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Search 69,459 Camino Questions

Del Norte Irun to Bilbao Observations September 2022

DaveJ

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2021, 2022
I My wife and I just spent a week hiking from Irun to Bilbao on the Del Norte. While there is a wealth of information on the Frances I found much less when planning for the Del Norte so I thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences and recommendations in order to help pilgrims plan their trips. These are just or opinions and other pilgrims may have had different experiences and therefore different thoughts.



Firstly, the Del Norte is absolutely beautiful. Stunning in many parts. But the first week is also very steep and rugged. And support is frequently scarce. Hiking can be very slow going. Our standard pace was slowed considerably by the terrain. So plan your daily distances carefully. Unlike the Frances you don’t have the liberty to just stop hiking when you get into a town as there are long distances between them and lodging can be scarce.



We flew to Bilbao and took an Uber to Irun. This worked very well. However, San Sebastián is such a wonderful city that we regretted not having the time to explore it.



If you want to spend time there one option is to use it as a base to and spend a day there. Then the next day taxi or Uber to Irun and hike with a light pack back to your hotel. That would be the way we would do it if we could do it again.



The third option is to start in Irun and hike to San Sebastián and then zero the next day to explore the city.



Coming out of Irun we hiked the Purgatorio Route which is breathtaking. But it adds a lot of elevation and the trail is steep in sections. It is not technically hard. It’s just steep and slow going.

There is no water from Santaurio de Guadalupe until Pasajes and the arduousness makes it a very long day into San Sebastián with minimal support. I went through over four liters of water on this stage.



Additionally I would recommend not taking the Purgatorio Route in bad weather as you are above tree line for hours with no cover from the elements.



We did find this route one of the highlights of our trip but you need to be aware of the challenges it presents when planning your trip.





I read several posts that at Pasajes it is cheaper to take the ferry and have lunch on the other side. We followed that advice but we arrived during siesta so the town was locked up tight. Pasajes was booming so when we passed through we thought the far side would be too. We were wrong. If I had to do it again I would pay the premium to guarantee food before getting on the ferry. The only other choice would be to pack in your own food.



We had pre booked our lodging which worked out well. However we spoke to a number of people staying in albergues who stated that lodging was very scarce. As a result we met people who slept outdoors or had to take trains or taxis into Bilbao to get rooms and the taxi or train back the next day.



Deba seemed to be especially problematic. There seems to be a real shortage of lodging there. I think that the fact that you have Camino hikers and GR 121 hikers on the same route causes more stress on the already limited lodging.



Upon entering into the commercial district in Zumaia the Camino and the GR 121 split at a coffee shop. If you take the GR then you get to see a few kilometers of spectacular cliffs and ocean unlike any other. This is where Game of Thrones was filmed. It has staggering beauty. The GR 121 reconnects with Camino in about 3.5 kilometers.





Climbing to Itziar on a wooded trail leads to a major logging project. It is a dangerous area when work is going on. I would make sure that the loggers know that you are approaching.



As you enter Deba after a long and very steep road descent there are several long and steep flights of steps that the Camino wants you to go down. About 50 meters to the left of the top of the steps there are glass towers that are actually elevators that take you down into the town. Most pilgrims didn’t know about them.



Leaving Deba there was not much for services until Markina. There was a water fountain at the top of the first climb near a church. Plan to pack a lunch and water.



There is a beautiful alternate leaving Zarautz taking you into Getaria. The last 4 kilometers are on a pedestrian walkway right along the ocean.



The bar at Olatz was open on the day we were there and the water fountain there was working. Several posts on Wise Pilgrim indicate that both are inconsistent. So I wouldn’t count on having support there.



Water fountains in the towns were working when we went through. We filled up at each one given the high heat and general lack of services.



Guernica to Lezama does have some support at Larrabetzu.



Lezama has only one restaurant. We did not see a supermarket. There was a bread shop. There are plenty of services a couple of kilometers further on.







I hope that this is helpful to those of you planning a Del Norte experience. It is beautiful, steep and can lack support for long stretches. But we found the experience worth it. You just need to be aware of it. For those looking for a different experience than the Frances this is it.



Buen Camino!
 
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I My wife and I just spent a week hiking from Irun to Bilbao on the Del Norte. While there is a wealth of information on the Frances I found much less when planning for the Del Norte so I thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences and recommendations in order to help pilgrims plan their trips. These are just or opinions and other pilgrims may have had different experiences and therefore different thoughts.



Firstly, the Del Norte is absolutely beautiful. Stunning in many parts. But the first week is also very steep and rugged. And support is frequently scarce. Hiking can be very slow going. Our standard pace was slowed considerably by the terrain. So plan your daily distances carefully. Unlike the Frances you don’t have the liberty to just stop hiking when you get into a town as there are long distances between them and lodging can be scarce.



We flew to Bilbao and took an Uber to Irun. This worked very well. However, San Sebastián is such a wonderful city that we regretted not having the time to explore it.



If you want to spend time there one option is to use it as a base to and spend a day there. Then the next day taxi or Uber to Irun and hike with a light pack back to your hotel. That would be the way we would do it if we could do it again.



The third option is to start in Irun and hike to San Sebastián and then zero the next day to explore the city.



Coming out of Irun we hiked the Purgatorio Route which is breathtaking. But it adds a lot of elevation and the trail is steep in sections. It is not technically hard. It’s just steep and slow going.

There is no water from Santaurio de Guadalupe until Pasajes and the arduousness makes it a very long day into San Sebastián with minimal support. I went through over four liters of water on this stage.



Additionally I would recommend not taking the Purgatorio Route in bad weather as you are above tree line for hours with no cover from the elements.



We did find this route one of the highlights of our trip but you need to be aware of the challenges it presents when planning your trip.





I read several posts that at Pasajes it is cheaper to take the ferry and have lunch on the other side. We followed that advice but we arrived during siesta so the town was locked up tight. Pasajes was booming so when we passed through we thought the far side would be too. We were wrong. If I had to do it again I would pay the premium to guarantee food before getting on the ferry. The only other choice would be to pack in your own food.



We had pre booked our lodging which worked out well. However we spoke to a number of people staying in albergues who stated that lodging was very scarce. As a result we met people who slept outdoors or had to take trains or taxis into Bilbao to get rooms and the taxi or train back the next day.



Deba seemed to be especially problematic. There seems to be a real shortage of lodging there. I think that the fact that you have Camino hikers and GR 121 hikers on the same route causes more stress on the already limited lodging.



Upon entering into the commercial district in Zumaia the Camino and the GR 121 split at a coffee shop. If you take the GR then you get to see a few kilometers of spectacular cliffs and ocean unlike any other. This is where Game of Thrones was filmed. It has staggering beauty. The GR 121 reconnects with Camino in about 3.5 kilometers.





Climbing to Itziar on a wooded trail leads to a major logging project. It is a dangerous area when work is going on. I would make sure that the loggers know that you are approaching.



As you enter Deba after a long and very steep road descent there are several long and steep flights of steps that the Camino wants you to go down. About 50 meters to the left of the top of the steps there are glass towers that are actually elevators that take you down into the town. Most pilgrims didn’t know about them.



Leaving Deba there was not much for services until Markina. There was a water fountain at the top of the first climb near a church. Plan to pack a lunch and water.



There is a beautiful alternate leaving Zarautz taking you into Getaria. The last 4 kilometers are on a pedestrian walkway right along the ocean.



The bar at Olatz was open on the day we were there and the water fountain there was working. Several posts on Wise Pilgrim indicate that both are inconsistent. So I wouldn’t count on having support there.



Water fountains in the towns were working when we went through. We filled up at each one given the high heat and general lack of services.



Guernica to Lezama does have some support at Larrabetzu.



Lezama has only one restaurant. We did not see a supermarket. There was a bread shop. There are plenty of services a couple of kilometers further on.







I hope that this is helpful to those of you planning a Del Norte experience. It is beautiful, steep and can lack support for long stretches. But we found the experience worth it. You just need to be aware of it. For those looking for a different experience than the Frances this is it.



Buen Camino!
Thx for your observations, my wife and i will start Norte April 2023 and plan on doing what you did...start in Irun but need to decide if we Uber from San Sebastion on get to Irn and then rest in SS. We'll see.
 
The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
I My wife and I just spent a week hiking from Irun to Bilbao on the Del Norte. While there is a wealth of information on the Frances I found much less when planning for the Del Norte so I thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences and recommendations in order to help pilgrims plan their trips. These are just or opinions and other pilgrims may have had different experiences and therefore different thoughts.



Firstly, the Del Norte is absolutely beautiful. Stunning in many parts. But the first week is also very steep and rugged. And support is frequently scarce. Hiking can be very slow going. Our standard pace was slowed considerably by the terrain. So plan your daily distances carefully. Unlike the Frances you don’t have the liberty to just stop hiking when you get into a town as there are long distances between them and lodging can be scarce.



We flew to Bilbao and took an Uber to Irun. This worked very well. However, San Sebastián is such a wonderful city that we regretted not having the time to explore it.



If you want to spend time there one option is to use it as a base to and spend a day there. Then the next day taxi or Uber to Irun and hike with a light pack back to your hotel. That would be the way we would do it if we could do it again.



The third option is to start in Irun and hike to San Sebastián and then zero the next day to explore the city.



Coming out of Irun we hiked the Purgatorio Route which is breathtaking. But it adds a lot of elevation and the trail is steep in sections. It is not technically hard. It’s just steep and slow going.

There is no water from Santaurio de Guadalupe until Pasajes and the arduousness makes it a very long day into San Sebastián with minimal support. I went through over four liters of water on this stage.



Additionally I would recommend not taking the Purgatorio Route in bad weather as you are above tree line for hours with no cover from the elements.



We did find this route one of the highlights of our trip but you need to be aware of the challenges it presents when planning your trip.





I read several posts that at Pasajes it is cheaper to take the ferry and have lunch on the other side. We followed that advice but we arrived during siesta so the town was locked up tight. Pasajes was booming so when we passed through we thought the far side would be too. We were wrong. If I had to do it again I would pay the premium to guarantee food before getting on the ferry. The only other choice would be to pack in your own food.



We had pre booked our lodging which worked out well. However we spoke to a number of people staying in albergues who stated that lodging was very scarce. As a result we met people who slept outdoors or had to take trains or taxis into Bilbao to get rooms and the taxi or train back the next day.



Deba seemed to be especially problematic. There seems to be a real shortage of lodging there. I think that the fact that you have Camino hikers and GR 121 hikers on the same route causes more stress on the already limited lodging.



Upon entering into the commercial district in Zumaia the Camino and the GR 121 split at a coffee shop. If you take the GR then you get to see a few kilometers of spectacular cliffs and ocean unlike any other. This is where Game of Thrones was filmed. It has staggering beauty. The GR 121 reconnects with Camino in about 3.5 kilometers.





Climbing to Itziar on a wooded trail leads to a major logging project. It is a dangerous area when work is going on. I would make sure that the loggers know that you are approaching.



As you enter Deba after a long and very steep road descent there are several long and steep flights of steps that the Camino wants you to go down. About 50 meters to the left of the top of the steps there are glass towers that are actually elevators that take you down into the town. Most pilgrims didn’t know about them.



Leaving Deba there was not much for services until Markina. There was a water fountain at the top of the first climb near a church. Plan to pack a lunch and water.



There is a beautiful alternate leaving Zarautz taking you into Getaria. The last 4 kilometers are on a pedestrian walkway right along the ocean.



The bar at Olatz was open on the day we were there and the water fountain there was working. Several posts on Wise Pilgrim indicate that both are inconsistent. So I wouldn’t count on having support there.



Water fountains in the towns were working when we went through. We filled up at each one given the high heat and general lack of services.



Guernica to Lezama does have some support at Larrabetzu.



Lezama has only one restaurant. We did not see a supermarket. There was a bread shop. There are plenty of services a couple of kilometers further on.







I hope that this is helpful to those of you planning a Del Norte experience. It is beautiful, steep and can lack support for long stretches. But we found the experience worth it. You just need to be aware of it. For those looking for a different experience than the Frances this is it.



Buen Camino!
Great stuff DaveJ, we just did the same route on Sept. 21 - 27, and totally agree with your observations in areas where we had the same experience. I'll just highlight a few of them, and maybe add a bit. In my nearly worthless opinion, overall Norte is harder hiking, especially the first seven days anyway, but overall, the views are much better than Frances. We did the Purgatorio option (I just kept calling the "harder route" all week!) and it was well worth the significant added effort (and it is significant added effort!), but the views are just incredible.

The one part of Norte I did not enjoy as much, which DaveJ highlighted, was the lack of small towns/villages during each stage, when compared to Frances. This definitely requires some forethought the night before with regard to snacks. I always enjoyed my 5km - 8km first village on Frances for coffee and tortilla, and you can NOT (NEVER) count on that on Norte. It's not a problem, just bring snacks, but definitely consider it. But I definitely walk, in part, for my relaxing and tasty 10am coffee/tortilla and 2pm plaza lunch with other pilgrims, so it was personally impactful :) My wife doesn't seem to eat, ever, so a little fruit purchase the night before did the trick. We also adjusted start times each day a bit so we'd be likely to hit the few towns in between end points at around 1:30pm-2pm, which helped to be somewhere where we could eat the typical pilgrim menu at a restaurant.

We also planned ahead with accommodations, and it made each day a bit more enjoyable, as we never had to worry about getting to an albergue early enough to ensure we secured a bed. I realize this is a blessing that not all have, we are fortunate to have a few extra Euros that is sometimes required to ensure a bed at a place that takes reservations. But our experience was that Norte is still not the easiest place to secure a bed. Obviously two years of COVID, holy year extension, etc., have increased the number of pilgrims and it seemed more advanced planning was needed to ensure a day of hiking at our own speed.

DaveJ mentioend the ocean walk alternate from Zarautz to Getaria. Can't recommend that enough! My second favorite section only to the Purgatorio alternate in day one from Irun. But we did it as add on to the stage and stayed the night in Getaria, which was just an awesome little town.

Definitely agreed on Deba as well, tough spot to get a bed. We ended up securing a reservation just before Deba, at Perlakua Saka. Which was a great spot, with an interesting history having nothing to do with the Camino. Most notably, there's a back trail from Perlakua Saka that takes you straight down to Deba, so while you deviate a bit from the Camino to get to hotel, you don't have to backtrack. Just ask the host, they'll explain the way.

Also highly recommend Intxauspe Iandextxea just north of Markina, if it's in your budget. Great hosts.

I appreciate that I've included some info that may require additional expenses and thus may not be in the interest of all, but we had a tremendous week and wanted to share it and magnify some of DaveJ's very useful intel. The Camino never fails, we were on the train from Bilbao to Madrid planning our next trip and already missing all that it offers.

Buen Camino!
 
Last edited:
Great stuff DaveJ, we just did the same route on Sept. 21 - 27, and totally agree with your observations in areas where we had the same experience. I'll just highlight a few of them, and maybe add a bit. In my nearly worthless opinion, overall Norte is harder hiking, especially the first seven days anyway, but overall, the views are much better than Frances. We did the Purgatorio option (I just kept calling the "harder route" all week!) and it was well worth the significant added effort (and it is significant added effort!), but the views are just incredible.

The one part of Norte I did not enjoy as much, which DaveJ highlighted, was the lack of small towns/villages during each stage, when compared to Frances. This definitely requires some forethought the night before with regard to snacks. I always enjoyed my 5km - 8km first village on Frances for coffee and tortilla, and you can NOT (NEVER) count on that on Norte. It's not a problem, just bring snacks, but definitely consider it. But I definitely walk, in part, for my relaxing and tasty 10am coffee/tortilla and 2pm plaza lunch with other pilgrims, so it was personally impactful :) My wife doesn't seem to eat, ever, so a little fruit purchase the night before did the trick. We also adjusted start times each day a bit so we'd be likely to hit the few towns in between end points at around 1:30pm-2pm, which helped to be somewhere where we could eat the typical pilgrim menu at a restaurant.

We also planned ahead with accommodations, and it made each day a bit more enjoyable, as we never had to worry about getting to an albergue early enough to ensure we secured a bed. I realize this is a blessing that not all have, we are fortunate to have a few extra Euros that is sometimes required to ensure a bed at a place that takes reservations. But our experience was that Norte is still not the easiest place to secure a bed. Obviously two years of COVID, holy year extension, etc., have increased the number of pilgrims and it seemed more advanced planning was needed to ensure a day of hiking at our own speed.

DaveJ mentioend the ocean walk alternate from Zarautz to Getaria. Can't recommend that enough! My second favorite section only to the Purgatorio alternate in day one from Irun. But we did it as add on to the stage and stayed the night in Getaria, which was just an awesome little town.

Definitely agreed on Deba as well, tough spot to get a bed. We ended up securing a reservation just before Deba, at Perlakua Saka. Which was a great spot, with an interesting history having nothing to do with the Camino. Most notably, there's a back trail from Perlakua Saka that takes you straight down to Deba, so while you deviate a bit from the Camino to get to hotel, you don't have to backtrack. Just ask the host, they'll explain the way.

Also highly recommend Intxauspe Iandextxea just north of Markina, if it's in your budget. Great hosts.

I appreciate that I've included some info that may require additional expenses and thus may not be in the interest of all, but we had a tremendous week and wanted to share it and magnify some of DaveJ's very useful intel. The Camino never fails, we were on the train from Bilbao to Madrid planning our next trip and already missing all that it offers.

Buen Camino!
Ed, thanks for sharing your observations. You make an excellent point about adjusting your start time to give you a better chance of hitting a bar before siesta. We ultimately did that but it was difficult for the first few days until we got our rhythm and put the expectations of the Frances behind us.
 

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