The times when I’ve relayed my Camino experiences to people many have asked about the accommodations – particularly what options are there. So let’s take a look.
ALBERGUES (HOSTELS) – “Albergue” is Spanish for hostel. While walking my Camino it was these Camino-specific albergues that I spent most of my nights. The albergues can be municipally run, privately run, or by a church or group. You pay for a bed that is set up in a dormitory-style that may number from 6 to a room to over 100. Toilets and showers are shared in this environment, usually women and men having their own. Most have laundry facilities (for a fee) and an area for hand washing and line drying of clothes. Often times kitchen facilities are available for pilgrims to use, though they would need to buy their own food to cook. Sometimes there is a “free” section of foods that people have left for others to use, commonly made up of spices, dried pastas and rice, canned goods, and even vegetables or fruit at times. In other cases there is a restaurant on sight and pilgrims can order from the menu that usually consists of a set Pilgrim’s Menu. Or there is both a kitchen and restaurant/cafe.
DONATIVO ALBERGUE – Donativos are albergues that do not having funding from the government, unlike the municipals albergues, which are common. They are also not privately-run albergues, which are even more common. These lodgings are usually run by churches or organizations and rely on volunteers to staff them. They ask those staying to provide a donation in lieu of a set price. You can determine the amount you pay. I stayed at one donativo and paid what was the average for the alberuges I had stayed at previously. It was also a private donation in which nobody saw my amount. It had sleeping quarters, kitchens, laundry areas, and the like.
HOSTALS – These are not hostels. Hostals are usually privately run and offer private rooms often with single, twin, double or a mix of beds. This can be great for those wanting a private room or travelling together or with families. Bathrooms are usually private. I have stayed a couple of hostals where they also had smaller dormitory-style beds for a cheaper price than paying for a private room. I also stayed in two where I had my own private room. One with private bath, the second with a shared bathroom. They may or may not have a kitchen or restaurant/cafe onsite.
HOTELS – Well, they are hotels. I saw these mostly in larger centres. Some are budget some are not. Chain hotels I saw mostly in cities such as Pamplona, Burgos, Santiago de Campostela. They are what you would expect – private rooms with private bathrooms. Some with restaurants, some without. I did not stay in any hotels.
PARADOR – A parador is a luxury hotel often in a historic building (think castle, monastery, etc). Expensive and decadent. There are two on the Camino Frances that I am aware of. One in Leon and the other in Santiago itself. I did not stay in a parador. Maybe on another Camino…if I save my pennies.
TO BOOK AHEAD OR NOT?
In all honesty, that is a personal choice. I only booked ahead a handful of times. And aside from Santiago de Campostela the few places I reserved had beds available, I discovered and did not require to make an advance booking. On two occasions that I did not book ahead the hostals only had private rooms available, though that was fine by me. I chose not book ahead for two reasons: 1. I did not know if I would make it as far as I had planned or wanted to keep walking further and 2. I thought it would be add to my Camino experience to “wing it”, so to speak.
Should you decide to book ahead (and are not walking the Camino with a tour group or having a company book your Camino for you) you can usually do it by phone or online. The Buen Camino app directs you to Booking.com and you can find Camino friendly places there. I will post later on about online tools.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Most accommodations along the route will stamp your Camino passport “credencial” to show that you stayed there
- Municpal albergues are generally the least expensive and private albergues are only a bit higher in price but not much. Hostals are moderately priced. I can’t speak for hotels as I never stayed in one though I imagine they are at an increased price point
- The average for a bed in an albergue and hostals that had dorms was between €5 – €18, and private rooms about €20 – €65 from what I experienced
- The albergues and many hostals geared towards pilgrims require you to vacate by 8:00am the next morning so they can set up for the next wave of pilgrims. Additionally, it is common to have curfews of 10:00pm and you may be locked out if you are not inside. Generally not a problem as many are exhausted and weclome sleep.
- The majority of the alberuges and hostals are rather nice and kept clean and neat yet basic. Only 1 I left (got a refund) and 2 others (a private albergue and a hostal) were less desirable and was glad to stay only one night
- Guidebooks and Camino apps list albergues. If you start in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port you can get an extensive list of accommodations that welcome pilgrims from the Pilgrim Office. And lastly, sign posts are often seen when nearing a town or village
*All photos taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders the World