Albergues—you gotta love ‘em.
Seriously, you do. Anyone who has done a lot of backpacking through Europe will probably think of—and mistakenly call them—hostels. All the accoutrements of a hostel are there—dorms filled with bunk beds, shared communal bathrooms, lockers, opportunities to wash your clothes in a tub, and hard-limit lights out.
There are differences, though. Namely, these are:
- Early to bed, early to rise. Even though locals love to dine late, party into the night (and carry on until morning), Albergues have relatively early lock-out and lights out times—usually 9:30-10pm. Miss lockout because of one more glass of vino tincto? Good luck. Pray your host is gracious. Also, you’ll probably need to be out of the albergue by 8:30a, at the latest. I know most hostels have lights out and kicking-out time but most lights out are late and loose. Kick out is later than albergues.
- License and Registration, ma’am. When you check in you not only have to provide your passport—verifying your identity and acts as not only a security measure but also a tracker in the rare chance you don’t check-in, call, or arrive when and where you are supposed to. You also have to provide your credencial or Camino Passport. This book of stamps acquired along The Way is proof that you are a pilgrim, giving you the privilege to stay at the albergue.
We’re Here All Week One Night Only. Most Albergues will let you spend one night and then you need to be making your way to Santiago. There’s always exceptions—especially if you are injured or sick. The rule, though, is get your rest and and get packing. Literally.
Beyond these three, albergues and hostels are pretty similar. Never been in a hotel before? Keep reading….
- Dorm and Bunks—some are in rooms of 4 beds, some 12-16, some up to 100. Of course there’s also the occasional double room. There’s the occasional albergue that uses mats for regular or overflow use. Many will provide a pillow, blanket and disposable sheets. Other will before some, occasionally none. This is why most people bring a sleeping back, sleep sheet, or both. Some will bring a travel pillow while most seem to get by balling up their jacket and turning it into a pillow.
- Squeaky Clean. Bathrooms in albergues make some people nervous. Most of the alburgues I stayed in had men’s and women’s bathrooms with multiple stalls. I understand that is not always the case, though.
- Squeaky Clean, Pt 2. Most albergues will have a washbasin and a clothes line for you to wash your clothes. Increasingly, albergues are installing clothes washers and dryers as an additional service/ revenue source.
- It should go without saying but….
- Albergues are coed. This was never a problem for me but I’ve heard of the occasional modesty issue. The rule to follow—don’t stare at anyone’s junk
- Bathrooms—Usually not a problem. If it is, talk it through—ladies go first while the guys go out for beer, for example. Same rule applies—don’t stare at other peoples’ junk.
- At 10-12 Euro a night, please stay polite and moderate your expectations. Most hosts are either volunteers or hosting at their own property.
There are definite codes of conduct for albergues—mostly they can be summed up in the rule of be courteous and respectful. But for some helpful remdinders, here’s a few details:
- Respect curfew/ departure times. Folks have to get ready for the next crowd.
- Be quick with your shower—no one likes to wait in line only to find no hot water.
- If you are leaving early in the morning, take your things out into the hall and pack up there—don’t wake up the folks squeezing out every moment of sleep.
- Likewise, lots of folks find the red light headlamps useful. They don’t wake up fellow pilgrims as easily.
- Also to preserve the silence and peace—don’t organize your pack using plastic shopping bags or trash bags. They are noisy and wake people up. Use nylon or mesh bags, instead.
- Don’t put your backpack on the bed.This keeps things clean and prevents you from transmitting bed bugs on the off chance they are there.
- Respect the rules about walking poles and boots staying in the hall/ outside. It keeps things cleaner and easier to prepare for the next day.
- If the albergue/ host provides a meal, make sure you keep your word about your plans. If you are eating there, don’t say yes and then change plans—unless you’re willing to pay for dinner twice. Likewise, don’t say no and expect to have room at the table for you.
- If you’ve left your clothes on the clothes line, make sure you get them in before nightfall. Nothing like fresh fallen dew to dampen your clothes!!
- Leave the lower bunks for the less mobile, elderly, or injured.
- Check out this video from the Don’t Stop Walking series: https://youtu.be/mJkYrKTLGuw. As a matter of fact, watch all of them!
The below are albergues that I have stayed in and I highly recommend each of them.
Sarria- Albergue La Casona de Sarria: On the eastern outskirts of Sarria, this albergue gives you either a head start on the day’s walk or let’s you have a few minutes extra sleep! The property has 2 medium sized dorms as well as double/ twin accommodations. There’s a large cubbie in the room for your stuff. There are men’s and women’s bathrooms and the bathrooms are arranged so that even the most modest won’t have any issues—and plent of hot water. The hosts provide disposable sheets, pillow, and blanket. There are reading lights at each bunk as well as a power outlet to recharge your phone and keep it nearby. The owners love engaging pilgrims and offer a happy hour with complementary drinks—coffee, soft drink, matcha, beer, and wine. The owners also are great to recommend a restaurant for dinner and will call ahead for you.
Portomarín- Albergue Gonzar: Probably my least favorite. It was a great location, at the top of the steps climbing into Portomarín—and there was a bar on the main floor, which was convenient for snack and breakfast. There were only 2 bathrooms, each with one toilet and shower. Again, the host provided blankets, pillows, and disposable sheets. The amazing part about this albergue was that the host did our laundry for us—4 Euro to wash, 4 Euro to dry. There were lockable lockers for our stuff. There was not an ample supply of power outlets—which were all taken up by a group of inspiring men in their 70’s. They had been friends for years and walked part of the Camino together. They all had CPAPs which was both loud and strangely soothing. And they took up the few power outlets. The establishment did have WiFi.
Palas de Rei—Albergue A Casina di Marcello: Another albergue on the outskirts of town. Another opportunity to get an early start or sleep a little later. The owner, Marcello, is great and a jovial host. His albergue is cozy, clean. Probably my favorite shower. He has laundry facilities (4 Euro to wash, 4 to dry). He’ll also cook dinner for 10 Euro. We chose not to and went out for pizza. He offers fresh linens to guests, a pillow, and blankets. I like that each lower bunk has a curtain to tamp down on light. There’s also a power outlet for every bunk, has WiFi. He also seems to have drinks available for purchase in the afternoons. I will say that you either need to get your breakfast the night before or be prepared to wait a while. It’s a walk to the first cafe.
Ribadiso— Pension Albergue Los Caminantes. I loved this village and this albergue. There were 3 establishments in the village—the municipal albergue (owned by the government), a private albergue (possibly regularly staffed by American volunteers?) and a cafe. That’s it. The albergue had many rooms, which it seems they had the option of partitioning during slower seasons. During high season its just first come first serve bed-wise. Again, there was a blanket, Pillow, and sheets. There was laundry and WiFi. This was the one place where there was the potential for a little embarrassment for the modest. The bathrooms were unisex—but the toilets were in each of their own private rooms. The showers had walls between the shower heads—and were completely enclosed, even if the walls were opaque glass. For a tall person like myself (6’4”) if I didn’t follow the golden rule of Albergues—don’t stare at another person’s junk—there could have been the potential to get an unintended eye-full! Thankfully I was the only one in the bathroom when I showered—and I was quick. I think what I loved about this albergue was that this was the one night we didn’t stay in a town—so we were “forced” if you will to socialize more with the folks we were staying with.
O Pedrouzo- Albergue Mirador de Pedrouzo. From a sheer quality of accommodation, this place was tops. A converted large house, this place had just opened. There were several smallish dorms—each with clean sheets, blanket, pillow, reading light and power port. There was a lockable locker and there were many, many bathroom—all newly installed or remodeled—throughout the building. I will say this was the one place I had a cold shower. Apparently I timed it poorly. They had laundry facilities, a cafe, WiFi and what looked like would eventually be a restored pool. Found as you are coming into town, this albergue is along the route but unlike others, you’ll have to get an early start—especially if you want to make it into Compostela for the pilgrim mass. This one was a little more expensive—14 Euro per night. But it was worth it. This was also the only place where they gave us key cards to get in and out of the building. I passed out before I found out if there was a hard lock-out time.
Santiago de Compostela- Hotel Rua Villar. I certainly do recommend, if you can afford it, to splurge a little when you get to Santiago. While you might assume the only place to stay in relative luxury is the Parador, there are many 2 or 3 star hotels that seem like the lap of luxury. I loved Hotel Rua Villar. You were not even a block away from the Cathedral. They have breakfast available, happy hour. Bathrooms are en suite. WiFi is great and there was air conditioning! They even had room service if you wanted it. I would note, especially if you haven’t travelled in Europe much, that there’s a difference between twin and double rooms. A double room is one double bed. A twin room is 2 twin beds, often pushed together. My very favorite thing about this hotel from a customer service view was this: I sent everything I didn’t need on the Camino ahead to the hotel. They held and had my extra bag in my room upon arrival. They helped me check into my flight and even helped arrange a taxi to the airport at an ungodly hour of the morning.
Are there other places to stay along the Camino besides Albergues? Heavens no! All along the Camino there are pensiones (lower cost hotels akin to a bed and breakfast) and even the occasional hotel. They just aren’t as frequent. But your travel costs are going to go up. Many folks seem to budget staying in either a double room in an alburgue or in a pension once per week—to knock the dirt off, talk a long shower or not have to worry about an early check out.
I also heard a couple tell of a farmhouse they stayed in. The owner opened their home, provided 2 amazing meals and gave them a lovely room to stay in. Accommodations like these—pensiones and farmhouse arrangements usually require some booking or enquiring at the tourist office in the local municipality.