Camino Portuguese: Coastal vs. Central Route
So you’ve decided to walk the Portuguese Camino de Santiago (also known as the Camino Portugués). If you start from Porto or any stages before it, you’ll need to make a choice between taking the central or coastal route. As you probably guessed, the coastal route brings you to the Portuguese coast while the central route is entirely inland. Eventually, both routes converge in Redondela.
There are pros and cons to each. Let’s break them down so you can choose the one that fits your interests.
- Distance: 242 km/150 miles
- Terrain: Mountains, forests, farmland, roads, cobblestone
- Duration: 10 – 12 days
Pass through historic towns: The central route is where you’ll find lots of history, including Roman roads and bridges. You’ll walk the same roads that Queen Elizabeth of Portugal did in the 1300s. And you’ll visit historically significant towns like Ponte de Lima, one of the oldest Portuguese villages.
More popular route: With more pilgrims choosing the central route over coastal, you’ll quickly meet new people and find walking buddies (if that’s what you want).
Lots of infrastructure for pilgrims: One of the benefits of choosing the more traveled route is better infrastructure. It’s well marked and there’s more accommodations and places to rest.
Lots of cobblestones and road walking: Since the central route passes through many towns, you’ll walk on a lot of roads. If you take on any long days over 28 km, expect to have tired feet.
Has a 400 m climb: The most challenging part of the central route is the 400 meter climb up Alto da Portela Grande de Labruja. It’s a dirt path filled with rocks, so take your time going up and watch your step.
It can get very hot: In the summer, temperatures in Portugal sometimes get up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 degrees Celsius. The shaded forests of the central route provide a nice respite from the sun on these days. But when you don’t have any shade out on the road, it’s a slog.
Albergues can fill up quickly: The downside of being the more popular route is you may find it difficult to find a bed in the albergue you want. It’s not quite the frantic bed race that the Camino Francés can be, but albergues do get full so either set off early in the morning or see if the albergue takes reservations. Luckily, there are plenty of accommodations along the central route, so you should never find yourself without a bed.
Who it’s best for
- Fans of history and culture
- Camino traditionalists
- Pilgrims wanting a social experience or sense of community
- Distance: 268 km/167 miles
- Terrain: Coastline, beaches, boardwalks, roads
- Duration: 12 – 14 days
Beautiful coastline scenery and beaches: Some of the best views on the Camino Portugués are found on the coastal route. It’s got cute seaside towns, white sand beaches, and peaceful forest trails.
Less hills: The coastal route is mostly flat with a few small hills. If you started your Camino in Lisbon, the coastal route is gonna be a breeze and your knees are going to thank you for the break.
Cooling sea breeze during the summer: The best time to walk the coastal route is during the summer, when there’s clear skies, sun, and a refreshing wind.
Fewer pilgrims: With fewer pilgrims, you’ll rarely be turned down by a full albergue. Even late arrivers will have a bed. And the coastal route is still plenty social. You’ll find pilgrims to talk to and walk alongside. But if you want more of a solo experience, there’s no better setting than walking alongside the ocean.
Spend even more time along the coast with the Senda Litoral variant: The Senda Litoral hugs the coast the entire way, while the coastal route bounces between running along the coast and bringing you a bit inland. The two overlap in some areas, so it’s easy to change up your scenery as you go.
Takes one to two days longer: The coastal route is roughly 26 km/16 miles longer than the central route, so it’ll take most people at least one day longer to get to Santiago. You can also break up the distance between two days.
Rainy, windy, and cold during the winter: In the winter, the coastal route is a miserable experience. You’ll face forceful gusts of wind and rain, so make sure you pack the right clothes. If you want to enjoy your walk, go during summer or the few months before and after.
Less cafés and restaurants: There are some stretches of the route with few places to grab food or use the bathroom. And outside of the summer season, many places along the beach close down. You’ll need to plan accordingly. I recommend always carrying plenty of snacks, since there were some days where I’d walk 15 to 20 km before finding a place where I could get lunch.
Who it’s best for
- Beach and ocean lovers
- Walkers wanting to avoid steep hills
- Pilgrims who have one or two extra days to spare
The best of both worlds: how to combine central and coastal routes
If you’re like me and want to experience both routes, you can do this by starting on the coastal route and then cutting in to the central route before they join in Redondela. There are two popular points where pilgrims cross over. I chose to switch over at Caminha and join the central route in Tui. The other place to do this is to leave the coastal route at Vila do Conde and join at São Pedro de Rates.
If you just want a taste of the coastal route, make the switch at Vila do Conde. You’ll get one or two days along the coast, depending on how much you want to walk each day.
If you prefer to spend more time by the ocean, switch at Caminha. This will give you four to five days by the coast and one or two days on the central route before you reach Redondela.
Additional resources for the Camino Portugués
- Camino Portuguese Central Route: Guide, Stages, and Map
- Camino Portuguese Coastal Route: Guide, Stages, and Map
- Complete Camino de Santiago Packing List for Women
- Best Albergues on the Camino Portuguese
- Food on the Camino de Santiago: What and Where to Eat