Is Donativo Albergue Free? – Facts vs Myths 2023




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Donativo albergue, or pilgrim hostel. Few people realize that back in the day (decades and centuries ago), when pilgrims headed to Santiago slept in churches or houses of local inhabitants, all albergues were donativos. There weren’t anything like private pilgrim hostels run by people with an aim of making profit (while serving the pilgrims). Many things have changed on the Camino in the last century though. Now you have all sorts of albergues, and donativo is just one of the many concepts which aren’t always clear to the pilgrims. So, is donativo albergue actually free?

The quick answer is no. Donativo means donation in English. “Donativo” sign in an albergue simply means that there isn’t a specific price point for the accommodation you get in the place, together with other services (shower, breakfast, etc). It is up to you how much you pay. As it is often the case though, the answers are not as simple as they seems. Because donativo can mean free for you. Let m explain.


Donativo isn’t free, but you can decide to pay 0 euro

We have a comprehensive article explaining the concept here: “What means a donativo albergue“, but let me talk only about a price point. As I’ve already explained, you decide how much you donate in the place. And you can also decide to donate zero euros. In a truly donativo albergue nobody asks you to pay a particular sum or to make your donation at a particular time. There is a wooden box for donations somewhere, typically close to the exit door. You can stop there and make your donation anytime you want.

Hence if you decide to make no donation–perhaps because you cannot afford it–which really is in my book the only reason why you should donate nothing, donativo albergue is factually free for you. Some people have a tendency to donate nothing in very basic and spartan places, such as in an albergue that is simply an old house or flat with open doors and some beds you can sleep on, with no staff around. You should realize though that someone still goes there to clean the place, open and lock the door, bring sheets (if they are available), someone pays for energies such as electricity and hot water, etc. Hence even in a basic place you should donate something (as long as you can afford it of course).

– When albergues get full, some places provide a provisional shelter like the one in a gym in Zubiri (Camino Frances). Many times you can stay for free in such circumstances, even when the albergue isn’t really branded as donativo…

In many cases donativo is just a way of advertising for a private albergue that will actually charge you for your stay

People who run business on the Camino realize the attractiveness of the “donativo” expression for most pilgrims. Not that all people on the Camino want to stay for free, or pay little. In truth though some of the most amazing albergues in Spain are donativos (I’ve stayed in over 150 different albergues and can definitely confirm it), and people who stayed in such places have a tendency to prefer donativos, hoping to replicate the pleasant experience.

Hence many owners of private albergues call their places “donativo”, but will ask you to pay a specific sum while you register at their place. It can be anything from four to twenty euro, which is basically a typical price range for other types of albergues, such as public, private, parochial, etc. Hence if you are really on a super tight budget and purposely seek donativo albergues, hoping to stay for free or to make some little donation, like 2 euro for example, make sure to check with the place in advance, or ask other pilgrims around you. Of course, you can always refuse to pay and leave the place, seeking accommodation elsewhere, but things can get tricky if you look only for donativo places.


My personal experience with free & donativo albergues

I’ve walked the Camino in different stages of my life. There were times when I was a rich guy (relatively speaking) and didn’t have any budget for the Camino. I still lived relatively frugally on the way though, since for me pilgrimage and a certain degree of ascetic life go hand in hand. But if I was forced to pay 100 euro for a hotel for a night (since everything else was fully booked and the weather was too bad to sleep outside), I paid it.

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But I also walked Camino in times when I barely had any money, or a relatively small budget for my Camino (like 20 euros/day) and had to be picky when it came to choosing a shelter for the night. I often opted for a night under the stars–which is always free :), though not always completely legal (check my article on Camping on the camino for more info), and it allowed me to stay in a more “expensive” place the other night. But when I saw there was a donativo albergue in a reasonable distance for the day, I often went for it. And I must say that except of two cases I never felt pressed to make any specific donation. Sometimes I donated two euro and sometimes fifteen, depending on many things. And though I never considered donativo albergue a free one, I am sure that I’d be fine not donating anything either. Leaving one supposed donativo, the next one can be 20 kilometers away…



Donativo does not mean free, though technically you an donate 0 euro and sleep for free on your Camino. Keep in mind though that running an albergue entails many costs (obvious ones such as energies and cleaning but also other less obvious expenses most people are not aware of). Hence if you can offer it, make at least some donation. Maybe you cannot offer to donate more than 2 or 5 euro, but two euro is still better than nothing.

The sad trend I’ve observed on my latest Caminos is that the number of truly donativo albergues is decreasing sharply. And that’s partly because people who can afford to donate do not do so. Make sure you do not contribute to this sad trend. Be generous. Law of action and reaction cannot be broken. If you do good things, good things will come back to you. In one form or another, sooner or later, but they will come…. I wish you a wonderful Camino!


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