Which Way of St. James is the most suitable for beginners?
If you‘ve ever looked it up on the internet, you will have found a fairly clear response to that question: the Portuguese Way of St. James.
And that is not wrong. The Camino Portuguese is actually a good choice and suitable for your first pilgrimage. However, this does not mean that it is the only one qualified to be a good one for you.
What makes the Portuguese Way of St. James suitable for beginners?
There are three factors:
1. Physically it is not too challenging.
This does not mean you will be walking on ground-level asphalt the entire time. The Camino Portuguese does have a fair amount of slopes and gradients to offer, as well as slippery rocks and muddy forest paths, which could lead to you losing your balance. But compared to the other paths it is easier to walk.
2. Shorter stages are possible.
The Camino Frances has a 14km long section in the Meseta which does not offer any accommodation and often not even groceries (There is a Food truck, but you shouldn’t rely on it, of course). You don’t get it to this extent on the Portuguese. The density of options for accommodation is higher, especially in the section from Porto onwards.
A lot of people in Portugal speak English very well, so the probability of you finding someone who speaks a common language at a bar, taxi rank, or reception in a hostel is fairly high. The Portuguese Way of St. James does however end in Spain, but at least you will have that linguistic advantage in the adjustment period of your trip.
4. You can walk it in 2-3 weeks
If you’re planning on starting in Porto, two weeks are enough to do it. However, if you’d rather take your time plan for three weeks. That means a normal holiday is enough time for you to do it.
Is the Camino Frances/ the French Way of St. James suitable for beginners?
Yes and no.
The French Camino de Santiago is the first pilgrimage experience for a lot of people, because somehow it is ‘the’ Camino and therefore, the only option many think about when planning a pilgrimage.
Only when it turns out that it is too complicated or impossible to get 6 full weeks off is when people start to consider other options.
The Camino Portugues in comparison is much better for beginners because it is physically less challenging. Those who are physically fit, however, do not have a reason to not walk the Camino Frances as their first Way of St. James.
Furthermore, you do have the opportunity to walk the Way in multiple pilgrimage holidays e.g. two holidays of three weeks or three holidays of two weeks.
Because the path is so highly frequented and has been popular for a long time, you can make it with no further language knowledge. Of course, not every local is happy about the crowds of pilgrims showing no knowledge of their local language, but it seems like they have gotten used to it which results in many places speaking bits of English at least.
Which other Caminos de Santiago are also suitable for beginners?
There is of course always the option of walking a Way of St. James in Germany or other european countries – but you won´t reach Santiago de Compostela when choosing these ways (unless you have unlimited time).
But you have a lot ways to choose from which matches your fitnesslevel best – the Via Baltica or Via Scandinavia in the north of Germany are easier to walk on most stages than the Way of St. James leading from Cologne, through the Eifel, over Trier, until Metz in France.
In my experience, however, the other european pilgrim paths do not supply the proper pilgrimage feeling. One reason for that is that you meet barely any to no other pilgrims on the way and another reason is that the locals are not used to pilgrims which leads to them thinking you are a hitchhiker. Furthermore, there are no pilgrim hostels, and after all the community is an aspect that makes up a lot of the charm of walking a Camino.
There are more Ways of St. James in Spain that are suitable for beginners such as the Camino Ingles. However, I cannot give an official review about them because I have never walked them myself.
The easiest way to find out which Way is the most suitable one for you is by booking a consultation because apart from physical challenges there are other important factors to consider such as the time of the year and more.
You can find more information and advice here: