I experienced a great deal of anxiety while walking the Camino, and much of it was centered around getting lost. A part of me feared that we would disappear into the wilderness of northern Spain, licking the peanut dust off our empty snack bags to survive.
Never mind that Camino del Norte is not that wild; I was neurotic about having the right resources during our journey.
The guides, memoirs, maps, and memorabilia for the most popular route, Camino Francés, seem endless, but Camino del Norte has thousands fewer travelers and therefore fewer resources as well. That being said, more than enough materials exist to help someone start and finish Camino del Norte:
The lone English guidebook
There’s one English-language guidebook on the market, The Northern Caminos: The Caminos Norte, Primitivo and Inglés.
Carrying a guidebook on a long walk through an unfamiliar country sounds like a no-brainer, but Dale was unconvinced. He’d read the reviews for the first edition of this book, released in 2011, and they weren’t stellar. People complained of cryptic maps, errors in mileage, and other issues that made him think twice about purchasing the book. And besides, from all accounts, the Camino would be well-marked, and he’d arrived at the conclusion that the shells and arrows would be all we needed to get to Santiago.
In the end, though, my neuroticism won out over Dale’s faith in the process, and we ended up buying the new edition, published in January 2015. The authors, Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli, are both experienced peregrinos who have done the Camino numerous times. But when we did the Camino in October 2015, their book had issues. The maps were often too small in scale to be helpful, and mileage calculations were sometimes wrong, which made us run the risk of adding painful extra miles to the day’s journey.
It’s important to note that the authors rewalked the Camino in 2016 and have published periodic, detailed updates at on their website. It was too late to help us but would likely be useful to current hikers. These updates don’t fix the inherent problems with the maps, but the authors have links to other maps on their website as well.
Many people on the Camino forums praised the Confraternity of St. James Guides and Updates. They’re published as cheap ebooks and offer periodic updates. Also, the regions through which the Northern Caminos pass also published a useful overview of these trails.
We had no cell service on the trail and therefore no easy access to Google maps, but each time we had wifi, which was most days, Dale would open the app on his iPhone and leave it active, and from that we could track our general location.² This came in very handy a few times.
The only physical maps that we carried were the ones we received from tourist offices. Upon arriving in a new region, we always went to the Oficina de Turismo. Staff members were helpful and friendly. They offered valuable information about which albergues were open (a problem that comes with doing Norte in the off season), and they always had maps to share.
A reader asked about Michelin maps. Michelin, the French tire company known for its bulgy mascot and its Michelin stars, also publishes guides and maps, including ones that show Camino routes, as I confirmed with the company. According to customer service, the following maps include the Camino del Norte trail:
- Zoom Map 142 – Asturias Costa Verde (scale 1/150,000)
- Zoom Map 143 – Costa de Cantabria (scale 1/150,000)
Not having used Michelin maps, we can’t verify their usefulness, and you should consult with Michelin’s customer service before you purchase.
Also, some people on the forums referenced military maps, produced by Spain’s Instituto Geographico Nacional (IGN) and the Centro Geografico del Ejercito (CGDE). These maps were used by the Spanish military, hence the name “military maps.” According to this Spanish website, they’re “good geographic maps” but are often out of date and of questionable quality.
Finally, a Google search brings up websites that offer maps with enough detail that they might be of use to walkers, but whether they contain the Camino del Norte route is unclear.
Spanish language websites
I used Eroski Consumer during our hike. It offered good stage summaries as well as information on albergues and hostels, although up-to-date information on the latter was hit or miss because information was posted by users of the site. I discovered Eroski Consumer the night before we started our hike and, to comfort my nerves, copied and pasted the first ten stages of the trail into an Evernote document. Since it’s all in Spanish, I used Google Translate, which generated stilted but usually workable information. A bonus of using this site is the corresponding Eroski Consumer phone app (although we did not use it).
Gronze, another Spanish website, was also highly recommended on the Camino forums. It’s much cleaner than Eroski Consumer, and I would’ve appreciated having access to this resource, which includes stage descriptions, lists of albergues, and maps. Gronze will also require Google translation if you don’t read Spanish.
English language forums
Here are two English forums that peregrinos might find helpful: this one and this one. They offer an endless wealth of information about all of the Caminos. Warning: it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and spend hours reading posts if you’re not careful.
Hike with someone who carries a better guidebook
Finally, make friends with people from other countries, especially if their guidebooks are better that yours. We walked with several wonderful people from Germany and found that the German guidebooks were amazing. Not only did they seem to be more accurate and detailed, they also pointed readers to quirky sights such as Panchita, the legendary pig.
As you can see, my worries were unfounded. The resources for Norte, while finite, are more than adequate for peregrinos, and with a few exceptions the Camino was prominently marked with shells and arrows. Many people do the walk with only the markers and the kindness of locals to guide them.
Of course, walking the Camino is an intensely personal experience, and different peregrinos will have different comfort levels. After a few weeks, my anxieties lessened considerably, but in the end I was glad that we had the guidebook. It came in handy enough times to justify the purchase.
For our next hike—and there will be another Camino for us, one of these days—maybe I’ll push past my fear and walk without guidebooks or maps, putting my trust in the process instead of worrying about the details.
We’ve written a lot about Camino del Norte! Read more of our Camino blog posts here.
¹ The only guide we used on the trail was the Cicerone guidebook.
² It’s gotten easier to purchase an unlocked iPhone, and we’ll be doing that next time we travel internationally.
If you’ve found a resource for Camino del Norte that we’re not aware of, please let us know so that we can share the information. Thanks!