What do you REALLY need to know about the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
Updated: Oct 24
All of the information you really need to know about the Coastal Camino de Santiago, in a tight little package.
There’s a lot of information on the internet. Some of it’s useful, some of it’s not. That’s as true of the Camino de Santiago as of anything. As we speak, armies of digital nomads are pumpiing out blog posts to boost SEO and run ads and make money to continue their travels, typing as many words about the Camino as they can, a mix of good information and filler. I can’t blame them. That’s how the internet works.
As Mark Twain said, "Only a fool writes for any reason other than money," or something like that.
The thing with the Caminos though - everything you actually need to know can be packed in to a short article. I'm a fool, and my blog's not monetized, so I can give it to you straight.
(Not everything you might want to know. Or everything you should know. Or everything that will make your trip richer and better. I’m writing a book on the Camino Frances with will have all of that sort of stuff. Sign up for the mailing list on the home page if you want updates!)
So, let’s talk about what you actually need to know for the Portuguese Coastal Camino. Let’s shove all of that into this little article. It'll be fun. Consider this your concise, if not comprehensive, guidebook.
First, What is the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
It’s a 280 km/174 mile route that runs between Porto, Portugal and Santiago de Compostela, Spain, starting and ending at their respective Cathedrals. People walked it in the Middle Ages as a religious pilgrimage because St. James’ bones are meant to be in the crypt at Santiago Cathedral. Nowadays lots of people still do it for religious reasons, but more do it because it’s beautiful, interesting, and a good time.
It’s been getting more and more popular every year.
Why would I want to do the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
Because you like scenery like this:
Or food like this:
Or history like this:
Or cities like this:
Or cute dogs like this:
Or you want to take a selfie like this:
How do I get between Porto and Santiago?
First, you get yourself to Porto. Then, you walk north, following the yellow arrows and Camino signs until you get to Santiago de Compostela. Then, you get yourself back home.
How long does it take to walk?
Once they get to Porto, most people take about two weeks for the whole trip. You can extend or shorten it as much as you’d like. It’s great because it's an epic journey that you can shove into a relatively short vacation. There's also enough here to enjoy for a month or more if you want to take it slow.
If you’re coming from outside of Europe, if you can, I’d allot three weeks including transit to really enjoy the experience.
How should I train?
Mostly you should just walk a lot carrying the gear you’re planning to take. Spend at least a few months doing that. If you’re older, injured, or sedentary, spend six months preparing. Seriously. Don’t try to fake it. You’ll get hurt and be sad.
Here’s a post breaking down my own training process. Have a look. It worked well and it was lots of fun.
Will I need a passport? What about a visa?
Yes, you’ll need a passport, unless you’re already in the EU. Americans, do yourself a favor and get it now.
As far as visas go, if you’re reading this from an English-speaking country, probably not.
Starting in 2024, you will need an Electronic Travel Authority for Europe. You can apply online and it’s quick, but do it at least 4 - 5 days before you plan to leave.
How will I know where to go?
Start in Porto, go west along the river to the coast, then keep the ocean on your left and you can’t get too far off track.
That’s a bit too simple though. The route is very well marked with signs and yellow arrows most of the way, but you might get off track, particularly in the cities.
You could buy a book with maps if you’re old school. The Pilgrim’s Guide by Brierley is solid.
You can also consult a more comprehensive free online guide, like Stingy Nomads.
Where will I sleep at night?
Albergues (hostels), hotels, or pensions. There are hundreds of them along the way. Never more than an hour or two walking.
Outside of high season (May - September), you can probably just rock up and book a bed. It’ll be cheap. During the high season, if you try that, you might run into some trouble. Book ahead a day or two. Use Booking.com. Most of the options are there and it makes it super easy.
What will I eat on the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
Anything you want from the endless stream of cafes, markets, bars and restaurants that you’ll pass the entire way. You’ll never have to walk more than a few hours between services.
I recommend francesinhas and chorizo and bocadillos and Padron peppers.
What should I pack?
Not much. All that really matters is a good pair of shoes, a comfortable pack, and a functional raincoat. The rest is just details.
Here’s a post with the exact packing list that my wife, myself, and my 70 year old mom used. (It’s about the Camino Frances but we used the same gear on the Coastal Camino).
How much money should I budget?
Once you get on trail, budget about 50 Euros/day for a low rent Camino. Sky’s the limit if you want to stay in private rooms rather than albergues, or want to eat out and drink a lot. If you spend 100 Euros a day, you’ll really be living it up
Will I need cash?
Sometimes. Your credit card will work most places (unless it’s American Express) but a lot of cafe’s and some albergues still require cash. Your debit card will work in the ATMs there. There are lots of them.
Make sure you tell your bank and credit card provider that you’re traveling or they may shut down your card and you could be kind of screwed.
What if I need a taxi?
In Portugal, Bolt is available for a rideshare option in many places, as are standard taxis. In the part of Spain you’ll be traversing (you cross the border about halfway through), there are no rideshare apps. Call a taxi yourself, or ask at a bar or your accommodation for help. Taxis are available literally everywhere on this route. I know because my mom got injured and we had to call them every day to shuttle her ahead.
Buses and trains are also options for a large portion of the route if you want/need to move more quickly than your feet will take you. You’ll sort this out on the ground. Ask at a bar or your accommodation if you want advice.
Can I bike the Coastal Camino instead?
Is the Coastal Camino hard?
Anything is hard if you make it that way. Walking 174 miles is hard if you aren’t trained and you try to do it quickly. Compared to other Camino routes though, it’s relatively easy. Compared to a proper wilderness hike, it’s very easy.
I’ve heard The Camino is busy. Is the Portuguese Coastal Camino busy?
Well, it depends on what you mean. When we did it in the high season, albergues were full and we met plenty of other people along the way. It’s not nearly as crowded as the Camino Frances, and it’s slightly less crowded than the standard inland Portuguese Camino. I didn’t think it felt busy, but you should expect to be walking with others. You're going mostly through populated areas vs. having some kind of solitary wander through the wilderness.
It’s less busy outside of the high season between about May - October.
What’s the weather going to be like?
It was perfect for us when we walked in September. Mild, sunny and pleasant every day except for one or two, when it rained a little. Regardless of when you go, prepare for a bit of wind and rain, and mild temperatures.
In Summer, expect 60 - 80 F and sun.
In Autumn, expect 40 - 60 F and a bit of rain.
In Winter, expect 35 - 55 F and rain/cloud.
In Spring, expect 50 - 70 F and a bit of rain.
What season should I walk the Portuguese Coastal Camino?
You can walk it any season. It’s a good summer option because the coast keeps temperatures more mild than many of the other Caminos. It is exposed most of the way so in wind and rain it can be kind of miserable, particularly when the temperatures are cool. Allow time to hide from weather if you go in the winter and don’t want to deal with it.
What about language and communication?
Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be fine. Learn some Spanish and/or Portuguese if you want to have a better trip, but you can pick up the essentials along the way.
However, you should download Google Translate. It helps with both Spanish and Portuguese. It’s a travel gamechanger.
You should also download and set up WhatsApp if you haven’t already. They use it a ton in Europe. Some accommodation providers, taxis and tour guides prefer it over normal phone service.
Speaking of phone service, what should I do about that?
You can get away with just wifi if you want. They have it in most cafes, bars, and accommodations.
You could also ask your current service provider for international coverage, but that’ll probably be expensive if you’re not already in Europe. You should probably just buy a local SIM card.
Vodafone shops are plentiful. There’s one in the Porto airport, and multiple in Porto city. They’ll help you set it up. Make sure to ask for a prepaid plan that will work in both Portugal and Spain.
Is the Portuguese Coastal Camino worth it?
Personally, I loved it. It completely exceeded my expectations. If you like beautiful coastal scenery, picturesque villages, cool old cities, nice beaches, delicious food, easy terrain, and mild weather, you’re going to love it.
I’d do it again in a second.
It was different from the Camino Frances, but it completely stands up as a brilliant travel experience in its own right.
If you’re looking for a wilderness hike, you’re going to be bummed. This is a cultural experience traveling through beautiful coastal scenery, but the Portuguese and Spanish coasts have been populated for millenia.
Otherwise, I can’t think of a single thing not to love.
Is there anything else I should know?
Listen, I know there's a lot more to say about this Camino.
Honestly though, if you’ve read through this post, you are going to be totally fine. It’s seriously simple. Not easy, but simple. Train. Get to the start. You'll figure the rest out. You’re going to love it.
If you want to know more though, I've written short posts about each stage of the Portuguese Coastal Camino (at least as we followed it), and the Spiritual Variant.
Stage Guide for the Portuguese Coastal Camino
For a lot more concise travel truth, read The Dirtbag's Guide to Life.