A stream running through the Ruta da Agua e da Pedra on the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugues

Walking the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugués

Whether you’re planning to walk the Camino Portugués on the Coastal or Central Route, they both converge in Redondela and, once you reach Pontevedra, you have the choice to continue straight through to Padrón via Caldas de Reis, or take an alternative route known as the Spiritual Variant.

Read on for my guide to the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugués and discover all you need to know about this lesser travelled path.

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What is the Spiritual Variant?

The Spiritual Variant (Variante Espiritual) is an alternative route from Pontevedra to Padrón on the latter stages of the Camino Portugués. This detour takes you to the coastal town of Combarro and then inland to Armenteira before heading to the coast once more at Vilanova de Arousa. From here the final stage of the Spiritual Variant is a boat journey to Pontecesures, just south of Padrón.

Although you’ll see it marked as Variante Espiritual on signs and way markers, for ease of reference I’ll refer to it by its English name throughout.

What are the origins of the Spiritual Variant?

The Spiritual Variant is often referred to as the origin of the Camino de Santiago. Legend has it that after St James’s beheading in Jerusalem, his body was stolen by his disciples and placed on a stone boat which eventually reached the Rio Ulla where it travelled upriver to Iria Flavia. This route is called the Traslatio.

How long is the Spiritual Variant?

The Spiritual Variant is longer than continuing on the Central Route (roughly 50 miles) and takes three days. For comparison, walking directly from Pontevedra it’s approximately 25 miles to Padrón and is usually done in two stages.

However, for most pilgrims, not all of that distance is on foot. For the 17 miles between Vilanova de Arousa and Pontecesures, you travel by boat.

While it is possible to walk the entire way, most pilgrims choose to include the boat journey as part of the experience. If you do decide to walk the whole route be aware that the third stage from Vilanova de Arousa is a long stretch (around 22 miles) and, according to the guidebooks, there are limited services along the way.

How long does it take to walk the Spiritual Variant?

The Spiritual Variant generally takes three days to complete although some pilgrims opt to take longer by breaking up the first stage and staying overnight in Combarro.

Where does the Spiritual Variant start and end?

The Spiritual Variant starts around two miles from Pontevedra. The start of the detour is well-marked with a large information board on the left-hand side of the road.

Information board for the Variante Espiritual alternative route from Pontevedra on the Camino Portugues

The Spiritual Variant then rejoins the Central route in Pontecesures, around two miles south of Padrón.

The boat journey from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures

Unless you’re planning to walk the entire way you’ll need to book your boat ticket for the journey from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures.

There are currently two companies who offer the boat trip, both departing from the Maritime Station on the harbour at Vilanova de Arousa.

La Barca del Peregrino

Tickets for the journey with La Barca del Peregrino can be purchased online. The boat has a capacity of 28 passengers and, although it’s enclosed, it can still be cold and windy on board depending on the time of year you travel. The journey takes around an hour and twenty minutes and costs €25 (price correct as of January 2024).

A Mare Turismo Nautico

An alternative is to travel by speedboat with A Mare Turismo Nautico. Again tickets can be purchased online. The speedboat has a maximum capacity of twelve passengers but will operate even with only one passenger. Bear in mind that these are open to the elements so dress accordingly for the weather!

The speedboat takes around an hour and fifteen minutes and costs €30 per person (price correct as of January 2024).

For both companies departures are dependent on the tides which is why most journeys depart early in the morning. Make sure you arrive at the Maritime Station at least fifteen minutes ahead of your departure time.

If you are walking the Spiritual Variant outside of the main months of April to October there may not be any departures showing on the websites but both companies are contactable by phone with all details available on their respective websites.

What are the stages of the Spiritual Variant?

As I mentioned earlier, most pilgrims take three days to walk the Spiritual Variant and the usual stages are:

  • Pontevedra to Armenteira
  • Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa
  • Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures

Read an overview of my full Camino Portugués from Porto to Santiago de Compostela

Stage One – Pontevedra to Armenteira

The first part of stage one from Pontevedra to Combarro is a pleasant walk through the Galician countryside. There are a few hills including an uphill stretch to Igrexa de San Pedro in Campaño but from there it’s downhill to the Monastery at Poio. It’s possible to visit the Monastery to see the mosaics for which it’s well known – there’s one representing the Camino Frances that is eighty metres long and made with one million individual pieces. Be aware that, if you are walking on a Sunday, the monastery is closed.

Poio Monastery on the Variante Espiritual of the Camino Portugues

Combarro is a beautiful old coastal town famed for its horreos (granary stores) which you can see on the water’s edge. Combarro is extremely popular with tourists so gets exceptionally busy, particularly at weekends.

Horreos on the water's edge in Combarro

The second part of stage two from Combarro to Armenteira is the toughest part of the stage with a steep uphill climb to get out of Combarro. Just remember to take regular stops to turn back to admire the view (and catch your breath)! Although the path does continue to climb as it passes through forests, it’s not as steep as the road from Combarro and does eventually descend, on a rocky path, to Armenteira.

The long uphill road from Combarro to Armenteira on the Variante Espiritual

Read my detailed account of stage one from Pontevedra to Armenteira

There are a few accommodation options in Armenteira, including an albergue. It’s also possible to stay at the monastery if there is a room available. However, they no longer take bookings in advance so it’s now a case of checking upon arrival in Armenteira if they have availability. You can find out more information including prices on their website.

At the time I walked it was possible to make reservations but I was unable to get a bed at the monastery despite contacting them six weeks in advance, so I booked a private room at Carballo de Prado 1900.

Search for all accommodation in and around Armenteira

Stage Two – Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa

Stage two gets off to a wonderful start as it follows the Ruta da Pedra e da Agua (Route of Stone and Water). This is probably the most beautiful part of the whole Camino Portugués and every pilgrim I’ve spoken to who walked the Spiritual Variant has agreed that the second stage of the Spiritual Variant is a true Camino highlight.

The path follows the river as it cascades over moss covered rocks, passing abandoned water mills and other old stone buildings.

Waterfall on the Ruta da Pedra e da Agua on the Camino Portugues

Before the Ruta da Pedra e da Agua ends it passes Aldea Labrega, a small sculpture park which is a recreation of a Galician village as it would have been at the beginning of the 20th century. The village has a granary store and church and there are stone sculptures of people and animals.

Stone sculpture of a woman and two children on the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugues

The rest of the stage passes through wine growing country with vineyards galore and eventually reaches the estuary of the Rio de Arousa and Vilanova de Arousa itself.

Walking along the beachfront at Vilanova de Arousa on the Camino Portugues

Read my detailed account of stage two from Armenteira to Vilanova de Arousa

Vilanova de Arousa has a decent selection of places to stay for all budgets. I had a private room at Hotel Bradomin, a short walk from the harbour.

Search for all accommodation in Vilanova de Arousa

Stage Three – Vilanova de Arousa to Padrón

In terms of walking distance stage three is a short one, assuming that you opt to take the boat from Vilanova de Arousa.

Due to the tides, most boats leave early in the morning and the boat journey up the Rio Ulla is around 90 minutes, which includes some sightseeing along the way, including the mussel beds where the famed Galician mussels are farmed, and the seventeen stone crosses which make up the Way of the Cross.

Three stone crosses on the boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures

From Pontecesures it’s about two miles to Padrón so it’s highly likely that you’ll be there early- to mid-morning (I was in Padrón by 9am thanks to 7am departure on the boat). This gives you the opportunity to explore the town and learn more about the maritime journey made by St James.

There’s plenty to see and do in Padrón but, at the very least, you should visit the Igrexa de Santiago Apostolo de Padrón, dedicated to St James. When his body was brought back to Spain by boat it was moored to a Roman altar stone called a pedron which, not only gave Padrón its name, but is now located under the main altar of the church.

The pedron stone in the Church in Padron

You can also pick up a certificate called the Pedronia. This certificate is given out by the Town Council in Padrón to show that you’ve followed the route to where the body of St James was brought before it was carried through to Santiago.

To get the Pedronia call into the Tourist Information Office on Avenida de Compostela and show them your credencial. I had already had mine stamped at the Parish Church and they gave me another sello in the Tourist Info Office, along with the certificate.

Pedronia Certificate

Read my detailed account of stage three from Vilanova de Arousa to Padrón

The early start also means you have the option to walk further to make your final day’s walk into Santiago de Compostela a short one.

I decided to walk to Cruces which is about two miles outside of Padrón. That made my final day’s walk a little over eight miles (which included lots of walking around the sights of Padrón). I booked a room in Camiño da Vieira just a short distance off the Camino path.

Search for all accommodation in and around Padrón

What are the highlights of the Spiritual Variant?

There is so much to love about the Spiritual Variant, but these are just a few highlights.

Monastery at Poio

Although the monastery was closed on the day I walked to Armenteira I was still able to view some of the mosaics as well as visit the adjacent church.

Mosaic frescos at Poio Monastery on the Variante Espiritual of the Camino Portugues


In hindsight I wish I had booked to stay overnight in Combarro so that I could explore it fully without the tourist crowds, as having my backpack with me made it very difficult to navigate the busy narrow streets without banging into people! However, the brief time I spent there made me realise that it would be worth a proper visit in the future – and the smells coming from the seafood restaurants on the water’s edge were tempting too.

Narrow street decorated with flower pots in Combarro

Monastery at Armenteira

The Spiritual Variant is all about embracing peace and tranquility and you’ll definitely find this as you wander the cloisters of the monastery in Armenteira.

It’s also possible to join the nuns for a pilgrim’s mass which takes place at 7pm each evening.

The monastery at Armenteira

Ruta da Agua e da Pedra

Easily the most beautiful part of the Spiritual Variant, and possibly even of the entire Camino Portugués. A peaceful walk alongside the river with no other pilgrims in sight and only the sound of birdsong for company – what’s not to love about that?

Old mill on the Ruta da Pedra e da Agua on the Camino Portugues

Boat ride to Pontecesures

After twelve days of walking it was a nice change to start the day with a boat ride and the journey up river, passing the ancient stone crosses and watching the sun come up was a great experience.

Torres de Oeste on the boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesures

Frequently asked questions about the Spiritual Variant?

Are there plenty of places to stay on the Spiritual Variant?

There is accommodation available along the way but, as this way is much less popular, options are more limited than on the main route.

As I was staying in private rooms I was able to find accommodation fairly easily but, if you are staying in albergues, you may find it more difficult. However, I found the Camino Ninja app helpful when looking for accommodation (including albergues) and it covers all small towns along the way if you decide to stay ‘off stage’.

Search for all accommodation on the Camino Portugués

Is the Spiritual Variant as well marked as the rest of the Camino Portugués?

Yes, there are plenty of arrows on the Spiritual Variant and, just as on the rest of the route, you’ll find them painted in the usual places including on walls, rocks, and poles, as well as pinned to trees and fences.

Wooden yellow arrow pinned to a tree on the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugues

The Spiritual Variant also has its own way markers to look out for which are wooden posts topped with a silver arrow and underneath a scallop shell with a cross of St James.

Way marker on the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugues

Will I still get the Compostela even though I took the boat?

This seems to be the number one concern for many pilgrims who are thinking about taking the Spiritual Variant particularly those who are only walking the final 100kms to Santiago (which is the minimum distance required to be eligible for the Compostela).

However, the answer is yes you will still get the Compostela and you’ll even get a stamp for your pilgrim passport on the boat. Don’t forget that for the last 100kms you must get two stamps per day to be able to receive your Compostela.

Can I transfer my luggage?

If you’ve been transferring your luggage then yes, you can continue to do this on the Spiritual Variant.

Some of the companies offering the luggage transfer service include Caminofácil, Tuitrans and Correos.

Is it worth walking the Spiritual Variant?

The million-dollar question but one that’s really easy to answer – it’s 100% worth walking the Spiritual Variant! Yes, it adds an extra day to your itinerary which may not be ideal if you’re on a tight schedule but, for three days, you get to enjoy walking through small towns and villages, along quiet paths through beautiful forests, and of course, the boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa is the icing on the cake.

If you’re a sociable pilgrim and like to walk and talk with others you meet along the way it might not be the right choice for you as there are far fewer pilgrims on the road. However, if you want to spend a few days embracing the peace and quiet of the Galician countryside then it’s an excellent choice.

I hope you’ve found this helpful but if you have any questions please feel free to contact me and I’ll be more than happy to help.

If you’ve already walked the Spiritual Variant and have any thoughts to share, you can drop a comment below.

Buen Camino!

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Everything you need to know about walking the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugues between Pontevedra and Padron

6 thoughts on “Walking the Spiritual Variant of the Camino Portugués”

  1. Hello Alison,
    We were reading your article regarding the Portuguese Camino, Spiritual Variant and looking at the information you provided regarding accommodations in Armenteira.
    The hotel that you stayed at is not available.
    We began to search other options.
    Is Armenteira a part of Pontevedra? The albergue and hotel addresses indicate Pontevedra.

    1. Hi Janet, Armenteira comes under the Pontevedra region when you look on booking.com. You’d need to use the map function to narrow your search area down as I think the Pontevedra area does cover a lot of smaller towns.

  2. Thank you Alison. Your sharing helped me very much an put the whole Spiritual Variante route into perspective for me.

  3. John McDermott

    Hi Alison
    I am a fit 71 yr old male; how difficult are the climbs ie grade on the Armenteria? Thank you in advance for your assistance

    1. The climbs are not especially difficult – it’s steep on the way out of Combarro and then just a gradual (but long) uphill after that. If you take your time you shouldn’t have any problems – or do as I do and stop to take photos regularly!

      Just make sure to have plenty of water as there are no facilities between Combarro and Armenteira.

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