A guide to Albergues and how to stay in them
Albergues are quite a unique Camino de Santiago experience and staying in Albergues on the Camino can be quite alien. Here’s our guide to booking, checking in and out and making the most of your Albergue experience.
Firstly, for anyone new to the Camino. What is an Albergue? An Albergue is a hostel, normally with dormitories, that are often exclusively for Pilgrims walking the Camino. There are generally two types – Municipal and Private. Municipal are often cheaper and more basic, designed to make the Camino accessible for all. Private Albergues tend to have better facilities as they tend to be run for profit. There are also Donativo Albergues (donate what you can) which are privately run too.
What is accommodation like on the Camino de Santiago?
There are lots of different types of accommodation on the Camino de Santiago.
Firstly, there are Albergues. What is an Albergue? These are dedicated hostels for Pilgrims walking or cycling the Camino. Albergues will either be “municipal”, meaning owned and run by the local government or “private,” meaning that they are privately run. Municipal albergues tend to be more basic, with less fancy facilities. Many of these are found in the main Camino towns, such as Irun or Aviles. Private albergues tend to have better facilities, with bigger bathrooms, plugs, WiFi and even swimming pools.
Most Albergues will have some sort of cooking facilities and of course bathrooms. Many of the larger Albergues will organise communal dinners too.
In addition to albergues, there are also various guest houses or pensions along the Camino routes. These tend to be quite basic 2* or 3* hotels, but offering reasonably inexpensive rates. Many guest houses will offer breakfast as part of the rate. Guest houses or pensions tend to offer private rooms, either with a private or shared bathroom.
Finally, there are of course normal hotels along the Camino routes. This is particularly true in the more touristic areas, such as around San Sebastian and Santander.
How to choose Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
You’ll find when walking the Camino that some towns and villages only have one Albergue and you won’t have a choice. There are often Pensions or cheap hotels in the same area, but not always.
We use the Buen Camino app to plan our route and find Albergues. There are exceptions, but generally the Albergue directory on this app is really up to date and comprehensive.
If you have a choice between Albergues, you can look at Piligrim review scores or google photos to check them out in advance. You may also want to consider whether you want a kitchen to cook and whether you want somewhere with outdoor or communal space, or you could opt for somewhere more central if that’s important to you.
How to book Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
For some private Albergues, you can now book on Booking.com. But remember, if you do this and your plans change, you may not be able to cancel. For others, you could call the Albergue on the day to secure a reservation or email them. Normally, the private Albergues will allow a reservation this way but will give you a set arrival time and will give up your bed if you’re too late. Municipal Albergues will rarely take reservations and normally you must be there between 1300 and 1500 to wait for opening. Times vary between Albergue so check this on the app or online.
What to do when you arrive at Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
Arrival into an Albergue is quite straightforward and similar to checking into a hostel. You’ll have to show your passport or ID card and your Pilgrim credential. Some Albergues only take cash, so always have this to hand when checking in.
You may be assigned a bunk bed, or you might be given the choice. If you know you’ll be up early or going to bed late, it can be sensible to choose a bed near the door. But if you’re a light sleeper, then pick one well away! Top bunks tend to be hotter and the steps can be difficult to climb, so ask for a bottom bunk if you know this could be an issue for you.
You’ll probably need to wash clothes, most Albergues have dedicated laundry areas for this and somewhere to hang clothes.
Lastly, suss out the plug points on arrival. You may not have one in your bunk so if you’ve got items that need to be changed it can be sensible to get in there early.
Etiquette for staying in Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
There are some quite simple, but unspoken rules, to be aware of in Albergues. Apart from the obvious hygiene and social etiquette, the main things to do are:
- Keep your hiking shoes/boots out of the dorms
- Keep noise to an absolute minimum through the night
- If lights are out in the dorm, do not turn them on. Unless you are completely sure that there is nobody in there!
- Get your belongings ready for bed before you go out in the evening, or before lights go out in the dorm (this can be early so be prepared)
- Be aware that you will probably have to get out of bed in the dark in the morning and get dressed in the bathroom, get your stuff ready in advance so you can grab it easily
- Don’t use a loud alarm in the morning, if you need an alarm then set it to vibrate.
How to sleep well in Albergues on the Camino de Santiago
Let’s be honest, a solid nights sleep can be hard in an Albergue. Our top tips for a good nights sleep are:
- Have ear plugs and an eye mask to block out noise and light
- Listen to a podcast if you can’t sleep or the noise of the room is too much
- Wear layers and have layers of bedding to hand to adjust to any temperature
- Try to keep bags and belongings off the bed if you can – this will give you maximum space but also avoids you making noise in the night and disturbing others
- Don’t go to sleep too early if you know you’ll wake in the night!
Checking out of Albergues
Be aware that check out tends to be early – 0830 is normal “kick out” time. Normally you’ll be out earlier than this, but make sure you’ve factored this into your plan. Check you’ve not left anything in your bunk bed or anything plugged in and be on your way!