We decided to do a few days on the Camino del Norte path as part of a larger northern Spain road trip. We didn’t have enough time this trip to allocate to the entire Camino, which takes about a month. We chose the del Norte path since we were already planning to travel along the northern coast and this path follows right along where we had already planned to go. We really like the ocean and so we chose a few days on the trial which follow the sea fairly closely. There are also parts of this trail that are more inland. The days on the Camino del Norte are broken up in 12-18 mile days or 20-30 km on average. We planned on doing 4 days but ended up only doing 3. Mainly because we packed way too much and after 3 days of carrying our heavy packs we were ready for a change of pace. Here are our recommendations if you are planning on doing all or part of the path and some lessons we learned.
- Pack light, you need way less than you think you do. People always say that but it is so, so true. We knew we were packing pretty heavy but we hadn’t ever done something like this and just weren’t sure what our weight limit would be. We had 65 L packs and while they weren’t completely full of stuff they were much too heavy. What feels okay when you briefly put your pack on at home and walk around will start feeling very heavy after a few miles of walking. Most people we saw had under 40 L packs.
- Bring snacks- lots of snacks. Siesta is no joke. If you walk all day and arrive at your destination late afternoon/evening you may not be able to find a meal for several hours. While restaurants may be open, often the kitchen won’t be open for dinner until 8 or 9pm. There may be a grocery store in the town you are staying at but sometimes they close for siesta as well. We would recommend carrying some type of snack with you each day. If you don’t have anything when you start the day we would recommend stopping when you do pass a town with a restaurant or store that is open in the afternoon. Even if you aren’t hungry right then or even if you want to just push through and finish your day we would recommend grabbing at least a small snack to tide you over until dinner time.
- Take a break during the day and take your boots off! The first few days we took a few short breaks but were worried that if we took our boots off we wouldn’t want to put them back on, or it would somehow feel worse putting them back on after a break. The third day we walked we came to a large beach during the second half of our day and decided to take a bit of a longer break to sit on the beach. We took the advice of a fellow pilgrim we had talked to and took our boots off. Our feet felt so much better the rest of the walk that day having had that break out of the boots. We saw lots of people who were doing the entire Camino who had hiking boots or shoes and more of a hiking sandal that was open toed. We didn’t have that option since we only did a few days but it definitely seems like a good idea if you are going to be walking for many days in a row.
- Bring clothes that dry quickly. Your clothes don’t have a ton of time to dry if you are washing them when you are done walking for the day and then you head out to start walking again in the morning. Even if it isn’t raining it may be humid or cloudy which won’t help things dry. Many of the albergues along the way don’t have laundry so you will be hand washing, ringing your clothes out and then hanging them outside.
- Hiking poles are SUPER helpful. This path follows the coast and has a lot of hills. Hiking poles are very helpful at taking some of the weight off your feet and giving you more stamina to get up all those hills.
- Take time to talk with other pilgrims on the trail or people you meet along the way. Some of our best memories from this trip are thinking back on the people we met and talked to. Even though it may have been a brief conversation over lunch it’s just nice to be with other travelers and people of like minds.
- Don’t be afraid to take a detour off the path. We took a few detours during our days on the Camino, all of which were to see some of the great beaches we had read about prior to our trip. Detours will make your day of walking longer but they can be worth it! There are footpaths along the coast that are easy to follow. These trails meet back up with the official Camino trail at some point so you can get back on track
- Know that there are buses that travel throughout the trail as well as train stops along the way. This is good to know in case you need/want to skip a day of walking or if you need an out like we did. We are not the type of people to say we are going to do something and then not do it to the fullest. We planned to do 4 days of walking but after 3 we just needed to stop. We will need to try the camino again some day, with much, much less stuff in our packs! Know that it is okay to be honest with yourself and that doing what you need is okay.
- Do train ahead of time. We did not do much training and definitely didn’t do any training with our packs. We are fairly active people and we figured since we only planned on walking a few days on the Camino we would be okay. We are pretty busy at home, especially in the summer and we took this trip in September. So getting out for longer walks consistently just didn’t happen. We learned the hard way that being active and in shape is different than being prepared to walk all day with a heavy backpack on.
- Slow down your travel! This is probably the most important tip or lesson for us. This is actually a big part of what drew us to include a few days of walking the Camino in our trip. We tend to cram a lot into our trips because we want to see and do so much. We only have so much time in a given place and we don’t want to waste it. Walking forces you to slow down since there is literally nothing else to do except walk and take in your surroundings. You are walking to pretty small towns each day so when you reach your destination each evening there isn’t a list of things you must see and do in that town. The thing to do is to relax and take in the feel of the place you are in, to just enjoy it. We put our few days of walking towards the beginning of our trip to help get us into the slower pace and we do feel like it helped. The rest of our trip we did see and do a lot but we also took time to just be in whatever city or town we were in.
- You will learn more about yourself and what is important to you. Another thing you hear a lot with the Camino but it is true! You have nothing but time when you are walking. Time to think, to dream, to plan, time to be with yourself or in our case with each other. We could tell how much this trip really changed us when we got home. We purged our entire house of things we didn’t need. We downsized our hobbies and other things in our life to allow us to focus on the things that are most important to us. Travel should challenge you and change you, on both of those fronts the camino certainly delivers!
If you chose to do the entire Camino or just a few days like we did hopefully these tips/lessons will help you. We would love to go back and try it again, packing much lighter so we can make it more than 3 days! Even though we didn’t do as well with the Camino as we had hoped it was still a good experience for us.
Buen Camino to anyone heading out!