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Commercial groups


Veteran Member
I'd be interested to know what others think about groups and commercial, guided pilgrimage .

Is this pilgrimage or commerce?
Is payment corrupting or enabling?
Should such commercial groups use refugios?; or, why not?

Should any large group use refugios? (i.e. denying places to others) or, why shouldn't they?
Does being in a large group make the camino a mere holiday? (though this originally meant holy day)

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In my opinion the camino is for everyone whoever they may be. Some people can´t carry their rucksacks because of various reasons but they can walk, others can´t sleep with other people. Let them walk/ bike in groups, get their luggage carried to the next hotel/albergue and use organized tours if they want so and if that is the WAY for them.
But in the albergues the groups maybe shouldn´t be able to take in or at least they should stay in the line for the bed like everybody else. That was not the way it was in a private albergue in Ventosa where a group of French pilgrims had booked beforehand and got in before us who stayed in the line waiting.

If you read the description for Ivar's group treks, you will notice that he plans for private accommodations. Most tour groups are similarly organized. Church and school groups are likely to use public accommodations. Private albergues set their own rules, so you can find reservations, groups, and mochila services at them. Variety is the spice of life!
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falcon269 said:
Church and school groups are likely to use public accommodations.

Thanks, Falcon. What are your views on this aspect above, as I'm really enquiring about public accommodation? It's a different camino today from my previous experience, and I'm curious about the culture nowadays. As I said to you, I'm very easy/relaxed about what pilgrimage is. :D Each finds his/her own way, as the even-handed first post suggests.

Later footnote: I have been reading around the forum and of course find that the topic isn't new! Your previous post about "13 Day walks" etc, and an unhappy experience because of a group, gives yet another point of view which helps fill in the picture.


In the interests of full disclosure, I've led four high school groups on pilgrimage, three on the Camino Frances from St Jean to Finisterre and one on the Via Francigena from Lucca to Rome. On Tuesday, I'll head out with another group, walking the Norte and Primitivo from Irun to Santiago, and then on once more to Finisterre.

On all of the trips, my students carry their packs and prepare/purchase their food. There isn't a support vehicle or adults catering to them. I help to keep them on track, of course, and provide information on the places we visit along the way, but I want them to develop a sense of independence on the Camino.

From the moment I first decided to bring students - teenagers - on pilgrimage, it was important to me that they be part of the pilgrim community. First and foremost, that meant staying in albergues, which in my mind are the most powerful part of the experience. That's to take nothing away from the walking, but living and being surrounded by an international body of pilgrims everyday has a huge influence. And, in general, I prefer communal living with my students - I don't want them to be able to go off and hide in their private rooms at the end of each day. (The cost is, admittedly, important as well; flying from Seattle to Spain is expensive.)

A point of focus, before departing and while on the trail, is what it means to be a pilgrim - and what it means to be a good member of the pilgrim community. I harp on the importance of being quiet in the dormitories, on cleaning up after ourselves and leaving the albergues cleaner than we found them, on making an effort to speak the language, and on never expecting things but rather being grateful for what we receive.

On the Frances, I always tried to place us in larger albergues, where we wouldn't take up so much space. On the Norte, I've emailed as many albergues as I can get contact info for to make sure they don't mind our presence (provided space is available when we arrive). So far, all of the ones I emailed are fine with us staying there. On the Frances, only one turned us away - the municipal albergue in Palas do Rei.

I recognize, of course, that every albergue has the right to set their policies and enforce those policies as the hospitalero at the time so desires. I was a little bummed about getting turned away at Palas do Rei. We had walked from St Jean, we carried our packs every step of the way, we actually made donations instead of viewing that as a synonym for free.

None of that is to suggest that walking greater distances or carrying a heavier burden makes one more of a pilgrim than another - we are lucky to be young, in good health, and with plenty of free time. But, I did wonder why being in a group (11 total) made us a type of pilgrim that wasn't eligible for such accommodation. I mean, if we want to talk about traditional pilgrimage, then the focus should be on groups instead of individuals.

As I said, I respect the right of albergues to set their policies. But, after a week or two on the Camino, anyone who has walked knows the futility of trying to differentiate between "official" groups and the unofficial groups that just form organically from all of the pilgrims who started as individuals.

I know that the last thing many people want to run into on pilgrimage is a group of American teenagers. But we really aren't so bad! At the very least, we usually don't snore!
Thank you Dave - the youngsters you guide certainly get an extraordinary experience. And I agree that to be around other pilgrims and to be on the Camino must be so useful as part of becoming adult. The independent walking part was once done by the Youth Hostel movement.

My guess (only a guess) about not being accepted as a group of 11 is that perhaps the refugio/albergue anticipated problems with numbers of expected pilgrims that day? I remember youth hostels ran into problems when a big chunk of accommodation was taken by large groups. They didnt wish to deny the group, but nor did they want to deny the rest. Tricky.(See Anniethenurse's post). I wonder what hospitaleros are advised about this?

This, if it's the case, is a difficulty for all concerned. I doubt that it was some kind of judgement about "right" and "wrong" pilgrimage. That's a matter for the individual, and for no-one else to impose. Likewise I doubt that being American (the US, I suppose?) made any difference.

Thank you for your post , for it sheds light on a common issue on busy routes. I have heard about difficulties, but was lucky enough to be on the Frances before the numbers swelled enormously (by a factor of 10 or more). I do remember groups of young Spanish walkers in one refugio, with accompanying van, who were a real nuisance to those who wanted to get some sleep. But only once.

Someone suggested that some groups choose private accommodation, and this must be one way to ensure harmony. It's good to hear about the issue from the point of view of a group. Do any of them ever post about their experiences? That could be interesting.

€2,-/day will present your project to thousands of visitors each day. All interested in the Camino de Santiago.
I wonder if they turned you away at Palas de Rei simply because they didn't have enough beds left for you all? I know that the albergues in Galicia used to let people sleep on the floor etc if they were full, but it seems that now with insurance requirements etc they can't.

I know that on my second night in the Monte de Gozo albergue there were a couple of big groups of Spanish young people, and I thought I might not get much in the way of sleep. But, even without understanding much Spanish, you could tell their leaders were telling them that they were sharing the albergue with many pilgrims who had walked a long way and were tired....and come 10pm..... the whole albergue became quiet......
IMHO, it is an issue of how one walks. If one walks like every other pilgrim, carries their own bags, etc., then the albergues should be open to them. However, if their walk is different i.e. they have a car carry their bags, prepares food for them, etc. then their accommodations should be found elsewhere. They are not on Camino, but an adventure.

Everything is designed for the individual. When groups get too large and they are cohesive then the their experience as well as those around them is lessened. Dave's group sounds small enough and are allowed enough independence that they become individual pilgrims rather than a tour group. I guess I am a purist to an extent, but it is only an opinion. Peace.
Dave said:
On the Frances, I always tried to place us in larger albergues, where we wouldn't take up so much space. On the Norte, I've emailed as many albergues as I can get contact info for to make sure they don't mind our presence (provided space is available when we arrive). So far, all of the ones I emailed are fine with us staying there. On the Frances, only one turned us away - the municipal albergue in Palas do Rei....!

Which one in Palas? The old and not very big inside the town or the new one that is about 1,5 km before arriving by the Camino Frances and is much bigger? This second one I know that accept groups, recently has accepted a group, they were spanish homeless guided by a human association.

Buen Camino,

Javier Martin
Madrid, Spain.
€2,-/day will present your project to thousands of visitors each day. All interested in the Camino de Santiago.

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