How it Works:
Sleeping on the Camino
You will have many options for where to sleep on the Camino, and what you choose will depend on your budget and the kind of experience you want to have. Just like the rest of Europe, Spain offers the usual types of accommodations – hotels of all sizes and star ratings, guesthouses, pensions, B & Bs, hostels, and camping.
Staying at Albergues
Walking, cycling, and horse-riding pilgrims have access to the 400+ pilgrim hostels, or albergues (pronounced al-BEAR-gays), located along the Camino Francés. Albergues offer the unique experience of being right in the heart of the pilgrim community. Not only will you share sleeping quarters, but many albergues offer pilgrims a shared meal, complete with local wines, and the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world.
This extensive network of albergues is relatively new on the Camino accommodations scene, especially if you look back over the 1000-plus year history of the Camino. To give you some sense of scale, when I walked the Camino in 2005, there were just over 100 albergues between Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and Santiago de Compostela. And those albergues were mostly modern facilities.
In a conference held by the AMIGOS (Friends of the Camino) in Jaca, Spain in 1987, it was suggested that ‘refugios’ similar to those available in the middle ages be established in remote villages and mountain areas of the Camino where there were few options for pilgrims to stay. Refugio is another commonly used word for albergue.
The minutes of the Jaca conference show that the refugios would be available to walking, cycling, and horseback pilgrims only. Tourists traveling the Camino by car or other means would not be able to use the pilgrim albergues.
The plan was to establish one ‘donativo’ albergue in the bigger towns and cities, to accommodate pilgrims who could not afford to pay for hotels or pensions. Donativo means ‘by donation’, and pilgrims are expected to pay what they are able to. Now there are many privately-run albergues, in addition to the facilities run by the local municipalities, Church parishes, and other associations.
A few decades back, an ‘urban legend’ was started that said that pilgrims should stay only in albergues. This, however, was never the intent. Throughout the history of the Camino, pilgrims have traveled according to their means. For modern pilgrims, this suggests that you can stay in the albergues if that type of accommodation suits your preferences and budget; or you can stay in private rooms in pensions, guesthouses, or hotels, if that is more your speed.
Want to know more? Click here to learn all about staying at albergues.
Staying at Pensións, Casa Rurales, and Hotels
Sharing sleeping quarters with others isn’t for everyone, especially if it is with people who you don’t know. If this describes you, don’t worry! There are plenty of private rooms available to pilgrims and other travelers, in pensións, guesthouses, and hotels along the Way. Some have shared bathroom facilities, and many have private bathrooms complete with a large bathtub, perfect for soaking a tired pilgrim body.
And don’t worry about missing out on the heart of the pilgrim community. Private accommodations along the Camino will be full of other pilgrims just like you. Many of the facilities will have a common room where guests can relax and mingle, and hotels will likely have a restaurant or bar where you can share a meal with your pilgrim friends.
The only thing you may miss out on by staying in private accommodations is the delightful experience of cooking a meal together with other pilgrims. If that is the experience you are after, you may want to consider seeking out private rooms in some of the privately-run albergues. Simple. (Click here to learn more about staying in albergues.)
Private accommodations in pensións, casa rurales, and hotels can be booked in advance. ‘In advance’ could mean before your trip begins, and you could book your entire itinerary before you leave home, by email or by using a booking website like booking.com. ‘In advance’ could also mean that you make reservations from the trail, as you progress along the Camino, say a day or two ahead, by phone, email, or online.
Prices for Private Accommodations
Private rooms cost more than beds in shared dormitories, as you may expect. Below are some generalities on prices for different types of private rooms.
Prices are given for single / double rooms; many places also will have rooms that accommodate three or four people. Prices are subject to change and are given to provide an approximation for budgeting purposes.
Pension – €20-25 / €25-35
Private sleeping rooms, usually with shared bathroom, often no shared common room and pretty basic facilities
Casa Rural – €35-55 / €55-75
Private rooms with private bathroom, located in someone’s home, often with breakfast served
Hostal – €30-40 / €40-55
A small hotel offering private rooms with private bathrooms, often with a shared common room and/or outside terrace; limited reception hours and mostly Spanish-speaking staff
Hotel – €40+ / €55+++
Private rooms with private bathrooms, usually with a bar or restaurant; the more stars the hotel has, the more likely there will be 24-hour reception, and the better chance the people working there will speak English
Camping on the Camino
While camping along the Way is a possibility, it is fairly uncommon. If you would like to camp, you will, of course, need to carry the extra weight of a tent. You will also need to be prepared to request permission from albergue hosts or land owners, depending on where you want to camp.
To learn more about camping on the Camino, your best bet is to do an internet search or to do a search or ask a question on this popular English-language Camino forum.