So what is an albergue I hear you scream from afar?
The majority of visitors to this site would have an idea but I thought I’d start from square one for those who wouldn’t be familiar of them. I had no idea what they were when I first visited Spain in 2011. Definitely a new experience for me back then, actually, they were a shock to me.
There are a number of different types of “albergue”. The majority are owned and run by the local “xunta” or government. Most of the people who work there are local volunteers who give their time to assist travellers on their way. There are also albergues that are run by the Church and are staffed either by nuns or volunteers. The majority of these hostels do not provide food but some of the albergues run by the church offer a communal meal. These are considered gems on the Camino. Places like Granon, Tosantos and Bercianos de Real Camino are very well known and fill up quickly.
There are an increasing number of “private albergues” which are owned and run as a business by a family, rather than being run by volunteers. The buildings and facilities are more modern than the official Albergues and many of the private Albergues offer a communal evening meal and breakfast.
All Albergues are required by law to lock the doors in the evening to stop late night revellers and to ensure pilgrims get some sleep. Normal locking up time is 10pm. It is usually a good idea to book into a cheap hotel in the larger cities if you want to see some of the city during the night. I did that in Leon, where the closing time in the local albergue is 9pm!
I haven’t come across an albergue where you can stay later than 8am. It would need to be cleaned for the next group of pilgrims who would arrive that morning. It is worth mentioning that you can’t stay in either of the above without a “credencial” or a pilgrim passport. So if you are a tourist, you can’t stay there.
The official albergues charge less than €8 for the night with a little extra for a meal or breakfast. However, there are some albergues that are “donativo”. This is where you pay what you want, usually €5, but I have seen people give as little as €2!! For that you get a bunk bed, a warm shower, and cooking facilities. Please be wary that donativo albergues survive on what is provided by pilgrims, so be generous!
If you are looking for comfort and 5-star treatment, they may not be the place for you, but some albergues offer a 5-star experience!