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  • Tim Mathis

The best books about the Camino de Santiago, if you really want to feel the magic.

Updated: May 7

Best Camino de Santiago books to guide you on your way

You don't need a book to tell you how to walk the Camino de Santiago. If you can find the first yellow arrow, you can make it to the finish. However, the way to get the most out of the Camino is to really immerse yourself in the experience. The best way to prepare for that is to nerd out with a bunch of books before you go

The Way has inspired authors for centuries, but here are the best book recommendations for the modern pilgrim. Together, they'll help you understand the myths, history, logistics, and modern realities, so you'll be sure to get the full Camino experience.

(Of course, you could just take a shortcut and get my guidebook, "The Camino for the Rest of Us." It incorporates the most important bits from all of these, to prepare regular, modern people for this weird, ancient pilgrimage trail. When it comes to books though, more is better, so why not read them all?)

Best Camino de Santiago (Guide) Books

This first edition of this book was one of the early sparks that helped the world re-discover the Camino de Santiago. It's not a traditional guidebook but a step-by-step cultural and historical guide to the route. The Camino's landscape is nice, but culture and history are what make it a unique experience in the world. You don't see many people using this book along the Camino, but in my opinion, it's an underrated walking companion.

On the Camino itself, this is the book that you'll see in most pilgrims' packs, and it was the classic, pre-smartphone Camino guidebook. My opinion is that these days, you don't need maps, directions, or lodging advice because apps do all of those things better. If you're not keen on using an app though, Brierley is still the way to go.

This is the guidebook to buy if you want comprehensive information on both the culture and the logistics. It includes a lot of what's best about the previous two guides in terms of maps and cultural background, along with nice photos and additional information on food, wine, and architecture. It's an impressive book - kind of like a Camino encyclopedia. At 568 pages though, most people decide that it's a bit much to carry on the trail. There's a nice ebook version if you do want to take it along.

Best books about the Camino

Best Camino de Santiago (Narrative) Books

Guidebooks are useful but if you really want a sense of what the modern Camino is like this, is my favorite place to start. Walking to the End of the World is exactly what travel writing should be. It's funny, useful, and evocative, with a good narrative to keep things moving. Jusino and her husband walked from LePuy in France to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port before connecting with the traditional Camino Frances to Santiago. Her story integrates Camino myths and history in a way that helps you immerse yourself in the experience and learn by osmosis. It's my favorite narrative account of the Camino.

An underrated, underappreciated book. This one is a deep dive into the mythology that makes the Camino magic. Mullen integrates his own experience alongside classic Camino legends, which gives the reader a pathway to do the same themself. That process, of becoming a part of an ancient, complicated human story, is a central part of what makes the Camino experience singular. Mullen's book helps you do that, without making it weird.

The Pilgrimage. Paulo Coelho.

Perhaps the most widely read book about the Camino, Coelho's book immerses you in the history and myth in a way that is weird, in a good way. Coelho's magical realism can take a bit of getting used to, but there's something so fun about seeing Camino experiences spin off into fantasy and before descending back to reality. It's trippy. It is one of the prime sources of a rumor about packs of angry dogs on the Camino. It's also a beautiful, entertaining introduction to the Camino by one of the most interesting writers of the last century.

Useful books that aren't about the Camino de Santiago

People across cultures have been walking pilgrimages for thousands of years, but it’s an unfamiliar experience for most of us modern folks in the English-speaking world. This book demystifies the history as well as the contemporary practice of pilgrimage. It's accessible and it doesn't get all woo-woo. Whitson's the author of lots of Cicerone guides to various Camino routes. This is another underrated book, written by one of the foremost Camino experts.

This is just a lovely little read. Meditative almost, and a bit hard to categorize. It's a book that Penn wrote after completing three pilgrimage routes, and it has just the right mix of useful information, personal stories, and prompts for reflection. It's quick, pleasant, and would work well as a non-religious alternative to a devotional guide. Take it along, or read it beforehand to get in the right headspace for a trip like the Camino. I don't usually like this sort of thing, but this one hits all the right notes. It's serious and reflective without veering into pretense and self-importance.

Art of Pilgrimage: Phil Cousineau.

I gotta be honest. I'm including this one because other people love it. I've tried to get into it myself a few times, but it didn't suck me in. Having said that, I'm fully on board with the book's mission to re-introduce the non-religious English-speaking world to pilgrimage. This book does that in a way that's made it a a niche classic. It does a lot of things that I want to be able to do in my writing, but not in the way that I want to do them. Enough about me. Check it out for yourself. File it under "spiritual but not religious."

This final book is an unusual little gem. It's a primer about why ritual is still relevant, written by an agnostic chaplain at Harvard. It's more self-help than philosophy, and ter Kuile focuses on how non-religious modern humans can learn from religious ritual practices in order to make life richer and more meaningful. He talks about pilgrimage directly, but only a little. Still, it's a helpful primer for the non-religious traveler who’s worried that the Camino’s spiritual history might make them uncomfortable. 

Shameless plug for the best book about the Camino de Santiago that I wrote myself. "The Camino for the Rest of Us."

I've spent a lot of time immersed in Camino books because I've also written my own, The Camino for the Rest of Us. My goal was to meld the best stories, history, advice, and logistics into a Camino handbook for the modern pilgrim with a smartphone. It's a labor of love because I'm an unapologetic Camino stan, and I want to help people have a pilgrimage in the classic tradition. The Camino is both very popular and widely misunderstood, so as I was writing I was thinking of the prospective Camino hiker who thinks "pilgrimage in the classic tradition" sounds uncomfortable. It's not weird, and I hope that the book can help you experience the best aspects of pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

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I won't hassle you with ads on this site, but I will ask you to check out my books. You might like them, and I get a little endorphin hit with every purchase that makes me want to keep writing. Everybody wins.

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