Camino del Norte: To Plan or Not to Plan, That Is the Question

Three weeks from today, we’ll be on an airplane, flying (direct!) from Seattle to Paris.

Which means that right about now, I’m on that teetering seesaw between over-planning for the Camino del Norte and promising not to over-plan.

I’ve got all of the gear: I’ve spent hours stalking REI Garage bargains, buying all of the things while simultaneously promising to pack lighter this time. (Packing list forthcoming, once I get all of the things in the same room.)

I’ve got the big travel plans sorted out: train reservations to Irun despite the SNCF strikes (though we’ll have to wait a day and hang out in Paris…oh, darn!), and an evening flight from Bilbao to CDG the night before we fly home, and then reservations at an airport hotel.

I’ve got the training plan: I’m hiking every weekend up hills and through mud, testing both my shoes (so far, so great) and my resolve to walk in the rain. (This is Eric’s favorite part. When it hailed on us last week, he couldn’t stop giggling.)

Now it comes to the fun part of planning: the walk itself.

(c) Camino Del Norte guide by David Landis, Anna Dintaman, and Matthew Harms

What is the Camino del Norte?

The Camino del Norte is the branch of the Camino that hugs the northern coast of Spain, crossing Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia.

While it doesn’t draw the attention of its cousin to the south, the Camino Francés, it has a history that’s just as long. Pilgrims have followed the coastal route toward Santiago since the 9th century, and they used it heavily during the the Moorish wars, when Navarre was under constant threat.

The entire Camino del Norte covers 817 km, but with just 21 days of vacation, we won’t have time to go all the way to Santiago. With travel and time zones, we’ll have about 16 or 17 days on the Camino itself.

How far will we go?

Well, we don’t really know yet. It depends on how far we walk every day, and I’m trying to be open-handed with that, which brings us back to the balance of planning and not over-planning. Our daily distances will depend on a lot of things I can’t predict, like weather (it’s been a brutal spring in Spain), terrain, and how our bodies will hold up. I’m trying not to make a schedule – something that’s not natural for a planner like me.

As a compromise between my typical Type-A, have-a-color-coded-spreadsheet approach to travel and my turn-off-electronic-devices-and-let-things-happen desire for a Camino walk, I let myself make detailed plans for the first two nights, including reservations for a hostel just outside San Sebastian (because going into a major tourist spot on a weekend without a reservation made me really nervous).

After that, I’ll wait until we’re there and see where the wind and the guidebook take me.IMG_20180404_1136586

Which guidebook?

I’ve got a hot-off-the-press copy of Village-to-Village Map Guide’s Camino del Norte guidebook, and I’m excited about it. It’s got all of the essentials – basic maps, information about lodging and food, elevation charts, and some general instructions about tricky parts of the trail, all in a compact 96-page, full color booklet. It weighs almost nothing (especially compared to other popular Camino guides, which can carry a lot of commentary) and has guided me through the early planning easily.

Day 1 of the Camino del Norte, (c) Camino Del Norte guide by Matthew Harms, Anna Dintaman, and David Landis

(Disclosure: One of the authors of the guidebook, David Landis, sent me a complimentary copy when he found out that I was planning a Norte walk this spring. I’ll be back with a more thorough review after I’ve road-tested it.)

Looking at the maps and charts in this book, my best guess is that we’ll get past Santander, but not all the way to Villaviciosa, where a side trail takes some pilgrims down to the Camino Primitivo.

Then in another few years, we’ll pick up where we left off and start again.

At least, that’s the plan.


What about you? Do you make an agenda for every day of your Camino, or do you wing it?

Do you carry a guidebook, or trust the yellow arrows?

Published by beth jusino

Editor. Writer. Teacher. Pilgrim. At home in the Pacific Northwest.

7 thoughts on “Camino del Norte: To Plan or Not to Plan, That Is the Question

  1. I do both…plan what I hope but wing, have the guide book as a backup and so I know where the pueblos are.

    One thing, it’s Camino del Norte, not Camino Norte 🙂 And the weather in the north of Spain is always brutal and unpredictable…not just this year. The rest of Spain has been having a rainy spring after a very long drought so…the rain has been good but annoying. It will rain in the north no matter what though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thanks for the catch. I’ve been trying to re-program my brain to call it “del Norte,” but obviously with mixed results. (Out of curiosity, why is it “Camino del Norte” but yet “Camino Frances,” “Camino Primitivo,” etc? Why does “north” need an article when none of the other modifiers do?)

      And yes, I’m prepared for rain. This will be my first Camino with rain pants as well as a jacket, and waterproof boots tall enough for deep mud.

      You have done parts of this walk, haven’t you? Any recommendations of places to stay or avoid?


      1. It’s translated as The Camino from the North….or of the North…depending if de is of or from. Does the north own it? 🙂 The others have names with adjectives, but the North is a noun.

        I’ve walked from Irún to Ribadeo over the years. People either love or hate the albergue in Güemes (I LOVE IT), right before Santander. I think you’re stopping around Santander, and I was living in Bilbao when I did the stretches from Irún to Bilbao so did them as day hikes in 2015. Post-Santander…I know more about albergues.

        If you’re not a “must walk every step” type peregrino, then I would recommend public transport to skip the part from Bilbao to Portugalete. It’s either risk getting lost on an alternative Camino OR industry and a shopping centre (because the peregrinos from 1000 years ago loved their McDonald’s and Ikea :)) Bilbao, must see city, but the Camino part is…meh.

        Buen Camino! Let me know if you have any questions about the cities/places themselves. I may not know the albergues in your stretch, but I know the places like the back of my hand.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We must be similar as i like to have a plan and did so like you for the first two days on our camino.
    I had the brierly book but mostly used a gps app by guthook. 7.99$ . It. Just gave me piece of mind if i didnt see anyone around me to check the gps and yep i was still on the camino… 2 km to next village, water fountain bathroom stop. . At some point i left behind my planning compulsion and just learned to go with the flow…..

    Liked by 1 person

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