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From Irun to San Sebastian, Camino del Norte, stage no. 1

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Basic Details

  • Starting point: Iglesia de Nuestra señora del Juncal (Irun Cathedral, you can get your credential–the pilgrim passport there, more info here: how to get a pilgrim passport in Irun).
  • Ending point: Center of San Sebastian, where you will find many accommodation options for every budget, except of the extreme low cost.
  • Availability of alternative routes: YES, and worth taking.
  • Distance: Official camino route: 25.4 km (download GPS here), Alternative route, 25.5 km (download GPS here)
  • Link to online map: Official Camino: here. Alternative route: here.
  • Elevation difference: Official camino route: + 850m, – 860m, Alternative route: + 1000m, – 1010m
  • Difficulty score: Official Camino route 5/5. Alternative route: 5/5
  • Beauty score: Official Camino route: 4/5. Alternative route: 5/5.
  • Terrain/asphalt: Official Camino route: 70%/30% , Alternative route: 80%/20%.
  • Next stage: Camino del Norte, stage no. 2, San Sebastian – Zarautz.

 

Elevation profiles for routes

– Official camino route, starts relatively easy with moderate climb, than a relatively flat passage and then a sharp descent and sharp climb in the zone of Pasai (km 16 to 19), with the gradient of the climb exceeding 18%. The last 3 kilometers to San Sebastian are all descent though.

– Alternative route, much different to the official Camino, going above 500 meters above sea level (the official Camino reaches just 250 meters above sea level), it has more steep sections as well. The last 6 kilometers are virtually identical with the official Camino route.

 

Advanced info about the stage

  • Trail marking: If you decide to walk without the GPS, be careful especially at the start, in Irun.  Because from Irun starts another, lesser known Camino called “Camino del Santiago Vasco de Interior“, and the yellow arrows can mislead you to this Camino… You should be always heading towards north or west from the start. Other than that the trail marking and orientation is good on this stage, including on alternative route.
  • Alternative route info: The alternative route, over the ridge with ancient towers, having coast on one side, and beautiful Basque countryside landscape on other one, is definitely worth taking. Actually this part of the route belongs to 5 most beautiful parts of Camino del Norte (which are almost all on alternative routes). The beginning is steep, but once you are on the ridge this variant is not more difficult then the “official Camino route”. The other part of the alternative routes, following the cliffs on the coast of Pasaia (or the cliffs above San Sebastian, adding 1 extra km to the distance already mentioned), is amazing too. You can see a short video from this part of the route below:

 

  • Natural places worth seeing: The entire ridge on the alternative route, including the cliffs. The famous beach of San Sebastian, “La Concha” (always with surfers enjoying the waves).
  • Historical, architectural, and culinary places worth seeing: Especially the ancient watch towers, also on the alternative route (Torre San Enrique, Jaizkibel I, II, III), the interesting architecture of Pasaia (on both routes, see pictures below), Motako Gaztelua-Castillo de la Mota in San Sebastian, any of the renowned Michelin restaurants in San Sebastian–there are eight of them in the city, so if you’re into fine dining and want to spend a hundred for dinner on your very first Camino night, you are welcome :).
  • Camping/bivouac options on this stage: On this stage wild camping is definitely possible, but if you want to camp, aim for the alternative route. On the ridge with towers you will find many spots, some of them nicely hidden, and this part of the trail isn’t much traversed by the locals, and not at all at night. Therefore you can camp here. Try to camp before Pasaia, because from there things really get complicated. The later stages are too close to the city and traversed by many locals, and there aren’t really any good camping spots. There is one official camping spot though, and you can see the exact location here.
  • Dog friendly score: 4/5 – enough drinking points, nice terrain for a dog, most of the trail is not crowded. Be careful though on days with strong sun, some of the paths on the alternative route are quite exposed. Walking with a dog on a sunny summer day, I recommend you to take the “official” way, which is better protected from the sun.
  • Special remarks: This stage is  definitely worth taking. Do not get discouraged by the distance or elevation. If you do not feel like walking the entire stage, you can call it a day in Pasaia, for example, and make a short day the next day to San Sebastian, to enjoy the city more (and for example dine in one of the eight restaurants with the Michelin star :)).

 

Accommodation options on today’s stage

* The infographic displays the number of pilgrim hostels (only pilgrims allowed), hostels (anyone allowed, shared rooms), and other accommodation options (hotels, pensions, etc, private rooms) in each point along the route, together with price range. For exact explanation of the pictograms we use check the explanations page. Below the infographic you will see our recommended picks (up to 3 pilgrim options and 1-2 “privacy” options, maximum five) for the stage, together with important information (but not too much info, just what you need :-)).

If you find any information on this page incorrect or outdated, or have a suggestion how to improve it for fellow pilgrims, please let us know. Thank you for helping the pilgrim community, and buen Camino 🙂

Recommended places to sleep along this stage

Pilgrim options:

  1. Albergue de Peregrinos Jacobi, Irun (km 0). Location & reviews on Google maps here. Donation based, 60 beds, the only real pilgrim place in Irun. Beds in decent condition, the place to meet fellow pilgrims at the start of your Camino, good reviews overall, on all platforms. Opens 4pm, closes 10pm. Can get full in the main season. Doesn’t accept reservations, but you can call +34640361640 to ask whether there is some space left.
  2. Albergue de Peregrinos Santa Ana, Pasai (km 17). Location & reviews on Google maps here. Donation based, 14 beds, only for pilgrims. Good reviews on all pilgrim platforms, friendly staff, beds in good condition. Opens 4pm, closes 10pm. It also gets full often in the main season, since many pilgrims opt for a shorter stage on day 1. You can call +34676519309 to check the availability and inquire about the number of pilgrims, but reservations are not accepted.
  3. Surfing Extea hostel, San Sebastian (km 25.5). Location and reviews on Google maps here. The best rated & priced hostel in San Sebastian by solo travelers, great location, the way the rooms are structured offers some privacy, you can book it on Hostelworld for the best price here. Prices start from 12 euro/night in low season, can grow over 25 euro in the high season, which is still great for San Sebastian. The hostel is frequented by both surfers and pilgrims.

 

Privacy/luxury options:

  1. Axel Hotel San Sebastian – Adult friendly (San Sebastian, km 25), location & reviews on Google maps here. Price from 80 euro/room, outside of the peak season. Perfect for one night stay, very comfortable, central yet quiet location, very good price for the center of San Sebastian, spa on site. You can book it on Booking.com for example, here, or on your other favorite platform.
  2. Hotel Maria Cristina, San Sebastian (km 25) the most luxurious hotel in San Sebastian, location and reviews on Google maps here. Prices start at 350 euro/night in low season. Perfect in all means, a five start hotel in all aspects. You can check it out on Booking.com here.

 

Short description of the stage

This long and hard (and super-rewarding) stage of Camino del Norte can be divided to several parts.

  1. Irun – crossroads, 6 km. The first 4.5 kilometers are more or less over asphalt roads, first in the city of Irun, later in its surrounding areas with nice views and some big villas costing a fortune. Then you walk 1.5 kilometers over steep ascending trail, eventually reaching the point where the main camino route and the alternative route splits.
  2. Crossroads – Pasaia, 10-11 km. The next 10-11 kilometers are mostly on dirt roads and trails, regardless of whether you choose alternative route or a classic one. Eventually you will reach a boat crossing in Pasaia. It is a pity having to use a boat crossing on the very first day of your pilgrimage, but that’s how it goes, and how the trail is marked too, for a good reason. You have an option of adding extra 10 kilometers, detouring to the first river crossing for walkers (there is a crossing for trains and for cars on the speedway earlier on, but I do not recommend taking any risks) in Iztieta, and then, walking around the entire bay of Pasaia eventually joining the Camino on the other side. However, bear in mind these 10 km are not marked, and some of these roads are not nice. Unless you are committed to never taking any form of transport on your entire Camino, I discourage you from this option.
  3. Pasaia – San Sebastian, 10-11 kmThe distance once again depends on whether you take the “official” Camino, or opt for the alternative route, following the cliffs on the coast. In the first case, you’ll walk mostly on asphalt, but there are some pretty nice trails too. In the second case, you’ll walk almost entirely on the trails and paths, until you reach the outskirts of San Sebastian, and little by little the La Concha beach, and eventually the historic center of the city.

 

Pictures from the stage

* Note: The best pictures here are taken from the alternative route

– Nice and peaceful landscape above Irun, you will always see some animals there.

– The unforgettable landscape of Pasaia

– One of the many nice views from the cliffs above San Sebastian (alternative route)

Few tips at the end

  • This is a hard stage, and there aren’t that many good accommodation options in-between Irun and San Sebastian, especially if you’re on budget. What I’ve seen quite a few pilgrims do was doing a strenuous day, and then take a day off in San Sebastian, exploring the city and relaxing, enjoying the local dining options or the beaches. Of course, it doesn’t go well with the traditional concept of the Camino, where you are supposed to walk every day (even if for a few kilometers only), but if you’re not so strict, stopping in San Sebastian is definitely an option.
  • Take it easy, do not rush from the start. Start early, but keep your pace reasonable and stop often to take your backpack down and relax for a bit. For most pilgrims this is the first day, and there’s nothing worse than overdoing it on the very first day, when your body isn’t accustomed to the routine of a pilgrim. I highly recommend you reserving a place in San Sebastian in advance, so you are not stressed and can spend all day on this beautiful walk, eventually reaching the city at the evening.

Next stage: Camino del Norte, stage no. 2, San Sebastian – Zarautz.

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