Camino del Norte (‘The Northern Route’)

Vivid scene on 'the Northern Route' of the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago has hundreds of routes, all eventually leading to the great Gothic Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, where legend holds that St. James is buried. Far and away the most well known of the Camino routes is the Camino Frances. It extends 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

Probably the two most well-known of the alternative routes are from Le Puy in France, and Camino del Norte (‘The Northern Route’).

The Northern Route is renowned for both its spectacular beauty, as well as its difficulty. It runs from Bayonne (although most begin in Irun) near the France-Spain border, along the northern coast of Spain, eventually reconnecting with the Camino Frances in Arzua, 40 miles from Santiago de Compostela. It passes through San Sebastian and the Basque country, as well as Bilbao. Pilgrims face stretches as long as 38 miles in which there is no albergue.

The Northern Route is gaining popularity as more pilgrims finish the Camino Frances, but desire more adventure on the Camino de Santiago. For this reason, more albergues are popping up along this route, which should entice even more pilgrims–a virtuous circle. I heard about the Northern Route the last two years, while on the Camino Frances. But I never imagined I was going to do it.¬†However, all winter long the possibility of a new adventure on the Camino haunted and beckoned me. And sure enough,¬†here I go this August on this treacherous, but scenic path, to Santiago de Compostela.

Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago (2012). He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2008), as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail (2010). Walker, who is just shy of 7-feet tall, is now working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.

5 thoughts on “Camino del Norte (‘The Northern Route’)

  1. We plan ot walk part of the Camino from San Sebastian to Bilbao in August and cannot find a handy book of maps such as John Brierley’s book on the French camino. Does anyone know if there is such a book? If so, I would appreciate hearing from you.

    • After two full pilgrimages on the main Camino Frances route, I greatly
      enjoyed doing the Camino del Norte. It lived up to its reputation for beauty, and had the same international cast of characters as the Camino Frances, as well as plenty of albergues.

      Good luck,

      Bill Walker

  2. I too am planning to do the Camino del Norte in September 2013.. I have heard mixed feelings about the climate as well as “experience”. This is my first pilgrimage and I am trying to compare Camino Frances and Camino del Norte to decide which would be best for my first trip. Any thoughts on that? Also, I am at a loss in finding a map/book specifically on Camino del Norte. Thank you

    • Denise,

      I am so partial to the whole human element–the mix of nationalities, the solidarity amongst pilgrims, etc.–that I would suggest doing the Camino Frances first. Yes, the Camino del Norte has the greater vistas. But the Camino Frances also scores well in that regard. And it is simply a different type of journey, different from any other I’ve ever taken (Hopefully, that came across in my book!). So my advice would be do the Camino Frances first. If your experience is as fruitful as mine, you will want to go back a second time anyway, and the Camino del Norte will be your excuse to double-dip!


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