You can choose from a wide variety of places to stay on El Camino. Some of them are cheap, some quite expensive, there are really well equipped ones that resemble hotels, and of course there are many worn out ones. But their prices don’t reflect their quality and their conditions at all. As an example: one of the best places I stayed at cost 5 Euros, whereas I had to pay 22 Euros for the worst.
I’ve always hated seeing this sign, because it meant there was no vacancy and I had to keep going.
It’s a donativo albergue, with more than 70 beds in a huge room.These are typically owned by the church, or by the city council, with local volunteers working in them. So, we should pay respect to these dedicated people, and throw 5-10 Euros for them, so that they can maintain their operation, and we’ll have accommodation options other than those opened for financial reasons.
If we start our journey in Saint Jean, we’ll get a similar list in the pilgrims office. On this list, you can see how much each place costs and what their features are. The list includes the phone numbers of the albergues, as well.
However, this list is far from being complete. I guess, about one third, or one quarter of the places can be found in it (except for very small villages, where you won’t find more than 1-2 hostels). Beside that, some of the phone numbers on the list aren’t correct, either. On top of that, usually it’s exactly the cheap places that don’t accept reservations on the phone.
Though the list is useful, many people aim for the same places to stay because of those are the ones they’ve seen on the list. As a consequence, these places get full easily. It’s worth doing some research on the internet in advance (there’s wifi at most of the places) about the actual vacancies in certain villages. Even more so, because this way you can even see ratings and photos of the hostels, and so the chances are higher to end up in a good albergue.
Rules, tips, tricks
Each albergue has their own house rules, but the main rules are the same everywhere. The bottom line is that you should behave with others the way you yould want them to behave with you. It is rude, for example to leave the door of the bathroom open before dawn, when we’re inside, with water flowing, while others are still asleep in the room. We shouldn’t speak loud, slam doors, make unnecessary noises, etc. There will be others not giving a damn about the rules. You can tell warn them anytime.
Pay attention: you’re not alone!
My favourite was an elderly Spanish guy, who at 8:30PM thought it was time to sleep, so – ignoring the other 20 people in the room – he shut the lights in the entire room, as the switch was right above his bed, and lied down. Then, he woke up at 4:30 AM, turned on the lights and started packing up his stuff in a noisy manner, as it was morning time for him. Luckily, it happened with the girls and not with me. I would have had a few words with the guy.
I’ve noticed many pilgrims that don’t understand the concept of a door. For example, I’m standing in the shower, totally naked. Another guy comes in and leaves the bathroom door open. And then I’m asking him to shut the door , but he has no idea what I’m talking about, because usually these kind of ignorant people are the ones not speaking any foreign languages, and they aren’t trying to understand hand signs.
Once, a French guy came into the room at 10:30PM. Almost everyone was asleep in the room. He opened the door, came in, lied down on the bed behind the door and that was it for him. The light coming in from the corridor lit up the room and there was noise coming up from the pub downstairs. He didn’t mind, as he was sleeping behind the door in the dark, and he had ear plugs. When I saw that he was so ignorant, I turned on my flashlight, directed it in his face, then on the door, then on him again and said ’Close the door please!’ He was staring at me with a blank expression. I eventually had to climb down the bunkbed, point at the door and shut it. Then I started knocking on my forehead and told him a few things I normally wouldn’t, but it was pointless, because he still didn’t get what I was trying to tell him.
Things like this happen, but it’s also an experience.
In case you use some smelly balm or muscle relaxant, then go out to the bathroom or to the court.
If something is there and you need it, use it. For instance, it happened more times that nobody slept on the bed above me. In these cases, I put my stuff for the morning there. You shouldn’t be too cautious, just be thoughtful if there are others around.
When my boots got too wet, I didn’t hesitate to put them on the roof above the courtyard, because that was the only sunny spot around. Just because nobody else does it, it doesn’t mean it’s forbidden. And if somebody doesn’t like the idea, they’ll let you know. The point is that you need to dry your boots, so that you can wear them the following day.
You can also create a little private shelter for yourself. If you’re sleeping on a bottom bed, you just have to hang your towel next to it and you’re all set.
BEDS TO AVOID: Try not to choose beds next to doors, corridors, or the bathroom.If you aren’t the ones waking up at 4AM, then you’ll have problems with people coming and going around your head. It’s worth looking for another bed, if there are empty ones in the room. People usually don’t like top beds either. I didn’t have problems with those, though, and slept well on the top. However, it might be a problem, if the beds are in a bad condition and move too much, and the person under or above us rolls around all night long.
EAR PLUGS: These are probably the most important things to use. Unfortunately, there are people snoring so hard, next to whom even ear plugs are useless, but it’s better to have them than not. The more people sleep in one room, the more snoring ones there will be. Still, once I ran into one in a double room. The guy next to me was using all the anti-snoring devices there are on the market simultaneously, but he was still snoring like a chainsaw.
I guess I had four nights out of thirty that I spent without having snorers around me, so you definitely should bring ear plugs with you. Even if you don’t like them. Believe me, you’ll get used to them and eventually like them.
Tube scarf: It was one of my most useful clothing items on the way, but it’s also priceless at night. It covers your eyes, when put on the right way, and keeps the ear plugs in place.
Headlamp: No need to explain. It’s better than normal flashlights, because you don’t have to hold it. If it can do red light, it’s even better, because it doesn’t bother sleeping people.
Pretty rare: sockets at each bed.
T extension plug: useful as hell. It happened (WAY TOO) many times that there was only one socket in the room for 10-20-30 people. I went there, plugged in my T plug, and thus tripled up the number of available sockets.
On top of that, I have a double charger, so I could charge my phone and my powerbank using one socket only.
Powerbank: It’s better to leave it on the charger if I go somewhere, and then I’ll use it to charge my phone, even when I’m on my way. It’s good to have one that can charge the cellphone at least twice. The capacity of mine is 5000mAh, so it can charge the 3000mAh phone battery twice.
Pillow: You don’t need it. It’s pointless to bring one with you, because you get one almost everywhere. Most of the times, you’ll usually get a blanket too, which comes handy on colder nights, or to put it under your pillow when trying to read.
The main rules at most places
1. Don’t put your backpack on the bed.
Why? Just think about it: how many times did you put your backpack down during the day? Where did you put it down? For example: youput it down next to a fence that had been ’marked’ by some dogs. You can also gather some bacteria from the ground. And then you put your backpack on the bed, and then you lie down in it. And then the next day, someone else does the same. That’s why.
2. Boots, hiking poles
For the same reason, these are stored in a separate place. Usually, for the boots it’s a stand with shelves in the hall or the laundry room. And for the poles, it’s a big bowl.
Make sure you don’t forget your poles in the morning.
3. Arrival, curfew, check-out
Usually, all places open around 1PM. Of course, there are exceptions: some places open around 11-12. The reason for that is, that most people leave around 8AM, and only then can the staff start cleaning. Since these places are not hotels, they don’t only have to clean 1-2-3 rooms, but the whole building, and that takes time.
It’s the coolest place I’ve stayed at. It’s similar to a capsule hotel and costs 10 Euros only in Palas de Rei.
Curfew is usually around 10-11PM, depending on the place. At some albergues, they switch off the lights in whole building, but I’ve been to a capsule hotel, where I could turn the lights on and off in my pod, whenever I wanted. But I still had to be silent, packing and unpacking is also considered rude. Whenever I arrived somewhere, I prepared the ear plugs, the head lamp, and the sleeping bag still in the afternoon, so that I just have to lie down, if I get back from sightseeing late at night. I also put all the morning accessories (clean clothes, shower gel, towel, flip flops) at the end of my bed, upon arrival. This way I didn’t have to make any noise in the morning, either. I just picked up my stuff and went to the bathroom.
In most cases, you have to leave the albergue by 8AM, unless you were late for an albergue and ended up in a guesthouse, where you can stay till 10-11AM. However, in such cases the chances are high that you’ll leave late again and won’t be able to find a cheap place in the afternoon.
4. Being tidy
Make sure you leave no mess behind. These places aren’t hotels. Here, you can stay for a low price, mostly due to the free work of volunteers. Show them respect by cleaning up your own mess.
If there is a kitchen, you have to clean everything you’ve used immediately. Also, put your waste in the appropriate trashcans. Don’t leave all kinds of leftover in the fridge – leave only what you’d also eat if someone else had left it there. You can read more about kitchens and cooking later.
They pay attention to collecting the pilgrims’ waste selectively. Let’s help the volunteers in their effort and throw our trash in the appropriate cans.
If you think about it: there are more than 100.000 pilgrims going along the El Camino in a year. This would mean a massive amount of pollution if we don’t pay attention.
Usually it isn’t polite (or allowed) to do your laundry in the bathroom (there are a few exceptions, though). In many cases, there are separate laundry rooms, but you can wash in cold water only. In some cases there are only washing machines, for which you have to pay. You can read more about it later.
Bedbug, or chinche
I didn’t meet any of them, and didn’t meet anyone who had met them. In most albergues, there is a thick plastic cover on the mattresses, and you get disposable mattress- and pillow covers, which make it difficult enough for these creatures to survive. If a place is cleaned appropriately, there’s no chance for bedbugs to show up.
Anyway, if you find them, leave the place immediately and inform the locals. If it’s too late, because you realized the problem in the morning, then you’ve lost one day for sure. You have to disinfect all your stuff (including ALL your clothes, the sleeping bag, the backpack, etc.), because bedbugs can be killed in high temperature only, so you have to use steam, or washing in 60 degrees. Therefore, to be on the safe side, take a deep breath, calm down and wash all your stuff, because apart from infecting other albergues with bedbugs, you might even bring them home.
My main problem with bathrooms was that there was no place in them for my stuff. One single hook for all your stuff and that’s it. The other option is the wet floor.
In most bathrooms, there’s only one hook on the wall for one shower. This is where you should hang the clothes you’re wearing, PLUS your clean clothes, PLUS your towel, PLUS your wash bag. You can’t put them on the floor, because it’s usually under water. And there are no shelves or chairs in there. Perhaps you can put a few smaller items on the sink, but it isn’t always possible. There’s no little shelf in the shower either for your soap or shower gel, but this is the smallest problem – you can put these things on the floor, too, as wet floor won’t do any harm to them.
Therefore, I recommend taking a wash bag with multiple pockets that you can hang. I took my cargo style hiking pants to shower, hanged it on the hook, and put the dirty clothes and the clean ones in its (multiple big) sidepockets.
This was the worst shower I used, but it was not too bad as I was really tired after the first day, so I didnt really care. It is a bathroom container near the Monastery in Roncesvalles.
Oh yes, flip flops are highly recommended! Many people are taking showers in the albergues, I wouldn’t risk a bare-footed shower anywhere.
I bought a pair of simple, 5-Euro flip flops, the weight of which was close to nothing.
It’s good to take care of your valuables, so I had my wallet in the hidden pocket of my sleeping bag, and my phone was in my belt bag, attached to the bed, next to my pillow. I had no problems, none of my things were stolen. Once I lost my wallet, but the person, who found it left it at the reception. You can read more about it in the Safety post.
A few photos of the different places I stayed at
There are a lot of places where they don’t speak foreign languages, so it’s worth learning a few words in Spanish, so that you can book a place and understand what they tell you. When booking a place, you should tell them a name easy to understand. My name is Gábor, but I always said ’Gabriel’, and added ’de Hungria’, which means Gábor from Hungary. They understood it immediately, and it didn’t matter what my real name was. I had a bed booked for the night.
It’s worth making a reservation the day before, when you arrive at the previous place and find out where you can end up following day. In this case you still have a good chance to find a place to stay. Usually, reservations are held till 2-3PM, so try to arrive by then. However, if you see that you can’t make it in time, call them again and make sure they hold your place.
But if something unexpected happens and you can’t get to the place at all (due to bad weather, fatigue, or anything else), call them and cancel the reservation. They won’t be happy, but it’s still better then not showing up and not telling them.
Making a reservation in Spanish:
Hola, podría reservar una/dos/tres cama para hoy/manana? – Hi, can I book one/two/three beds for today/tomorrow?
Hola - Hi!
Buenos dias – Good morning (Used till noon)
Buenos tardes – Good afternoon (Used from noon)
Buenos noches – Good night
Muchas gracias – Thanks a lot
De nada – Not at all (You’re welcome.)
Sí - yes
No - no
Cama - bed
Habitación - room
Reservación - reservation
Hoy - today
Manana - tomorrow
Persona/personas - person/people
Botas - boots
Lavadería – laundry room
Banos - toilets
Ducha - shower
1 - uno
2 - dos
3 - tres
4 - cuatro
5 - cinco
6 - seis
7 - siete
8 - ocho
9 - nueve
10 - diez
20 - veinte
30 - treinta
40 - cuarenta
50 - cincuenta
60 - sesenta
70 - setenta
80 - ochenta
90 - noventa