Look, I’m the queen of the mid-priced hotel and normally don’t use hostels for my travel accommodation. For many (including some of my friends), the idea of a good long walk across Spain sounds awesome…except for the part where you stay in pilgrim hostels.
But here’s the thing, the albergues on the Camino de Santiago provide a very unique experience that I feel is essential to the pilgrim experience. And even though I occasionally splash out for a private room, I actually prefer to sleep in albergues for my Caminos.
The albergues provide a social environment, which is particularly important if you are doing the Camino solo. The Camino excels at reinforcing a simple existence, characterized by pastoral landscapes, a light pack, simple food and yes, modest lodging.
But if you’re also the king or queen of the mid-priced hotel and are wondering what this albergue thing is all about, we are here to help you. This guide offers a full FAQ on albergue life.
We hope it will help you with your Camino planning and assuage any questions or doubts that you may have about lodging on the Camino. When you are done here, you should also check out our article with 10 first-timer tips for planning your Camino.
What is a Camino Albergue?
Albergues are hostels which are specifically designed to serve pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The basic bed set-up is similar to that youth hostel that you slept in when you bummed around Europe or Thailand after college…with a few important differences.
Albergues are only available to pilgrims. You must show your pilgrim credential when you check-in. This guarantees that you will be sleeping among like-minded (and equally tired) folks with whom you are united in the shared pilgrimage experience.
The tradition of albergues (or refugios or hospitales) dates back to the beginning of the Way of Saint James. The ethic is to provide rest and sustenance for the weary pilgrim.
Beyond that though, you’ll find that every albergue is unique. Some are brand new while others are in a 600 year old monastery. Some are run as businesses and others are staffed by volunteer pilgrims. We are offering general advice here but expect that your Camino albergue stays will offer quite a wide range of experience.
Different Kinds of Camino Albergues: Public vs. Private
There are generally two kinds of albergues: public and private.
The public albergues are run by either a local municipality or Catholic parish and manned by volunteers. The main pro of public albergues is that they are always the cheapest option. They tend to have a service oriented ethic and because they don’t accept advance reservations, they will often go the extra mile (or kilometer) to help you find a bed. Many also offer a group meal or special comfort, care or religious services.
The cons are that the public albergues tend to be older facilities (including the bathrooms) and they tend to host a large number of pilgrims, which can contribute to overnight noise. The publics may also have squeaky old bunk beds, many don’t offer bedding, some don’t offer wash machines, and comfy lounge spaces can be limited.
Private albergues are businesses. They may be run by a cafe owner, family or even an avid pilgrim who has moved to Spain from the US or the Netherlands. The pros are that they are more likely to offer laundry machines, bedding (or at least disposable sheets and warm blankets), lounge areas and a better bed-to-bathroom ratio. Many also have attached cafes with pilgrim meal offerings and some even host group meals. Some private albergues also offer private rooms for 1-4 people. They will usually accept advance reservations and I’ve found them to be very responsive to phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
The cons are that the privates are more expensive.
You will also find a selection of small hotels, pensiones and casa rurales along the Camino. These all offer private beds and some offer meals. All of the larger towns and cities have private room offerings, but they can be thin on the ground in the more rural areas. Best to book ahead if you want to stay at a place that looks special.
Use our packing list to find out what exactly you need for clothes, bedding and toiletries.
How Much Does Camino Lodging Cost?
- Public albergues generally cost ~€5-7.
- Private albergues generally cost ~€12-14.
- Pensiones and Casa Rurales can range from €35-70 and hotels go up from there.
Some albergues on the Camino offer “donativo” pricing. This means that you pay what you can. If you can afford it, the polite practice is to pay whatever the equivilant would be for a public albergue.
Beyond your lodging, use our Camino cost calculator to plan your full budget.
Typical Camino Albergue Facilities
Your most typical experience will be a large-ish room with multiple bunk beds. Some offer lockers, but many don’t. There will be bathrooms which have multiple toilet stalls, showers and sinks. But plan to bring your own soap and shampoo.
If the albergue doesn’t have a cafe (and even sometimes if it does), they will offer a group kitchen facility with a fridge, stovetop, modest cookware and some staples like olive oil and salt.
All offer hand-wash laundry facilities with clotheslines and some have washers and dryers. City albergues tend to be lacking outdoor clothes drying and lounging spaces. But in the smaller towns, you can expect some outdoor tables and chairs. And if you’re lucky, maybe even some loungers and a pool!
Do the Albergue Hospileros Speak English?
This ranges quite widely. Some are fluent in English, most speak a little and some do only Spanish. This also goes for cafe owners and even your fellow pilgrims.
A data enabled phone and a translation app are your friends.
Check-in, Check-out, Lights Out and Wakey Wakey
Check-in at albergues is usually between 1-2pm, but I’ve seen it as early as noon. They will ask for your passport, pilgrim credential and money. Cash is king. Some may accept a credit card, but don’t count on it.
Most people are in bed between 9 and 11pm. Some albergues enforce a strict 11pm lights-out policy and even have a lock-in. But I’ve never experienced that at a private albergue.
There is no formal check-out procedure. People start rising as early at 5:30pm, but 6:30-7am is more common. Courtesy dictates that you pack up your stuff very quietly and get out of the dorm with a minimum of noise. Don’t be that dude who packs all of your clothes up in the morning, jamming your stuff into loud crinkly plastic bags.
Your albergue, will shoo you out by 8am so that they can clean and reset for the next group of pilgrims.
How to Find Albergues
This can be as simple as rolling into town and looking for signs pointing you to nearby albergues, which carry a square “A” symbol near their front door.
If that’s a bit too loose for you, the Camino apps do a quite good job of listing the available albergues in town. The guidebooks do an OK job of listing albergues, but they aren’t as thorough or up to date. We like the Wise Pilgrim apps for this purpose, but you can check out our articles on the best Camino apps and guidebooks to find something that suits you.
If you are starting in St. Jean, the pilgrim office will give you a sheaf of paper listing the Frances albergues. If they offer it to you, take it, because it will be the most up-to-date resource. The pilgrim office in Santiago will also do the same for the Finesterre routing.
All of these options have icons that indicate whether the albergue is public, private and what sorts of facilities they offer.
How to Pre-Book Albergues
You can’t pre-book public albergues.
Some private albergues do list their offerings on Booking.com, particularly if they have both bunk houses and private rooms. But if you rely solely on Booking, you’ll severely restrict your choices.
Use your data-enabled phone to either call or WhatsApp message the albergue that you want to pre-book. Some may ask for a credit card to confirm the reservation. But if you are just booking a day or two ahead they will often just write down your name.
We strongly advise against booking your lodging way in advance and certainly not for your entire Camino. Even if you are doing baggage portage, this is unnecessary. And it locks you into a set schedule which may prevent you from taking a much needed rest day, or from taking that cool detour to the Samos Monastery that you heard so much about.
Some planning is advisable to have a smooth-running Camino, but if you over plan it, you will take away the spontaneity that makes doing a Camino so special.
Are There Bed Bugs on the Camino?
There certainly can be. On my first Camino, I got eaten alive. On my second, I got one set of bites, and on my third, I got no bites at all.
Bed bugs like to live in high turnover sleeping environments and albergues are certainly that. But don’t freak out about it.
Most albergues mitigate against bugs by using plastic mattress and pillow covers. Some fumigate and yet others offer disposable sheets.
The best way to protect yourself is to spray the exterior of your backpack and sleeping sack with Permetherin. It’s an insecticide and repellant which is designed to work on fabric, clothing and bags. After my first episode on the Camino, I now use it religiously (for all travel) and it really helps to prevent the buggers from moving in on you.
Some people don’t like the idea of using an insect repellant on their gear, preferring more natural products like lavender oil. You’ll need to make that choice for yourself. But as someone who is very reactive to bug bites, I’ve made the choice to use Permetherin and have no regrets about it.
If you are keen, here’s an essay on why despite the bed bugs and blisters, I’ve still chosen to go back to the Camino multiple times.
FREE Camino Tools
Score a printable Camino packing list and an editable budgeting spreadsheet.
More Camino Planning Tips & Inspiration
- Get inspired by other pilgrims by watching Camino movies or reading books about the Camino.
- Get your gear sorted out by using our packing list, footwear guide and backpack guide.
- Put together a plan using our Camino training guide.
- If you aren’t sure which route you want to take, use out guide to figure out your Camino route options.
- Figure out how to get to St Jean to start the Frances.
- Info on starting your Camino in Burgos.
Enjoy your pilgrimage….buen Camino!
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