This is one peregrino’s perspective so biased but I also talked with many other VDLP and Frances peregrinos to confirm these points. The intent is to give Camino Frances veterans a sense of How The Camino Via de la Plata is different from Camino Frances:
1. Longer: Via de la Plata (VDLP) is 1000 kilometers vs. 790 kilometers on Camino Frances.
2. Hotter: The south and central parts of Spain can reach temperatures above 40C/104F in July and August. Consequently, unless you are a heat lover, best to walk in the shoulder seasons in Spring and Fall. Starting in Spring is recommended as you will arrive in Galicia with warming temperatures.
2. Less Infrastructure and more Challenging: Fairly often you have to walk 15-30k with no Cafe or tienda(shop) to stop for food and drink. Also there are stretches where you have to walk as far as 30k to get to the next Albergue for a bed. Unlike Camino Frances, it is rare to find a bar open before 9AM or a restaurant open before 8-9PM, unless you are in a large city.
3. Less Flexibility Requires More Planning: On Frances you can just wake up and pack your gear and start walking. You are never far from a cafe or albergue. On VDLP because of Point 2. you really need to do some planning before you start each day.
4. More intimate: If you find Frances too crowded you will like VDLP as you can walk 30k and see as little as 4-5 people but rarely more than 10-12 in a day. Of course this will depend on the time of year you go and your speed. You usually know most of the people at the Albergue each night.
5. VDLP Is Mostly Old Men: It is rare to meet people under 40 and very rare to meet anyone under 25. I did befriend a 30 year old French girl, Julie, who I ran into several times including at the end in Muxia and we were both laughing in tears as she told me she was so tired of the old men walking around the albergues in only their underpants. Of course I was one of those guys.
6. VDLP Is More Of A Long Distance Walk: This may be a very personal comment but I talked to others who agreed that the VDLP is more of a long distance walk. It did not feel as spiritual as Frances. Between Seville and Salamanca, the first half, it seemed like a walk through Roman history with all the bridges and the theatre and aqueduct of Merida and of course the great archway at Caparra. After you veer west at Granja de Moreruela and especially in Galicia the Camino feel seemed stronger.
7. There Are Very Few First Time Pilgrims: The VDLP is long and difficult and not well known so there are very few first time peregrinos. Consequently there is less intimate discussion around your reasons for being there. The talk is more serious centered around your previous Camino experiences.
8. VDLP Is Less Fun: It’s longer and more grueling with the lack of infrastructure. The pilgrims are mostly Camino veterans so you don’t get the diversity typical on more popular Caminos such as Frances or Portuguese. There just seems to be less fun. I suppose the lack of diversity and high percentage of old men has something to do with that. Although it got better in the second half.
9. Has a Different Feel Walking Into Santiago: While still emotional, I felt more relief than anything else coming into Santiago.
10. Completing VDLP Felt Like More of An Achievement Than Frances: I found walking Frances fun and a great experience and had no physical issues. VDLP was long, difficult, and seemed to never end. Admittedly, I had blister problems on the VDLP and none on Frances.
In conclusion, the VDLP is not for the faint of heart. But I would also tell you if you are a Camino Junkie as our many of the VDLP veterans you will want to add Via de la Plata to your list. Especially, if you enjoy Roman History and like to explore Spanish cities such as Seville, Merida, Caceres, Salamanca and Zamora. Buen Camino!