Alto de Perdón, the Hill of Forgiveness

Looking back toward Pamplona during the ascent of Alto de Perdón

Looking back toward Pamplona during the ascent of Alto de Perdón

Pamplona is the first large city on the Camino for those pilgrims who start in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, and while thrill-seeking pilgrims will be captivated by the famed site of the annual running of the bulls, most will still be adjusting to pilgrim life and nursing their first blisters. Just past Pamplona, however, is a difficult climb that acts as the first direct spiritual challenge: the Alto de Perdón.

The landscape west of Pamplona is gorgeous when the sun is shining. Rolling hills and fields give beautiful texture and color to the ground – which is either golden with wheat or stubble or a rich red of the soil depending on the time of year – and the western edges of the Pyrenees to the north create a sense of scale that makes the sky seem huge and will make you feel small.

The Alto de Perdón, which translates “Hill of Forgiveness,” is itself covered in sunflower fields and windmills that give it a sense of charm and wonder. But the real depth of the place comes from the traditions that surround this difficult obstacle in the way of pilgrims traveling to Santiago. Beginning in medieval times, it became customary for the pilgrims making their way up the winding path to think and pray to forgive those who have hurt them, and to pray for forgiveness for the hurts and wrongs they themselves have committed.

On the Hill, one of the beautiful images of the Camino comes to the fore – that of bearing burdens. What wrongs have you committed that weigh on your heart, mind, or soul? Who have you hurt? What hurts have you received but not forgiven? What grudge or grievance are you holding onto?

These things weigh us down. They are, in fact, deadly. I have heard it said that carrying bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness towards another person is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Holding a grudge is like grasping a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned. The beauty of the Camino is that it allows us to perform the difficult task of letting go of what weighs on us, choosing forgiveness, while we do simple tasks that reflect the inner realities.

When we lay down our pack for the day, we may think about what burdens we might carry in our minds or hearts. How can we lay those down as well? The Hill of Forgiveness is an excellent place to put some of those burdens to rest as you trudge up the difficult terrain. Allow yourself to feel the strain of your body work away your resistance to letting go your grudge, your blame, your guilt. When you reach the summit, exult in the freedom of forgiveness.

I would like to hear your stories and impressions from the Alto de Perdón. Contact me at

Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter.