Albergues on the Camino de Santiago – a comprehensive guide

Albergues on the Camino de Santiago – a comprehensive guide


We’ve stayed at more than a hundred albergues on the seven different routes of the Camino de Santiago. Some places were amazing and became an important part of our Camino memories, some places were just another overnight stay. Albergues are an important part of the Camino de Santiago. Even if you’re not the kind of person that is comfortable with staying in a dormitory I’d recommend finding a great albergue on your Camino route (one with a communal dinner for example) and staying there for one night just to experience the spirit of the Camino.

What is an albergue?

In simple words, an albergues is a hostel for pilgrims. If you’re familiar with hostels it won’t be difficult to understand the whole albergue thing. A standard albergue has one or several dormitory rooms with bunk beds (few have normal beds), a shared ablution complex, a kitchen, and a common area.

How to find albergues?

Most of the albergues, especially public ones, are situated right on the Camino route; you don’t need to walk around with a GPS or map trying to find them. In bigger towns and cities there are usually arrows pointing the way to albergues.

If you want to plan your Camino itinerary in advance and make sure you’re going to stay only at the best albergues along the route you can check reviews of different albergues on Gronze.com. The only disadvantage of using it is that the site and most of the reviews are in Spanish. We have detailed itineraries for several Camino routes where you can find information on every albergues we stayed.

More information for planning the Camino walk you can find in our detailed post Best Camino de Santiago tips.

Shoes lined up on a shoe rack and on the floor at the entrance of a public albergue on the Camino de Santiago
Pilgrims’ shoes at the entrance of a public albergue on the Camino

Public vs private albergues on the Camino de Santiago

There are two types of albergues public (municipal) and private. Public albergues are usually run by the local municipality. Private albergues belong to a person or a company. Both public and private albergues can be found on any Camino route the more popular the route is the more albergues it has.  

Public albergues

Public albergues are usually bigger than private ones, some have up to 100 beds and are cheaper. Public albergues are exclusively for pilgrims walking the Camino, tourists can’t stay there. There is usually no bedding but most public albergues sell disposable sheets and pillow casing for 1 Euro. The facilities of municipal albergues vary, some are new spacious with good facilities, some are quite old and very basic.

Municipal albergues don’t usually allow luggage delivery if you decide to use one of the luggage shuttle services instead of walking with your backpack you will have to stay at private albergues.

The best municipal albergues are in Galicia run by the Xunta de Galicia. Most of them are new, spacious, with good amenities, clean, and comfortable. If you decide to walk the last 100 km on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela or choose one of the shorter routes e.g. the English Way you won’t have any problem finding a good and budget accommodation.

A shared room with bunk beds in a municipal albergue on the Camino
A typical public albergue on the Camino de Santiago in Galicia

Private albergues

Private albergues are smaller and usually more comfortable as well as more expensive. Some private albergues are for donation. There are quite a few albergues for donation on the Camino Frances. Private albergues can be booked in advance over the phone or through one of the online booking systems. They’re not exclusively for pilgrims though the majority of people staying there are usually walking the Camino. The amenities of private albergues are usually better than those of the public ones. 

A dorm room with bunk beds in a private albergue on the Camino
A typical dormitory room in a private albergues on the Camino

Main differences between public and private albergues

Features Public albergues Private albergues
Price 5-7 Euro 10-12 Euro
Only for pilgrims yes no
Need a Credential yes no
Can stay more than 1 night no yes
Can be booked no yes
Allow luggage delivery no yes
Entrance doors close at 9 pm yes no
Main features of public & private albergues on the Camino de Santiago

Facilities

A standard albergue (public or private) has a couple of dormitories with bunk beds (sometimes one big room), a common/dining area, a kitchen, and shared toilets and showers. As I already mentioned private albergues are usually better equipped. All albergues have hot showers and electricity, many have wi-fi. 

Ablutions

Showers and toilets are shared and usually separate for men and women unless it’s a really small albergue with one bathroom. You’ll need your own towel, soap, shower gel, etc. No need to carry toilet paper all albergues we’ve stayed at provided it.

If there are many people in your albergue go to the shower right after the check-in before unpacking and making your bed, otherwise you might spend 30 minutes waiting in the line.

Kitchen

About 80% of all albergues we’ve stayed at had a kitchen. Sometimes it’s a fully equipped kitchen with everything you need for cooking, sometimes it’s very basic with a microwave and a couple of plates. Always before you go food shopping check out the kitchen to see if it has a stove, pots, pans, etc. Some albergues (usually private) offer communal dinner and breakfast for donation or a fixed price. 

A dining and cooking area in a public albergue
A kitchen and a dinning room in a public albergue on the Via de la Plata

The cost of albergues

Public albergues are the cheapest accommodation option on the Camino. Prices vary a bit depending on the route, the average price of a bed in a public albergues is between 5 and 7 Euro per person. On some Camino routes e.g. the Via de la Plata public albergues are more expensive – 10 Euro pp.

A bed in private albergue costs between 10-12 Euro on average. In the Basque Country on the Camino del Norte private albergues are more expensive, we paid 15-17 Euro on average. Fancier albergues cost 20 Euro but those are really comfortable with bigger beds, individual lockers, curtains for privacy, bedding, towels, etc.

If you want to know how much it costs to walk the Camino de Santiago check out our post The cost of walking the Camino. There you can find a detailed budget breakdown, money-saving tips, and comparison of the cost of different Camino routes.

Public albergues and their rules

These rules can vary a bit depending on albergue, route, and time of the year but overall they’re pretty standard for all public albergues.

Public albergues can’t be booked in advance; they work on the principle of first come first serve.

You can stay at a public albergue only for one night. There might be exclusion e.g. if you feel unwell.

The check-in is after 1 pm or later sometimes. Pilgrims who arrive earlier usually start queuing their backpacks in front of the entrance. It’s not necessary to do out of season or on quiet Camino routes but on the busy routes like the French Camino in the peak season, it’s the way to secure a bed.

The entrance doors close at 9 pm if you’re out and come back later you might not be able to get inside. Always make sure to be back before the closing time.

Lights in dormitories go off at 9 pm. Nobody will force you to sleep if you want. You can read or watch something on your phone but you can’t switch on the light in the dormitory.

The check-out time is 8 am (sometimes 9 am). Everybody has to be out by that time.

A backpack queue at the entrance of an albergue on the Camino
A line of backpacks at the entrance of a public albergue in Pamplona, Camino Frances

Are albergues open all year round?

The vast majority of municipal albergues on the Camino are open from Easter week till the end of October. There are some albergues that stay open in winter months most of them are on the popular Camino routes such as the French Way or the Portuguese Camino. If you walk the Camino between April and October you can be sure that most of the public albergues will be open. The only exception is the Northern Way in the Basque Country most of the public albergues are open only in the peak season between July and September.

Private albergues might open earlier or close later it depends on the route and the number of people that walk it off-season. Almost all private and public albergues are closed during the Christmas holiday between the 15th and 31st of December. If you decide to walk the Camino in December I’d recommend staying for Christmas in a bigger city where hotels and hostels stay open regardless of the holiday.

Walking the Camino in winter you might struggle to find open public albergues but on the bright side, private rooms in hotels and guest houses are significantly cheaper off-season. If you stay every other night at a hotel it won’t break your budget.

What do you need to stay at albergues?

To be able to check-in to any albergue you’ll need a passport or an ID (for EU citizens). 

To stay at public albergues every pilgrim needs a Credential (a pilgrim’s passport) with stamps. It proves that you’re walking (cycling) the Camino. Every pilgrim collects stamps at every place he/she stays along the route. At the end of the pilgrimage, you’ll need your Credential for getting the Compostela in Santiago. For staying at private albergues the Credential is usually not required.

Our Credentials with stamps from public and private albergues on the Camino de Santiago
Our Credentials with stamps from different albergues on the Northern Camino

Useful items to pack

A light sleeping bag – some places have blankets some don’t have the same bedding. I prefer to have my own sleeping bag rather than sleeping on a mattress or under a blanket that knows how many people have used it before. As an alternative, you can bring a sleeping bag liner. It’s smaller and lighter than a sleeping bag and will be enough for the summer months. 

A headlamp – very useful to have if you want to read after the light went off, find something in your backpack in the dark or pack and leave early in the morning while others are still sleeping.

A quick-dry towel – you don’t get towels in albergues.

Flip-flops – great for changing into and wearing in the shower.

You can find more details on what to pack for the Camino for different seasons for men and women in our Camino de Santiago packing list post.

Pros and cons of staying at albergues

If you’re a seasoned backpacker and have experience of staying at hostels, sleeping in dorm rooms with 10-20 other people, and using shared facilities, staying at albergues won’t be new for you. If you’ve never stayed in dormitories before it might be quite challenging to do it every day for a couple of weeks. 

Pros

The obvious advantage of albergues is the price, it’s the cheapest accommodation option on the Camino, especially public albergues that charge between 5 and 7 Euro per person which significantly reduces the cost of the Camino especially on a long route.

Albergues are great places to meet people especially if you walk the Camino alone. You’ll always find someone to talk to, to cook together, or to go out. 

Staying at albergues is an important part of the Camino culture. Even if it’s not your cup of tea I’d suggest staying for a night or two at albergues just for the experience. 

Cons

The main con is the lack of privacy. You don’t get lonesome time in albergues, you share a room, a bathroom, and a kitchen with other pilgrims. 

Another important problem is not getting decent sleep. The more people in the dormitory the more difficult it is to sleep; some pilgrims get up very early before 5 am and start packing, some snore quite loud, etc. It’s almost guaranteed that at least every second night you’ll get a snorer in your dorm. Earplugs are a useful item to have. If it’s a really loud snorer I put on my earphones and switch on relaxing music, it usually helps me to fall asleep.

Theft is another drawback of albergues. We personally have never had anything stolen in albergues but we’ve heard some stories of money, phones, and other valuables stolen from dormitories. My tip here is never to leave your valuables unattended in the dormitory, use a locker if provided (we always pack a small combination lock), or carry a neck wallet or a foldable backpack every time you leave take it with you.

A communal dinner for pilgrims at private albergue in Guemes on the Camino del Norte
A communal dinner at a private albergue for donation on the Camino del Norte

Staying at hotels on the Camino

It’s possible to stay in a private room every night on the Camino. Most of the routes have plenty of hotels and guesthouses. It’s much more comfortable but will work out quite a bit more expensive than staying in dormitories. If you’re going to walk for a week or so the price difference won’t be that significant but if you’re planning to walk for about a month it’ll make a big difference. Prices of private rooms vary. On average you pay 25-30 Euro for a budget single room and 30-35 Euro for a double. It’s cheaper to stay in private if you’re two people as you can see the price difference between a single and a double room is not that big.

If your budget allows I’d recommend staying in private every once in a while. We usually stay in a private room at least once a week sometimes more often if you can find a good deal. It’s really nice to have some privacy after sleeping in dormitories. Some private albergues have single and double rooms as well. Private rooms with shared facilities (shower, toilet) are cheaper than the ones with an attached bathroom.

A standard twin room in a hotel on the Camino
A budget private room in one of the guest houses on the Camino Frances

Camping on the Camino

People often ask us about the possibilities of camping on the Camino. If you want to do it for the sake of saving money it’s not worth it. Unless you’re planning to do wild camping which is not allowed in many places in Spain in particular on the beaches. Public albergues are the best and the cheapest way of accommodation on the Camino. To pay between 5 and 7 Euros to sleep in a bed, to have a hot shower, electricity and a kitchen is not much.

If you really love camping and rather sleep in your own tent at a campsite than in a dormitory then you’ll have to do some planning. On some routes, we did see quite a few campsites e.g. The Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino. Some have barely any e.g. the Via de la Plata. Before you decide to pack a tent make sure that the chosen Camino has enough camping spots to make it worth carrying extra weight.

Bedbug problem on the Camino de Santiago

From our Camino experience, I can definitely say that walking early in the season you reduce your chances of getting bedbugs in albergues. Many albergues close for winter, before opening again in spring many do an annual cleaning which reduces your chances of getting bedbugs.

Bedbugs can be easily carried by one person from albergue to albergue hiding in a sleeping bag, backpack, etc. You can get them anywhere but some albergues are famous for having bed bugs. If you want to make sure you skip such places check reviews on Gronze if there are several people complaining about bed bugs I’d rather not stay there.

Bed bugs usually hide in wooden cracks, under mattresses, etc. Albergues with tile floor, metal beds, and rubber mattress and pillow casing might look not very comfortable but your chances of having bed bugs there are smaller. Places with old wooden floors and beds, wool blankets, old mattresses are perfect spots for bedbugs.

Out of seven Caminos, I’ve walked I’ve had a bedbug problem only on the French Camino. I walked it in September after thousands of pilgrims had already walked it that year. I was terribly bitten in one private albergue (I provide the name in my Camino Frances stages post). A couple of times my friends had bedbugs in different albergues though all of them were private. 

Bed bug bites are different from mosquito bites. Bed bugs usually bite in a line following the vein. Their bites are very itchy, some people are allergic to them. If you wake up in the morning and see a row of bites you can almost be sure you were bitten by bed bugs. In this case make sure to check your sleeping bag, clothes, backpack, etc.

How to minimize the chances of getting bed bugs?

Once you get to your bed, lift a sheet/a mattress quickly if there are many bed bugs you’ll be able to see them crawling. These guys are not very fast like many people think.

Don’t put your backpack on the bed.

Always keep your backpack closed away from your bed. I put a rain cover over it for the night to make sure bed bugs won’t be able to get in.

Some people carry bed bug spray and spray it on their bed and sleeping bag. I, personally, have never used it therefore I can’t say if it really works or not.

In the morning always check your sleeping bag (if you use it).

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