Over 18 days, I walked roughly 480 miles on a variant of the Camino Portugues from Lisbon to Santiago. I had previously done the Central Route from Porto to Santiago, so this time I took the Coastal to the Spiritual Variant. I didn’t actually make it to Santiago - the Spiritual is designed to end with a boat trip, but this is only an option in the summer. There is an alternative walking route, but this was about 50km longer than I could manage before my flight (which I had bought without consideration for the remaining distance a week before).
The caminos are not hiking trails - rather, they cut b-lines across large, densely-populated countries, and are therefore fighting a huge uphill battle to achieve any kind of consistently enjoyable walking experience. There were a few short sections of nasty highway walking, but most of the suboptimal bits were unpleasant in a monotonous, unattractive way - like walking next to a railroad track or drainage ditch. Most of the route was rather scenic and pleasant; I hiked the Central years ago, but from what little I remember, I think the Coastal is significantly less urban and generally a better route.
As with the Fisherman’s Trail, the weather was perfect every single day - highs in the 60s and mostly sunny. There were threats of rain late in the walk, but I only got one slightly misty day. Apparently this isn’t even remotely normal for January.
There are lots of albergues on this route, especially between Porto and Santiago on the Coastal and Central. Because of the season, I was typically the only guest, or one of two. This meant that I got a giant room to myself for 10-20 euros. Many included a free breakfast. Some didn’t provide sheets or blankets, so I bought a Decathlon bag liner for 8 euros. The albergues were a highlight of the trip because every single owner was ridiculously nice and excited to have me and talk about the routes. Some are on Booking, but many are pilgrims only, so I would often have to call/WhatsApp/FB Message to check if they were open.
I usually went to restaurants and requested the menu do dia. These tended to be around 8 euros in Portugal and 11 in Spain and included bread, olives, soup, a main of some kind, beer/wine/juice, coffee, and dessert. The amazing thing about these menus, particularly in Portugal, is the utter lack of skimping - you don’t get a tiny jello for dessert, you get anything they might have in their display case. You’re also given at least a half liter of wine - they treat it just like restaurants treat pitchers of water in the States.
My walk began in downtown Lisbon after taking a bus from Lagos. For whatever reason, there are often tickets out of the Santiago airports (A Coruña, Vigo, etc.) for the same price as those from Madrid. I booked a roundtrip ticket from A Coruña to Miami (via Madrid) and back to Madrid 2 months later on Iberia for 245 euros (this was significantly cheaper than a one-way). I have not yet decided whether I’ll be returning to Spain at the end of March.
My LycaMobile sim didn’t give me any data for Spain, so I had to buy a Vodafone 12gb/1 month sim for 10 euros more. This proved immediately useful when I ended up in an empty albergue that had turned off their internet service for the season.
Most people wear masks when walking through the cities. Some will hike with them on their chins and pull them up as they approach. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to find a test for my return flight, but I discovered a free municipal rapid testing service in a Spanish-language news site. It seemed as if they didn’t get many tourists, but they phoned in my passport and were able to get me a result in 45 minutes.
Day 1 Summary
www.strava.com/activities/6549513722 - the route started with a rather neat, winding route through city alleyways, followed by a sidewalk running along the coast. This was followed by some less interesting suburban stretches and one of the worst road walks. But the day ended with boardwalks and a bike path.
www.strava.com/activities/6554066989 - Much of the day was along railroad tracks and through industrial areas. There were some unpleasant road walks. It ended with quiet country roads.
www.strava.com/activities/6559394036 - Quiet country roads, interrupted by a series of narrow winding streets through an attractive city.
www.strava.com/activities/6564645791 - More pleasant country roads, ending with a famous pilgrimage site that I thought had a bit of a Disney/Soviet/Star Wars evil empire vibe.
www.strava.com/activities/6570598301 - Since Fatima is a detour from the camino, this is a connector trail between the Fatima route and the camino. Another option is to continue north and join the camino at Ansião, but Tomar is really cool, so it would probably be a shame to skip it.
The route passed through a couple hunting areas and, for parts of the day, gunshots were sounding all around me.
www.strava.com/activities/6584738070 - Pleasant country roads ending in really neat city. I could've easily spent a few days in Coimbra.
www.strava.com/activities/6590886447 - I think this section had some less pleasant parts, but Agueda was surprisingly cool, with tons of public art.
www.strava.com/activities/6594936660 - Not as nice as preceding sections. Ended at an old mill in the forest.
www.strava.com/activities/6601329389 - Owner of mill albergue advised me to skip the last section into Porto and head to the coast instead. I wasn't too crazy about this alternate path, but I have no idea what the camino section is like. My route took me along railroad tracks to a string of modern beach towns. There were many miles on boardwalks.
www.strava.com/activities/6606744680 - I spent a long time getting out of Porto, then took boardwalks and sidewalks through a series of modern beach towns.
www.strava.com/activities/6610806958 - This section leaves the beach towns behind and begins a long stretch of winding stone alleyways through hill country.
www.strava.com/activities/6615509079 - The old stone alleyways continue - this is a definite highlight of the Coastal Route (which isn't particularly close to the coast).
www.strava.com/activities/6621343397 - It was rather difficult to find the boat across the narrow channel - I hadn't planned to stay in A Caminha at all, but ended up having to wait till the following morning at 9 for the one boat guy to take me across. Usually, there are 2 other boat taxi services and a regular ferry, but these were not operating.
The coastal walk that followed was one of my favorite sections.
www.strava.com/activities/6626399331 - This day's walk mostly passed through urban and suburban areas on quiet, secondary roads and forest paths.
www.strava.com/activities/6630966235 - I had previously done the stretch from Redondela to Pontevedra, but didn't remember a single moment of it. There were some urban sections that were pleasant enough and a quiet forest walk along a stream. After Pontevedra, I took the Spiritual Variant, which took some quiet roads to the coast, and then followed narrow lanes and fire paths up over a mountain.
I had intended to stay at a famous monastery in Armenteira but received an email shortly before arriving that informed me that several of the sisters had covid. I called up the operator of the local albergue and he immediately gave me access.
www.strava.com/activities/6636988544 - This day started by following the "Water and Rocks" trail past old mills and waterfalls. Some coastal walking took me to Vilanova de Arousa where I would've caught the pilgrim boat had it been operating. Instead, I did some road walking to Vilagarcia where I got a covid test and caught a train into Santiago. After wandering around the bustling streets for a bit, I took another train to A Coruña and flew out the next morning.