Why is the Camino de Santiago so famous in Korea?

Jeju-olle-korea-camino-santiagoSouth Korea is over 10,000km from Spain, but yet last year almost 4,000 Koreans walked the Camino de Santiago, making them the 9th largest nationality between the British and the Dutch. It is not something you would expect from a country with no historical connection – so why is it that so many South Koreans feel called to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela? We answer this and discover how the Camino de Santiago has changed tourism within Korea itself!

In 2014 ~4,000 Koreans walked the Camino to Santiago: the 9th largest nationality, above Holland Click To Tweet

Paulo Coelho’s Pilgrimage

Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho’s book the Alchemist was widely popular in Korea. The story talks about a young shepherd named Santiago who travels from Spain to Egypt. In 1986 Coelho walked the Camino and had a life changing experience. He went on to write about his experiences in further books which also were translated into Korean and became popular.

Catholicism and Christianity

It is not widely known that Korea has the 4th largest number of Catholic saints of any country in the world! In a recent trip to Korea by Pope Francis, it was reported that 86% of the population held positive views, compared to just 66% in the US. From colonial times, Christianity has not fared particularly well in Asia. However, of the Asian countries Korea is one of the most Christian, with around 10% of the population Catholic and another 20% protestant. Some of these links undoubtedly inspire Koreans to undergo the pilgrimage to the believed resting place of one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus.

Famous in Korean Media

In 2007, the word ‘Camino’ was mentioned as one of the top 100 trending words by a local publication. In 2008 a large television channel made a series of programs in a documentary about the route. Books by famous Korean authors – most notably ‘The Way to Santiago’ by Kim Hyosun have also spread the word.

‘The Camino in Korea’ – The Jeju Olle Trail

After 23 years of tireless work and a deep feeling of dissatisfaction in life, the Korean Journalist Suh Myung-suk left her stressful job to walk The Way in 2006. After a discussion with a fellow walker, they came up with the idea to make a similar pilgrimage in Korea for those unable to travel to Europe. In 2007 she made the first of up to 21 routes through the island of Jeju.

Koreans in the capital Seoul can fly to the island for as little as $40 on budget airlines. Most of the routes are short in comparison, around 5 hours. Instead of yellow arrows, the routes are marked with blue arrows or tied blue ribbons to be more visible.