Are you planning on embarking on the spiritual pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago? One of the most important parts of your pilgrimage will be where to stay each night.
Albergues, also known as hostels, offer a unique and communal experience for pilgrims on the Camino.
In this article, we’ll dive into what you need to know about albergues on El Camino de Santiago – from their history and facilities to how to book and prepare for your stay.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-time pilgrim, this comprehensive guide will help ensure a comfortable and memorable experience on your Camino journey.
What is a Camino Albergue ?
A Camino albergue is a type of budget-friendly sleeping accommodation specifically designed for pilgrims walking, cycling or even riding a horse on El Camino de Santiago.
Albergues are typically small, basic and low-priced and they are meant to provide a place to sleep, shower, and sometimes eat for Pilgrims on the Camino.
It typically offers simple dormitory style rooms with shared facilities which normally have bunk bed style accomodation. Some albergues also offer private rooms.
What does Albergue mean ?
The word “albergue” in Spanish means “shelter” or “hostel.” In the context of the Camino de Santiago, it refers to a type of place where pilgrims can rest, sleep, and refresh before continuing their journey. A shelter for Pilgrims.
After walking numerous times on the Camino I’ve found that Albergues come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are amazing with swimming pools (there isnt many of those) and some are really basic.
Every day is different but the Pilgrims will always be there.
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What is the Difference Between an Albergue, Hostel and Pension?
The main difference between an albergue, hostel, and pension is the type of accommodation they offer.
Albergues are specifically designed for pilgrims and offer simple, dormitory-style rooms with shared facilities and are typically the least expensive accommodation option.
Hostels are similar to Albergues but may not be restricted to travellers on the Camino de Santiago as anyone can stay in these places. Sometime Hostels are located off the main camino trail.
Pensions are typically more upscale, like a bed and breakfast, and offer private rooms with en suite bathrooms.
If you fancy a break from staying in dormitory style accommodation then Pensions are a welcome bit of luxury on the trail.
When i walked the whole Camino Frances i stayed in a pension 2 times throughout the journey just to get a little luxury and a good nights sleep.
Public vs Private Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
There are two types of Camino de Santiago albergues: public and private.
Public albergues are run by local authorities and are typically less expensive. They offer basic facilities and have a more communal atmosphere.
Private albergues are run by individuals or organizations and are often more expensive. They offer a higher standard of facilities and a more personal experience.
I have stayed in both types and normally use public albergues on a daily basis and private albergues every 5 or 6 days as a little treat and some peace and quiet.
What is a Xunta Albergue? Municipal Albergue
A Xunta albergue, also known as a municipal albergue, is a type of public albergue on the Camino de Santiago. It is run by the regional government (Xunta) and offers basic facilities for a low cost.
These albergues cannot be booked and operate on a first come first served basis. You will normally see backpacks lined up outside the front door as they typically open around 3pm.
If you arrive around this time put your backpack in line and when they open you’ll be checked in and given a bed number. It’s inexpensive, clean and basic but a great way to stay on the Camino.
Do Albergues Offer Private Rooms?
Some Albergues on the Camino do offer private rooms. They are a little more expensive than dorm style rooms but can offer greater privacy although from my experience they are not that common.
How to find Albergues on the Camino ?
Finding an albergue is pretty easy as most villages and towns have them and the bigger the village or town the more albergues and accommodation there is.
There are many resources available to identify available albergues on el Camino de Santiago but the most popular way, by far, is to use an online booking platform, such as Booking.com or Hostelworld.
I don’t normally book ahead and prefer to find Albergues when i arrive at my destination but you can also find details of accommodation in Camino guidebooks as well as the local tourist office, if there is one.
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How to Make a Reservation in an Albergue
To make a reservation for a Camino de Santiago Albergue, you can use an online booking platform or contact the Albergue directly.
Most Albergues accept walk-ins, but it’s always a good idea to make a reservation in advance especially during peak season as Albergues can fill up fast.
I always try and stop at the middle of a stage where the albergues aren’t as busy. This strategy has worked well for me in the past.
How much does an Albergue cost ?
The cost of a bed in a Albergue on the Camino de Santiago varies depending on the type of Albergue, location and time of year.
On average, a dormitory-style bed in a public Albergue can cost around €5-15 per night, while a private room can cost €20-30 per night.
There are also some Albergues that are ‘donativo’. This means they are free to stay and the hospitaleros keep the Albergue running on donations.
These donations will keep the Albergue clean and ready for the next set of Pilgrims the following day. So if you stay in one of these please leave a donation.
Are albergues open all year round ?
The availability of Albergues on El Camino de Santiago always varies depending on the time of year. A lot of Albergues close down for the winter season although some do open all year round.
If you are walking the Camino in winter always check with your intended Albergue to make sure they are open and have availability.
What do you need to stay in an Albergue ?
In order to stay at all albergues on el Camino de Santiago, you will need a valid form of identification and a Pilgrims Passport.
When I walk the Camino I always take a silk sleeping bed liner with me and use that with an Albergue blanket, if they are available.
If I know the weather is going to be a bit colder I take a lightweight summer sleeping bag with me and sleep in my walking clothes if necessary. Its all part of the fun of being a pilgrim.
What is a Pilgrims Passport ?
The Credencial, or Pilgrims Passport, is a really important part of the Camino de Santiago. Every Pilgrim needs one as they are your access to be able to stay in Albergues.
What is a Credencial ?
It comes in the form of a passport and this serves as proof of your pilgrimage on the Camino and every Pilgrim needs one to stay in Albergues on El Camino de Santiago.
The origin of the Credencial goes back centuries when Pilgrims were given letters of safe passage across Europe which allowed them to travel safely.
Nowadays as well as being a memento of your pilgrim journey and the places you stayed, it is also needed to get your Compostela when you reach Santiago.
The recommendation is to also get 2 stamps per day in your passport on your pilgrimage.
You can get a Pilgrims Passport from a local tourist office, or online. They are available from the Camino de Santiago Forum at a reasonable price.
A page of one of my completed Credencial’s is shown below.
What is a Compostela ?
The compostela is the certificate that you receive in Santiago when you have completed your pilgrimage and is your certificate of completion.
To earn the Compostela, you will need to have walked at least the last 100 km of the Camino. This can be done on any section of the Camino.
Thousands of Pilgrims walk the Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela every year which is just over 100km and entitles them to their Compostela.
The Camino Ingles from Ferrol is also a good Camino to walk as it covers over 100km in total.
Once you get your Compostela, the certificate is really nice and a fantastic memento.
What are the Pros and cons of staying at Albergues?
The Albergues along el Camino de Santiago come in all shapes and sizes, some large with over 50 beds and some small ones with just a few rooms and beds.
Whatever type of Albergue you choose they all have their pros and Cons as detailed below:
- Affordable accommodation options
- Opportunity to meet other pilgrims and share stories
- Access to communal facilities such as a kitchen and washing facilities
- Many Albergues are located in the heart of small villages
- Pilgrims get the chance to experience local culture, food and wine
- Basic and shared facilities, with limited privacy
- Crowded conditions during peak season
- Bedbugs and other insects can be a problem in some albergues
- ‘Lights Out’ may not be observed by all Pilgrims
- Having quiet hours can be a challenge
What are the rules in a public albergue?
Most of the Albergues on the Camino de Santiago have similar rules which are very easy to get along with and are not too harsh. They are there for the benefit of all Pilgrims.
Some common rules inside public Albergues can include
- no smoking
- no alcohol
- no outside food or drinks
- mandatory lights out and quiet hours
- Leave your walking boots by the front door
Some albergues may also require that you clean up after yourself, respect your fellow pilgrims, and maintain a tidy and organised sleeping area.
These are really simple rules to have a great Pilgrim experience.
Is there any Albergue Etiquette?
Yes, there is a set of unwritten rules and etiquette that pilgrims are expected to follow in an Albergue on el Camino de Santiago. Some examples include
- Keeping quiet during quiet hours
- Keep your belongings organized
- No loud talking after lights out
- No shuffling of items in your rucksack
- Respecting the privacy and belongings of others.
Hospitaleros (caretakers) may also enforce specific rules for their own Albergue, so it is important to ask for clarification on arrival.
Respecting your fellow Pilgrims and allowing everyone to get a good nights sleep is really important.
Lights out could be 10pm at night but some Pilgrims are in bed at 7pm trying to get some sleep after a long day on the trail.
What is a Hospitalero/a?
A Hospitalero is a volunteer or paid caretaker who is responsible for maintaining and managing an albergue.
They will be the first person you usually see when booking into your accommodation and they will tell you all about the Albergue, what it costs as well as stamping your Pilgrim passport (credencial) when you arrive
They often live on site and can assist with anything from cooking meals to providing first aid, as well as enforcing rules and maintaining the cleanliness and safety of the albergue.
A lot of the Hospitaleros are volunteers and are often Pilgrims that have already done the journey to Santiago and want to give something back to the Camino and help Pilgrims on their journey.
Do the Albergue Hospileros Speak English?
This varies depending on the albergue, but many Hospitaleros speak both Spanish and English.
Some may also speak other languages, but it is always helpful to bring a phrasebook or translation app to assist with communication.
It is sometimes a good idea to learn some basic spanish with a spanish language course, before your journey on the Camino.
What is Albergue Life like on a daily basis?
Life in an Albergue on El Camino de Santiago is very communal with pilgrims sharing common spaces, meals and conversation about the Camino.
Each day, you will wake up early to get a head start on the day’s journey, and spend the evenings relaxing and meeting new people. I always find it better to have an early start and finish early in the afternoon to avoid walking in the hot spanish sun
Early afternoons after arrival Pilgrims typically shower, wash clothes, drink a few beers and chat about the Camino. Planning the next days walk is a normal topic of discussion.
Evening meals in an albergue can include cooking and eating meals together or dining out in a local restaurant eating from a Pilgrim menu.
Pilgrim menu’s come in the form of a 3 course menu that costs about €10-€15 per person. I have attached a sample pilgrim menu from a restaurant in Azofra on the Camino Frances that cost €12 and included wine with the meal as well.
What typical facilities does an albergue need to have?
A typical albergue will have basic facilities such as shared sleeping areas, a communal bathroom, washing facilities and sometimes a communal kitchen.
Most albergues have outdoor areas for relaxing, and additional amenities such as Wi-Fi and laundry services.
Some also have a bar, a cafe and vending machines. Every albergue is different and its best to take each one as it comes.
Washing Clothes in an Albergue
Most albergues will have washing facilities available, either in the form of a communal sink or a shared washing machine and most sell scoops of washing powder.
I would recommend bringing quick drying and lightweight clothing so a couple of hours in the sun will dry everything.
On my Camino I travelled with 2 other pilgrims and we just did a large washing load every 2-3 days and that regime served us throughout our Camino to Santiago.
Typical Check-In Time for an Albergue
The check-in times vary between different albergues, but most open their doors in the early afternoon around 2-4pm with municipal albergues opening around 4pm.
You can always notice the municipal albergues by the line of backpacks outside awaiting check-in.
Some albergues may also have a evening curfew, so be sure to ask when you check-in.
When is ‘Lights out’ in an Albergue
Most Albergues I have stayed in turn the lights out about 10pm but this can vary between locations.
It is important to be respectful of fellow pilgrims and to observe quiet hours in the evening.
Some tired Pilgrims do go to bed earlier than 9pm so always keep the noise to a minimum where possible.
How to get a good nights sleep in an Albergue
Wherever you stay on the Camino its really important to get a good nights sleep so you feel refreshed ahead of another day walking to Santiago.
This can be a challenge when sleeping in a communal Albergue as the noises coming from some Pilgrims can be loud.
Municipal Albergues can be a melting pot of different personalities, making for some interesting nights. I have had some nights where the snore fest is really loud.
After lots of nights listening to the ‘Albergue anthem’ i now always use these really good ear plugs to make sure i sleep through the night.
What time do Pilgrims wake up in an Albergue
Most Pilgrims wake up around 6 – 7am and after getting dressed and ready will set off on the trail for 8am.
There are occasions when some pilgrims get up really early and set off in the dark allowing them to complete a significant portion of their journey before the heat of the day sets in.
If you are one of these please respect the other pilgrims in the Albergue and keep quiet as you exit your bunk bed and get ready.
On my camino If i leave early I always move my backpack to the common area to get ready being as quiet as possible.
Bedbugs in Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
Bedbugs are a potential concern in any type of overnight accommodation, including Albergues on el Camino de Santiago.
However, most albergues take precautions to prevent and control infestations, such as regular inspections and the use of bedbug proof covers on mattresses and pillows.
I always take a silk sleeping liner and use that where possible. I have walked the Camino numerous times and have never encountered bedbugs in any Albergue.
Reducing the Chances of Getting Bedbugs
To reduce the risk of getting bedbugs, it is advisable to inspect the bed and surrounding area before settling in for the night and use a silk sleeping liner as mentioned above.
Do Albergues supply blankets ?
Most private Albergues supply blankets of some shape or size to use on cold nights but i haven’t seen any blankets for use in Municipal Albergues.
I always use my silk sleeping bag liner and sleep in my walking clothes ahead of the next day if its particularly cold.
Do Albergues supply towels ?
Albergues do not supply towels, this is the responsibility of the Pilgrim.
I use a micro-fibre travel towel for all my Caminos and it works a treat for me and more importantly its really quick drying.
How long can you stay in an Albergue ?
At a municipal Albergue you can only stay one night with your Pilgrims passport, the Credencial, unless you are ill and another night may be allowed.
If you plan to stay in your destination for more than one night I would suggest booking a private Albergue or hotel.
Useful Items to Pack for Albergues
When staying in albergues on the Camino de Santiago, it is important to bring the following items to make your stay as easy and comfortable as possible::
- Lightweight and compact sleeping bag or silk liner
- Microfibre travel towel
- Travel size toiletries
- Small foldable travel toothbrush
- Flip flops for wearing in the shower
When your toiletries run out there are plenty of supermarkets along the way to replenish.
TOP TIP – every extra ounce you have to carry
Can You Camp on the Camino?
I get asked the question a lot about camping on the Camino. While camping is not permitted in most areas along the Camino de Santiago, there are designated camping grounds and areas where it is allowed.
It is important to inquire with local authorities and to follow established rules and regulations. As far as I am aware It is illegal to just camp wherever you want.
In conclusion, Albergues are a budget friendly option for Pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago, offering basic but essential amenities for those on the pilgrimage and are an integral part of the journey.
They can range from luxurious and comfortable to cramped and very basic. From private Albergues with plush beds to municipal Albergues with grumpy staff, each one provides its own unique set of challenges and surprises.
With a range of options from municipal to private operated Albergues, there is something for every Pilgrim. But no matter what type of Albergue you find yourself in they are full of character and provide a unique set of challenges that can lead to some hilarious moments.
Embrace the ups and downs, choose wisely, and enjoy the journey. Its all part of the Camino experience.
During the peak season I would check availability for your destination to ensure you have a place to rest your head during your Camino pilgrimage.
Always remember to be respectful to all your fellow pilgrims whichever Albergue you stay in on El Camino de Santiago.
Buen Camino !