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.
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The Camino de Santiago’s Ugly Side
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.
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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.
Be inspired before you go with these cool Camino items you can take with you!
View all of the ‘Ugly’ Camino photography I’ve been collecting
See the other 70% – the Beautiful Camino Frances!
By Laura May 25, 2012 - 8:20 am
It’s refreshing how the edges of the trail even in the industrial areas are free from litter and debris.
By Kelli Slade May 25, 2012 - 9:09 am
Thanks for posting! Very helpful!
By Carmel May 25, 2012 - 10:26 am
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.
By Jessica May 25, 2012 - 11:07 am
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!
By Lauren, Ephemerratic May 25, 2012 - 2:06 pm
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!
By Lindsay H. May 25, 2012 - 3:34 pm
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!
By Mark H May 25, 2012 - 6:06 pm
The tourism office will be disappointed that you are revealing their little secret. 70% beautfiul over 800 miles sounds pretty good to me!!
By Barbara Weibel May 26, 2012 - 12:59 am
I don’t think I’d mind the ugly side one bit. As you say, just like life, the good and the bad.
By Linda May 26, 2012 - 3:56 am
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!
By Jeremy Branham May 27, 2012 - 3:29 am
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.
By Alex May 30, 2012 - 3:46 pm
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!
By Bill Walker June 2, 2012 - 11:20 am
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.
By Shtina July 5, 2012 - 11:46 pm
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.
By Sherry July 6, 2012 - 1:03 am
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!
By Tom July 30, 2012 - 6:54 pm
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.
By Camino Travel CenterCamino Travel April 5, 2013 - 10:44 am
thanks for the post.
By Serena September 12, 2013 - 3:50 pm
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?
By Sherry September 15, 2013 - 2:46 pm
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!
By John Fletcher October 6, 2013 - 4:27 pm
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.
By Arnold December 9, 2013 - 12:25 pm
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 ; ) .
By Sherry December 10, 2013 - 9:38 am
Arnold I agree with you – I actually really enjoyed the variety of walking in the cities – it was a way to get a different perspective of a city.
By Neville December 27, 2013 - 4:34 am
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.
By Andres March 21, 2014 - 1:59 pm
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?
By Sherry March 22, 2014 - 4:03 am
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.
By Rosa August 11, 2014 - 10:59 pm
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,
By yo June 11, 2016 - 12:50 am
me gustan las fotos que subes, aprendes de las vidas cotidianas de los españoles, y recuerdas que que el peregrino no es el centro del mundo,si no que formas parte de algo más grande. Hay que dejar el egoismo de lado
By Elissa January 2, 2017 - 8:36 pm
I love this post, Sherry. Your featured photo gets me every time because I remember that stretch of the Camino so clearly; walking into León was one of the most mentally and physically challenges of my life. But like you said, we take the good with the bad for any life experience. Buen Camino! (Loving your photos on Instagram, by the way; very inspiring!)
By Sherry January 5, 2017 - 3:51 pm
Thanks for the kind words Elissa! I think sometimes the internet paints too perfect of pictures of places, and then people expect that. When quite frankly my most impactful travel memories are when something doesn’t go as planned or the way I thought it would. Congrats on the Camino! I just did a different 2 week hike along the Costa Brava last year -just finishing up the ebook on it – so look for that to come as another great multi day hike possibility!
By YoginOne April 9, 2017 - 6:33 pm
I am always astounded at he differences between American perspectives vs European perspectives or especially Spaniard perspectives on the Camino. As a Spaniard, I would say that “ugly” is a word reflective of a focus on outer vision instead of inner. The Camino has been around for a very long time, and thousands of spiritually minded souls have traversed it, suffered on it, dies on it. The very soul and vibration of the Camino is in the soil of it itself, and although it will transform to some degree or other those who walk it because of this, to those who especially do so with an inner focus, it will speak to most and change the most. It is an inner journey and what over time sprouts up around it and later decays around it should be seen as the message it is giving by that process, the changeable temporal nature of things and the very real need to root oneself in the permanence of faith in God whatever faith you choose as your path. Pilgrims have been walking this path long before Christianity put a stamp on it. There is no ugly on the Camino except that which you bring to it. Walk your path, judge no other pilgrims path, and empty yourself of all your biases and ideologies as it is very difficult for the Camino experience to give much to a cup that is already full.