When walking the Camino 10-15 years ago people stayed in parochial or municipal albergues most of the route, sharing space at night with a few other pilgrims. The Camino has become so busy now - whether fad or ??? - that a pilgrim has many more choices about where they'll stay. Here are some explanations:
Parochial Refugios: (pa-rō'-kial) Run by the Catholic church. NO reservations. First come, first serve. You will almost always sleep on comfortable floor plastic wrestling mats with many other pilgrims. You WILL need a sleepsack or sleeping bag as no sheets are provided. Some have pillows and some do not. Use your rolled up jacket or shirt as a pillow! But don't miss the experience. The mats are sometimes more comfortable than sagging bunkbed mattresses, and everyone's too tired to care who is snoring next to them. Some parochials do have bunkbeds. Some have separate rooms for men and women, though you don't see that much anymore. You will almost always be served a family style meal. You will sometimes eat with the priest. There is usually a shower, though not always hot. You may enjoy a pilgrim's mass or tour of the church, or in the case of at least one parochial, a tour of a chapel built into rock on the hill that you otherwise would not be able to enter. Parochials are almost always donativo, which does NOT mean FREE, by the way. It means that you pay what you can afford. If you have absolutely NO money, then you do not have to pay. But if you have a job and enough cash to buy a ticket to Spain, you have enough to at least pay for your meal. I always leave €8 to €10 at parochial refugios. They have utilities to pay like everyone else and the bottom line is this: The money you leave tonight helps pay for pilgrim dinners tomorrow night. So if you're being served a meal of bread and water, that means there were some cheap damned tourigrinos the night before, in my opinion! Leave a generous donation please!
Grañon Parochial. Photo by Wing-Yen Tse
Municipal Albergues: (moo-ní-see-pals) These are run by the village. Almost never take reservations.You will most likely sleep in bunkbeds with anywhere from 12 to 100 other pilgrims in the room. Sheets are on the mattresses, though are NOT washed more than once a week, in general. Sometimes they will hand you a paper sheet when you register. You WILL need a sleep sack or sleeping bag. Pillows are almost always provided. Though blankets used to almost always be provided, that is changing as the bedbug problem continues to grow and some do NOT provide blankets anymore. Sometimes they have a kitchen where you can cook. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes the kitchen will have cooking/eating paraphanlia, and sometimes not. I've found when not, it's usually in Galicia. If there is a kitchen, be sure to LABEL your food and don't be surprised if it's gone when you return. Prices in the municipal are set by the village, and are the lowest except for parochials. There is a shower which may be communal or may have separate spaces for wo/men. Many do have internet these days, but not all. Lockers are usually NOT provided, though they are in some, such as Logroño.
Albergue Jesús y Maria in Pamplona
Private Albergues: These are privately owned and run. Almost all take reservations. Some have bunkbeds Some have twin beds. Some have dorms. Some have private rooms. Some are ensuite (private bathrooms) and in some you will share bathrooms (common in Spain). When you share a bathroom in a private albergue, the bathroom door locks, so you have privacy while you're in there. You are expected to clean up after yourself unless your mother is along to pick up after you. Leave the bathroom clean for the people you are sharing with. You will have to do your research as so what is offered in the way of beds. Prices are a bit higher for private rooms than in Municipals, but you might do the math because often if two or three pilgrims share a private room, it's not much more than it would cost sleeping in a dorm. Some private albergues offer a kitchen, but most do not in my experience. Lockers are generally NOT provided. Most have internet these days.
Casa de la Abuela, Los Arcos
By the way, when shopping for a room, you must specify if you want TWO beds in a double room.
What we call a single bed is called a matrimonial.
Hostels: A hostel in Spain is just the same as a hostel in the USA. All take reservations. There will be dorm rooms with varying amounts of beds. There may or may not be private rooms offered. There is usually a kitchen offered where you can cook your own food. There is usually a refrigerator. Mark your food. Lockers are often provided but you may need to provide your own lock. Most have internet.
Apartamentos: Apartments are a great option if you can get a group together. All take reservations. Many will have 2 or 3 or more rooms plus a living room. Some rooms will have twin beds. Some will have a matrimonial. You'll need to ask. Some living rooms will have a futon. So if 4 to 8 people can get together and split the cost, the price can be as low as you'd pay in an albergue and you'll have a much quieter experience. Many apartments will have two bathrooms. Most will have a washing machine. All will have a kitchen where you can cook for yourself. Some do have internet. Some do not. Ask.
Camping: Whether or not camping is "legal" is always a debate, because you pass through so many different cities and villages. However, the price of albergues is so small that unless you have a really good reason, there's no need to drag a tent along. If you DO have a need to camp, however, it can be done and there is an entire blog on camping if you do a search.
Casa Rurales: These are houses owned by private people. All take reservations. Sometimes they rent out the entire house and sometimes they just rent out a few rooms and the owners live on site. This is a wonderful option for groups of pilgrims who are willing to split the cost. Some of the houses are hundreds of years old and just beautiful! Some have internet. Some do not. Ask if it is important.
A casa rural in Galicia
Habitaciones: These are rooms rented out in a private home. Almost all will take reservations. You will often see signs above the door advertising habitaciones. Go inside and ask to see the rooms, ask the price, then decide. These can be a real good deal! Usually you will have a private or shared bathroom. You won't usually be able to use the kitchen.
Wherever you stay, please use good manners.
Clean up after yourself, especially in a shared bathroom. Pick the hair up out of the floor, wash out the sink, wipe off the counter with your towel. Don't leave the towel in the floor, but carry it to your room and hang it up. Do the same in the kitchen. Wash your dishes, dry them, and put them away. Wipe off tables and counters. The low prices mean there's no maid there to pick up after you. You are expected to be a responsible adult.
So here are some choices for you while walking the Camino. Have a wonderful time and Buen Camino!