Speaking of accommodation, there are several options one can choose from when walking/cycling the Camino. Hotels, hostels, and, of course, albergues. Note, however, that in some smaller villages, albergues are the only option available, sometimes only 1 or 2 of them to choose from (for example the village of Gonzar).
Albergues are an inseparable part of the true Camino experience. The socializing aspect is at its best there and for me the spirit of the journey can be predominantly felt there. Due to various reasons, some people choose other types of accommodation, but since I completely focused on albergues, I’d like to share some information with you and hopefully you will not have my confused expression when I first walked in an albergue and wondered how should things be done.
There are private and municipal albergues (I personally prefer the private ones). Also some monasteries (for instance Albergue Monasterio de La Magdalena, which looked lovely) provide accommodation possibilities.
Usually albergues are very easy to spot. They are excellently marked and there are signs. People should carry their credentials with them to prove they are pilgrims. Some albergues do not allow people not carrying their own backpack (some use transportation services) to check in.
So, albergues generally vary a lot in the number of people that can share the same room. There are some, where 50 or 60 people can share the intimacy of being in one room, however, there are also some where only 6 or 8 beds are available (that felt like complete luxurious experience at the time ). Beds are typically on 2 stories, with limited space between the separate bunks.
Some are equipped with sheets (not sure how often these are washed, though), some (my favourite) provided single-use disposable sheets which you had to throw in the bin in the morning. All beds I slept in had pillows. Most people, included me, carried their own sleeping bags. This function can also be performed by a silk liner, depending on which season your Camino takes place in. Mind that even in September I felt stewing inside my sleeping bag.
Bathrooms are shared. Often separated male/female, but don’t always count on that. There is a sense of privacy in most places, even though the cubicles in some albergues are lacking doors. The majority of bathrooms are designed in such a way as to save water. Thus there is a button which should be pressed every few seconds as once pressed it ensures water flow only for a very limited period of time. Many bathrooms do not have shelves or anything similar to put your things on (beside the obvious floor). So the risk of all getting soaking wet is high.
All albergues have a sink, basin and cold water to do your laundry plus a place to hang it on. Keep in mind laundry pins are not abundant. Safety pins are a nice option, the other one being you collecting your wet clothes from the ground. Most people do the washing every day, considering the small choice of clothes. It would be best if you have your own soap.
Some albergues have a washing machine and a drying machine. We pampered ourselves by using them a few times. In 2013 most washing machines cost 3 Euro and the same amount was valid for the drying machine. Most operate with special jetons, so just inform the hospitalero you want to use them and he/she will guide you.
Almost all albergues offer breakfast for 3 to 5 Euros. It usually includes coffee and toast with butter/jam. Hospitaleros wake up very early, so even at 6.30 you will be taken care of.
Some albergues offer dinner, the price varies, the menu also, the thing in common is that usually you have to inform the hospitalero in advance that you plan to have dinner at their place. It is a great social event, with big tables and great opportunities to get to know people you’d met through the day.
A number of albergues have lovely inner yards, where you can relax. I’ve heard of a few having swimming pools, but, unfortunately, I have not seen such. Lots of albergues have excellently equipped kitchens where you can cook your own meal.
One of the albergues in Rabanal was serving tea in the garden in the afternoon.
Some albergues operate on donation principle – you pay what you decide to pay. The rest, in general, between 5 and 8 Euros per night, however, certain sections, closer to Santiago, in Santiago itself (we paid 18 Euros) and the part between Santiago and Finisterre tend to be a little more pricey.