Leave No Trace on the Camino de Santiago



Written by Caitlin

Leave No Trace is a set of principles that helps us to make better decisions when we are on the Camino and out in nature. Because of the strain on nature that humans create with our increasing numbers, they are all about making sure that we have a smaller impact on our natural environment, and that we leave the places we visit at least as good as they were when we found them.

Here are those principles, as well as a few tips on how to follow Leave No Trace principles on the Camino de Santiago:

1. Plan ahead and Prepare to Leave No Trace on the Camino

Planning helps to ensure the safety of groups and individuals in the outdoors. It also gives you a chance to think about how you will interact with nature and prepare to Leave No Trace. As you plan, you will gain self-confidence and open yourself up for opportunities for learning more about nature.

Part of planning is also preparing yourself to have the best possible trip. That means thinking about the weather and the terrain, checking your route notes, and getting into a positive Camino mindset.

In real terms, this means asking “do I have the right gear?” (not too much, not too little) and “do I have the right amount of water and food so none of it will be wasted?” It is also about making sure that we have a way to bring any waste we do make out of nature with us.

camino planning - a plane on a map flying to the Camino de Santiago

2. Travel on Durable Ground

Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails.

Leave No Trace: lnt.org

Sticking to the well-marked paths of the Camino routes reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. It is better for the environment to have one well-walked route than many poorly chosen paths.

If you do need to step off the path to let others past or to take a break, try not to trample too many plants. Look for rocky patches, “durable” looking plants like grass, and sand. These surfaces are less likely to be damaged by your break there.

Protecting the land around the Camino makes your pilgrimage more sustainable.

pilgrims on the path. stay on the path to leave no trace on the Camino

3. Dispose of Waste Properly and Leave No Trace on the Camino

Anyone who has walked a well-used path will know that waste and rubbish are not pleasant in natural spaces. From bits of plastic packaging to human waste – it is important to consider the natural environment as well as the people who will be walking the Camino after you when you dispose of your waste.

While on the trail, if you bring things with you, you should be able to carry the rubbish until your next stop. Most bags have side pockets that are just fine for that. Moreover, there are plenty of rubbish bins in towns and cities, as well as at your accommodation each night. Pack your litter securely into your bag so that it doesn’t fall out, and carry it to the next apropriate place.

You can even choose to be a helper to the Camino and pick up a few pieces of rubbish along the way. If everyone does their bit and helps each other the Camino will stay clean and beautiful forever.

Human waste is another thing to consider. There are plenty of bathrooms along the busiest parts of the Camino, but in some more remote areas you may be caught between stops. It is recommended that you carry toilet paper and a plastic bag with you, in case of emergencies. Dog waste bags work very well for this. Stay away from streams and water sources and off the trails. Dig a small hole to use, and when you are finished, collect all your toilet paper in your plastic bag and carry it to the next bin.

Your walking notes will have information on where you can find cafes and towns with bathroom facilities.

4. Leave What You Find

It can be tempting to collect things along your journey. Interesting rocks, pretty flowers, artefacts, and cool sticks catch our eyes. Allow others to have the same pleasant experience of seeing these treasures by leaving them where you found them.

Picking a few flowers does not seem like it would have any great impact and, if only a few flowers were picked, it wouldn’t. But, if every visitor thought “I’ll just take a few,” a much more significant impact might result. Take a picture or sketch the flower instead of picking it. 

Leave No Trace: lnt.org

man walking the camino thorugh yellow flowers

5. Minimise the Effects of Fire

There should be no reason to light a fire along the Camino. There are plenty of established hostels, hotels, albergues, and even camp sites where you can find delicious meals and warmth. If you are camping, bring a gas or liquid fuel stove and do not build fires along the way so that you Leave No Trace on the Camino.

Fires are very dangerous in the dry season, and can spread quickly. They also require a lot of wood, which could be homes or building materials for the local animals. Even a very small fire would burn enough wood to house an ecosystem of bugs and beetles, or to build several bird’s nests.

group of pilgrims taking a break for lunch at a cafe on the way of st james

6. Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife on the Camino

While most wild animals will avoid the major Camino routes, you are almost guaranteed to meet some of the local farm animals.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed or force animals to flee. In hot or cold weather, disturbance can affect an animal’s ability to withstand the rigorous environment.

Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor diseases. Sick or wounded animals can bite, peck or scratch and send you to the hospital. 

Leave no Trace: lnt.org

While it is less tangible, interfering with farm and wild animals leaves a trace on the Camino.

The most common animals that you will meet on the Camino are cows, cats, and dogs. Cows are curious creatures and they are used to people. Avoid startling them though, as they are still large. Never get between an animal and its baby.

If you come across animals blocking your way, take a break and wait for them to leave, or walk very slowly and try not to startle them. They will probably move on quickly enough.

Keep an eye out for dogs, as some can get aggressive in protecting their homes from strangers. Give dogs as much space as you can, especially if they are not tied up. Cats, however, will usually ignore you completely or walk away as you come near.

Susan waiting for a cow to leave the path

7. Be Considerate of Others on Your Sustainable Camino

The Camino is a special place and everyone on the trails is walking their own journey. Some people will want to talk to you, walk with you, or even sing with you! Others are looking for a quiet solo escape on their spiritual journey.

One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward other visitors. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Many people come to the outdoors to listen to nature.

Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets and damaged surroundings take away from the natural appeal of the outdoors.

Leave no Trace: lnt.org

Acknowledge your fellow pilgrims as they pass, but if they aren’t looking for a chat then let them be. Try not to be too loud, avoid playing music out loud, and let people experience the Camino in their own way.

If pilgrims are all kind to each other and respect each other’s journeys then it makes the Camino a better place for everyone.

a group of pilgrims on the Camino

This is just a short summary of what it means to Leave No Trace on the Camino de Santiago. There are many more things to consider along the way. Being aware of our impact on our surroundings is incredibly important and helps us to leave things in the best possible condition for future pilgrims.

Keeping the Camino routes safe and healthy for many years to come is the least we can do to say thank you to the trails for the gifts they give us.

If you would like to read more about sustainable travel, check out our blog. You can also find a packing list and weather map to help you to prepare for the Camino.

Learn more about how we are doing our part for the environemnt as a business here.

If you are ready to start planning your sustainable and low impact Camino de Santiago – get in touch! We would love to help you to plan and get ready for your Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

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Originally published on 20th April 2021

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