interactive Map of the Camino Portugués from my Geotracker
My total kilometers/miles figures are different than the guides and information out there, because we took the Coastal Route with some days on the Senda Literal, which is always longer.
Plus, we found out that despite the figures in the guides, the mileage was ususally longer than stated. If you want a link to my Geotracker files on Google maps, click here.
If you want my actual kml files to upload to your own GPS or Geo-tracking app, you can download them by clicking here.
Prior to leaving for our Camino, I found on Ivar's Camino de Santiago Forum a gentlemen named Christian (cj2003) who put together an Excel file of all accommodations on the Camino Portugués from Lisbon to SDC. Click here if you wish to download the file. This file is continually being updated, in the resources section of the forum!
Some of the best advice on accommodations came from talking with fellow pilgrims and the locals. Plus, I hope that my web pages will help plan your Camino as well as you read through!
It is said that if you do not understand the phenomenon of Fátima, you will not understand the Portuguese culture.
If you are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Fátima, it is the name for the Blessed Virgin Mary given by the Catholic Church in 1917, after three young shepherd children saw her as an apparition, in a field in central Portugal. There is a shrine to her in the location of the visions, in the town of Fátima and one can see her image throughout Portugal, and even in Galicia.
Fátima is very easy to spot, as she wears a crown on her head, and often is depicted with the 3 children kneeling before her, as in the photo of the mural. Almost every church has an altar to her, and I even spotted her in the cathedral at Santiago! She is highly venerated among the Portuguese Catholics.
You have already read above, the Camino Portugués is filled with wonders, most notably the longer, 400 km section from Lisbon to Porto. It is said that once you leave the touristy city of Lisbon, it is only then, that you encounter the "true" Portugal. I wholeheartedly agree! Portugal is worth exploring, in its every nook and cranny, that is beautiful, fruitful and full of history.
Yes, the stages are long with less support services than the section after Porto. However, in my opinion, a true pilgrimage should never be without a bit of hardship, will and determination.
With just a bit of extra planning regarding shortening your stages if needed, always carrying plenty of water and food, you will be just fine! Unlike the Camino Francés, you cannot just put your brain on autopilot, expecting things to appear shortly after you need something. Plus the Portuguese are so willing to help if you need it!
If the one thing I would advise here, is that you do have a phone service that you can call the Via Lusitana SOS number, if you get into trouble. It is 915-595-213. They are the organization that supports and maintains the Camino Portugués.
I heard from many pilgrims on Facebook and the Camino Forum that we would be walking through lots of ugly industrial areas, especially when walking out of Lisbon. Yes, we did walk through a few industrial zones, but it was never for long. And we were pleasantly surprised at the walk out of Lisbon, along the Tejo River, on promenades and through the old 1998 World Expo site. It was nothing like I had expected and quite pleasant and cool along the river. Please feel free to click through to see my Day One on the Camino Portugués to see for yourself!
For me, the most tedious was not walking through industrial areas, but the long, flat, and hot (even in April) gravel lanes through agricultural zones. Because services are few and far-between, one must carry plenty of food/water. In these areas, there is little to no shade, as the photo depicts below
I wore light and loose, long sleeve shirts to protect myself from the sun. My pants were too heavy to wear, or I would have worn pants as well. Sunscreen and sun hats are mandatory. I would even wet down a bandana to tuck under the back of my baseball cap to cool myself off! Make sure you have plenty of water if you do this!
There are lots of great towns and sights between Lisbon and Porto; Santarém, Tomar, Coimbra, and plenty of medieval and Roman bridges, Roman roads and the ruins of Conimbriga along the Way.
The ugly truth along the Camino Portugués, is that there are really, really fast drivers. Indeed there are stretches along very busy and/or narrow highways that one must not ignore the danger. In fact, one could take a lesson from the Fátima pilgrims, who all wear fluorescent-striped traffic vests when they walk! And they are Portuguese!
The Portuguese drive so fast and come so close to the pedestrians, that an old saying I learned from a young farm boy in high school who drove the same way, continually came to mind: "An inch is a good as a mile!" Yes, in Portugal, an inch IS as good as a mile!
Once you acclimate to this ugly truth you will be just fine. Here are our recommendations when walking on roads:
I was amazed at how frequently I saw pilgrims walking out into the road, on both sides, ignoring the traffic. Not only is this discourteous to the natives who have to deal with pilgrims every day, but you are truly taking your life into your hands. Pedestrians may have the right-of-way, but speeding drivers do not have sufficient time to react!
While there are sections of road walking, I felt it was not that horrible. The reason it feels horrible is the speed of the drivers. Most drivers are Monte Carlo wannabes! If you do the Camino Portugués, please wear brightly colored clothes, or a safety vest. It will be money well spent.
Another very different aspect of the Camino Portugués from Lisbon to Porto is the lack of throngs of pilgrims. For us, at least in April, it was mostly a solitary walk. We met very few other pilgrims, and few Americans! This is good or bad depending on your point of view. What I can guarantee you is miles and miles of solitary farmland that will lead you into reflection, if that is what you seek.
In Portugal, the pilgrimage to Fátima takes precedence. The Portuguese don't understand why you would want to walk to Santiago and not Fátima! This is an aspect of their culture in which you will have to adjust. Especially if you are hooked on the Camino de Santiago - which we all are!
Despite these few pitfalls, I can say with my whole heart that the section of the Camino Portugués from Lisbon to Porto, all 400 kilometers of it is worth it! Just do it! Adapting to what is, is the way of the pilgrim after all, isn't it?
The Camino Portugués is most popular after Porto. We found it to be a totally different Camino than the section before Porto. With so many new pilgrims starting here, and so many different routes to chose, with many diversions back and forth between the routes, we were seeing new faces every day.
The Interior Route is the most traditional and most historical route. We did not do this one. From Pontevedra, Spain there is yet another route called the Variante Espiritual. There are not many English sites describing this variation, but several of our compadres chose this way and we never saw them again. They do have a Facebook page, click here to see it.
There is the Coastal Route which has been gaining popularity in more recent years. There is some discussion regarding whether or not this route was an official pilgrimage route in medieval times, but there is some evidence that shows that it may have been used.
Thirdly, there is the Senda Literal which literally hugs the coastline on boardwalks and on the beach. There are few arrows on this route and you must be more adventurous and self-guided to feel comfortable on this one. You literally just keep the ocean on your left!
There is a large project underway to build trails and/or boardwalks along the entire Senda Literal, but it appears that it will be many years until it is completed. At times the Coastal joins the Senda Literal, but mostly it does not. At times on the Senda there is absolutely no route to follow except along rocky coastline, rivers and marshes, so we only followed the Senda Literal when there were boardwalks or established, paved trails.
Several times we did choose to walk several kilometers on the beach, but only if it was hard packed and easily accessed. The Senda Literal is almost always longer than staying on the Coastal Route, and it often depended on how tired we were or how far out of the way it was, which route we chose.
We also felt like the weather would have also influenced our choice. Wind and rain along the coast is not very pleasant, but we we lucky and had mostly gorgeous weather.
As you can see below, the coastline boardwalks are quite nice and very inviting! For us the hardship of few arrows was outweighed by the ability to follow the coastline. We are from Colorado, so this was important to us. It is all a matter of preference!
I hope our introduction to the Camino Portugués has helped you in your own decision-making process. I will continue to add articles of each and every leg of our journey, as I can. It was truly unique from the others we have done. I promise you that I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly!
May your pilgrimage roads be full of wisdom and direction! May you always be mindful of how you impact the landscape, the culture and your own life! May you be the pilgrimage traveler who is aware of all that is around you!
***Please note that I will be adding articles for each day that we spent on the Camino Portugués, as I write them. All 26 days! So check back frequently, or subscribe to my feed, to make sure you don't miss any! (To subscribe to my feed, go to the left Navbar, find "Recent Articles," and click on the little orange box on the top right hand corner)
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