Introduction: How to Hike Costa Brava (Cami Ronda) on a Budget
Spain has a lot of wonderful hiking trails. Besides mountain trail GR-11 that run through the Pyrenees, the most famous Spanish hiking destination is El Camino - a pilgrim route that runs from the French border throughout northern Spain to Santiago, a city where, according to the tradition, the remains of apostle Saint James are buried. Having initially emerged as a religious pilgrimage route, nowadays El Camino has become a well-known hiking destination for both Spanish people and foreigners from all over the world who have the opportunity to hike, experience Spanish culture, architecture, cuisine, get to know many people from different countries. Nowadays, El Camino is a well established cultural route with thousands of people hiking it every year. It’s very popular because of its cultural appeal and convenient infrastructure for hikers, such as a network of “albergues” - special hostels for pilgrims - where hikers can sleep for 5-9 Euros, make laundry, cook their meals, take showers, socialize and rest.
But Spain has one more hiking route of breathtaking beauty that combines easy access to civilization with patches of pristine nature and mostly goes through the coastal line of north-eastern Spain, in the region of Costa Brava. It’s called Cami Ronda and sometimes this route goes along GR-92, hiking route that starts from the French border and goes along Eastern Spain almost up to Valencia. The hiking route, despite having a well maintained trail that goes through beautiful beaches, cliffs, forests and coastal towns, is not even nearly as popular as El Camino. In fact, during 10 days of our hike on Cami Ronda, we have seen some day hikers, but maybe about 10-15 people who hiked this trail for more than just a day.
I think the main reason is that Cami Ronda does not have the infrastructure for a budget traveler. There are no albergues where a hiker can sleep for a couple of euros, take shower, make laundry, and cook their own food in a fully equipped kitchen - and all these things are available on El Camino. On Cami Ronda, if you want to hike it on a budget and not sleep in hotels, it may be difficult to charge your phone and access internet. Many cafes do not have power outlets, so just looking for a cafe that would have a power outlet and internet would be an adventure on its own. Cami Ronda runs along the coastline and you have lots of beaches, equipped with free showers of fresh water. You can have daily showers there, but you cannot use soap or shampoo, as the water flows into the open sea. You need to be inventive with your laundry as well, doing it either in toilets of cafes or in water fountains, if you’re lucky to find any in the town you’re going through. On El Camino, water fountains with fresh drinking water are available every few kilometers, and in each town and village, you can find a few of them. Some towns on Cami Ronda did not have a single fountain, so you need to buy drinking water.
Cami Ronda runs through coastal tourist towns that are crowded with tourists from France, Germany, Netherlands and other countries. These people come to these places for a vacation and spend a lot of money in restaurants. That’s why some of these towns do not have cheap street food options, they are simply not geared towards low budget tourists.
For all these reasons, most people hike Cami Ronda in a mixed way - hike some sections of the trail and then take a bus or taxi, they mostly sleep in hotels. There was no report on the Internet of anyone who would hike the trail from start to finish without skipping sections. We did not find such method too exciting as we like to hike trails in their entirety. That’s why we decided to walk as much as we can in 10 days and just see how far we can go on our low budget. We started in Portbou, a Catalanian town on the border with France, and followed marking on Cami Ronda or GR-92 until Blanes, where Costa Brava pretty much ends.
If you also want to go ahead and hike Costa Brava on the budget, here’s the Instructable with a few ideas.
Step 1: Make Proper Preparations for Camping
In Costa Brava, it is not allowed to camp on the beaches and in other places. The main reason for this prohibition is a fire hazard. People who camp and make fires can start the wildfire that spreads in minutes. That’s why the most important thing you need to remember while hiking Costa Brava is NEVER MAKE FIRES. Small fire might look innocent to you and you might try to extinguish it, but you might even not know that you have set some roots on fire and this fire can spread to the entire tree and connect to other trees via roots. That’s why even if it seems completely safe to you, do not make fires on Costa Brava. Costa Brava is a populated place, there is a town or village every 5-10 kilometers, and in case of bad weather or other circumstances, you can always opt for an option of a hotel stay. Get an app of Booking.com or something of the like and look for good options. However, prices of rooms in the warm season may go well above 50 euros per room, and sleeping in hotels every night may be too expensive. There are also some camping sites along the way where you can make your tent, have a shower and do laundry, but they are also not cheap, between 30 and 50 euros per tent.
Most of the time we did “stealth camping” - we camp in forests and green areas not far away from our trail in a very inconspicuous way, not to be seen by anyone. If you decide to stealth hike, you need to know a couple of things:
- Be unnoticeable. Camp after the dusk, away from the trail in a remote place. DO NOT MAKE FIRE and do not make noise. Do not trash your place, try to keep bushes, trees and all the vegetation intact and leave no trace of your stay.
- Have a proper camping setup. We used hammocks with a tarp. In this way, you can camp in any place where there are trees without requiring a flat surface, without leaving any traces of your stay, and tarp keeps you protected from rain and wind. If you want to use hammocks, make sure you have a proper setup to keep you warm: underquilt to put under the hammock and a sleeping bag to cover yourself from the top. A hammock equipped with a mosquito net protects you from insects.
- Don’t be salient. Do not walk around with a huge backpack with tent, mats and sleeping bag hanging from it. Such look tells people right away that you’re a camper, and this might raise questions about where are you going to camp if there is no camping ground around. Ideally, your backpack should look like you’re day-hiking. If you use hammocks, you will not require any mats and other such equipment, so store everything inside you backpack of medium size. My backpack is 22 L Osprey backpack and if it’s not filled to the brim, it can still pass as a daypack.
Step 2: Have Your Route With You
Though Cami Ronda and GR-92 are pretty well marked, sometimes their marking can be confusing. Thus, in one place (I guess in Roses), the information showed that GR-92 went inside the continent towards Figueres, and there was no alternative along the beach. We still followed the beach and found the markings of GR-92 again after few kilometers of walking. If you don’t have any map or any guideline, the markings on the street can send you to Figueres, to Girona or some other place that you did not intend to visit. Therefore it would be helpful to know your general route. We used a couple of apps for it. Maps.me provides a very detailed map of local places (it’s much more detailed than Google maps) that can be used offline, which is very convenient for a hike abroad. This map shows the local trails, and very often, the trail of GR-92. Sometimes, however, GR-92 trails disappears from this map, so we downloaded the gpx file of GR-92 route from gpsies.com and opened it in GPXViewer app. This app can show you directions of your trail on the map even if you’re in the middle of the forest and don’t have any internet. The only thing is you need to find cafes with power outlets every second day to keep your phone battery going.
Step 3: Think About Your Food
My husband Tom and I are vegetarians. And Spain, in general, is not a very vegetarian-friendly country, with its love for jamon, tapas and seafood (Barcelona and other big cities are exceptions as they have lots of vegetarian places). During El Camino, my standard breakfast was coffee with tortilla de patata (Spanish omelet with potatoes). This option was available in every bar and coffee place. I was surprised to discover that tortilla de patata was a rather rare treat on Costa Brava, and most of the time for breakfast, we had to limit ourselves with coffee and croissant - standard Spanish breakfast in this region. As for the lunch, if you’re not vegetarian, you will have lunch menu options in coastal town restaurants, rich selection of the seafood and fish. For us, the restaurants would not work much, so we bought food in the supermarket and made our own lunch, which usually consisted of a salad (you buy salad leaves, a couple of tomatoes, cucumbers or other vegetables and get the sauce out of blue cheese or yogurt) and a sandwich (fresh baguette with fresh cheese or avocado or hummus with cheese or whatever you choose to put there). Even if you’re not a vegetarian, getting your own meal from supermarket ingredients may be 50% cheaper than eating in a restaurant. But to be able to prepare your meal, you need some equipment: a knife, a spoon, and a bowl (preferably the folding one). You can also buy orange juice or gaspacho - Spanish cold soup with tomatoes, peppers, olive oil and herbs - and have the most filling lunch on the beach, enjoying the view. Almost every town on Cami Ronda has a supermarket - it might be a network of Mercadona, Carrefour, Dia, Bonpreu, Condis or small local shops.
Step 4: Take Proper Shoes
Take the shoes that would be appropriate to the weather and conditions of your hike. You are not going to Himalayas, so do not take hiking boots. They would be too heavy and hot for you, especially if you are going to hike in a warm season. You will be walking on the beach a lot, so sand is going to get into your shoes all the time, sometimes you will need to take off your shoes to walk on the sand for 5, 6, 10 times. So it would make sense to have something that would be easy to take off and put on. Some shoes that would not have a slippery surface (as you are still going to be hiking on the cliffs sometimes), not too heavy and hot, easy to take off, put on and to dry. I was hiking in keens sandals and I was happy with how they protect my foot and allow it to breathe at the same time. If I get under the rain, they take really little time to dry. I was thinking that maybe Crocs would be even more comfortable - especially in the sandy situations, but I am not sure about their grip on rocky trails. If you opt for sandals, try to pick a model that has toe protection. It helped me a lot as I stumbled a few times.
Step 5: Prepare Your Rain and Sun Protection
During our 10 day hike, we had about four rainy or partially rainy days. Get a poncho that will protect you and your backpack. Sun UV filter, sunglasses and hat is a must - Spanish sun is very strong, even in spring and autumn, and you don’t want to spoil your adventure with burned skin or aching eyes. Plan for the times of siesta somewehre between noon and 4 pm to sit in some shady and quiet place, maybe to swim, have a lunch, and relax. Hiking in full sunlight quickly drains energy and makes you tired and weak.
Step 6: Prepare Your Feet
If you are not experienced hiker, you need to condition your feet to be ready to walk for 20-30 km a day. Quite often, when I start such longer hikes I have two-three days of adjustments, the muscles of my ankle and lower leg get over-worked and hurt until they adapt to the new level of intensity. One of the best ways to prepare your feet is to hike regularly on short hikes. Thus regularity, however, should be truly regular - a day-hike of once per month is not enough to stimulate adequate adaptation in your muscles. You need to hike at least twice a week to properly strengthen your feet. Another way to develop ankle muscles is running, especially running with forefoot strike where your heel practically does not touch the ground. This way of running actively engages muscles of ankle and lower foot (tibialis anterior and posterior, soleus and gastrocnemius, etc). In preparation for your hike you need to run quite regularly, 2-3 times per week, to adequately prepare your feet.
Step 7: Get to the Starting Point And.. Start Hiking!
We decided to make this trail from the top down, so we bought a train ticket from Barcelona to Portbou (it cost 18 Euro and can be bought online), a small coastal town on the border with France. From there, we headed south following the signs of Cami Ronda or GR-92. Here I will give a brief breakdown of our hike day by day with some pictures. Maybe it will inspire you to grab the backpack and start your hike!
NB: On Day 6 we discovered how to download gpx file of GR-92 into GPXViewer app that we could use offline to orient ourselves, and from that moment we just followed the trail and had no more unplanned detours, therefore the description of the trail gets shorter after day 6.
Day 1. We arrived to Portbou by train and hiked through Colera and Llanca, slept in a small forest after Llanca. Portbou is a small border town with just a few shops and a few bars. We did not find any big supermarkets here. From Portbou we followed the signs of Cami Ronda which took us first along the road, and then on a small trail up the hill. Somewhere near Colera, the signs of GR-92 appeared.
Day 2. In some 30 minutes of hiking, we reached El port de Sevla, had breakfast here (coffee and croissant) and then had some hiking through forests from Port de Selva to Cadaques, a place where Dali lived. We spent siesta time on the beach of Cadaques, and after 4 pm continued hiking on. We slept in a small foresty area somewhere near Holiday Village.
Day 3. In the morning, following a beautiful trail along the cliffy coast that continuously took us up on the hill and down on the beach, and then up on the hill again, we reached Roses. Here, on the exit from Roses, the street signs show that GR-92 goes inland towards Figueres, and there is no alternative trail along the beach. We still decided to walk along the beach, but had to make a detour inland to cross the river La Muga which, according to the map, did not have any bridges on the beach. I am glad that we made such detour as we got to see the beautiful canal town of Empuriabrava. We slept on the beach of Platja de Can Comes.
Day 4. In the morning we reached Riu Fluvia and saw that we cannot cross it on the beach. Another detour inland is necessary. Actually, we only had to follow GR-92 which goes along the river through the natural park of Aiguamolls de l’Emporda. We had lunch at Sant Pere Pescador. This town has a bridge and one could return back to the beach following the trail on the other side of the river. We decided to be more adventurous and followed GR-92 through some fields, where we lost the trail and had to wander around asking farmers the way out of the maze of agricultural roads. Even though people were helpful, still we had to climb some fences and bushes, as the trail turned out to be convoluted. Now I think that getting back to the beach on the other side of Riu Fluvia would be an easier and faster option. Finally, we reached Sant Marti d’Empuries, a cute town with a nicely preserved medieval part, a cozy town park with water fountains, nice beach with showers, toilets and all the services that hikers like us need. The road to L’Escala was through the alley that goes along the beach. You could see remains of the old town on your right and beach behind pine trees on the left. If was a pleasant walk in picturesque and beautiful place. We liked L’Escala as well. We slept in the forest after L’Escala.
Day 5. We started the day hiking from Escala to Cala Montgo - a picturesque bay surrounded by hills. We bought some really nice food in the supermarket that was right near the beach of Cala Montgo for our breakfast, and then hiked up the hill through the natural park de Montgri, les Illes Medes i el Baix Ter towards L’Estartit. Actually, when you follow the GR-92 trail from Cala Montgo, you will see that the in the middle of the natural park, up on the hill, this trail turns inland toward the medieval castle Castell de Montgri. Maybe it’s a good idea to just follow the trail to Castell. We decided to abandon the trail to get to Estartit, and then had to make a big detour inland, because we could not cross Riu Ter near the beach. This long and uneventful detour took us almost to Toroella de Montgri, actually a place that’s very close to the castle. If we followed the GR-92, we would be in the same place much faster. We slept in the small patch of forest on the bank of Riu Ter after our detour inland to cross the river near Toroella de Montgri Town.
Day 6. In the morning we reached the beach of de Pals, walked along the beach until Sa Riera and then went up the hill to Begur, which is a cute medieval town with beautiful architecture, cozy cafes and very nice vibe. We proceeded to Palafrugell as it was raining all day and was quite cold, we had some wet gear, so we decided to take a break and found a really cozy room for 50 Euros via Booking.com
We spent the rest of the day enjoying our shelter and checking out Parafrugell.
Day 7. After good breakfast in our pension, we went towards seaside - Llafranc beach, and down along the beautiful and picturesque seaside (Callella de Parafrulgell) and following GR-92 through Jardi botanic del Cap Roig, across a green area a bit inland, with the sea still visible. We camped in the green zone before La Fosca.
Day 8. This day we were walking along the coast on the trail of amazing beauty. Palamos, Sant Antoni de Calonge, Platja d’Aro. A very wealthy area with a well-maintained trail. We camped in the green zone after s’Agaro.
Day 9. Following a trail along the coast with lots of ups and downs, we reached Sant Feliu de Guixols and from here followed GR-92 inland through a long hilly stretch of 18-20 km until Tossa del Mar. We camped in a green zone few km outside Tossa de Mar. Tossa de Mar is a very nice town with a medieval castle and old town - the only example of fortified medieval town still standing on Catalan Coast.
Day 10. Easy walking from Tossa de Mar through Canyelles to Lloret de Mar.
Day 11. From Lloret del Mar we hiked to Tordera (although GR-92 goes through Blanes, we found a trail directly to Tordera) and from there, train to Barcelona (costs about 4 Euro).
Step 8: Stay Positive and Open Minded
Hiking is a beautiful way to discover the world around us and to go deeper in ourselves. You will have wonderful moments of elation, wonder and admiration, but you will also have some difficulties: intense sun, it may be very hot and humid, or it may be cold and windy, you might have to experience hunger, pain in your body, tiredness and exhaustion, irritation, discomforts of unknown, lack of predictability and habitual routines. When we hike, very often we put ourselves in circumstances that are not familiar to us and we cannot control. It is futile to fight them, you can either give up and finish your trip, or let go and try to relax into what life is providing you. This is also the opportunity for us to become stronger not only physically but mentally as well, open our mind to the possibilities of unknown, embrace the discomfort, let go of unmet expectations. We learn how differently things are done in different places of the world, and we try to align ourselves with that, to work with whatever is in the moment. This is the most important skill that we can get from our hiking adventures, and training this attitude on the road will slowly change at how you look at small things in other spheres of life.
When I was hiking in Spain, I described myself as a hiker “from cafe to cafe”. Having a cup of coffee in a cafe is something that can motivate me to walk some more. On Cami Ronda there was a day when we had 20 km stretch in the mountains without any village in between (from Sant Feliu de Guixols to Tossa del Mar), and after we walked our first 4 or 5 km, heavy rain started that lasted for a few hours. My husband wanted to take my mind from the thoughts of discomfort, that’s why he started singing songs about a wonderful cafe that is awaiting us in just only 15 km of hike, and how it would be wonderful to sit and dry in a warm cafe with a cup of a hot coffee. At that moment, those songs took my mind from the place of misery to a place of having fun and fooling around. It could be the most miserable moment of the journey, but now when I remember that day, I don’t remember the hardship anymore, I remember how we were singing in the rain. Actually this is one of a few moments I remember from the entire hike.
I hope this instructable will help you to go there and start your own hike!