Staying in Albergues
Walking and cycling pilgrims have full access to the 450+ pilgrim hostels, or albergues, located along the Camino Francés. Albergues (pronounced al-BEAR-gays) offer the unique experience of being right in the heart of the pilgrim community. Not only will you share sleeping quarters, but often albergues provide pilgrims with a shared meal, complete with local wines, and the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world.
It truly becomes a case of ‘we’re all in this together’ as you open your heart and mind to new experiences and learn that while we are all unique and different, in many ways, we are all the same.
This page covers everything you need to know about staying at the albergues on the Camino de Santiago. Click on one of the questions below or scroll down to learn more.
- What is an albergue?
- What are albergue facilities like?
- Where are albergues located?
- When are albergues open?
- How much does it cost to stay at an albergue?
- Can anyone stay at an albergue?
- Do I just turn up, or do I need to reserve in advance?
- Are there any requirements to stay at an albergue?
- Who runs the albergues?
- What is the role of the hospitalero?
- What makes for a good albergue stay?
An albergue is a hostel which offers shared sleeping accommodations, usually in mixed-gender dorm rooms. Dorm rooms come in all sizes, the smallest being two-person cubicles and the largest with more than 100 beds under a single ceiling. Most fall somewhere in between, in the eight to twenty-bed range. Many privately run albergues have private rooms as well, which couples, friends, and small groups can share.
Standard albergue facilities include showers with hot water, a kitchen, and some kind of clothes washing facility. Most kitchens will be equipped with all the cooking gear you will need, plus plates, bowls, cups, and utensils, but some will have nothing but a sink and cooker (stove with burners).
You may also find food that has been left behind by previous pilgrims, including cooking oil and condiments. Be sure to check the facilities and supplies before you head to the market to buy your provisions.
Clothes washing facilities range from basic – cold water and a line outside to hang your clothes – to modern washing and drying machines (usually for a fee).
Each pilgrim provides his or her own bedding, which is usually either a sleeping bag or sleep sack. Most albergues have blankets and pillows available for use, and some offer disposable sheets. Pilgrims are also expected to provide their own toiletries and towel.
WiFi is readily available for free along the Way in albergues, bars, and other public establishments.
Albergues are located all along the Camino Francés, with more than 450 facilities available on the 800 kilometer route from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela.
In most cases albergues are found directly on the trail or just down a sign-posted side street. The farthest you will ever have to walk between albergues is 17 kilometers, but usually you will find the next albergue within eight to 12 kilometers.
In some towns along the Camino Francés you will find only one albergue. In others, such as Pamplona, Estella, Los Arcos, Burgos, Astorga, Sarria, and Santiago de Compostela, you will have three or more to choose from. You can find information on all albergues on all of the Camino routes on the Gronze website.
About 40% of the albergues on the Camino Francés are open year round. Of those open all year, some will close from Christmas to mid-December. The rest of the albergues are open during the peak walking season which runs each year from Easter to the end of October or the middle of November.
On a daily basis albergues usually open in early to mid-afternoon to receive and check-in pilgrims. Doors close for the night at 10:00pm or 10:30pm, and everyone is expected to be in by this time. Opening hours for the morning vary, but most albergues will ask pilgrims to leave by 8:00am or 9:00am.
It is important to respect these opening and closing hours so that the albergue host, or hospitalero, can complete all tasks required to prepare the albergue for the next night’s guests. If you arrive before the albergue opens, just place your backpack in the queue by the front door and await the hospitalero’s arrival. Or head to the closest bar to enjoy your favorite beverage while you wait.
Albergues cost from €7 to €20 per night, and some accept a donation of your choosing. That gets you a single bunk in a dorm room; private rooms cost more. Typically albergues at the lower end of the cost range offer the more basic facilities, while those at the higher end provide more modern and comfortable facilities. Note that this is not always the case, though!
Municipal and parroquial albergues accept pilgrims who are traveling on foot, on horseback, or on bicycle, only. Most private albergues accept all pilgrims, whether traveling on foot, horseback, bicycle, or by car, bus, or motorbike. Courtesy dictates that preference is given to those pilgrims who arrive on foot or by bicycle.
It used to be that very few of the albergues could be reserved in advance, and pilgrims would find out when they arrived if there were beds available. But the coronavirus pandemic changed the landscape, and now many, if not most, albergues accept reservations. To find out which albergues accept reservations, check one of the Camino apps or the Gronze website mentioned above.
Are reservations necessary? That depends on a number of factors. During the busiest times of the year, and on the stretch from Sarria to Santiago, it is likely that you will need to reserve your bed in advance. If you don’t, you may end up walking farther than you wanted, as you have to continue on to the next town to find an open bed. Sometimes, though, there is a lull between the waves of pilgrims, and you may find yourself with plenty of beds at your stopping point.
By not reserving in advance you allow yourself to be part of a beautiful rhythm of the Camino, stopping when your body tells you it’s time, where your Camino friends are stopping for the night, or when you reach someplace that interests you.
If you do reserve in advance and your plans change, be sure to contact the albergue to let them know they can give your bed to someone else.
If you are walking during the winter months, call ahead to confirm that the albergue you are headed to is open. You can ask your hospitalero to make the call if you don’t speak Spanish.
In order to stay at an albergue all pilgrims must present a pilgrim passport, or Credencial. Upon arrival pilgrims present their credencial to the hospitalero for a sello, or rubber stamp, which is placed inside the credencial. The sellos chronicle the pilgrim’s journey along the Camino, and the credencial provides the evidence that qualifies a pilgrim to receive the Compostela upon arrival in Santiago.
Pilgrims purchase the credencial from their home-country Pilgrim Association, from the Pilgrim’s Office in Saint Jean Pied de Port, or from the first albergue they stay in when they begin their journey. Credenciales are also available in some of the churches and Cathedrals along the Camino Francés, and you can get one at the pilgrim shop, Caminoteca, in Pamplona.
Click here to learn more about documenting your journey on the Camino de Santiago.
Albergue ownership or operation falls into six general categories: municipal, parish, convent or monastery, network, association, and private.
Municipal albergues are operated by the local government or municipality. Municipal facilities are the most basic, and will be at the lower end of the cost range. Municipal albergues are located in most towns and cities along the Camino Francés. Typically municipal albergues cannot be booked in advance.
Parish albergues are run by the local church or diocese. Parish albergues often offer a mass or blessing by the local priest, and some will organize a shared meal for the pilgrims. Many of these albergues are donativo, meaning you pay according to your means (donativo does not mean ‘free’). Parish albergues cannot be booked in advance.
Convents and monasteries that serve as albergues provide a unique experience on this Catholic pilgrimage route. Pilgrims are served by nuns and monks, and often there is a mass or pilgrim blessing given. These albergues also cannot be booked in advance.
Network (Red in Spanish) albergues are private hostels that have organized into an association and are managed by an individual or a management group. They have modern facilities that cater to the needs of pilgrims and cost in the €7-15 range. Typically network albergues can be booked in advance.
Association albergues are run by the local Spanish pilgrim association or an international confraternity. They are usually staffed by former pilgrims who volunteer for two weeks at a time. These volunteers have a special understanding of the needs of pilgrims. Typically association albergues cannot be booked in advance.
Private albergues are businesses run by an individual or family. Typically these cost more, say €10-20, but they offer modern facilities and often more flexible opening hours. Private albergues can be booked in advance.
As mentioned before, albergue hosts are called hospitaleros (or hospitalera if a woman). In addition to stamping the credential, the hospitalero also collects the overnight fee, orients the pilgrims to the facility, and directs them to their beds.
But this is only a small part of the role played by albergue hosts. The task of running an albergue also includes cleaning and maintaining the facility, caring for weary, injured, or sick pilgrims, and preparing dinner and breakfast.
Hospitaleros are the first ones up in the morning and the last ones to bed at night after he or she turns out the lights and locks the front door. They are experts on their town or village and will know where to buy food, when the mass is held, and what time the bar opens in the morning. Often your host will have once been a pilgrim him- or herself, and will know what lies ahead on the trail.
In some albergues the host is a volunteer; in others it is a paid position. Once a pilgrim has walked the Camino de Santiago, he/she is eligible to attend Hospitalero training and serve as a volunteer at one of the albergues along the Camino.
In my experience, there are three main factors which contribute to the quality of your albergue experience.
Facilities vary from one albergue to the next. Hot showers are now standard in all but a couple of albergues, but you will see great variety in the quality, cleanliness, and functionality of albergue facilities.
Beyond the basics of a bed and a shower, you may also find things like a sunny terrace, free use of the washing machine, a heated drying room for your laundry, a power point and reading light at each bed, single beds instead of bunk beds, a lounge with comfortable chairs, free WiFi, and a bar inside the albergue. Some albergues are truly five-star.
You will also find places with no electricity, drafty doorways, dirty mattresses, filthy bathrooms, no running water, no blankets or pillows, mats on the floor instead of beds, one shower for 40 people, and 18 bunk beds crammed into a tiny room. But hopefully not all at the same albergue!
Even the most basic facilities can be the scene of a memorable albergue experience, with the right host and your pilgrim friends.
Regardless of the quality of the facility, sometimes you will come across an albergue host who overcomes all other shortcomings and obstacles. Never doubt that one person can make a difference. An attentive, caring hospitalero can change your entire Camino experience.
Many hospitaleros are volunteers and former pilgrims, and they work at albergues to give back and share the spirit of the Camino. These volunteers really understand the needs of pilgrims, having been in our boots themselves.
You and Your Fellow Pilgrims
Again, never doubt that one person can make a difference. In this case, that person is you. Remember that often ‘the tone you set is the tone you get.’ If you arrive at the albergue friendly and grateful, you will have a much better reception than if you arrive curt and demanding.
Many albergues offer a shared meal, and spending the evening with a multi-national group of pilgrims – some friends, some strangers – sharing stories from the Camino and home, is an essential part of the albergue experience.
Sharing sleeping space requires tolerance, patience, and cooperation. Click here to learn some basic etiquette for your albergue stays.