Walking El Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey for some, a challenging adventure for others and an exhilarating experience for all. The section from Sarria to Santiago is especially popular and for good reason.
I recently interviewed Milagros (Millie) Teran, a woman who walked the Camino at that most beautiful section from Sarria to Santiago. Her story will surprise and delight you. But first, for the benefit of the uninitiated, let’s get the facts on walking the Camino de Santiago.
Facts for Walking the Camino
The Camino de Santiago is the most famous hike in the world. It was originally a pilgrimage that began in the 9th century traveling to the grave of Saint James, one of the twelve apostles.
For centuries the pilgrim numbers ebbed and flowed until the 1970s when the pilgrimage became very popular again. Although the hike traditionally had religious significance, hiking enthusiasts have come to appreciate it for its beautiful landscape.
The Camino route continues to grow in popularity. It is now estimated that over 350,00 walkers completed the journey in 2018.
The Many Camino Routes
There are several routes depending on how much time you have and what scenery you’d like to see, but the major routes are:
- The Camino Frances, the most popular starting at St Jean Pied de Port traversing all of Spain to end at Santiago de Compostela. It contains the popular short route from Sarria to Santiago.
- The Camino del Norte is said to be the hardest with over 800 km of challenging coastline. It is also reputed to be the loveliest with breathtaking views of the northern coast.
- The Camino Primitivo is short at 260 km but has a series of tough hills to cross.
- The Camino Portugues is also very popular. The complete route runs north from Lisbon to Santiago, but many people prefer to start at Porto. If pressed for time, you can even start further north at Tui, on the Spanish border, and still qualify for a certificate verifying your walk.
- The shortest route is the Camino Ingles which starts at Ferrol on the northern coast and ends at Santiago.
When Is the Best Time to Travel the Camino?
Spring and autumn are the best times to go. The summers are hot and the most crowded part of the year. The winters are cold but all seasons certainly have their own charm.
What Are the Best Routes to Walk the Camino if Your Time Is Limited?
Depending on the time you have available to you, you can start your journey anywhere along any of the routes as long as you complete the minimum 100 km necessary in order to claim your Compostela or certificate of completion.
Some folks want to complete the entire route but don’t have enough time so they return year after year, collecting their stamps, until they finish their preferred route.
If you only have about a week, there are several ideal options.
Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago
The Sarria to Santiago route is just over 100 km meeting the minimum for a certificate of completion. You can split the journey into 5, 6- or 7-day walks depending on how much you want to linger and appreciate the scenery.
This is an easy walk but with plenty of opportunities to see various landscapes. You’ll see lush vegetation, crisscrossing rivers and bubbling streams. This area is famous for its eucalyptus forests and soaring oak trees.
Keep in mind the route from Sarria to Santiago is also the busiest, so if you want peace and quiet, perhaps consider another alternative.
Camino Portugues from Tui
One of the main draws on this route is that you get a taste of the Portuguese culture as well as the Spanish. At 118 km this is the easiest route of all and can be walked in 6 to 7 days or less.
On the Camino Portugues you will see medieval villages with town centers that have not changed in centuries. The landscape is verdant and lush with large forests and expansive farmlands.
This route combines history, beautiful landscapes, easy hiking, and great cuisine. No wonder people love it!
Camino Primitivo from Lugo
This is the oldest route and, as such, is dotted with Roman ruins and charming medieval villages. Lugo itself is surrounded by one of the best-preserved, 3rd century Roman walls in Europe.
You will cross medieval bridges and walk the same roads walked by Romans over 2000 years ago passing forests, farmland and orchards.“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche Click To Tweet
Via de la Plata from Ourense
If you want peace and quiet while you contemplate the green Galician countryside, this is your route. This 111 km walk can be completed in 5 to 7 days and is bursting with thick woods, and charming villages that are deceptively sleepy during the day but come alive at night with tapas bars.
There are other short walks available.
One Woman’s Story: From Sarria to Santiago
Nothing can capture the essence of a Camino de Santiago walk better than a description from someone who has actually walked the walk. For that reason, I asked Millie Teran to share her Camino story, thoughts and experiences with us on her journey from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who did you travel with on this trip?
I am originally from Havana, Cuba but grew up in New Jersey.
I made this journey with my husband. He had always wanted to visit Galicia, and especially Ourense, where his maternal grandfather was from.
What made you decide to take this route from Sarria to Santiago versus any other?
After visiting Santiago de Compostela in 2015 we were very moved by the waves of pilgrims arriving at the Plaza de Obradoiro. We were fortunate to witness a pilgrim mass at the Cathedral where the immense Batafumeiro (metal container used to burn incense during religious ceremonies) was being swung from side to side dissipating the aroma of incense throughout the beautiful cathedral.
Right then and there we began to explore the possibilities of us walking the Camino.
What were the initial preparations you took?
We began to walk on a daily basis to see if we had the stamina to do this. We walked about 2 to 3 miles a day initially not realizing that we needed to walk longer distances.
We got a lot of information from a Facebook group called “American Pilgrims on The Camino.” Although there were many details to consider, we were mostly concerned with distances between sections, clothing, weather, shoes, and lodging.
Many people young and old do the Camino without any of those considerations and do fine, but we–being in our sixties and not in the best physical condition–needed assurances of the above items.
We found out that the minimum distance to qualify for the Compostela Certificate was 100 kms or approximately 70 miles. We also found out that the town of Sarria which is about 114 kms from Santiago was a convenient starting point for many people and it satisfied the requirement of the 100 kms to obtain the Compostela certificate. We decided to start from Sarria and began to equip ourselves with the proper clothing, shoes, walking poles, etc.
We also contacted Santiago Ways, a company whose advertising we saw on the Facebook group I mentioned before, to plan our Camino. Their service would move our luggage from place to place and secure lodging for us. We stayed mostly in hotels but also in other types of accommodations such as a private home.
How did you get to the starting point to go from Sarria to Santiago?
After flying into Madrid we stayed there a few days to try to reduce the jet lag effect before starting our adventure. We then took a train from Madrid to Sarria. That first night we stayed in a nice hotel, had a delicious meal and went to bed.
In the morning after breakfast we embarked on this amazing adventure. We both had small backpacks (our sons’ high school backpacks, which were of great significance to us) where we carried essential supplies for the journey.
The luggage bags were transported by the service we hired. The starting point for the Camino was a short walk from our hotel. We soon were going to find out that the Camino requires more than stamina. It also requires faith and the energy you get from listening to the inspirational stories of fellow pilgrims.“Walking brings me back to myself.” – Laurette Mortimer Click To Tweet
Did you have any concerns prior to the trip, e.g., health, travel safety, time, diet?
We sure did. I had broken a toe about four weeks before and had stopped walking to allow for healing. Luckily by the time we left I was feeling better. My husband had been suffering from chronic knee pain for a long time but it did not deter him from forging ahead with our plans.
We both went to the doctors and after extensive tests were given the go-ahead.
Can you please give a brief explanation of each day.
We obtained our Pilgrim Credentials at the front desk of the hotel we stayed at that first night and had them stamped with our first Stamp. You need a minimum of two stamps per day to get your Compostela.
The Compostela is the certificate you receive at the end of the trip verifying that you completed the journey. You will get these stamps along the way at a variety of places such as churches, roadside rest areas, restaurants, albergues, hostels, hotels, etc.
Day 1. – Sarria to Portomarin. 13.8 miles
Our first day consisted of a grueling climb that seemed to go on forever. It is truly a test of your conviction to complete this journey.
As we arrived at the top of the hill my husband had began to have doubts about his ability to complete this journey. There at the top of the hill sitting on a rustic bench was an elderly man we had seen on the train to Sarria. He had attempted to talk to us on the train but we could not quite understand him. Now we realized the reason why.
He told us that we would find water and a place to rest just ahead. We asked him how did he know and he replied “I have done the Camino 33 times”! You could see by his slurred speech and hand movements we realized he probably suffered from some form of Cerebral Palsy. We stood there in awe. We had heard someone say “you will see angels along the way in this pilgrimage.” This was a very inspiring moment, especially for my husband. Fully energized by this man’s spirit he picked up the pace and forged ahead. It was a very long and rigorous day.
We walked approximately 14 miles through winding roads and the amazing scenery of Galicia to the town of Portomarin located next to the Miño River. My husband with arthritic knees and I with a broken toe.
We stopped at a roadside eatery where we had serrano ham sandwiches and freshly squeezed orange juice. It took us 9 hours, mostly because my husband had to stop to look at every cow, sheep, chicken and donkey he saw along the way.
That evening we had dinner at a small restaurant next to the hotel we were staying at. We had Caldo Gallego, Pulpo a la Gallega and a local fish accompanied by a local wine which is always part of the meal. Water is extra.
Day 2. – Portomarin to Palais de Rei 15.4 miles
It was a very wet day. It rained the whole day. Although we were wearing raincoats we were totally soaked from head to toe.
We noticed that women outnumber men in this Camino by far. Young and old, many are doing this all alone.
My husband who walked behind me most of the time had a shoelace untied, we kept waiting to arrive at a place sheltered from the rain to tie it. He just couldn’t bend down with the backpack, the rain and his knee pain. Suddenly a very wet young lady came up from behind and told him that his shoelace was untied, he told her that he couldn’t bend down, without hesitation she bent down to tie it. He told her it was OK that he was going to tie it at the next rest stop and thanked her. These are the angels you find everywhere in the Camino.
This day our Camino was very difficult, although it rained heavily from beginning to end, we accomplished our goal and were glad to arrive at our destination and settle down for the evening.
Day 3 – Palais de Rei to Melide 9 miles
On the third day we had better weather. It was very foggy when we set out in the morning but beautiful and very energizing. Shortly the sun came out it was only interrupted by brief showers. Temperatures were pleasant in the 50F range.
We were fortunate to stumble on a church in a small town that was having Mass. We received a special Peregrino blessing from the priest and kept on our way. We saw an elderly lady fall trying to maneuver her way through very rocky and difficult terrain, she suffered a cut to her face. She appeared to be bleeding from her face as other peregrinos took her back for help to the small village we had just passed. Three hours later this same lady passed us at a very quick pace with a big smile and a big bandage on her face, “Buen Camino!” she joyfully shouted.
The Galician countryside continued to be amazingly beautiful. We kept passing small villages with ancient homes that appeared to be empty. We witnessed many cases of handicapped people on wheelchairs being helped along by very courageous helpers. We walked a total of 9 miles that day which took us about 6 hours.
That evening we stayed in a small town in a house. The lady of the house told us where we could eat. It was a 5-minute walk through dark and desolate streets. When we got there we realized we were the only guests in the dining room. The chef had gone home for the evening and there were only a couple of individuals in the bar in the front with the bartender. The bartender told us to wait, she was going to call the chef at home and he would come shortly. Soon after that, the chef showed up and he himself took care of us. A very friendly and accommodating young man, his name was Jesus.
He told us all his offerings in Gallego, the local dialect, but we figured it out. Everything was delicious and fresh. We were hoping to lose some weight along the Camino but with all this delicious food it was next to impossible.
Day 4 – Melide to Arzua 8.8 miles
On the fourth day, we had a pleasant journey. Nice cool temperatures and no rain. We walked approximately 9 miles from the town of Melide to Arzua and visited some ancient churches along the road.
We got lost in a forest of eucalyptus trees. We were so amazed by the beauty and the aroma that we missed our marker for the Camino. About 10 minutes into the forest a lady came out of nowhere and told us we had to turn back.
We stopped for a quick bite at a small place where the specialty was a type of stuffed pie that reminded us of my mother-in-law’s chicken pie, it was delicious! Again the scenery of the countryside continued to make our journey a more pleasant experience.
“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb Click To Tweet
Day 5 – Arzua to O Pedrouzo 11.9 miles
We were thinking about the ancient pilgrims that made this journey. We wondered what they ate along the way. Well, the Camino has plenty of free food to offer. Today my husband got hit in the head by a falling pear which he quickly ate. There are apple, pear, fig and grape trees everywhere. In addition there are thousands of chestnut trees that litter the landscape with millions of chestnuts and if you’re a connoisseur of edible mushrooms there are plenty of them.
Today the Camino has many small family owned inns or bars along the way that serve delicious meals for a very reasonable price. In addition there are plenty of places that offer a warm comfortable bed for a reasonable fee.
Day 6 – O Pedrouzo to Santiago 12 miles.
Our journey today was long but pleasant. We covered 12 miles in approximately 7 hours. We stopped to appreciate everything we saw on the Camino.
We met so many people from all over the world and learned from their interesting stories. We kept seeing this elderly lady, short, gray-haired, a bit on the heavy side walking alone with a certain limp and holding an umbrella. We assumed she had started with us in Sarria 114 km away. We asked her how many days had she been walking and she replied in her Irish accent 45 days! She had started in St. Jean Pied de Port, France which is 500 miles distance from Santiago!
My husband asked her if she would do it again and she replied, “I have already told my daughters that when they do the Camino I want them to bring my ashes and spread them along the way.”
What impressed you the most about this trip?
So many powerful and inspirational moments. Some are very personal but I was impressed with the friendliness of the local people as well as fellow pilgrims. A person that does this kind of thing is a very special human being.
What was the process of obtaining your certificate?
Obtaining the Compostela was very simple and easy. Once we found the office which had been moved to a new location from the time we were there in 2015 we obtained a ticket with a number. You can then follow the approximate time to return for your certificates on your phone or by checking a monitor in the Office of the Peregrino
How did you feel when you arrived at your destination?
A most special, joyful, emotional moment. I saw tears running down many people’s cheeks as well as my husband’s. You sit there contemplating and savoring the moment. It is truly a life changing moment. Only those who have experienced this can understand.
As we sat there meditating about what we had just done my husband asked me “will you do it again?” I replied, this event is similar to having given birth. We must pause and give it time.
What do you want to say to people considering walking the Camino?
I also want to tell those considering doing the Camino that it is not a race–it is a journey. Savor each moment, smell the flowers, pause and ponder on the beauty that surrounds you.
Want to create your own Camino de Santiago? Use these guides to help you plan.
Is the Camino on YOUR bucket list? What are your thoughts on the route from Sarria to Santiago? Would you choose a different one? Let us know in the comments.
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