The Camino’s Ugly Side

ugly camino trail

Walking along the highway entering Leon wasn't very pretty

The Camino de Santiago trail is gorgeous – but like any beautiful creature it also has it’s ugly moments. It’s easy for you to sit and look at all of my Camino de Santiago photos and be swept up into the stunning landscapes and simplicity of life along the Camino; however before you book your ticket to Spain and buy your hiking shoes you should know about the not-so-pretty parts of the Camino too. I wouldn’t want you showing up in Spain thinking that this whole 500 mile trail is simply beautiful vista after beautiful vista and then getting here and being disappointed when you are walking through an industrial area sucking in car fumes.

You should know that the Camino trail was not created for tourism – not in the least. This is an ancient pilgrimage trail that dates back thousands of years ago way before there were highways, cars, or bikes. The trail was created since it was the most accessible, and easiest way across Spain to Santiago for trade and religious reasons. As the years have gone by the infrastructure ‘Gods’ have also recognized that this is the easiest and best way across Northern Spain, therefore roads sprouted up along the trail.

Back when they were building roads I doubt anyone planned for 150,000 modern day pilgrims to be walking the trail each year, they simply built roads. So, when you walk the Camino, be prepared that about 30% of the time it’s not pretty – in fact it can be down right ugly and unpleasant.  Many times you are walking on the busy roads where there isn’t even a shoulder. Sometimes you are walking through major industrial zones between factories. Sometimes the smell is horrible.

The entrances and exits to big towns such as Burgos and Leon can be mind numbing as you walk along and under/over major highways as well as past industrial parks. So, if you are in the market for buying a car or a lovely piece of furniture – you may be happy that you are walking through such places, but most likely you will hate it.

Sometimes you are bombarded with marketing along the trail – however I have to admit that this was much, much less than I expected. Maybe it’s my American culture that expects much more marketing to such a ‘hungry’ group of tourists – but I was pleasantly surprised that Spain hadn’t yet let this take over on the trail.

However – it’s all part of the Camino – the good and bad – just like life. In fact – some people don’t mind the ‘ugly’ parts – I certainly didn’t. I just felt like it was all part of the journey.

camino trail through cities

The trail leading out of Leon between buildings and over roads

camino trail reality

The trail on the shoulder goes around the Burgos airport runway

ugly camino trail

Walking by industry outside of Santo Domingo

camino trail underpass

Sometimes you go under the highways through lovely tunnels

camino trail burgos

The trail along the road in Burgos

camino trail gas station

Gas stations along the trail

ugly camino

Walking by power plants in the near Los Arcos

camino trail overpass

Crossing over the train tracks near Astorga

Industry

Trail views of industrial businesses near Leon

camino marketing

Multilingual billboards line the trail outside of Villefranca

camino factory

Walking past a potato company near Santo Domingo

 

View all of the ‘Ugly’ Camino photography I’ve been collecting

See the other 70% – the Beautiful Camino Frances!

Week 1 Photography

Week 2 Photography

Week 3 Photography

Week 4 Photography

Your Comments

25 Comments so far

  1. Laura says:

    It’s refreshing how the edges of the trail even in the industrial areas are free from litter and debris.

  2. Kelli Slade says:

    Thanks for posting! Very helpful!

  3. Carmel says:

    I was wondering about that part. I knew it couldn’t all be beautiful vistas. It’s been fun to see part of the trail. Knowing a little more makes it all feel a little less intimidating.

  4. Jessica says:

    This was fascinating, I really hadn’t thought about that aspect of the Camino at all (which seems silly now). Thanks for an interesting read!

  5. Reminds me of some of the bike trails in Seattle, which went by shipping train tracks and warehouses, and some odd debris-strewn empty lots.

    But, one of the bike trails went right by a micro brewery, so all was forgiven!

  6. Lindsay H. says:

    So true! We just got back from one of the wettest Caminos in years. The times when it was dry enough to take pics were the few moments of sun and everything looked pretty. It’s good for people to know it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Walking into Burgos, Leon and Astorga were the worst ones. It did make you appreciate the good times. Great post!

  7. Mark H says:

    The tourism office will be disappointed that you are revealing their little secret. 70% beautfiul over 800 miles sounds pretty good to me!!

  8. I don’t think I’d mind the ugly side one bit. As you say, just like life, the good and the bad.

  9. Linda says:

    Given that Spain isn’t a very industrialized country by modern standards, unfortunately it’s the north coast which has the most concentration of industry – as well as the Camino! Even so, 30% isn’t too bad, is it. I don’t think I’d mind it either!

  10. I love the analogy you made at the very end – like life, the journey has its good parts and ugly parts. Without seeing the bad and ugly parts, we don’t appreciate the good.

    One thing about Camino – regardless of the scenery, this is definitely about the journey.

  11. Alex says:

    Just started reading your blog. Very refreshing to see someone who tells it like it is. Its not always pretty pictures on a brochure. Love your helpful insight!

    Alex

  12. Bill Walker says:

    Good post. We all have such a good time on the Camino, to the point of being blown away by the experience, that it’s easy to forget it’s far from perfect. Many trails have road walks. The silver lining is that the more popular they get (Appalachian Trail), the more power they have to get newer routes away from roads. So look for the amount of roadwalking to gradually diminish.

  13. Shtina says:

    I’m really enjoying your Trail posts. This is great for planning!

    For the “ugly” parts, are they more concentrated at certain areas of the trail? I’m considering walking some and busing through some other segments and would appreciate any advise on the distribution of those beautiful rolling vistas. :)

    I agree with some of the other comments that these ugly parts aren’t even that bad, but I would really like to walk through countryside vs. cities.

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – most of the so called ugly parts are entering and leaving the cities – mainly Burgos and Leon – and you can easily get buses from the outskirts into town. Good luck with your planning – you’ll have an amazing time!

  14. Tom says:

    I walked the Camino May/June 2012. St Jean – Santiago. There is no “Ugly” side, just different. After all, half of the pleasure of walking is getting up close to those good people who live along the Camino and observe life from their perspective. A word of advice – “Don’t bus unless you have to”. Afterwards, you will feel that you have missed something. I met several pilgrims along the way who had done the Camino previously but had to come back just to walk the lengths that they had missed the last time. They said that it bothered them, like unfinished business.

  15. Serena says:

    This was really interesting, as I’ve heard that the Camino has some ugly parts but I’d never seen any pictures. My husband and I are walking in October. We plan to walk the whole thing, but if something happens and we need to skip a leg, are there any particularly unpleasant/unpretty parts that you think would be the best to skip?

    • Sherry says:

      I think each section has it’s purpose – the good and bad – just like life. But I do understand that if time is limited you’d rather be in the countryside instead of walking on highways and past industry! The big cities like Burgos are rough – and they take a day to walk in and out normally – but if you have time – do them – you’ll feel great about it afterward!

  16. Good one of that terrible burdonsome brigge before Astorga. Do the Via de La Plata next to avoid it and try the Ruta de La Lana to avoid the horror of entering Burgos on the Camino Francés. Great photos.

  17. Arnold says:

    Enjoyed the pictures. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
    Clarence John Laughlin seen art in squaller and made a living in capturing it in photos.
    I enjoyed my walks in and out of cities as much as walking in the forest and open spaces.
    The Camino is no walk in the park in more ways than one ; ) .

  18. Neville says:

    I personally loved every aspect and every landscape which came part and parcel of the Camino, with the exception of one stretch: the walk into Burgos, through the industrial zone.

  19. Andres says:

    Hi,
    I appreciate very much your honesty about the not so pretty parts of El Camino. It is not easy to get those topics out in the hordes of pilgrim forums out there.

    I have a question that also is hard to get out in plain view:
    I have gathered piece by piece that a large part of the French Way is actually beside, along highways. How was is in your expereince? Could you give a rough percentage of how much of the total distance walked was paved/along highways?

    thanks!

    Andres

    • Sherry says:

      I walked the St. James Way in Spain – so I don’t know much about the other routes. However I would say that only about 15 to 20 % was along the road on my route. And actually I was able to find some beauty in that. You can’t avoid is going in/out of the big town…it’s just a fact of the world we live in today.

  20. Rosa says:

    I loved walking in and out of major cities… I never get to experience in my country the transition from farmland to warehouses to industry to urban areas and then leaving early in the morning when shops are opening…it was fascinating for me and a wonderful part of the Camino Experience,


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