How to find lodging when the Camino gets crowded? Here are our practical tips for finding lodging with the increase in numbers of people on the Camino. We have some PRO TIPS sprinkled throughout this blog that can save you stress, and improve your Camino experience.
We set out to walk the Camino Francés beginning in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in early September 2022. But it wasn't our first Camino. We had the experience and knowledge acquired from the pilgrim community and other walks since our first one in 2007. But an increase in the number of people on the Camino that continues this year is bringing new challenges. Keep reading to snag our PRO TIPS for some good planning practices to consider nowadays.
Consider Reserving Lodging for Your First Two Nights
Several of our previous Caminos had been in the fall. We noticed in those earlier years pilgrim numbers began to diminish once students were back at school and university. For years we had taken advantage of reduced air fares in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, and advised our friends on social media to do the same. However, 2022 and '23 have brought increased pilgrim numbers. Here's what we encountered, and what we can recommend to help you plan.
PRO TIP to find lodging when the Camino is crowded. A favorite tip that is still valid is to book ahead for your arrivals in St. Jean and Roncesvalles. Both of these cities are favorite starting points on the Camino Francés. If left to chance finding a bed when you arrive can be overwhelming to a newbie. The first clue that our post COVID Camino walk was going to be different was that we couldn’t reserve a bed in Roncesvalles. This would be our fourth Pyrenees crossing so we knew how tired we would be. We would desperately need a good meal and sleep. We were searching weeks ahead of our arrival date, but everything was completo (no vacancy). Hmmm. What to do. The Refugios at Orisson and Borda in the Pyrenees were both completo. That meant we wouldn’t be able to stopover there either.
Can't Find Lodging on a Crowded Camino?
PRO TIP to find Lodging when the Camino gets crowded. When you’re in a bind like we were you might have to take a bus or taxi back or forward to the city that does have beds for the night, then the next morning taxi or bus back to where you stopped walking the day before. This is what we decided to arrange for our first nights on the Camino because of the busy pilgrim numbers. This worked well, and we were glad to have done it. When we registered at the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean the volunteer told us they had processed hundreds of pilgrims the day before with no evidence of numbers going down.
We also knew from past experiences that we wanted to walk the distance over the Pyrenees in two days rather than one. This was our fourth Pyrenees crossing, two of which we did in one day. We knew it would be too much for us this time to attempt one day. Since Orisson and Borda were full, we employed this new method in order to ensure we had beds for those first nights.
What We Did from Home to Find Lodging
Here’s what we did. We were able to reserve two nights of modest accommodations in St. Jean from home. When we arrived in St. Jean we went to the Tourist Information office and arranged for the taxi we needed. The fluent French speaker spoke to a taxi driver by phone for us. She set it up for the driver to pick us up on the following day. We identified the pick up location at the statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It is about halfway over the Pyrenees. We had determined 2:30pm to be time enough for us to walk there at our pace. This included a stop at Orisson for food and toilet break. We still had plenty of time to walk to the overlook meeting spot and enjoy the beauty. We walked out of SJPP at 7:30AM that morning and enjoyed our day. Our taxi met us as arranged that day. We made it back to SJPP as planned for a meal. We even visited the church before packing up for the next morning.
All of that worked out just as arranged. We spent the night in SJPP. The next morning the taxi picked us up at our room, and drove us back to the overlook. So we walked every kilometer over the Pyrenees.
Don't Panic, Get Creative to Find Lodging
When the Camino is crowded it can feel stressful. But don't panic. Know your options and get creative. You can find lodging when the Camino is crowded. We hope to reduce your fear about not finding lodging along the Camino. Don't panic, get creative as you encounter difficulties like this. We shared this tip with others we met while we walked this Camino. It saved many of us from the no vacancy crunch that was going on at the time. We had hoped to be able to be more spontaneous as we continued our walk. We prefer waiting until the end of each day to book a bed only as needed. But we soon discovered that we needed to pivot. The whole Camino Francés infrastructure was overflowing with pilgrims. Many had already reserved their beds/rooms, either through a tour company, or for themselves.
Finding Lodging a Couple of Days Ahead Reduced Stress
Finding lodging when the Camino gets crowded can be tricky. For us it was a matter of arranging lodging to destress so we could enjoy our walk more. This meant booking at private albergues, hostels, and hotels that take reservations. Most often we were able to go through a booking service like Booking.com. But often they showed no vacancy. Sometimes were able to reserve a room through the hostel's website. Or sometimes we called on the direct phone number and talked directly to the on duty hospitalero or agent.
Some albergues, hostels, and Air BnB’s close in mid-October, because their student staff goes back to university. This also means fewer available beds, so be aware of this.
Finding Lodging Can Mean Staying "Off Stage"
PRO TIP Sometimes staying “off-stage” from popular guidebook itineraries can help you find a bed. For years we have recommended to set your own pace and not follow guidebook stages. There are some nice towns "off-stage" that can provide good meals and lodging and have more availability. We also find the proposed stages in most guidebooks are too ambitious for our pace. They often lead to “overuse injuries” we see people having from trying to keep up.
More of our tips and information to help you plan and prepare for your Camino: