FAQ : To sleep


                                                              Where do you sleep

                                        Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa




 Where do you sleep?


- The official Camino accommodation (refugios or albergues in Spain or gîte in France) is in simple dormitory-style buildings of various ages and designs.

- Run by a host of organisations including local municipalities and Friends of the Camino groups, they mostly offer bunks and showers, some with kitchens and living rooms.

- A few provide pillows and blankets.

- Bathroom facilities vary quite a lot and if you come late there may be a shortage of hot water.

- Prepare for the fact that some refugios (mostly the ones in Galicia) have communal facilities for men and women and a few don't have doors on the showers! Somehow the pilgrims all work this out without too much embarrassment or discomfort!


- The accommodation varies in comfort levels but mostly pilgrims are so tired that as long as there is a bed or mat to sleep on, they are happy.

- Some offer communal evening meals for a small amount, others have kitchens with basic utensils.

- Most have clothes washing areas and lines.

- Many have opening times around lunchtime (between 13h00 and 15h00) and curfews of 22h00.

- All expect you to leave by 8h00 in the morning, and you can't spend more than one night in a refugio unless there is a serious reason.

- Preference is given to walkers over cyclists.


- Some refuges only open in June and close again in November.

- It is first come - first served.

- When you reach a refuge you secure a bed by placing your pack outside the door.

- Almost every pilgrim refuge is staffed by volunteers for the sole support of pilgrims from all over the world.

- Refuges are not a right but a privilege and should be treated as such.

- Help to keep the refuge clean and welcoming for the next influx of pilgrims.

- Give a generous donation; be gracious and helpful to the hospitaleros.


- South Africans tend to have quite well developed 'personal space' concept and it takes a bit of getting used to the lack of privacy and space. Persevere, as it gets easier after the first day or two, and staying in the refugios is really part of the whole experience.

- Remember you're not looking for five star comforts on a pilgrimage - otherwise you may as well take a nice little hike around South Africa or drive the route and stay in hotels!

- The other thing to remember is that many Europeans seem to prefer having the windows and the shutters closed - something foreign to most South African - and Australian - pilgrims who are big on fresh air, so try to find a compromise.


- For most pilgrims the accommodation becomes incidental and secondary to the wonderful friendships formed, meals shared and support provided by the hospitaleros (hosts) and fellow pilgrims.

- Also available in most towns are hostals, which are the local equivalent of our B&B's - but mostly without the breakfast!

- They provide privacy, a few home comforts and quiet for the pilgrim who needs a break from the refugios.

- There is a range of basic accommodation offering bed and sometimes private bathrooms (cama con baño or cama combinado) with varying comfort levels.


 Prices for refugios and hostals


- As with the standard of accommodation, prices for the various refugios and hostals do vary.

- The least expensive - often the municipal facilities and those run by volunteers - range from "donation based (donativo)" to 4 €.

- We recommend that at least 3€ be paid as a donation.

- The private ones range between 6 and 10 €. Some offer breakfast for an additional 3 €.

- Hostals range from 21 to 54 € for twin bed room with en suite. Some offer breakfast as well.


- Camping and alternate accommodation: Rough camping is difficult as there are not many rural places in France or Spain which are public open areas. A guide to accommodation called 'Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago' listing all accommodation, ranking, and prices etc including camping sites is available from Spanish tourist offices or Tourspain in Madrid.


                                                 American Pilgrims FAQs       




  Where does one stay at night?

-  Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has been going on for more than a millennium and during that time a strong tradition of support for peregrinos has developed. Through the Middle Ages this included hospices chartered and/or operated by kings and queens and religious orders. The tradition continues today in Spain in the form of albergues de peregrinos (or refugios, the terms are interchangeable).


- An albergue operates essentially like a youth hostel except that they exist for pilgrims.

- They provide basic overnight facilities. Most have dormitory-type sleeping arrangements, usually two-tiered bunks, and (sort of) communal bathing and toilet facilities.

- Some have a set price per night (typically 6 to 10 euros), others are donativo (donation).

- Some serve meals, some have cooking facilities available, and some have neither.

- Most open in the early to mid-afternoon, require that you be on your way by 8:00 the next morning, and only allow one night's stay.

- Some put restrictions on cyclists and walkers who use backpack transport.

- Until very recently, albergues were usually operated by municipalities, regional governments, confraternities or religious organizations but in recent years the number of privately-owned albergues has increased rapidly.

- In Spain, reservations cannot be made ahead at municipal albergues, but reservations can sometimes be made at privately operated ones.

- In order to stay at an albergue, a pilgrim must present an up-to-date credencial.

- There are several websites that maintain listings of albergues in Spain, among them http://caminodesantiago.me.uk   and the Federación Española de Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago, but probably the most exhaustive list, updated constantly, is at http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/ .


  What is the difference between a refugio and an albergue?

- These terms both refer to overnight facilities available to walking or cycling pilgrims who have authenticated pilgrim credentials. The terms are interchangeable.


  What alternatives are there to the albergues?

- Please keep in mind, however, that you are not required to stay at an albergue!

- When you wish, you can stay in a hotel or even a luxurious Parador.

- In fact, many pilgrims choose to stay in a hotel from time to time. Most however probably quickly come to realize that albergues are geared to the pilgrim lifestyle and that you can meet and interact with other pilgrims much more easily at the albergues.

- On the Mundicamino website there is a detailed list of non-albergue lodging for every stage of the most popular Caminos. http://www.mundicamino.com/ingles/


                                          What about accommodation ?   

                Confraternity of St James : Frequently Asked Questions  




  What about accommodation ? In France

- In France there are gites d'étape all along the le Puy route (which coincides with the national long-distance footpath, the GR65). They cost €10-12 a night, and are open to anyone. You get a bunk and blankets, so need only carry a sheet sleeping bag. There are hot showers, and generally offer cooking facilities. They accept reservations (which are advisable for the busy July-August season). There are fewer gites d'étape on the Arles route, but a growing number on the Vézelay route. All are listed in the Confraternity's Guides.

- For a guide to gîtes d'étape throughout France (@€25), contact: Annick & Serge Mouraret, 74 Rue Albert Perdreaux, 78140 Vélizy France. E-mail:serge.mouraret*wanadoo.fr

- A recently-founded association, Les Haltes vers Compostelle, links people offering pilgrimsuitable accommodation, gîtes d'étape and other. Their members are well worth seeking out, since they offer a particularly pilgrim-friendly welcome; at present most of them are located on the le Puy route: the full list is here. Go to their website for a full list of members, and their locations. You can contact them at contact*haltesverscompostelle.fr

- On the subject of reserving place in gîtes d'étape: the mobile phone - which more and more people carry - makes it all too easy to make reservations "just in case", and then not to cancel those not taken up. This has resulted in recent years in many people in genuine need of a bed being turned away, when in fact there are places to spare. If you do reserve ahead, DON'T book more places than you need, and DO cancel in good time !

- For a list of places offering a Christian welcome along the le Puy route, visit the Webcompostella site, and follow the link "Chrétiens qui accueillent". http://www.webcompostella.com/


  What about accommodation ? In Spain

- In Spain there are refugios all along the Camino francés, and a growing number on the Via de la Plata. They are similar to the gites d'étape, but are reserved for pilgrims carrying a Pilgrim Record or credencial, and without a support vehicle. Often - especially in summer - a volunteer warden (hospitalero/hospitalera) is in charge.

- You need a sleeping bag (and, at busy times, a sleeping mat). Most now have hot showers. They generally have cooking facilities and ask for a minimum charge or donation (€3 plus).

- All are listed in the Confraternity's Guides (which are frequently updated every year on the basis of feedback from pilgrims).

- Some are only available in school holidays; some close in the winter; camping is available often.

- There is no advance reservation, and beds are allocated on a first-come first-served basis. Don't be surprised to be offered space on the floor at peak times. Priority is given in the summer months to individual walking pilgrims with no vehicular support, and groups of more than 5 or 6, and cyclists, may be asked to wait for admission until early evening; at other times discretion will be used.

- Remember that the wardens are generally volunteers, and that your access to the refuges is a privilege, not a right. Help to keep the refuges clean; be as generous as you can with your donation; be gracious and helpful to the wardens.

- There are simple hotels all along the Camino francés, offering the occasional escape from the snorers in the refugio dormitories; and where there is no refugio on the Via de la Plata, there is generally a small hotel or other acceptable alternative.


                            How to Choose Albergues on the Way of Saint James

                                       By Sharma Cortez, eHow Contributor




  Albergues offer pilgrims dormitory-style lodging along the Way (Camino).

- Albergues on the Way of Saint James (the Camino de Santiago) in northern Spain provide shelter for weary pilgrims. The system of albergues continues to supply ample lodging for all pilgrims, particularly in the summertime. Types of albergues: church or confraternity sponsored, municipal, and private, often located on the main road and in almost every town or city on the Camino. Some albergues offer exceptional hospitality that may include a hot meal, good counsel or treatment for injuries.




  Personal Considerations in Choosing

- 1. Choose on the basis of the type of experience you want. A more traditional pilgrimage along the Camino suggests openness to unexpected physical challenges, emotional ups and downs, and the possibility of new spiritual awareness. If this becomes your approach, which albergue you choose -- whether large or small -- may not matter as you remain open to the experience. Larger albergues can host over 100 while smaller may have fewer than 12 bunk beds.

- 2. Choose on the basis of your overall physical and emotional health. If you have limiting conditions, consider finding the least stressful circumstances and ask for suggestions. Many veteran pilgrims will offer advice when asked. The hospitaleros also have lots of experience and may offer good counsel.

- 3. Choose based on spiritual or personal enrichment: If you would like to use the Camino experience as a retreat, the combination of physical and mental exertion may help. Choose albergues with connections to spirituality that you identify as enriching. Depending on your temperament, any type may work. If you seek solitude, you may find solitude in a larger group where the pressure to engage socially may be less demanding. You may find enough solitude during the day, while on the Camino, and welcome the company of pilgrims in any albergue, large or small, municipal or private.

- 4. You can choose an albergue even with limited funds. The albergues that offer hospitality as a gift to the pilgrim make the Camino affordable to all regardless of financial circumstances. Choose those supplied by local parishes or confraternities asking only for donations. If you have no money, give your time, energy or expertise, if useful.

- 5. Suppose you simply want the pilgrim experience and other categories do not apply to you, then let your sense of adventure take over. Stay in any available albergue whenever you arrive at a stopping point. Keep a log of your experiences and offer the information to those interested. Whatever you decide, the albergue offers a good place for rest, meeting others and learning about the culture, traditions and history of Spain.


  Other Considerations

- 6. Choose a clean albergue.

- 7. Pack only what you can carry and easily safeguard while on the Camino or in albergues.

- 8. Try to avoid blisters, rashes, bug bites, etc., but if you suffer from any of them, ask hospitaleros for assistance.

- 9. Follow house rules. Each albergue has information about departure times, check-in times, doors open or closed and resources available on site or in the local area.

- 10. Give generously at albergues that do not charge. Although they are not hotels, even the albergues that do charge provide good basic lodging at little cost. Municipal and private albergues cost three to 10 euros as of 2011.


  Tips & Warnings

 - Finally, accept the hospitality of the monasteries or convents along the Camino, for a unforgettable travel experience -- many groups of religious men and women are known for their hospitality to pilgrims.



                                                     Richard W. Tripp, Jr. 2011




- Some pilgrims stay in pensions, hostals (which are different classifications in Spain) or hotels, but most stay in the albergues, also called refugios. An albergue may be run by a church or religious order, a Friends of the Camino group, or the local government. For example, the one in Trabajo is run by the village but one in Rabanal is run by the British Confraternity of Saint James, whose members take turns acting as hosts. The charge for using an albergue in 2011 ranged from donations to 8 euros, about $12. Priority for using an albergue goes to those on foot, horse, bicycle and those accompanying others (such as the driver of a gear van for a group), in that order.

- An albergue provides unisex communal living. Above is a typical scene in an albergue right after everyone arrives. The sleeping areas range from one very large room to several modest sized rooms, each with bunks, usually doubled tiered but sometimes single or triple tiered. The bunks are usually furnished with a mattress and either a blanket or a pillow. Spacing between bunks ranged from a very tight eighteen inches to a comfortable three feet. Many albergues provided additional space for back packs. I used ear plugs a lot and was not disturbed by the sounds from those that snored, as others were. Snoring led to angry words on more than one occasion.

- Some albergues, primarily private ones, let you in as soon as you arrive. Many, normally city or parochial albergues, however, do not let people enter before 2 and even as late as 4 or 5 PM, causing pilgrims to wander around with their packs. This also results in a busy time inside as everyone tries to shower and wash clothes at the same time once they get in. The doors are closed and lights are out between 10 and 11 PM. All albergues require everyone to leave by a fixed time, such as 8 AM, unless someone is sick and should not travel.

- Most had separate bathrooms for men and women but some did not. Showers and toilet areas provided privacy but not much more. A typical shower stall would have a lockable door and a single hook to hang towel and clothes; the stall would be deeper than it was wide so that there was an ostensibly-dry dressing area. However, there was seldom a curtain or door between the shower and the dressing area and the floor was usually wet after the first person. Getting completely dry was difficult. Most places advertise hot water but at least three times I finished my shower in cold water and once had no hot water option.

- Recent guides to the camino now mention pay washers and dryers at some refugios.



- When looking for the toilets, look or ask for “Aseos” or “Servicios.” Do not ask for “Toilets,” which is not in the Spanish vocabulary. Similarly, only ask for a baño if you are inquiring if your hotel room (habitación) has a room with a bath. The aseos in business establishments, such as restaurants, are usually segregated by sex and have doors marked with an icon, or a letter (H, M) or the words “Hombre,” “Señor” or “Caballero” for men and “Mujer” or “Señora” for women. However, some seem to prefer to use symbols that are not easily figured out by a non-Spaniard.

- Bowl toilets are the type most commonly used. They are similar to those encountered in the US except for the flushing mechanism, which is usually self evident. In albergues, hotels and hostals, they will be clean and in good condition. Missing toilet seats and missing toilet paper are common problems in restaurants, bars and service stations.

- Squat toilets were commonly used in the past and may be encountered in older bars and restaurants, particularly in poorer areas of Spain. In many of these, the squat toilet remains in the men’s room but a bowl toilet has been installed for the ladies.

- There is no guarantee that a toilet will be nearby when nature calls. Whether it is a squat toilet or squatting in a private spot in the woods or bushes, the position and physical effort are the same. If you have not assumed the position since you were a child, you need to understand/think through the process. Put on your boots and most cumbersome clothing combination and think of what will be involved in going through the process in using the squat position in going to the toilet—don’t forget the toilet paper. Carrying your own toilet paper may be wise in any case since several blogs have commented on the fact that an albergue may not have toilet paper in the morning.



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