Pilgrims’ hostels, called albergues or refugios, are located at least every 10-20 kilometers along the Camino in villages and all large towns. The accommodations are public municipal government sponsored, church run or private facilities. Some albergues stay open year-round, but most are open from April to November when the majority of pilgrims walk. Albergues are usually composed of large sleeping areas with numerous closed-quartered bunk beds or multi-bed dormitory rooms. You will need your own sleeping bag or sack, but the albergue may supply blankets and pillows. Sometimes pilgrims sleep on the floor with mats when all the bunk beds are full. Privacy and quiet are rare in the unisex albergue settings.
There are functional toilets, sinks, hot and cold running water and shower facilities. Be prepared with your own towel, soap and toilet tissue. Several of the albergues have kitchens with utensils for the pilgrim to use for meal preparation and storage of perishable items overnight. Some facilities have common areas and internet connections. Laundry sinks and clotheslines are always available to wash and dry your clothing and bedding. Occasionally, you will find washers and dryers for 3-5 Euros a load.
Only pilgrims with official credentials are allowed to stay in the albergues. Upon arrival, your pilgrim’s credentials are checked and given the albergue stamp (sello) before a bed is issued. An albergue stay costs between 3 and 8 Euros per person. Even if they say it is on a donation basis, these amounts are expected to cover basic management and maintenance costs. If the albergue is isolated, with no nearby stores or cafes, the cost may be more (10-25 Euros) to pay for an included dinner and light breakfast. While walking pilgrims are given preference, credentialed cyclists are also permitted to stay overnight. Albergues usually have an evening curfew lockdown at 9 or 10 PM and require that all pilgrims leave the premises before 8 AM the next morning. You cannot stay at an alburgue for more than one night.
Albergues are staffed and run by hospitaleros and staff. These volunteer hosts have often walked the Camino themselves and can provide information, insights, advice and encouragement to pilgrims. The hospitalero does everything from greeting pilgrims, issuing and stamping credentials, cleaning the facilities, preparing meals and taking care of first aid and emergencies. Hosts, from all parts of the world, are usually friendly and helpful. In a few instances on my travels, they have provided tours, music, special masses, history lessons, directions, massages and first aid.
Albergues encourage camaraderie among pilgrims. The close settings offer a great way to meet other pilgrims, share meals and compare tales. The buzz of conversations die down around the time lights go out, but then the snoring begins. It is nearly impossible to have a large dormitory full of exhausted hikers without at least a few noisy members. Earplugs are advised for blocking out the broncadores (snorers) and the noise of pilgrims packing up and leaving very early in the morning.
Look to the various Camino websites for up-to-date lists of albergues, including the location, numbers of beds, kitchen facilities, costs, nearby amenities and distances.