The Camino de Santiago has become big, big business in Spain. I’ve been to Spain many times, often for months at a time, and never have I seen as many television news segments and newspaper articles on The Camino as I saw this spring and summer. There were hard news pieces, like the one about Denise Thiem, the American woman who disappeared from The Camino in April this year,* but most of the Camino news segments are human-interest type stories on issues like the soaring numbers of pilgrims and high temperatures on The Camino. There are religious articles, too, like one about seven American seminarians who walked The Camino in their cassocks, or the Spanish priest who brought ten teenage boys from Santa Ana parish in Arizona to walk The Camino so that each “finds what God wants of them.”
Being big business, the infrastructure on The Camino is fully established and rapidly expanding. Every year there are more private albergues than there were the year before, and many of these albergues offer private rooms, often with private bath, in addition to dormitory style accommodation. In Navarette, for example, a dozen yards from the municipal albergue, there is Albergue Buen Camino (http://www.alberguebuencamino.es). The owner of this private albergue also runs a hostal right next door with private en suite rooms. In mid-July, at the height of The Camino season, there were beds available in the albergue and rooms available in the hostal.
In Cirueña, I stayed at the new and comfortable Albergue Casa Victoria (http://wisepilgrim.com/albergue/casa-victoria). It offers private rooms as well as dormitory style rooms that sleep only four people. It’s a quarter of a mile off The Camino route so perhaps not as popular as other albergues directly on the route. As there were only I and one other person, I opted for one of the two bottom bunks in the dormitory room rather than paying the heftier cost of a private room.
Another benefit of private albergues is that owners often augument their income by offering a three course dinner with wine and bread. Such a meal typically runs seven or eight euros, which is very reasonable because bars and restaurants typically charge ten or more euros for the same.
If you’re relying upon the albergues listed in one of the several guides available for the Camino Francés, you are going to face stiff competition. Additonally, albergues that are directly on The Camino route tend to fill up early and don’t need to advertise. To find those accommodations that are slightly off the main route, your best bet is to pay attention to small signs posted on The Camino before reaching a town because out-of-the-way establishments will make an effort to attract business.
For the most part, private rooms for one are rare, but I did have a room for one, with sink, in Santiago de Compostela at the Albergue Seminario Menor (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187508-d1545943-Reviews-Albergue_Seminario_Menor-Santiago_de_Compostela_A_Coruna_Province_Galicia.html). It is very basic lodging but clean and comfortable enough for 15€. A major advantage of the private room in this albergue is that you can leave your belongings in the room during the daytime if you are booked to stay more than one night. (A word of warning: don’t presume for a moment that your private room here is secure. There are placards reminding pilgrims not to leave valuables, and my door had visible signs of forced entry at some point. One afternoon I happened to be in the room, with the door locked, when someone in the hallway attempted to open the door. I didn’t respond but listened as the person went down the hall trying all the door handles.)
Double rooms are common. If you’re traveling with someone or if you’re fed up and tired to the bone and just want a good night’s sleep, a private room in an albergue might be for you. If you’re too late to get a dormitory bed and you don’t want to continue walking until you find the next albergue, this might be an option. But be warned, it’s rarely an inexpensive option.
Between Roncesvalles** and Burgos, more or less, an albergue bed runs ten to twelve euros ($11 –13, £7 – 8.50) per night. Then the beds begin to get cheaper, eight or maybe seven euros. From León onward, you can easily find a bed for five euros ($5.50, £3.50) per night. If you want a private room in an albergue, however, the cheapest I can recall is thirty euros ($33, £21) and, typically, they were forty ($44, £28) or fifty euros ($55, £35), especially on the earlier stages of The Camino.
Of course, 50€ is very inexpensive by some standards. But if you’re comparing 5€ for a bed in a shared room against 50€ for a private room in the same building, perhaps even right next door to the shared room, 50€ looks pretty darned expensive.
Bear in mind that you’ll find every manner of accommodation available at all different prices, and there simply is no “best way” to go about finding lodging that meets all your criteria (unless you’re looking for the least expensive, bar none). The only thing to do is keep an open mind, ask questions, weigh your options, and make your best choice.
In Sleeping on The Camino, Part 4, I will discuss alternatives for private rooms that are not part of the typical multi-bed, dormitory style albergue. Stay tuned.
**I didn’t mention St. Jean Pied de Port because, this being the more or less official start of the Camino Francés, an albergue (auberge in French) tends to run higher. Even quite a bit higher. I had been one week in France prior to spending a week in Madrid and then going on to begin The Camino. Prices in France were considerably higher than they were in Spain for just about everything.
*Photo of Denise Thiem courtesy of AZCentral.com.