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The Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

The Spiritual Variant or Variante Espiritual is an optional route of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago from Pontevedra to Padron. This route is one of my favorites out of 9 different Camino de Santiago routes that I’ve done. The name spiritual comes from the fact that the route follows the last part of the journey of the remains of the Apostle St.James. This variant goes past some amazing towns on the Portuguese Way.

I’ve done the route twice the first time as a part of our walk on the Portuguese Camino from Lisbon and the second time as a separate route and both times really liked it.

One of the stone crosses on the shore of Ulla River on the Spiritual Way
One of the stone crosses on the Traslatio route of the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino

Spiritual Variant PDF file

To help you with planning we have created a free downloadable PDF file with walking stages and places to stay on the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino.

Download the PDF file of the Spiritual Variant

The Spiritual Variant (Variante Espiritual) route overview

  • Total distance – 74 km/46 mi; 46 km/28,5 mi walking and 28 km/17,3 mi by boat
  • Number of days – 3 days
  • Starting point – 3 km north of Pontevedra on the Central route of the Portuguese Camino.
  • Finishing point – Padrón
  • Total ascent – 781 m
  • Total descent – 779 m
  • Walking surface – 22 km/13,6 mi on asphalt/cobbled and 24 km/15 mi on footpath/gravel road
  • Route marking – yellow arrows painted on sidewalks, fences, and poles as well as small wooden poles with metal tops with a carved Camino shell, and arrow.
Our YouTube video of the Spiritual Variant

What is the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino?

The Spiritual Variant is an alternative route on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. This coastal route is often called La Traslatio (sometimes spelled as Translatio) or the Ulla River Route referring to the last stage that is done by boat. The route follows the last part of the journey of the remains of the apostle Saint James (Santiago in Spanish) from Jerusalem to the Iberian Peninsula. The last stage which is a boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures is the most important part of the Variante Espiritual route. The 74-kilometers route splits from the Central Route of the Camino Portugues after Pontevedra and joins it again in Pontecesures.

A view of Combarro and Pontevedra from a viewpoint on the Spiritual route
A view of the coast from a lookout point on the way between Combarro and Armenteira

The History of the Spiritual Route

The Spiritual Variant is sometimes called the origin of the Camino de Santiago. Apostle Saint James or James the Great was one of the first disciples of Jesus. The apostle was executed by decapitation. According to the legend, the beheaded body of St.James was transferred by the sea in a stone boat. After reaching the banks of the Ria de Arousa the journey continued inland on the Ulla River to Iria Flavia, modern Pontecesures. From there the remains of Apostle Santiago were carried on land and buried in the area nowadays known as the city of Santiago de Compostela. St.James is the patron saint of Spain.

One of the many stone crosses on the Spiritual Variant of the Caminno
One of the stone crosses on the Camino route on the way from Combarro to Armenteira

How long is the Variante Espiritual?

The Spiritual route of the Portuguese Camino is 74 km/46 mi in total; 46 km/28,5 mi of which you walk and 28 km/17,3 mi you go on a boat. It takes 3 days to complete the route from Pontevedra to Padrón.

Where does the route start?

The Spiritual route splits from the Central Route in the forest 3 km outside Pontevedra. There is a well-marked route split; the left route across a small bridge is the Spiritual variant and the right route through the forest is the main route of the Camino Portuguese. All pilgrims walk out of the city of Pontevedra following the same route and after 3 km when you get to the split you can switch. You can take this route even if you walk only the last 100 km on the Camino from Tui.

The centre of Pontevedra, Spain
The historical centre of Pontevedra one of the most beautiful towns on the Portuguese Camino route

Where does it join the Central Route of the Portuguese Way?

The Spiritual Variant joins the Central way of the Camino Portuguese in Pontecesures, a town on the Camino 2 km south of Padrón from where you walk the final stage of the Portuguese route to Santiago. Pontecesures was called Iria Flavia in the past.

The Variante Espiritual vs the Central Route

I’ve walked the Spiritual Variant twice and I like it a lot. Which route to choose is up to you but if you want to have a special experience on the Camino the Spiritual Way is a not-to-miss route.

The Spiritual Way is a bit longer than the Central Route. From Pontevedra to Pardon on the Central Route is 40 km/24,8 mi or 2 walking days compared to 74 km/46 mi or 3 walking days from Pontevedra to Pardon on the Spiritual Way. The actual walking distance on both routes is pretty much the same because, on the Spiritual Route, you walk only 46 km/28,5 mi, 28 km you do by boat.

What I like about the Spiritual route is that it doesn’t go through any industrial areas, near busy roads, or cities. It’s a picturesque quiet coastal way with spectacular scenery and several charming small towns. 

There are fewer pilgrims on the Spiritual route compared to the main Camino Route. If you want to have a quiet couple of days on the Camino it’s a good option.

The boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa is an experience on its own. The scenery is beautiful and very peaceful. It enriches the Camino experience regardless of whether you walk the Central or the Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino.

Is the route well-marked?

Yes, the Spiritual Variant is marked like any other Camino route. You can see yellow arrows painted on sidewalks, walls, and poles. As well as wooden poles with metal shells and arrows. It’s easy to follow but sometimes you do have to pay attention, especially walking through the forest.

One of the wooden pole that indicate the Spiritual variant of the Camino Portugues
The official route marking of the Variante Espiritual of the Portuguese Camino

Taking a boat (the Traslatio water route) on the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino

A boat ride from the port of Vila Nova de Arousa to Pontecesures is a part of the route and is one of the highlights of the Camino. You can book your ticket online or buy it at the ticket office in Vila Nova de Arousa. The company office is on the Camino route on the opposite side of a long pedestrian bridge (Pasarela de O Terron) that you cross to get to the town 200 m from the pier. You can find it on Google.maps as Ruta Translatio. The office is open daily from 8 am to 7 pm.

About the boat ride

  • Boats depart from the port of Vila Nova de Arousa every morning. departure times vary depending on the tide. Usually, it’s between 7 am and 8 am. In the summer months, there might be two daily departures. You can check the times online. It’s recommended to confirm the departure time a day before as due to weather conditions it might change. 
  • The journey takes 1h30min. 
  • The price is 25 euros per person.

Besides the big boat La Barca del Peregrino, there are small speed boats between Vila Nova de Arousa and Pontecesures. They are operated by A Mare Turismo Nautico. A ride is more expensive, 30 euros per person. The duration of the ride is about the same but small boats go faster. If you decide to take a speed boat keep in mind that it’s an open boat with no roof take a jacket with you in case it gets cold or rainy.

If the big boat is full don’t worry you’ll be able to get a spot on a speed boat. I did the Spiritual Variant end of May and there were two speed boats with pilgrims on the route as our big boat was full.   

Between April and October, it’s almost guaranteed that the boat will go. Outside of the season, it depends on the demand. If there are pilgrims they will go otherwise they won’t. I asked on the boat about their season and they told me that sometimes they go out even in December if there are people. Last year I wanted to walk the Spiritual Way end of October and there were no boats after the 21st of October. If there are not enough people for the big boat to go you can try to book a small boat as it doesn’t need that many passengers.

One of the stone crosses along the Translatio boat route on the Spiritual Route
One of the 17 stone crosses on the Traslatio boat route

Will I get the Compostela if I take a boat?

Many pilgrims are concerned about getting their Compostela certificate if they take a boat as according to the rules you have to walk at least the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela on any Camino route. There is nothing to worry about boat ride is a part of the route. You’re supposed to take a boat between Vilanova de Arouse and Pontecesures. You won’t have any difficulties getting your Compostela in Santiago because of the boat. They even give you a stamp that confirms that you did the translation as a part of your pilgrimage on the Camino. 

I’ve done the Spiritual Variant twice and the first time we didn’t take a boat and decided to walk from Vilanova de Arouse to Pontecesures just to check the route. It wasn’t a good experience. The route is poorly marked we had to walk next to railways and along busy roads. In total, we walked more than 30 km that day. The boat ride is a lot better. It’s quite nice for a change to sit on a boat and enjoy the scenery after walking for days. 

A forest scenery on the Spiritual Variant in Galicia
Walking through the beautiful Galician forest was one of the highlights of the Spiritual route

Luggage transfer service on the Variante Espiritual

It’s possible to use a luggage transfer service on the Spiritual route. Correos and Tui Trans offer luggage delivery from door to door on the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. The average price is 6 euros per backpack per stage.

Spiritual Route GPX files

The Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino walking stages

The walk consists of 3 stages: the first two are walking stages the last stage is a boat ride + a short walk. 

Stage 1. Pontevedra to Armenteira, 21 km/13 mi

  • Distance – 21 km/13 mi
  • Time – 4 hours (moving time) 
  • Ascent – 606 m
  • Descent – 358 m
  • Walking surface – 9 km/5,5 mi footpath/gravel road, 12 km/7,4 mi asphalt/cobblestones
A map of the Spiritual Variant of the Camino route from Pontevedra to Armenteira
A map of the first stages of the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino

It was a beautiful and challenging walking day with several highlights. You’ll notice significantly fewer pilgrims on the Spiritual variant compared to the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino which is a nice thing if you walk it in the peak season.

You can split the day into two parts to make it easier as the ascent in the second half of the day is quite tough especially if you do it in summer. On the first day, you walk 11 km from Pontevedra to Combarro. Spend a night in Combarro and the next morning walk 10 km from Combarro to Armenteira with a 400-meter ascent to the top of the steep hill. Combarro is a charming unique coastal town. We spent there a couple of days and enjoyed it. We stayed at Casa Noelmar, a great place located in the heart of the historical centre.

Challenges

  • Several short ascents and decent in the first half of the day between Pontevedra and Combarro.
  • A steep and long ascent, 400 m in the second half of the day from Combarro to Armenteira. After conquering the hill by the end of the day you’re quite tired.
The elevation profile of the Camino route from Pontevedra to Armenteira with a steep ascent
The elevation profile of the first stage of the Spiritual Way from Pontevedra to Armenteira

Highlights

Stage 1 route description

From the historical centre of Pontevedra (Church of Virxe Peregrina) follow the Camio signs that will lead you out of the town across the Ponte do Burgo Bridge. for the first 3 km, you follow the Central Route of the Portuguese Camino out of the town through the forest.

At 2,5 km there is a water fountain

At 3 km at the bridge, there is a split. The left route is the Spiritual Way which goes across the bridge towards the coast, and the right route (the main route) continues straight towards Caldas de Reis.

At 5,5 km you get to the small town of Cabaleiro where you can find a couple of hotels and restaurants. 

Between 6 km and 8 km, the Camino goes through the forest and small villages. 

At 8,5 km you walk past the beautiful monastery of Poio. You can stay at the hotel located in one of the complex buildings. 

9 km you get to the town of Poio where you can find a couple of bars. 

At the roundabout after Poio turn left. The Camino goes away from the road towards the coast.

At 11 km you get to a small beach and the town of Combarro. It’s a perfect place to stop for rest and lunch in the middle of the day before the steep ascent. The route doesn’t go through the historical center it just touches it but it’s so small that walking around it will hardly add any distance to your walk. I’d suggest spending some time in the town it has many interesting medieval buildings located along the narrow cobbled streets. 

The main street of the historical centre of Combarro in Galicia
The beautiful historical centre of Combarro is a perfect place for a rest stop on the first day of the Spiritual route

At 11,5 km after crossing the main street in Combarro you start the steady climb that continues for the next 9 km. So make sure you have enough water.

At 13,5 km there is a small kiosk where you can buy snacks and water but it was closed when I walked by.

At 15 km (at a wooden board with a route map) don’t miss a fantastic lookout point on your left. 

At 19 km there is a split that is not marked well don’t turn off the main road (keep right). In the last part, there will be several splits but you just stick to the main route unless there is a yellow arrow indicating the direction.

At 20 km the ascent is over and you start a descent on a footpath which gets quite steep just before you reach Armenteira. 

At 21 km you’ll arrive at the Armenteira Monastery. 

The Romanesque church of the Monastery of Armenteira
The Monastery of Armenteira is one of the highlights of the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Way

Places to stay in Armenteira

Stage 2. Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa, 23,6 km/14,6 mi

  • Distance – 23,6 km/14,6 mi
  • Time – 4h30min. (moving time) 
  • Ascent – 170 m
  • Descent – 417 m
  • Walking surface – 15 km on a footpath/gravel road, 8 km on asphalt, 500 m on a quiet road
A route map of the second stage of the spiritual camino route
A map of the second stage of the Spiritual route from Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa

The first part of the day through the beautiful forest is my favorite part of the Spiritual Variant. The Camino follows the trail that is called the Route of Rock and Water (Ruta de Pedra e da Agua). Overall it’s a very nice walking day through the forest and along the river for the first 15 km. After that, you walk through quiet towns and neighborhoods till you reach the coast.

Challenges

  • It was a relatively easy walk with no particular challenging parts besides the downhill walk at the beginning but it wasn’t steep more of a gradual downhill.
The elevation profile of the second day of the Spiritual route from Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa
The elevation profile of the Camino route from Armenteira to Arousa

Highlights

  • A beautiful walk through the lush-green forest along the river with small waterfalls and big boulders
  • A quiet walk through a beautiful natural area along the river and between the vineyards
  • A walk along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean on the last 3 km before Vilanova de Arousa

Stage 2 route description 

The first 5 km on a footpath through the forest. Right at the start once you get to the footpath there are two trails one goes on the right side of the river and one crosses the bridge and follows the river on the left. I took the right trail. It goes closer to the river and more through the forest. The left trail goes through more open parts and is a bit further from the river. Both trails merge a couple of kilometers later at the road where you’ll see a Camino sign. If it rains a lot the right trail might get muddy and a bit slippery as it goes sometimes over rocks. Several forest paths cross the route just stick to the main trail till you get to the road where you’ll see Camino signs again.

A small waterfall in the forest near Armenteira, Galicia, Spain
One of the waterfalls in the first part of the walk from Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa

At 5 km you’re out of the forest. You have to cross a couple of roads before you can get back on a footpath that goes along the river. There is a big restaurant on the right just 50 m away from the Camino.

Between 5,5 km and 13 km, you walk mostly along the river and vineyards. It’s a nice and peaceful walk.

At 6,5 km there is a restaurant right on the Camino route.

At 10 km a the bridge there is another restaurant. The Camino route goes across the bridge and down to the river on the other side of it.

At 13 km you get to the town of Ponte Arnelas where you can find hotels and restaurants.

Between 14 km and 15 km, you walk 500 mon a road with not much traffic. There are two bars on that stretch.

At 15 km just after a turn off from the road, there is a small chapel where you can get a stamp.

At 16 km another restaurant. After the first 5 km, there will be plenty of opportunities to stop for rest and food.

At 19,5 km there is a bar.

At 21 km you get to the coast. You have around 2 km to Vilanova de Arousa. From there on there will be a restaurant/cafe every km or so.

The Camino goes along the coast for the last 3 km offering spectacular views.

At 23 km you get to a long pedestrian bridge that you cross to get to the town of Vilanova de Arousa.

After crossing the bridge on the left, you’ll see a glass building and a pier. Pilgrims’ boats to Pontecesures leave from there. 

A bridge leading to the town of Vila Nova de Arousa in Galicia
A pedestrian bridge at the entrance to Vilanova de Arousa

Places to stay in Vilanova de Arousa

Stage 3. Vilanova de Arousa to Padrón. The Translatio Sea Route, 30 km/18,6 mi

  • Distance –  30 km/18,6 mi; 28 km/17,3 mi by boat + 2,3 km/1,4 mi walking (from Pontecesures to Padrón)
  • Time – 2 hours, 1h30min. boat, 30 minutes walking
  • Ascent – 5 m
  • Descent – 4 m. The walking part of the last section is very flat
  • Walking surface – 2,3 km on asphalt
A route map of the Camino from Pontecesures to Padron
A map of the walking route from Pontecesures to Padron, the last stretch of the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino

The last day of the Variante Espiritual is a short stage. In total, it takes around 2 hours to get from Vilanova de Arousa to Padron. This means you have plenty of time to continue walking past Padron to get closer to Santiago de Compostela in order to make the final leg of the Portuguese Camino shorter.

The boat ride

The pilgrims’ boat usually leaves at 8 am. They ask you to be at the pier 15 minutes before. If you buy your ticket online you don’t have to print it showing it on the screen of your phone is enough. In fact, they didn’t even check the tickets just asked for people’s names and found them on their list.

Our boat was full we left at 8 am on the dot. You sit inside the boat where you’re protected from wind and rain. If you want you can stand at the back where there is an open area. The Translatio route starts at the Arousa Sea and continues along the River Ulla which is one of the major rivers in Galicia. The boat makes several stops most of them at stone crosses. The captain tells you a bit of history and points in the direction of crosses. They give you tea and a pastry on the boat which was great because everything in the town was still closed when we left.

There are 17 stone crosses along the river banks that indicate the route. I counted 10 crosses the rest of them were probably too far to notice. The boat journey had an almost meditative effect on me. It definitely can be described as one of the highlights of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. Besides ancient crosses on the way you see other monuments e.g., Torres do Oeste (two old watching towers).

The pilgrims' boat at the port of Vilanova de Arousa
Our boat La Barca del Peregrino at the pier of Vilanova de Arousa

The walk to Padrón

After 1h30min. the boat arrives in Pontecesures where you get off and start walking along the river bank and then across the bridge towards Pardón following the Camino arrows. The end of the stage is 2 km on foot. If you decide to stay in Padron there are several private albergues as well as one public. The town is known for the traditional dish called Padron Peppers which go well with local white wine.

Padrón is 24 km from Santiago de Compostela. After the boat ride you arrive in Padrón before 11 am so instead of staying there you can continue walking towards Santiago and stop at one of the places on the way to make your last day’s walk shorter.

The historical centre of Padron, Galicia
The historical centre of Padrón the end of the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino

Places to stay in Padron

Questions or Comments?

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Lenka

Wednesday 15th of May 2024

Hello Campbell and Alya, Thanks a lot for all the great information. We are planning the following route for September but not sure if its accessible or if there are the trails. Any comments or suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Total distance 101.3km 1. Vigo to Redondela (coastal route) – 16.3 km 2. Redondela to Pontevedra (coastal route) – 21 km 3. Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis – 21 km 4. Caldas de Reis to Padrón – 19 km including boat ride 5. Padrón to Santiago de Compostela -- 24 km

Thanks, Lenka

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 16th of May 2024

Hello Lenka. Thank you for the comment. I think you're confusing the Spiritual Variant and the Central Route (the main route) of the Portuguese Camino. The first two stages are right but from Pontevedra if you want to walk the Spiritual Variant (the one that has a boat ride) you should follow the itinerary provided in this post: Pontevedra - Armenteira, 21 km; Armenteira - Vila Nova de Arousa, 23 km; Vila Nova de Arousa - Padron, 30 km (28 km on the boat). And then from Padron to Santiago again on the main route. Your itinerary doesn't include the Spiritual Variant, it's the itinerary for the Central Route. There is no boat ride between Caldas de Reis and Padron. The only boat ride on the route is between Vila Nova de Arousa and Padron on the Spiritual Variant. Buen Camino

Susan

Wednesday 1st of May 2024

Hi! THANKS for this information! Do you have any recommendations regarding places to stay that are a bit past Padron?

Stingy Nomads

Saturday 4th of May 2024

Hello Susan. Thank you for the comment. You can find a PDF file with a list of places to stay on the Portuguese route in this post https://stingynomads.com/camino-portugues-stages/. There are several places between Padron and Santiago many pilgrims. Buen Camino

Alex

Sunday 21st of April 2024

Hello, thank you for all your detailed notes and tips on the camino. I used your blog last year for the camino frances and had such a wonderful time!

I'm planning on going from Tui to Santiago via the spiritual route this year, in mid July. I was wondering if you think that booking in advance is required?

Thank you!

Stingy Nomads

Monday 22nd of April 2024

Hello Alex. Thank you for the comment. I'd suggest booking accommodation in advance on the Spiritual Variant unless you're planning to stay in public albergues (there are two on the route in Armenteira and Vila Nova de Arousa). July is the busy time in the coastal area of Northern Spain many tourists not only pilgrims. As for the rest of the route you should be fine without advanced booking. Maybe it's better to book something in Santiago as well if you want to stay in a private room near the center. Buen Camino

Hollie

Thursday 4th of April 2024

This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much for this useful information! My son and I leave in less than 2 weeks! OMG!

Stingy Nomads

Friday 5th of April 2024

Hello Hollie. Thank you for the generous comment. I'm sure you'll enjoy the Spiritual Variant it's spectacular. Buen Camino

Marcelo

Saturday 9th of March 2024

Bom guia, muito fixe! Obrigado!

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