After walking various Caminos de Santiago, some pilgrims start to look beyond Spain and Europe for alternative pilgrimages. After Santiago, there is Rome and Jerusalem that round out the big 3 Christian pilgrimages. However walking to Jerusalem is problematic with the war in Syria and closed borders. However, for pilgrims that are looking for something different, but as Christian as one can get, there is the Jesus Trail in Israel. I write this optimistically that the current Gaza War will end soon and pilgrims can return to the Holy Land. Though at least you can plan and dream of your next pilgrimage. Below, The Jesus Trail is compared to the Camino de Santiago, the benchmark for pilgrimages around the world.
- Israel vs Spain: Big difference here of course. Spain is in Europe while Israel is in the Middle East. While Spain is an old country with a mostly Christian culture, there are remnants of Islam dating back to the Moorish occupation of most of Spain between 711 and 1492 AD. There were many Jewish quarters in Spain but the Jews were expulsed from Spain by the Catholic Kings starting in 1492. Though there are still remnants of historical Jewish quarters in cities like Barcelona, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Girona, and Segovia. Israel is an ancient land and the center of the Jewish and Christian religions. It is also a prominent Islamic Holy Site with the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem being a place where Muhammad was taken up into heaven for an encounter with God. The 3 religions share a belief in the Old Testament with our mutual connection to Moses and all the way back to Abraham, the Father of all three religions.
2. Santiago vs. Jesus: The Camino de Santiago is based on the legend of Santiago, St. James the Elder and Apostle, and the recovery of his bones near the site of the Cathedral de Santiago around 825 AD. While there is evidence St. James existed and was an Apostle, there is no historical documentation that suggests he actually visited Spain. That said, I am not questioning the power of The Camino. In fact I feel a connection to Santiago. I have spent over 500 days walking to Santiago and many other pilgrimages around the world. To me the Camino is quite special because of the power and spirits of the millions that have actually walked and thousands that died making this holy pilgrimage. That said, there is historical proof Jesus existed as he is prominent in the Bible’s New Testament and mentioned in other historical writings including those of 1st Century Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus.
3. Jesus Actually Walked This Path: While nobody suggests that Santiago actually walked any of the Camino, the Bible is filled with stories and miracles that Jesus performed all along the path of the Jesus Trail. It starts in Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation where pilgrims visit the rocky alcove within the Basilica where Mary was told by Gabriel that she was carrying Jesus. Then to Cana the site of the Miracle of Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Following his footsteps one passes through Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Then on to the hilltop of the Sermon on the Mount as well as The Church of the Beatitudes. Then to Tabgha and Peter’s Primacy Church. It was here that Jesus gave Peter the authority, the “Primacy”: “Feed my sheep.” Finally to Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee where Jesus and his Apostles resided during most of his 3 year ministry.
4. Jesus Trail Is Short: The pilgrimage is just 65 kilometers or 40 miles We walked it in 4 days. The Camino can be short too, but pilgrims are required to walk at least 100 kilometers to earn a Compostela. And many walk much farther. Starting at St. Jean Pied du Port requires a 790 kilometer walk and some pilgrims walk from their homes throughout Europe walking 1,000 to 4,000 kilometers or longer.
5. Multi-Religions/Cultures: In Spain there are remnants of the Muslim religion because of the Moorish occupation but more so on routes from the south including the Via de la Plata and Levante Caminos. While in Israel on the Jesus Trail one passes through Palestinian Islamic areas, Christian, and Jewish areas. I found this point particularly special as one of the key points of any pilgrimage is that along the journey one learns to connect and accept everybody on the path. On this pilgrimage one sees Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in a degree of harmony.
6. No Albergues: There is a guest house in Nazareth, Fauzi Azar, which is actually the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It has dormitory beds and private rooms and is the ideal starting point for this pilgrimage offering an opportunity to meet fellow pilgrims, if only just one or two. If Fauzi Azar is full, Daher Guest House is pleasant and has a rooftop restaurant offering views of Nazareth. Otherwise the accommodations are hotels or B&B’s. Though there is a family run guest house in Cana that we found quite special, Wedding at Cana Guest House, but you likely need to book that one ahead. Because of a lack of inexpensive accommodations at the end of Day 2, we bussed back to Cana which worked out fine. Lavi Kibbutz sounded wonderful but at $425 per night a bit pricey for 2 pilgrim beds for a night. Day 3 we stayed at Arbel Guest House Shivat Family. A wonderful splurge with their swimming pool and sauna. And the son is a gourmet chef. At the end of Day 4 there are no accommodations at Capernaum. There is a bus stop nearby on the main road where we waited 40 minutes for Bus 52 to Tiberias. Tiberias is loaded with accommodations.
7. Food: All along the Camino Pilgrim Meals or Meñu del Dias are offered which include 3 courses and often a bottle of wine for €9-15. There is no standard offering along the Jesus Trail, but mostly Arabic Mediterranean dishes. Lots of cucumbers, pita bread, falafel, hummus. Beef, lamb, and chicken were available but not pork. We even had a stop at McDonald’s one afternoon on Day 2. Nazareth and Tiberias offer plenty of restaurant options. In Cana, plan on staying at the Cana Wedding Guest House where they serve a grand mix of local dishes and plenty of home cooked food. Perfect for a hungry pilgrim. And dinner and breakfast were both fabulous gourmet meals at Arbel Guest House Shivat Family.
8. More Expensive: Israel is more expensive on a daily basis, but it being much shorter is not overly expensive. I’d say we averaged about $100-$110 per day total for the two of us. The Camino is much cheaper at $30-$70 per day depending upon whether you stay at albergues or hotels. We splurged at Arbel Guest House dinner but it was surely worth it.
9. More Rugged: While the Camino has some challenging days including the walk over the Pyrenees from St. Jean Pied du Port to Roncevalles, Cruz de Ferro, and O Cebreiro, it is relatively easy walking for the most part unless you do 30 kilometers plus per day. The last 2 days of the Jesus Trail I found pretty rugged, especially the descent from Mt. Arbor where scrambling was involved. Though I was walking on one healing hip 3 months after a hip replacement surgery and the other hip needing hip surgery so perhaps I was a bit biased. The walking has some urban stretches especially at the beginning walking through Nazareth, it has plenty of pleasant rural walking and trail walking. One negative was the amount of garbage dumped along the dirt road toward the second part of Day 1 before Cana. While not as well marked as the Camino, the Jesus Trail was marked amply.
10. Less Crowded: While the Camino can be crowded at times, especially the last 100 kilometers of Frances and Portuese Ways, the Jesus Trail is very quiet where you may only meet a few other pilgrims. We maybe ran into or met no more than 10 other pilgrims. Though there were plenty of tourists at the various holy sites.
In summary, if you liked the Camino you will love the Jesus Trail. For me, going to Catholic School Grades 1-8, growing up learning the stories of the Bible from the nuns and priests of my childhood, helped to make this a most special pilgrimage. To walk in these areas where Jesus and the Apostles walked including Santiago, and being at the sites of several of his miracles was soul wrenching.
A big question with some pilgrims will be should I walk alone or do a tour? Being seasoned pilgrims we decided to do it on our own and had no significant problems. Abraham Tours seems to be the best tour option for a self guided or guided tour. They offer a free downloadable map which we found very helpful listing accommodations and interesting sites along the way. There is also a Jesus Trail Guidebook available.
Other walks in Israel. For those with more time there is the Israel Trail which runs 1100 kilometers from the northern border to the southern border. It also overlaps with a part of the Jesus Trail. There is also the Abraham Trail which runs 2,000 kilometers from Turkey to Iraq and goes through Israel, but this is not fully developed and of course has border issues especially in Syria. Last but not least, and especially for those who have physical issues limiting their walking, there is the Via Dolorosa. This is the actual Stations of the Cross. Just one kilometer with the last 5 Stations being inside Holy Sepulchre Church. This I have to say was the most intense pilgrimage experience you could imagine. Every few steps reliving Jesus’ horrific last walk to his death and Resurrection.
Good walking and Buen Camino. Feel free to contact us with questions.