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Accommodation and camino economics


Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
Thank heavens there are pilgrims who prefer to use alternate accommodation along the camino! If the only choice was an albergue-del-peregrino, the pressure on these resources would be unsustainable! And, let’s face it, not all pilgrim refuges are spiritual Shangri-La. Many are just glorified Youth Hostels or Boot Camp with no attractive features or atmosphere. Pilgrims can mix their overnight stays with some in habitationes, hostales or fondas and others in some of the more traditional pilgrim refuges.
All pilgrims contribute to the economic growth of the various caminos to Santiago. The numbers of café-bars, albergues, hostales and pensions to accommodate all class of travelers has grown steadily with the numbers of pilgrims walking the caminos. This growth in the number of pilgrims and tour groups has provided a new source of income for the local economy and tourism impact studies show that “Cultural Tourism” has resulted in the restoration and preservation of formerly neglected villages, churches and other heritage monuments. And, can you imagine the exponential growth in the ‘panaderia, queso and jamon’ industries!!
I was amazed at the transformation of some little villages along the way. In 2002 a dusty and deserted Santa Catalina boasted a summer café-bar, no restaurants and no food supply. Today it is a thriving, pretty place with an up-market restaurant, and a number of sidewalk café-bars. Foncebadon is another that has taken on a new look (unfortunately framed in electricity cables). Eirexe now sports a new restaurant-cum-café-bar close to the albergue.
Local, regional and international agencies have been prompted to work together to promote and maintain the caminos as viable sources of cultural/religious tourism. The Galician Government’s Xacobeo 2004 campaign attracted over 12 million people. The numbers are expected to grow exponentially in 2010 and if the short You-Tube video we saw a couple of months ago is for real, pilgrims might all be staying in converted marine containers anyway!
Pilgrim Pouch carry bags with different designs
A lightweight carry bag handy for walking, biking, traveling, & Caminos
Fine art photography from the Camino Ways.


Active Member
With the US dollar as weak as it is, I would not have been able to do the Camino without the fantastically cheap albergues. Even so, while I enjoyed most of them there were times I found it necessary (or simply preferable) to use alternate accommodations.

When I took break days to rest, heal up, and sightsee, I stayed in hotels or hostels (Logrono, Burgos, and Santiago). I liked having private (or semi-private) accomodations where I could sleep in and stay out late. And I was in heaven when a bathtub was available ;-) Of course, these higher-end options were usually to be found only in the larger towns and cities.

In Leon I stayed with an old grad school roommate and his family at their home (I went to his wedding 4 years ago in Leon, and while walking to his parent's place from the train station he casually remarked that people "thought I was a pilgrim" - that was the catalyst for my doing the Camino). They were very hospitable, and even did my laundry (after weeks of hand-washing, my clothes needed it - they smelled and felt great for days afterward).

In Rabanal I stayed for 2 extra nights in the monastery (after one night in the excellent Confraternity albergue), where they offer retreats for pilgrims for whatever you want to pay (i.e. donativo). They had communal sleeping arrangements, but the daily schedule was fairly flexible in order to allow you time to rest and reflect.

And finally, in Santiago I stayed in 3 different hotels - including the Parador (I figured I deserved one night of luxury for my exertions, although I felt out of place among its usual clientele). Again, taking hot baths was simply awesome, and it was nice to be near the cathedral with late-night out and sleep-in flexibility.

I'd say that pilgrims should stay in the albergues at least some of the time, if only to meet other peregrinos and get the full Camino experience. Although I liked the hotels, I felt disconnected from the Camino when I used them. It seemed like I'd traded in my pilgrim cloak for a tourist outfit. Despite getting a much-needed break, I found myself missing the Way, and I was glad to return to the trail and the albergues.

One thing I found interesting - and a bit disconcerting - was the competitive nature of some of the privately owned albergues. A couple were certainly into guerrilla marketing. I saw albergue flyers and pamphlets posted all along the way in certain areas, and when the Camino ran by a road, drivers would stop and hand out flyers - even doing so right in front of rival albergues. One time I encountered a guy puttering down the Camino path on a scooter and handing out ads for an albergue!

Some of the best-equipped albergues were the private ones - clean beds, hot showers, fully-stocked bars, well-prepared onsite meals - even swimming pools. On the one hand, I enjoyed their comforts (which probably forced other albergues to improve their facilities in order to compete - not a bad thing), and I appreciated the fact that the owners were trying to make a living - especially when their service was good. But on the other hand I wondered if they somehow altered the simplicity-oriented spirit of the Camino, with their billboards, flyers, racks of trinkets for sale, and adversarial attitudes towards other albergues. Perhaps that's the double-edged nature of capitalism...

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