Camino de Santiago planning: trains, planes and routes galore

Like I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m trying to contain my planning for my upcoming Camino de Santiago in September. Before stepping foot on the path, though, there’s a lot of planning that can go into such a trip.

For my brain, this is exactly the kind of thing it loves. Research, planning, analysis, spreadsheets. It’s completely why I do what I do in my non-travel life.

Getting from Halifax to Spain and back

Given the time I’ve already spent in the area, I have a pretty good handle on the geography of Spain and the options for getting in and out of the country. For our inbound journey, we know we want to start from Madrid. It’s a nice, central entry point, and there are easy connections to Leon. On paper, it looks to be the most efficient route into our Camino adventure. However, it’s always fun to see if there are other options.

Route brainstorming

In the past, I’ve done a lot of route brainstorming. I look at a map, find the major towns and cities between my destinations and start plugging options into airfare aggregators and national train system websites. That’s how I discovered you could take a combo ferry-rail trip between Dublin and London instead of flying (but that’s a whole other trip).

I’m embarrassed to admit, completely by accident, I found a site called Rome2Rio, which lets you plug in any two destinations – IN THE WORLD – and it provides a range of transportation options and cost estimates. It factors in major airlines, low-cost carriers, national train systems, buses and coaches, and public transportation. I am dazzled by it.

For Camino planning, it’s provided common sense routes and rather lovely maps. The journey seems rather straightforward, as the crow flies:

Rome2Rio Camino route map from Halifax

The air route options are numerous, but the site shows you all kinds of interesting combinations of routes. The flight costs are estimates, as my tentative dates in September are too far out for most booking engines.

Rome2Rio Air route options Camino de Santiago

Finally, and of great interest to me, is the precise train route map it produces. It actually goes through some places I’d like to see between Madrid and Leon. Hmm, stops along the way?

Rome2Rio Camino train route from Madrid Leon

For the journey back to Canada, however, I’ve been using this tool a lot to identify possible routes out of country, including a trip back to Barcelona, more time in Madrid, or even wandering down to Portugal to depart through Porto or Lisbon. I’ve never been to Portugal and it would be fun to add a bit of new sightseeing to what will already be a tremendous adventure. On advice of my sage counsel (Lori at, I’m going to do some total cost analysis that we’ll use to inform our final-final decision-making. Stay tuned!

Train travel

I love taking the train, and do so as much as possible when I travel. I traveled by train a lot when I was in Spain in 2011, and have a lot of experience with RENFE and, based on my Trenhotel experience, their website of questionable utility. If we do end up in Portugal, it’ll be my first time with Portugal’s rail service, CP (Comboios de Portugal). Since I haven’t a sweet clue where to begin with that system, I’ll spend some time with getting to know the tricks to getting along when my Portuguese language skills are as great as my Italian language skills (hint: enthusiastic gestures, great accent, all English).

Games frequent fliers play

All of this planning fun has landed us at the same conclusion: we’re going to fly from Halifax to Madrid (precise routes pending) and then take the train to Leon to start walking from there.  However, since the plan is to fly on points, there’s a bit of gamesmanship required to find a route that is a) not completely absurd; and, b) not ridiculously high in fees. Thus, began an early-morning research project that turned into this:

Aeroplan route planningThis process requires a lot of trial-and-error to find route and price patterns, more than most people would have the patience or stomachs for. However, I am made of particularly frugal cloth and it is my solemn intention to not spend a penny more than I have to. At least when it involves giving it to airlines (and one airline in particular) who excel at treating passengers like flying garbage and delight in making their lives miserable while extracting their last remaining pennies for things like seats and thimbles of water.

Whew. Well, okay then. All that to say I’d rather have more money to spend on pimientos de Padron.

We’re looking at all of these options and adventures for a couple of reasons. Practically speaking, I’d like to spend less money on travel if it’s possible. Less practically, but for more fulfilling reasons, we’re trying to squeeze every bit of excitement out of this adventure.

Tell us: how did do you pinch pennies on your Camino transportation planning? How did you get in and out of the country? Share you travel planning experiences in the comments! 




  1. If you were starting in SJPdP then I would recommend an open-jaw ticket into Paris, out of Madrid. Since you are starting in Leon, then flying into Madrid makes more sense. Train to Leon is easy from there. If you want to go to Portugal from Santiago de Compostela, that’s also pretty easy. You’ll change trains in Vigo (if I remember correctly) and then when you cross into Portugal, they will do a document check of passports. There are some amazing hostels in Porto. I loved Portugal. The people are friendly and many of the young people speak English because their movies are subtitled, not dubbed, so they get a lot of our movies and TV in English…that’s how my Portuguese friends explained it to me anyways. Even in the more rural parts of Portugal, I still was able to squeak by with basic portuguese from my phrase book.

    My last Camino, I flew in/out of Madrid, then I flew Madrid to Lisbon, train to Porto, walked from Porto to Santiago, then train to Porto, then flew Porto to Madrid for a few days, then flew home. Flying is sometimes cheaper than bus or train.

    If you have any questions, let me know. I’ve walked twice and been a hospitalera once.

  2. I wrote out a long response and it got lost in the internet somewhere…basically, my last Camino I flew into Madrid, plan to Lisbon, spent two days there, train to Porto, started walking to Santiago, then train to Porto, plane to Madrid, then home to Portland. It was super easy. My first Camino I flew into Paris, then from Santiago I flew to Barcelona before continuing my RTW trip. Flying in Europe is super cheap. I cannot recommend Portugal enough but if you don’t have more than three or four days, I would just do Porto. It’s wonderful. They have great hostels and airbnb options. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know! Buen Camino!


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