It is difficult to distill all that I saw and experienced in 23 days in Portugal down to 1 000 words, so I thought I would attempt to capture the essence of the walk in ten dot points. It’s not a definitive list and I’m sure there will be many tips that occur to me after I hit the submit button – but here we go:
1. Be thin before you arrive!: Portugal, unlike Spain, has a delicious range of cake shops or pastelaria. It is possible to eat your body weight in cakes – especially pastel de nata – every day! You will be walking every day so I think this gives you the perfect excuse to sample all the delights the cake shops and cafes have to offer. All in the name of research, of course!
2. Take good shoes/boots: I estimate that over 80% of the walk is on hard surfaces, i.e. tarred roads, edges of highways and kilometres and kilometres of mongrel cobblestones. Even the smallest, remotest village has wall-to-wall cobblestones underfoot and this becomes a special kind of torture at the end of the day when legs, feet and ankles are already tired and sore.
3. Friendly locals: you will find the Portuguese people unfailingly friendly and welcoming. A word of warning when asking directions. Be prepared for a long and loud stream of Portuguese with much finger pointing and arm waving. All to help you of course, but it can be a bit overwhelming when you only pick up every 50th word! Then the neighbours join in and give their 50c-worth of alternative routes and it becomes quite the community debate. Often I found that after this long conversation the person would insist on walking with me, grabbing my arm to lead me along, to ensure I got back on track. Very caring and nice to experience in this day and age when few people have time for strangers. (I did return the favour one day when I helped an old lady muster her sheep by using my walking poles to corral the recalcitrant sheep down the road! But that’s another story.)
4. Dogs: while the humans are super-friendly, Portuguese dogs would like to have you for breakfast. The security-conscious Portuguese all have bored, frustrated and very angry dogs of all shapes and sizes to protect their properties. While these are mostly behind locked gates and fences, it is still off-putting to be assaulted by a cacophony of barks and growls as you creep by. Then there are the packs of roaming dogs. They certainly give you pause but I quickly learned to use one walking pole as a prodder/barrier and then raise the other as if ready to strike. The dogs soon got the message and I walked on unharmed…but always with one wary eye checking behind me.
5. Plan rest days wisely: I am kicking myself that I didn’t allow more flexibility in my schedule to stay longer in a few places. I had rest days in Coimbra and Porto which were interesting and enjoyable, but I would have loved a rest day in Tomar to immerse myself in the Knights Templar history of the town. A couple of extra days in Porto could also have been easily filled with the sights and sounds and beverages of that amazing city. I would consider an extra day too in Valença/Tui on the border of Portugal/Spain. Its walled cities and cathedrals were worthwhile exploring.
6. Consider the Coastal Route: I only walked 5 days on the Coastal route and was kicking myself (again) that I didn’t allow time to walk the rest of the route from A Guardia up to Rendondela (along the Spanish coast). The sea breezes, port cities, and the lonely cry of a seagull, made for a completely different camino experience for this chick from the bush. The terrain was interesting with a smattering of Roman roads, and the route was well-marked and relatively free of crowds.
7. Calls of Nature: in contrast to Spain, public toilets do exist in Portugal and can be quite plentiful in some places. Unfortunately nine times out of ten, they are locked! Be prepared to dive into the bushes if nature calls but choose your location carefully. Beware of:
- Blackberry bushes and their thorny brambles that will snag socks, clothing and anything else exposed to the elements.
- Stinging nettles that hide themselves in the above-mentioned blackberry bushes
- Unsuspecting locals wandering by.
- Preferably choose a spot where mint grows wild. Your very own ‘open air’ air freshener.
8. Weather: prepare for everything. I guess springtime can be rather unpredictable but be ready for weather of all sorts. There are few fountains, or few with potable water, so ensure you carry water with you. Sunscreen is vital. It can also get pretty windy and there were a few days I did Marilyn Monroe imitations with a billowing poncho – rather undermining its effectiveness. Needless to say there was NOTHING else remotely Monroesque about me during the entire walk!
9. Be Bilingual: it is quite a culture shock to walk across the long bridge at Valença/Tui. Within minutes you are in a different time zone speaking a different language. Instantly it became ‘Gracias’ rather than ‘Obrigada’ but the locals are forgiving. If this is not doable for you, English is pretty widely spoken and it is possible to muddle through without a word of either Portuguese or Spanish.
10. Prepare for Crowds: it is relatively quiet and relaxing from Lisbon to Porto but that changes noticeably from Porto onwards, and especially from Valença/Tui (the border). What are all these strangers doing on my walk?? It is yet another small culture shock, and the competition for a bed ramps up significantly, but is it wonderfully social.
Portugal is a spectacular country and I was amazed on a daily basis by its abundance and the profusion of flora and fauna. I was expecting a more Mediterranean look and feel and, while the stone houses and crumbling villages were very similar to Spain, the people and the atmosphere was a whole new identity.
I haven’t done it justice in just ten dot points but hopefully it is enough to tempt you.
Read About It: For a copy of Brierley’s Guide to walking the Camino Portuguese, purchase it from Book Depository
17 thoughts on “Camhino Portugués – Top Ten Tips!”
Love your tips – good way to distill the experience. Toilet tips always a must. Reminded me of my toilet tip for Africa. Avoid the thorn trees. I got so entangled in a thorn tree I had to take my skirt off and leave it there and walk back into camp skirt less.
Classic!!! At least I kept my shorts on!!
Great tips 😊
My husband and I are thinking of doing this Camhino next October (I’m a very forward planner and due to all our recent travels, it’s time to put some mulah into the house rather than the holidays).
Living the dream!
Great to hear about your camino plans. I am a planner too – always looking at the next adventure. The Portuguese is a wonderful walk but take good shoes/boots. That would be my biggest tip! Bom Caminho
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Hi my wife and I are planning to do the seaside Portuguese this coming Octoberand wondered if you had any thoughts about the weather- patrias we move North to Finestere? Cheers
Hi there Raymond. I imagine that the weather would be very pleasant still in October. I walked in May/June, so can’t comment from experience, but checking the historical weather forecasts for that time should give you a could indication of what to expect. When I was there back in 2016 there was talk of the development of a coastal route starting from Lisbon, rather than going inland like I did. Whichever you choose it will be very beautiful, but prepare for wetter weather the closer you get to Galicia!! Enjoy and happy to answer any other questions you may have. Buon Caminho. Mel
The weather last October was hot and humid to start with but improved the further north we walked and of course, the later in the month we travelled.
We started from Lisbon and took the traditional inland path to Porto. The days were long and hot with not much shade on many of the days. This may be different if you take the coastal route from Lisbon as you may get a bit of a sea breeze which may make it a more comfortable walk.
We also took the inland route from Porto to Santiago which again is more traditional. The weather at the time was more humid with some rainy days as well.
One thing I highly suggest is taking the Spiritual Varient route after Pontevedra. There was a stretch of about 12km where the path went beside a creek then river that had gorgeous shaded trees all the way. A stunning section in any weather.
I wish you a great Camino whatever the weather.
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Good tips there. All this chatter about the Portuguese is tempting me to tie on my walking boots again! Thanks for your thoughts, Mel
Great post! I did the last 100 miles of the Portugues Central in May. You are right about those delicious pastries!
What a shame our paths didn’t cross…or maybe they did and we didn’t know it!
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Possibly! I traveled around Portugal before my Camino from May 10-20. Here’s a post about that tour. https://thecaminoprovides.com/2016/06/26/my-pre-camino-tour-of-portugal/
Hi Mel, great to hear that you had an awesome trip. It was wonderful reading your comments and views on Portugal. I sort of wish I was heading there again this year but too many other places to get to.
Good on you for doing a ’solo’. I think you’ll certainly be hooked now.
Maybe we’ll finally end up over there at the same time soon !! I have plans for a camino next year but not sure whether spring or autumn and not sure which one(s) yet.
Thanks for the inspiration Grace. You are a walking guru and I will forever be in your awe.
Yes, fingers crossed our paths again soon – literally. If only our bank balances would match our travel aspirations!!
So glad I found your blog! If I started my walk at Castelo do Neiva or Carreco, would 10 walking days (and two rest days) offer a good leisurely pace in your experience? I would arrive in Porto and would have to arrange a driver to drive me a bit north to the official walking start point. Would I miss anything not-missable by lopping off that first 80+ km? I only have so much vacation time and I think walking 280km in 12 days would cause my knees to mutiny so I am trying to sort out how to adjust. Thank you so much!
Hi Beth. Thanks so much for getting in touch. I am very envious of your Camino plans. I am hoping to get back to Spain in April/May 2023 to walk the Madrid/San Salvador/Primitivo combination. This link is a really excellent resource to help you with your planning. You can customise it to your preferred distances and it will tell you what accommodation is available along the way etc. https://godesalco.com/plan/portugues (Just translate the Spanish to English). It is so important that you walk your OWN distance and at a comfortable speed for you. You will meet a tonne of people who will treat it as a race and also people who have all the time in World. You can find your own tempo and way so easily. When I walked the section from Porto, I took the Coastal route so I cannot comment on the Central route. I understand it is very beautiful too. Happy to chat some more. Have a good day. Mel
Good evening Mel!
That planner is amazing, wow, what a find, thank you for sharing it!
I too want to do the Coastal Route. I wonder if inland has more flowers/trees in spring, though.
As I do my readings I am so enthralled by each little piece I discover. Your 2023 plan sounds marvelous. I can already tell I will be doing more than one walk.
Right now I am debating if my very first walk should be the one starting in Portugal, perhaps in May… or, if I should start Camino Frances in August (which I have already resigned myself can only be done in leisurely 10-12 day chunks, maybe 2x a year, until completed…)
The bonus with doing Portugal first is that I can actually do a full walk in 2022.
Enjoy your summer! I visited friends in Australia in December 2017 and had just perfect weather the whole visit. – Beth
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Yes, inland I suspect you will get more trees etc, but the coastal path does take you through towns and every now and then, dives into the foothills and through the countryside. It is not all beach and sand. If you want to meet more people/other pilgrims, I recommend you take the central route. I think the Coastal route has become more popular, but it is MUCH quieter than the more well-trodden central path. Also consider whether you want that sense of completion ie walking something end-to-end. Dipping into the Camino Frances will give you a lovely introduction to the spirit of the camino ie. lots of people, but you will not be able to cover much of it in 10-12 days. The good thing about the camino is that everyone walks their own. There is no right or wrong answer. Buen camino!