The Camino del Norte is an ancient pilgrimage path along the northern coast of Spain heading to Santiago de Compostela. I walked this path last June without the use of a trail map in an effort to take each day as it unfolds. It turned out that the Camino del Norte maps were of little use anyways due to their lack of detail and the numerous changes that have occurred over the last few years. I walked for 10 days before having to put my pilgrimage on hold because of a nagging knee injury that left me feeling exhausted at the end of each day. The Del Norte is very different from the popular Camino Frances in three major ways.
1) The Del Norte is more rugged. The craggy coast is a constant series of hills and mountains, forests and pastures that carry the pilgrim through small villages and major cities. The trail is often muddy, slippery and wet and not nearly as well marked as the Frances. You will often find yourself blazing a new path through thick forests or wading through swamp land with grass growing as high as your head. Don’t be anxious though, there are many paths and they all eventually converge to lead you in the right direction.
2) The weather is different. Because the majority of the trail runs along the Bay of Biscay the climate is much different than the inland Camino Frances. I hiked it for a total of 200 kilometers. Eight out of the ten days I’d spent on the trail it rained. The temperatures varied from the high 80s (the two dry days) to the mid 40s. Luckily I’m cold blooded so I’d brought a down jacket, good rain gear and a sleeping bag, “just in case.” I used them all!
3) There are fewer pilgrims. If solitude is something you seek than the del Norte is the perfect choice. It is less well known than the Camino Frances and it’s reputation of being a bit more primitive has probably kept some people away. I’d met and walked with only one American during my entire time on the trail. I loved the journey and I made a number of good friends along the way but it was a stark contrast to the number of pilgrims we’d experienced the year before on the Frances.
Don’t let these concerns dissuade you from hiking the Del Norte, it was a wonderful experience and I will return to continue my pilgrimage. Here is a video I recorded after just a few anxious days along the trail.