Accommodations along the Camino de Santiago

camino shoes
Please leave your shoes at the door.

There are as many ways to walk the Camino as there are Peregrinos.  Each person has a different purpose for doing the walk, a different time frame, a different financial situation.  Some people walk alone, some walk with a partner, some walk in groups.  Some arrive in St Jean Pied de Port with a backpack and only a rough idea of what is ahead of them, and others hire tour companies to carry their bags and arrange 4-5 star hotels all along the way. The possibilities are limitless.

There is no ‘right way’ – as the guidebooks say – you must “walk your own Camino”. And just as there is no one right kind of Peregrino, there is no one right kind of accommodation.

Albergues

Albergue_en_Santiago_de_Compostela
Some albergues may offer private rooms, but most have single beds or bunk beds in a a large, dorm-style room.

The most traditional, and least expensive bed to sleep in each night can be found in the albergues or refugios (called an Auberge or Refuge in France).  They are basically hostels with dorm style sleeping arrangements, usually bunk beds in close quarters in a large room with shared bathroom facilities.  Most have sinks for doing laundry and some have kitchens or additional amenities such as wifi or computers. The prices range from a suggested donation to 15 euros per person.

With the exception of the private albergues, most are filled on a first-come-first-served basis and have strict opening and closing hours.  Generally only Peregrinos are allowed to stay here, and even then, for only one night.  In most cases, it’s lights out (doors locked) at 10pm and you are expected to vacate by 8am.

Types of Albergues

Municipal albergues are usually the least expensive, and from what I’ve read, can be quite inconsistent.  Some are wonderful and others, not so much.  It’s probably a good idea to read reviews of municipal albergues before staying in them.

Religious albergues are operated by churches, monasteries, or convents.  They often charge by donation or a small fee.  They may not offer many amenities but the volunteers who run them tend to be quite caring. You do not have to belong to the church to stay here.

Some albergues are run by camino associations and the volunteers who run them have often done the camino themselves. They often charge by donation as well.

In addition, there are privately run albergues.  They tend to have more amenities (kitchens, laundry facilities, some private rooms, wifi etc).  There is generally a higher charge for these facilities.

Other Accommodation

Pensiones (called casa de huespedes and marked with CH)

These offer rooms in privately run B&Bs, some with private, but most with shared bath. Most offer breakfast and there can be a range of amenities and prices. They are usually a step up from an albergue. They can often be booked ahead.

Hotels (signs usually marked with H)

There are a wide variety of 2-5 star hotels along the Camino, particularly in the larger towns and cities.  Most can be booked ahead and like most hotels, they have a wide range of amenities, prices, and quality.

paradordesantiago
Entrance to the Parador in Santiago de Compostella.

Paradors

These are state-owned 5 star luxury hotels, often in preserved historical buildings. There are several Paradors along the way, including this one, which is found at the end of your journey, in Santiago de Compostela. They are definitely  more expensive but I’ve heard that some offer a “pilgrim rate” so I guess it’s always worth asking. I would love to stay in a Parador at least once…

Casa Rurales

These are private B&Bs that are found in rural areas, frequently a working family farm supplementing their income.  Like pensiones, they range in quality, amenities, and price.

Our Camino?
We have done quite a bit of travelling, including self-supported cycle tours in France and hiking part of the Cotswold Way in the UK last summer, so we have a reasonable idea of what to expect when carrying a backpack for 20-30 km per day.

Because developing the camaraderie of our fellow pilgrims is so important to us, we intend on staying in the albergues at least a third of the time, maybe even more. There will be times when a hostel is the only option, and there are a few hostels that come highly recommended so we hope to track those ones down for sure.  Other times, we intend to sample some of the other kinds of accommodation listed above. Here are some of the reasons why we don’t think we will stay in albergues every night.

* We don’t want to have the pressure of getting to the next town as quickly as possible to ensure we find a bed at the albergue.  We want to take our time and enjoy the trip, without worrying too much about where we still sleep that night.

* We both find we need a really good (quiet) sleep and appreciate our privacy (at least some of the time).

* We are not on a super-tight budget and can afford hotels once in awhile.

* We are interested in staying with Spanish families in small B&Bs and Casa Rurales.

Of course, we really don’t know how things will turn out.  We recognize that the Camino can be a life-changing experience and we are ready and willing to adjust our plans along the way.

If you’ve done the Camino, feel free to comment about your own experiences below!

Edited to add (Feb 13, 2016): I was recently chatting online with a lady who walked the Camino last spring, and is walking it again this April.  She let me know that there are really quite a few albergues that offer private rooms and many have private bathrooms, so with any luck, Erik and I will be able to stay in most albergues than we had originally planned.  Here’s a link to her blog post.  The Camino Provides: Walking the Camino as a Couple

What is the Camino?

12389897575_43b6a69bd1_zIt was about three years ago when Erik and I first heard about the Camino de Santiago and we were both intrigued with the idea. Later, when we watched Martin Sheen’s movie The Way for the first time, we told ourselves that someday we would do the walk.  Well that time is finally in sight – May 2016.

A Little Background
The Camino has long been touted as a Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.  Christians have been travelling the route since the 8th or 9th century when the remains of the apostle, St. James, were first “discovered” in Santiago de Compostela.  Legend has it that his body, or at least parts of it, was brought to Santiago from Jerusalem, where he had been beheaded in 44AD, and since that time, Christians have been making the trek to visit his remains where they rest in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The route was very popular throughout the middle ages, but gradually declined in the 16th century. By the 1980’s, only a few pilgrims were completing the walk each year, but interest was soon renewed when the Council of Europe named it a European Cultural Route in 1987, and it was eventually declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Since then, the number of pilgrims completing the walk has increased dramatically each year, with almost 240,000 people walking it in 2014.  In holy years, when St. James Day (July 25) lands on a Sunday, the numbers are even greater.

Despite being best known as a Catholic pilgrimage, the route actually has older Pagan roots.  It is said that over 1000 years before Christ, the Celts were walking the route across Northern Spain to Finisterre (literally “Land’s End” or “End of the World”) which is just a few days’ walk past Santiago on the Atlantic coast. There they would perform rituals such as burning their clothes by the water’s edge as an offering to the gods.  Many modern day Pilgrims continue their walk to Finisterre after reaching the cathedral in Santiago.

Map of the Camino de SantiagoBecause pilgrimages generally start from home, there are many routes to Santiago, some of which can be seen on this map. In addition, there are routes from other points in Spain, as well as from Portugal. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which, for most pilgrims, begins in St Jean Pied de Port, just over the border in France.

From that starting point, pilgrims obtain their Credencial or camino “passport” which they will have stamped at each stopping point along the way. This passport allows the Pilgrims, or Peregrinos as they are called in Spanish, to access inexpensive hostel-type accommodation in the many albergues along the route, as well as special Pilgrim meals in the hostels or local restaurants. When Pilgrims arrive in Santiago with the Credencial, they receive their Compostela, a certificate showing that they have completed the walk.  Technically, Pilgrims only need to walk the last 100km to receive a Compostela, but many people walk the entire 800 km, and some walk even further.

220px-JakobsmuschelsymbolThe route is well marked with signposts, yellow arrows, and scallop shells – the symbol of the Camino, and the route includes trails, dirt or gravel roads, and pavement.

Many memoirs and informational books have been written about the Camino, as well as a number of movies and documentaries.  I recommend watching The Way if you want a general Hollywood version of the walk, and there is an excellent documentary that came out in 2014 called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. My favourite short video that gives an overall picture of the Camino was posted on Vimeo by George Torrey.

Erik and I have begun planning and preparing for our trip and with only nine months to go, our excitement is palpable.  Over the next few months, I will write about our personal reasons for doing the Camino, our physical and mental preparations, and the equipment we plan to take with us. Join us as we prepare for the trip of a lifetime!

Click here to listen to Episode #2 of my podcast “Kelownagurl’s Adventures: Travel and Fitness into Retirement” to hear Erik and I talk about the Camino.

Additional Sources

http://www.caminodesantiago.com.au/history/

http://www.santiago-compostela.net

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago