Zubiri to Pamplona: Step by Step Guide to Stage 3 of the Camino Frances

Created by Colleen Sims * 11 February 2024

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After the physical demands of the first days of the Camino Frances, the journey from Zubiri to Pamplona offers a slightly more gentle landscape. This stage may not have the stunning views of the mountains but nonetheless it offers challenges which do epitomise the Camino experience.

Today offers a couple of route variations that can cause confusion.  Having walked this path eight times, I’ll share the insights I’ve learned from those experiences and help you choose the right path.

Walking From Zubiri to Pamplona

When I’m walking this stage with groups, many find today a little underwhelming and the last few kilometres a little long.  This maybe down to a few reasons :

  • You’re tired after the previous few days exertions.  Travel, walking and the different beds will start catching up with you.
  • There aren’t as many stops today as yesterday and not as many pretty little villages; I think this makes the day just a little harder.
  • The walk over the mountains from St Jean to Roncesvalles is spectacular. It’s a tough act to follow.

With this in mind I’d still like to give this stage a vote of confidence as it shows a different side to the Camino.  And at the end you reach Pamplona.  And Pamplona is amazing!

Zubiri to Pamplona Stage Distance : 22.98 kms

Zubiri to Pamplona Elevation Profile : Total Gain 336m | Total Loss 418m

Map showing the route from Zubiri to Pamplona along the Camino Frances
Elevation profile showing the route from Zubiri to Pamplona along the Camino Frances

Towns And Villages You Walk Through From Zubiri to Pamplona

The journey from Zubiri to Pamplona is listed in most guidebooks as just shy of 21 kilometres.  Technically this is correct, but that distance takes you to the edge of Pamplona.  I’d recommend that you add a kilometre or two to that total.

Zubiri

Top Tip : Have you booked a bed in Pamplona?  Make sure you do this before leaving town today.

If your accommodation offers breakfast then eat and drink; you’ll struggle to find refreshments for the first few hours today.  If not, stop in town for breakfast and if possible buy a snack and ensure you have drinking water.

I have seen folks leave Zubiri by following the main road (N-135) out of town rather than crossing back over the bridge and re-joining the Camino.  I strongly advise against this.  Walking beside that road is miserable.

Leave town by crossing the Agra river, turn right at the bridge and follow the arrows up the hill.

We’ll meet our first area of industrialisation this morning, there is a huge magnesium plant on the outskirts of Zubiri and the Camino skirts around it.  I find it interesting and each time I pass there is something new to see. 

This section is well marked so keep walking and the trail will start to climb; indeed there’s a fair bit of up and down today.

beautiful sunrise sky taken from the old bridge leaving Zubiri on the camino frances

Ilarratz : 2.8 kms

You’ll arrive at Ilarratz following a steep hill that will quicken your pulse.  The first time I walked, I found this hill tough.  When I reached the top I soaked my hat and hair in cold water and sat in the shade wondering what on earth I was doing.

Thankfully these days I know that I don’t have to walk fast up a hill and I know to shorten my pace and take it easy.  You should do the same.

There are no services here but there is a very old Abbey on the right as you leave.  The Abbey of Eskirotz and Ilarratz is dedicated to Lucia of Syracuse, also known as Saint Lucy and is believed to be 12th century.

A few years ago it had been spruced up and you could get a sello here and stop for a chat, but on our last visit it was looking overgrown and I heard that the guy renovating was very sick. 

welcome sign to the beautiful little abbey at Ilarratz, between Zubiri and Pamplona

Larrasoaña : 5.4 kms

Many guidebooks list this little town as a stage end.  I spent a night in the municipal albergue, which has thankfully since been renovated, but I think Zubiri is the better choice to end your walk from Roncesvalles.

You need to leave the Camino and cross the 14th century Puenta de los Bandidos to reach the town.   Larrasoana has all services and lots of accommodation but it’s kind of sleepy. 

Very few pilgrims will walk an extra 500m for a coffee, (myself included) however, if you like exploring there’s a 13th century church and many 15th and 16th century houses.

Pilgrims following the camino de santiago between Zubiri and Pamplona, walking up an incline above green fields

Aquerreta / Akerreta  : 6.1 kms

Aquerreta is a tiny hamlet which in normal circumstances would be sleepy and unremarkable but a certain film about a certain walk made this little village famous.

If you’ve watched The Way, this is the albergue where Tom meets Sarah and acquires the nickname Boomer.  In reality that albergue is a rather smart hotel and you can stay here, but in high season you may need to book 2 nights. 

The trail continues on from the hotel, through more pretty countryside and you can definitely notice that the landscape is changing.  For the most part today you follow the Agra River and for the next few kilometres you get to walk beside it.  Be careful if it has been raining as there can be a few muddy puddles but apart from this it’s a gentle, pretty, shady walk. 

And if you’re thirsty, you’ll be glad to know that a fabulous café is on the horizon.

freshly made Tortilla Patata right out of the pan and being cut to serve customers arriving at Zuriain cafe

Zuriain : 9.3 kms

You enter Zuriain by crossing a bridge over the river.  You’ll be greeted by a huge sculpture of a Pilgrim and by familiar faces as everyone stops here.

Do stop because it could be your last chance before Pamplona (unless you get the fresh orange juice stand on the edge of the city).

My advice is join the queue for your food and drink as there is always a hefty queue.  If you’re not alone then take turns to join the toilet queue, which is also often long.

I love this little café and I love their Tortilla too.  They do have beds, so you can stay the night but most people enjoy the rest and walk on.

Coming out of Zuriain the arrows take you up to the N-135 road.  I’ve seen pilgrims cross the road here.  Don’t cross.  Stay on your side and after a few hundred meters you’ll reach a grassy area, and a few hundred metres more you’ll be back to quiet roads.

Top Tip : Take care on this little stretch as cyclists tend to use the hard shoulder.  You’re very visible and the hard shoulder is wide so it’s not dangerous but it’s a busy road so stay alert.

Irotz : 11.5 kms

At Irotz you again cross the Agra.  This a popular swimming area and the riverbank is almost like a beach with water is deep enough to swim. 

This section of trail is where you’ll have your first route variation.

You can take the public path on the left that will lead you along the river where you’ll pass some public toilets and and picnic tables.  It’s a pretty walk, its easy to navigate and will eventually rejoin the Camino. There are no arrows but you really only have to follow the path as it is very straightforward.

Alternatively, you can follow the arrows.  You will be taken to a small track on the bank just above the river and partway along you are diverted up towards the tiny village of Zabaldika. 

Zabaldika : 12.5 kms

Historically there has been confusion about the Camino route through the Zabaldika and rumour has it, a bit of a conflict as to where the arrows should go. 

You can either just stick with the arrows and you’ll eventually head back down to the river and join the river path. 

Or you can divert up to the little church at the top of the village.  The reason for visiting the church is that at Iglesia de San Esteban, the Nuns who live here would allow pilgrims to climb the bell tower and ring the bell.  It was possible a few years ago but I haven’t tried on my last two visits.

In 2017 I found refuge here at the albergue during a huge storm, having walked from Roncesvalles that morning.  Once the storm broke pilgrims dived into the nearest accommodation and everywhere filled very quickly. 

We walked almost 40 kilometres that day in the rain but found a bed here.  I spent the night in a tiny room for 4 and I was joined by the albergue cook and a couple who had married that morning in a church on the camino.

If you choose to visit the Iglesia de San Esteban you do not need to retrace your steps.  Carry on and you will rejoin the Camino later and save yourself a steep hill.  The nuns will advise you. 

Regardless of which route you take, we all end up high above the N-135 with the views of the mountains behind and Pamplona ahead.

Eventually you drop down to an underpass. I’ve seen folks a little confused here but after the underpass just keep walking up.  You stay on the same wide path, and not turn off until you reach the bridge at Arre.  And if you’re in luck a little food cart will be partway along, selling fresh orange juice and other cold drinks.

newly wed couple that I met along the camino frances in 2017

Arre : 16.2 kms

I used to think that I’d I reached Pamplona when I reach the bridge at Arre; the sad truth is that there is still a good walk ahead.

The bridge at Trinidad de Arre once formed part of the Roman road from Pamplona to Bordeaux and the monastery once belonged to the Monastery at Roncesvalles.  It is the most complete Medieval monastery complex in Navarra and still offers beds to pilgrims.  There is a simple albergue if you would like to spend a night in this historic building.

You have two choices when you reach this ancient bridge.  You can divert off the Camino and follow the river into town.  It’s prettier but it is longer and less well signed.  My personal choice is to follow the arrows and cross the bridge.

En route to Santiago de Compostela you will walk through a number of large towns and cities and some are worse than others.  Getting into Burgos and Leon really is a drag but the walk into Pamplona is good. 

I recommend that you cross the bridge at Arre, stop in the tiny church, get a Sello and enjoy the peace of this ancient little sanctuary and keep following the arrows into the city.

A few minutes from the church you’ll find a bars and I recommend a pause.  The Patatas Bravas here were fabulous and a cold drink very welcome. 

For the most part what follows is urban walking.  There are plentiful arrows but as with all cities, you need to keep your wits about you.  Arrows are on the ground at junctions, on the backs of road signs and dotted around as you walk. 

I’ve never found it difficult walking in or out of Pamplona but if you are in any doubt I recommend you use the Wise Pilgrim App which has a GPS tracker so you can see where you are in relation to the Camino.

You’ll walk through Villava and Burlada which are now suburbs of Pamplona and eventually the towers of the Cathedral will come into view and you’ll find yourself at the foot of the Magdelana Bridge.

Top Tip : Before you reach the old town there is another route variation.  The arrows go straight on and the variant goes left to another ‘river’ walk.  It’s really just a walk through a park.  It’s pretty but I didn’t feel it added anything to my walk.  Personally, I would keep following the arrows. 

Ancient bridge at Trinidad de Arre near Pamplona

Pamplona : 20.8 kms (ish)

For me the Magdelana Bridge is the entrance to the city.  Built in the 12th century, remade in the 14th and restored in 1965, even writing this, I can remember the sense of absolute achievement that I felt as I crossed this bridge.

I see so many pilgrims walk by, head down, and never savour this moment.  For almost a thousand years pilgrims have crossed this bridge on their way to Santiago.  I do love history and I do love this bridge!

From the bridge you walk through a park, cross a road and you’re at the mighty city walls.  The Camino takes you to the right of the walls and this is correct.  Follow the arrows around the ramparts and you’ll arrive at the fabulous city gate.

I recommend using google from this point to take you to your accommodation or, if you’re like me, to Café Iruna; my absolute favourite stopping point in the city.  Either way you should congratulate yourself.  You made it to Pamplona!

Pamplona is amazing.  The history of Pamplona is amazing.  There’s so much to say about Pamplona that I created another post so hop over there to learn more about the city, where to stay, what to see and where to eat.

Where to Stay in Pamplona

I’ve stayed in Pamplona many times, both as a pilgrim and as a tourist.  There is a huge choice of accommodation but these are the places that I’ve stayed in and where I would stay again :

Then We Walking Club at the gates of Pamplona after walking from Zubiri on the Camino Frances

Potential Problems Between Zubiri and Pamplona

The stage today is not without a few hiccups and there are a lot of ups and downs.

  • There are certainly less opportunities for coffee stops and bathroom breaks. 
  • The path is quite exposed in places so if there is rain, wind or hot sun it could be an issue. 
  • If you suffer from blisters, they could start to cause you problems and become unwanted companions today. Don’t ignore a blister or a hotspot.  Take care of them and dress and protect them as needed. 
  • Your legs are tired.  You will be so happy to reach the gates of Pamplona.

My Final Thoughts on the Zubiri to Pamplona Stage

Reaching Pamplona was a milestone for me.  Zubiri to Pamplona should be an easy walk but it will test you. 

You will start to feel that you know how things work.  Your early nerves will be dispersing, and your confidence will grow.  You will start to find familiar faces and forge friendships that, as cliché as it sounds, will last a lifetime.

My advice is follow the arrows today and avoid the variants (unless you want to ring the bell at the church).  Make sure you’ve booked a bed in Pamplona and take your time, there’s a lot of beauty in today’s stage.

P.s. I love to hear from fellow pilgrims so hop over to my Facebook page and share a photo from your journey. 

Colleen finding Henningway in Cafe Iruna in Pamplona

Are You Walking The Camino De Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port?

I have a series of posts that may be of interest you and help with your Camino planning :

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

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I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

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TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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