Image Credit: Ángel M. Felicisímo CC 2.0
At approximately 1000km in length the Via de la Plata is the longest camino route in Spain. It begins in the southern city of Seville and winds its way up the west side of the country (near Portugal) through the cities of Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca and Zamora. Just north of Zamora the route splits off and pilgrims have a choice of what path to follow to reach Santiago de Compostela (see the stages section below for more information on the different paths).
The Via de la Plata is often referred to as The Silver Way as it was an important trade route for the Romans. It linked the south coast of Spain and the port of Cádiz with the silver mines in the northern region of Asturias.
The Via de la Plata has a rich Roman history and this can be seen in the churches, the art, and the architecture (including bridges and parts of the road itself). The old town in the city of Salamanca is just one of many great examples of the history found along the route and it is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Far less pilgrims walk the Via de la Plata compared with other camino routes, so if you are looking for a more solitary pilgrim experience, this could be the way for you.
As can be expected when traveling from the south of Spain to the north, the landscape varies widely, but changes slowly, over the 1000km route. Forests, river valleys, farmland, the flat open plains of the meseta, and the hilly and green region of Galicia are just some things to expect as well as the historical buildings and architecture seen along the way.
Different Route Options
The long distance of this route provides pilgrims with a few different ways to get to Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims will keep following the path north to Astorga where the Via de la Plata joins up with the Camino Frances, but you can also walk along the Camino Sanabrés or cross the boarder into Portugal and walk the Via Portugués de la Via de la Plata (quite the mouthful!) and skip the Camino Frances entirely. See the stages section below for more information on the different route options.
Currently the route has less albergues (pilgrim hostels) compared with other camino routes in Spain. Because of this, accommodation can vary widely in price and quality. However more and more facilities are being opened as the route and the camino as a whole become more popular and most nights you should be able to stay in an albergue if you choose. Just be aware that there are less options and sometimes there might be long stretches of 25 to 30km between any accommodation.
The south of Spain can be extremely hot during the summer, often more than 35 degrees celsius. Even in the late spring and early autumn months the temperatures can be tough, especially if you are not used to the Spanish heat.
This is more of a "be aware" piece of advice rather than a negative. It is advised that you or somebody with you has a basic understanding of Spanish otherwise you might find day to day pilgrim life tough to navigate as there are less english speakers here compared with the more popular camino routes. You may like to brush up or learn some basic Spanish using Duolingo or LiveMocha (both are free). Taking a lightweight Spanish words and phrases book maybe useful also. Of course for the more intrepid traveller, language barriers are part of the adventure!
As with most of the other camino routes in Spain, spring and autumn are considered the best times to walk because the weather is usually not too hot, or too cold (just right as the story goes!). As mentioned above, the summer months of June July and August can be particularly HOT on the Via de la Plata! and are not recommended unless you are well prepared and used to the conditions. It's a good idea to check the weather patterns/predictions before you begin your walk.
The Via de la Plata not only stands out for the wide variety of scenery and historical sites along the way, but also for its sheer size and the amount of stages it takes to complete the entire route. On average it takes around 7 to 8 weeks to walk the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago.
But the time frame to complete the route really depends on your overall fitness level, what town or city you choose to start from, and the paths you choose to follow, as there are a few different options when deciding on how to get to Santiago.
The first option is to start in Seville (or another town/city along the route) and keep heading north until you reach Astorga. This is where the Via de la Plata joins up with the Camino Frances. From there you simply follow the Camino Frances to Santiago.
The second option avoids joining up with the Camino Frances entirely. Known as the Camino Sanabrés (or the Ourense option) pilgrims head northwest just after Zamora and follow the path to the city of Ourense and on to Santiago. Some of the climbs and descents on this route are steep especially considering that the Via de la Plata has been reasonably flat up until this point.
A third option is to walk along the Via Portugués de la Via de la Plata (also known as the Portugués variant). This path begins near Zamora as well and follows the Camino Sanabrés before splitting off and taking pilgrims into Portugal. It eventually crosses back into Spain and rejoins the Camino Sanabrés in Ourense. It's important to note that there are some tough climbs once you cross into Portugal and there are far less pilgrim facilities available too.
If the route from Seville to Santiago is not quite long enough for you (or you want to experience more of the south of Spain) there is now the option to start in the port city of Cadiz, on the south coast of Spain. Markings now lead from there to Seville, adding an approximate 180km to the route.
• With fewer facilities, fewer pilgrims, long stages and different paths to choose from to get to Santiago, a good guidebook (or an app for your phone) is highly recommended for the Via de la Plata. Planning for the route is also important (please see the resource section below).
• The route is generally well marked over the entire distance but care does need to be taken as signs pointing the way are not seen as frequently as on the Camino Frances.
• Along with the old town of Salamanca, the walled city of Cáceres is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
• The Via de la Plata crosses the western part of the meseta for approximately 180km.
• It is a good idea to learn some basic Spanish or brush up on your Spanish speaking skills before you begin and to consider taking a small/lightweight Spanish words and phrases book with you.
• A free resource from the camino forums which lists some of the accommodation available and approximate stage distances.
• There aren't many english guidebooks currently available for the Via de la Plata, but this guidebook seems to be the best and most up to date one.
• Godesalco.com is another free resource that helps you plan the stages and see a height profile of your next camino. Just click on the english flag to change the language and then choose the route and follow the instructions from there. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of, but seems to be a very useful resource for stage planning.
• Don't forget the camino forums! This post is from June 2010 and shows the stages that this pilgrim walked and offers further advice from other pilgrims too.
• Another useful camino forum thread about the Portugués variant.
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The old town of Cáceres* The old town of Salamanca* Walking the Camino Sanabrés* Image Credits: Jose Antonio Cotallo López CC2.0 Attribution-NoDerivs Camino Route Map* - Original blank map