What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago, or the Camino as it is commonly known, translates in English as the Way of St James. There are many routes under the Camino umbrella and they all finish in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. These ancient pilgrimages came about as it was believed that the remains of the apostle St James are buried in Santiago.
People walk the Camino for a number of reasons; be it religious, spiritual, recreational, fitness or a way to see the country. It doesn't matter what the reason is as it's personal to each person. The most common and well-trod route is the French Way (Camino Frances), so called because it starts in the south of France and crosses the Pyrenees into Spain.
Walking alone vs walking with others
I have walked the Camino Frances and the Camino Portugues which starts in Lisbon, Portugal and they were quite different from each other for a number of reasons.
When I walked the Camino Frances I often walked alone and I had some magical moments. You have a lot of time to reflect and to scream, sing, laugh and cry (which believe me you feel like doing some days when you are soooo tired). Initially you feel a little self-conscious about this outward display of emotion but after a while you realise that what others think doesn't matter and much of the time there's no-one nearby anyway. (I should add at this point that I walked the Camino in September/October when there are a lot less people than in the high season of July/August).
I'm not a religious person but there were definitely times when my requests were answered. Often I would be stumbling along completely spent with sore feet and desperately needing to sit down, with no resting spot in sight. Sure, I could have sat by the side of the trail but sometimes you just need to sit on something flat and off the ground. At these times I would ask for a seat and around the bend would be a little structure with a wooden bench and shelter from the sun. These types of structures didn't come along very often (especially on the Roman roads) so I believe it was more than a coincidence that there was one around the corner. I had three or four other amazing experiences on this walk so there's definitely something to be said for walking alone and have the time and space to appreciate these special moments.
On the other hand I walked the Camino Portugues with a friend and it was great to have the company and to have someone to share this wonderful experience. This time around there were no miracles or spiritual moments but by the same token we had lots to laugh and cry about. Because it is a less populated walk I think I would have found walking it alone to be really lonely so I was glad to have someone with me, especially in the isolated parts when we often saw no-one all day.
So if you want an amazing experience and feel like a long walk (approximately 780kms for Camino Frances and 675kms for Camino Portugues) I would really recommend them both as an amazing way to see parts of Spain and Portugal.