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I love albergues! Albergues are inexpensive hostels along the Camino de Santiago, but they’re so much more than that. An albergue, also sometimes called a refugio, really is a refuge for pilgrims walking the Camino, also called the Way of St. James. Plus, they are places to connect with interesting people from around the world who are also walking the Camino.
Albergues are an essential part of how pilgrims travel along the Camino and are often one of the most memorable things about the trek. Because they are unlike other hostels, it’s important to know what to expect when trying to find and book accommodation on the Camino de Santiago.
In this complete guide to Camino de Santiago albergues, we’re talking all about albergues to help you prepare for your upcoming pilgrimage. We’ll also review the other types of accommodation you’ll find along the Camino de Santiago routes.
Table of contents
- Everything You Need to Know About Camino de Santiago Albergues
- What is an albergue?
- Types of Albergues
- Typical Camino Albergue Facilities
- How much does Camino lodging cost?
- What do you need to stay at albergues?
- Pros and Cons of Staying at Albergues
- How to Find & Book an Albergue
- Other Places to Stay on the Camino de Santiago
- Frequently Asked Questions About Albergues
- Final Thoughts on Camino de Santiago Albergues
- Camino planning resources
Everything You Need to Know About Camino de Santiago Albergues
In our guide to albergues, we’re answering everything you need to know about Camino de Santiago albergues — what they are, how to book, what you need to stay in them, are they safe — and much much more.
What is an albergue?
Simply stated, an albergue is a hostel that caters directly to pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
Like other hostels, they are budget-friendly, offer a bed in a dormitory, and often have a shared lounge, kitchen facilities, and other pilgrim-focused amenities (which we’ll get into, below).
Quite literally meaning refuge — which they truly are — you may also see the words refugio or gite in addition to albergue, depending on which route you take.
Types of Albergues
To someone who has never been on the Camino, all hostels are the same. But, that’s not the case when it comes to accommodation along the Camino. First off, there are several different types of albergues. In basic terms, ther are two main types of albergues: not-for-profit and private.
Public or other not-for-profit albergues consist of:
- Municipal/public albergues
- Parochial albergues
- Association albergues
These are all low cost, volunteer-run, and some are subsidized by the government (public or municipal). Since they are typically volunteer-run, whoever is running them can save on overhead costs and keep the Camino affordable for all. Surprisingly, some albergues are even donativos. Donativos are donation-based or pay-as-you-are-able accommodations. The minimum suggested donation, however, is around €5. It’s customary that you pay at least that amount.
Public or municipal albergues are typically the cheapest albergues and have the most beds per room. Read more about the cost of albergues here.
They also tend to have a stricter set of rules than private albergues. Let’s review some of the rules public albergues set.
First off, they are exclusive to pilgrims walking the Camino. Thus, you must arrive on foot and present a pilgrim’s passport to stay there. Because of these rules, we have heard of people that have been refused refuge on their first night before starting the Camino — although we had no issue when we started in Astorga.
Next, they are typically first-come, first-serve, meaning they cannot be booked in advance. However, some of them take bookings until the hostel is half full, reserving the rest of the beds for walk-ins.
You can only stay one night at public albergues to make room for more pilgrims. If you would like to spend two nights somewhere for a rest day, you may want to choose a private albergue or hotel.
There is a strict light’s out policy, and the entrance doors are locked in the evening, so you cannot arrive after-hours.
They also don’t always allow luggage transfer services to drop off bags to them.
Please note that these rules do not apply to all albergues. If you plan to stay in public albergues, you’ll want to pay special attention to these requirements.
Private hostel bunks at Albergue Casa de los Hidalgos in Hospital de Órbigo, Spain
There are also private albergues. These are run by any other business owner along the Camino and tend to be slightly more expensive, but with perks such as less beds per room! You can usually book these in advance through a platform like Booking.com (or by calling, etc. as mentioned above). They often have amenities like restaurants or cafes instead of or in addition to communal kitchens.
Some of the private albergues also offer private rooms or rooms with just a few beds that you could split between yourself and a new pilgrim friend.
When it comes down to it, you really just need a place to rest your head for the night. Don’t worry about knowing all the differences in the types of albergues. Just find accommodation where you feel comfortable.
Typical Camino Albergue Facilities
When it comes to facilities and amenities, this is where albergues differ from common hostels. They have just about everything you need for a one-night stay along the Camino:
- Dormitory — beds in a dormitory, as few as 2-4 and as large as 70+
- Showers — separated by gender or ensuite
- Communal kitchen — more common in the not-for-profit albergues
- Restaurant — private albergues (as well as accommodation types) sometimes have a restaurant or cafe attached
- Laundry — a basin to handwash clothes and line dry at minimum
- Wifi — signal strength varies
In your guidebook, you will be able to see what amenities each albergue offers. They typically have little symbols next to them. This is incredibly helpful in deciding where to stay each night. For example, you need an albergue with a washing machine and dryer rather than a hand wash station since it’s raining. Thus, you look in your guidebook and find an albergue with a dryer, and voilà: clean and dry clothes!
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to insure your trip, whether you’re planning to do some light exercise or not. Travel insurance can cover trip interruptions, injury, and other mishaps. Don’t leave home without out it; we certainly don’t!
How much does Camino lodging cost?
Depending on where you stay, Camino accommodation can range from 5€ per night at a donativo or municipal to 50€/night (or more) at a hotel. There really is something for every budget and preference.
Learn more about how much each type of albergue costs in our full guide to costs on the Camino.
What do you need to stay at albergues?
In our post on packing for the Camino, we detail everything you need to bring for the Camino. This includes what you need for staying in albergues. That being said, let’s go over a few essentials for staying in albergues.
Pilgrim Passport — In order to stay at albergues, you’ll need to show your pilgrim’s passport or credencial in Spanish.
Sleeping bag liner — Most albergues do not have sheets, so you’ll need to bring your own. A sleep sack is lightweight and will work well for most types of weather during the Camino season.
Sarong or turkish towel — A lightweight sarong or turkish towel is a multifunctional item that might just be worth the weight. For women, use it as a towel, a dress, a lightweight blanket, or to hang on your bunk for privacy. A microfiber towel is an alternative choice, but less versatile.
Ear plugs and a sleep mask — Without a doubt, you’ll want to bring ear plugs! Since there are bound to be a few snorers in the room, it’s best to be prepared with a few pairs so you can get a good night’s sleep. An eye mask will also block any light and help you to get a good night’s sleep.
Pros and Cons of Staying at Albergues
While we think the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to staying in pilgrim’s hostels along the Camino, there are a few things you should be aware of. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of staying in albergues.
Pros of Camino Albergues
- Affordable — Albergues cost between €5 and €15 (sometimes up to 20 on the Camino del Norte)
- Communal — Albergues are part of the Camino experience as they are a place to bond with other pilgrims, the only other people who know exactly what you’re going through
- Well-equipped — Albergues have everything you need for a night’s stop
Cons of Staying in Albergues
- Dormitory — Some albergues, the public ones in particular, have a lot of beds in one room, which doesn’t give you a lot of privacy and can be noisy (again, bring ear plugs!)
- Booking — You can’t book municipal albergues and some other not-for-profit accommodations ahead of time
Theft — While relatively safe, things go missing from time to time. We’ve seen this most reported on the Camino del Norte and in some of the bigger cities on the Camino Frances (e.g. Burgos, Leon).
How to Find & Book an Albergue
The first way to find an albergue is to simply show up! Most of the time, accommodation is located right along the pilgrim route. Oftentimes, you’ll see arrows and signs pointing to them.
However, we think a lot of you might like to be more prepared. So, here are some tips on how to find and book albergues.
Most importantly, we recommend that you purchase a Camino de Santiago guidebook. (See our guidebook recs, here). In your trusty guidebook, you’ll be able to find a list of available albergues, cost, and amenities in each stage.
You can also supplement your guidebook with an app. We appreciate the fact that most of the apps are up-to-date and some even have reviews. We always checked the recent reviews before booking to see if there were any concerns — broken air conditioning, bed bugs, noise, etc.
We think there is no possible way you can know exactly where you’ll end up each night. Therefore, we do not recommend booking ahead of time. Rather, book 1-2 days in advance as you plan your daily stages.
When it comes to booking, we recommend you use Booking.com.
However, you can also call and reserve via phone or email. Some of them also use WhatsApp.Remember, in most cases you cannot reserve space at a public albergue. If you’d like to stay in those, just follow your guidebook and the signs to their front door.
Other Places to Stay on the Camino de Santiago
Although most pilgrims will refer to any type of accommodation as an albergue, there are non-hostel options as well for those who don’t wish to share a room.
In particular you’ll find:
- Pensiónes — Small guesthouses
- Casas rurales — Country houses or farm homes
- Hotels — There are a number of hotels, especially in the larger cities
Depending on the location, these accommodations can range in style and price from around $32 (€30) to $53 (€50) or more. If you’re set on private accommodation, choose whatever is available at each stop, rather than set yourself on “all hotels” for instance, as not every hamlet has a hotel!
Frequently Asked Questions About Albergues
Should I pre-book my albergues?
We do not recommend that you pre-book your entire Way. There is just simply no way to know how far you’ll want to walk each day, if you’ll need to do laundry, where to eat, etc.
Instead, we recommend you show up, or book about 1 day in advance. In other words, when you sit down for dinner, plan the next day’s route and make your booking.
Again, you usually can’t pre-book public albergues. So if your plan includes municipales, you will not have the option to pre-book.
The Camino will provide.
Are albergues open all year round?
There is a Camino season as the winter months become too frigid to walk on some of the more mountainous routes. Albergues begin opening in March and remain open through the end of October. Some of them open a bit later, in April. It depends on when Easter falls, the weather, and the individual facility. (Holy Week and Easter are a time when the Camino is busier — read more about when to go on the Camino.)
As always, there are a few exceptions. For example, on the Northern Way, some albergues are only open during the peak of the season from July to September.
During the winter, most albergues will be closed, but if you plan carefully, walking a winter Camino and finding a place to sleep at a private albergue or hotel is possible.
Should I bring a sleeping pad on the Camino?
No, you do not need a sleeping pad. In fact, camping in non-designated areas is illegal in Spain. This is not a wilderness trek like the Pacific Coast Trail or Appalachian Trail; there are small villages every few miles with accommodation to fit any budget. Leave your camping gear at home, and stay at one of the many available albergues or hotels, and enjoy the pilgrim camaraderie.
Do I need a sleeping bag for the Camino?
As for a sleeping bag, you likely do not need one if you’re traveling late spring-early fall. Typically, a sleeping bag liner will suffice. I used this one in June and July, and it was comfortable, breathable, and lightweight. Some albergues will also provide blankets. If you’re traveling in the early spring, late fall, or winter, consider bringing an ultralight sleeping bag or camp blanket.
Do the Albergue Hospileros Speak English?
Most hospitaleros speak a little English, enough to clarify which bed is yours, which is all you really need! There are often signs posted with directions (light’s out, check-out time, etc.) as well. Some of the association and parochial albergues are staffed by volunteers from all over the world, as well. We do recommend you brush up on your basic Spanish, though, as knowing a few words can go a long way. An app like Babbel is great for getting in some practice on the plane!
Are there bedbugs on the Camino?
Another negative of accommodations on the Camino in general are bedbugs. If you’re wondering if there are bedbugs on the Camino, there unfortunately are sometimes. However, bed bugs can live anywhere from hostels to 5-star hotels, so the problem doesn’t have anything to do with the albergues themselves. I’ve been to over 34 countries, and in my personal experience, I encountered them once at a pensión on the Camino Frances where I booked a private room.
To avoid bed bugs, many pilgrims (plus hikers and travelers as well) recommend spraying down your gear before traveling with Permethrin. This spray repels insects and can last for up to six weeks. You should also check your mattresses each day for signs of an infestation. Lastly, never ever put your pack on the bed. Leave your backpack on hard surfaces only (floor, chair, hanging from a hook, locker, etc.)
If you do get bitten, don’t panic. A thorough wash and heated dry of all your gear and some anti-itch cream is likely all you’ll need.
Final Thoughts on Camino de Santiago Albergues
If you’re hesitant at all to stay at an albergue, don’t be! While some of them are just a place to hang your hat, others will become a cherished part of your Camino experience.
One thing is for sure — the communal aspect in the Camino alberuges (and other Camino accommodation) is something you don’t want to miss. There’s an indescribable buzz around the place (perhaps the “Spirit of the Camino”) as pilgrims come and go, swap stories, dine together, and fall asleep side-by-side. So embrace the experience, and let us know which are your favorite albergues in the comments section!
Camino planning resources
You may be interested in these articles on the Camino de Santiago.
- Cost of Walking the Camino de Santiago
- What is Food Like on the Camino de Santiago?
- Ultimate Guide to the Camino de Santiago
- Camino de Santiago Packing List
We know you’ll do this, but please treat the albergues like your home away from home. These facilities — and the people who staff them — make it possible for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to walk the trail each year. The hospitaleros, many of which are unpaid volunteers, are working hard to ensure each and every pilgrim has a place of refuge for the night. Please don’t spoil the experience, and consider giving extra when you see donation boxes, if you are able.
Pilgrim’s Tip: Find an albergue with a communal meal, some of the most memorable experiences…