Trail Marking and Signs

The Camino Francés is extremely well-marked with a combination of yellow arrows, shell symbols, and signs. The exact system of the signage varies a little from region to region and city to city, and is maintained by local or regional groups. Many consider the Camino one of the best marked long trails in the world, and few walkers report that they have had issues with navigation using only way markings and guidebook maps. Most reports of route-finding issues occur in cities, where many distracting signs and activities can obscure yellow arrows and signs.

Maps and GPX

The Camino Francés (guidebook) includes 135 useful stage and city maps, and a full GPX and Google Earth file set to offer assistance in planning and navigational aid.

Camino Francés: Download GPS files (GPX stage tracks from the guidebook)

Camino Portugués: Download GPS files (GPX stage tracks from the guidebook)

Please note that the distances you record while walking with your GPS device or phone may be longer than the actual distance of the route listed in the guidebook and its GPX tracks, which have been carefully edited to measure the length of the camino along a straight line beginning and ending at the town’s primary albergue. The increased distance most people record while walking is due to the culmination of slight detours into cafes or points of interest, geolocation noise while not moving, and the varied accuracy of individual GPS units which decreases in areas without an unobstructed view of the sky (like tall city buildings).

Topographical Trail Maps

Most camino hikers do not carry detailed maps, as the route is very well marked. The stage maps provided in our guidebook should be more than enough to provide accurate navigation, amenities, and points of interest. These maps are a combination of GIS contour data, GPS recordings of the path itself, and added detail as relevant. Map scales range, designed to maximize space efficiently per page. Maps list amenities including overnight lodging, restaurants/cafes and supermarkets. Full amenities are listed in town boxes in text and elevation charts.

Michelin makes a simple map booklet which is less detailed, but provides bare bones stage info and some context on surrounding areas. City maps (plan de cuidad) are available at tourism information centers in every large population center, noted in city maps in the guidebook.

Smartphone GPS Applications

To use your iPhone or Android smart phone as a GPS, consider an application like Gaia GPS ($19.99). Smart phone apps like this work without having a cellular signal, do not incur data roaming charges (if this is turned off on your phone) and utilize free topographical map base maps for offline viewing (based on OSM maps). The downside is that they drain your battery even quicker than normal, but can be a great backup and cost-effective option to a dedicated handheld GPS. Be sure to put your phone in airplane mode to save battery, and consider carrying an external supplemental battery back

To transfer a GPX file to Gaia GPS app on your phone, either:

  • Email it to yourself as an an attachment, open the file in your phone’s mail app, and direct it to open in Gaia GPS (quicker
  • Import it using iTunes (be sure to have latest software version, and phone connected with a cable)
    • Click the iPhone icon on the top toolbar
    • On the left sidebar under settings, click “Apps” to open panel on right
    • Scroll down to File sharing at the bottom of the page, click on “Gaia GPS”
    • Drag your GPX file into the “Gaia GPS Documents” box on the right side or open it using the “Add…” button
    • Eject your phone, open the Gaia GPS app, and find the file under “tracks” in the menu.

GPS Navigation

GPS stands for Global Positioning System, a technology developed for surveying and navigation purposes. The system works like traditional celestial navigation as GPS units receive signals from high-orbiting satellites to calculate specific coordinates at any given location. Accuracy is +/- 3m (10ft), depending on each specific receiving unit’s capability. GPS units cost between $75 and 400, and provide the best way to know exactly where you are in relation to a pre-programmed map or track. A GPS unit can be especially useful in winter if snow obscures route markings. Using rechargeable batteries is environmentally friendly, and saves money over a long trip like the Camino.

Most GPS units do not come pre-programmed with detailed base maps, especially of Spain, but with our downloadable files you will still be able to navigate the route easily and precisely. (The Garmin topographical base map for Spain cost $220-250.) Free basic Garmin-compatible GPS base maps generated from Open Street Map data can be created using for use on handheld devices (streets only, no contour lines, not comprehensive by still very helpful).

Each GPS unit has three categories of data that are easily manipulated by users: waypoints, routes, and tracks. A waypoint marks the coordinates of an individual notable location, like where you parked your car or pitched your tent. A route is a collection of waypoints that are linked by straight lines in a specific order for navigation. A track is a detailed record of a walk that demonstrates the curve of a path, sometimes referred to as a “bread crumb trail.” Tracks can be saved after each journey or pre-loaded and retraced on the GPS. Our Camino GPS files use the track system as opposed to the route system for more accurate navigation.

Use the free program Garmin Basecamp to view and transfer GPS tracks to your handheld device. We recommend any of the following GPS units:

GPS data © Camino Guidebooks, Village to Village Press, LLC. GPS data is available for personal and recreational use only, and may not be used for any commercial purposes.