We generally found WiFi to be available at many – close to most, but not quite all – peregrino (pilgrim) places along the Camino (see separate notes for the rest of Spain). Many people we met along The Way relied SOLELY on WiFi for “keeping in touch,” mostly via e-mail (text messaging generally requires mobile phone service – see separate article on how we handled that kind of service).
Many – but not all – accommodations had WiFi available, although the actual STRENGTH of the signal varied substantially. Buildings made of stone – as most older buildings in Spain are – will suck the life right out of the signal. And it was probably not entirely coincidental that the strongest signal could be found in the bar, in those accommodations that had one 🙂
Many bars (most serve coffee and some kind of food as well, making them places you are likely to stop) and many restaurants also have WiFi available (and many privately-owned albergues had a bar, restaurant, or both). Most WiFi networks are password (“contraseña” – “password” is not a universally-recognized word) protected and we never asked for passwords without buying something (it’s only fair that you do) – and many places have their password on the wall somewhere (although if you’re sitting in a bar tapping away on a device without a purchase at your table, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave – fair IS fair, you know).
Staying in expensive accommodations is no guarantee of good WiFi or robust connection to the rest of the Internet – in fact, the BEST service we had along the Camino was at a municipal albergue where we spent a whopping €7 for a bed – lightning-fast connection out of the building).
Of course, a strong WiFi signal is not a guarantee of high-speed data transfer out of the building and on to the world (which is what I mean by “robust connection”). A fair chunk of Spain is served by slower-speed networks – and while a WiFi router may BE capable of handling 256 users, that doesn’t mean it does it WELL. AND when you have THAT many people – or even a few dozen – trying to cram into that slower-speed data line leading away, it’s much the same as a full bathtub of water to drain out that one-inch drain pipe: it is going to take a while to get your data OUT of the building (even the aforementioned lightning-fast place was speed-challenged when the place filled-up with 60-some people).
We were usually off the road before 1400, often somewhere between 1230 and 1330. Many folks were off the road a bit later and after our mad scramble to shower and do hand-washing of under-roos before everyone ELSE came in and started theirs, we would jump on the WiFi and try to get the more data-intensive things – photos, for instance – before everyone else got on to use the Internet.
By the way: sharing is caring (and I was always mindful to be off the Internet when others came off the road finally and would stop uploading things). Sucking up ALL of the data bandwidth Skype-ing or FaceTime-ing with loved one at home isn’t being very nice. Most of us understand you miss your dog – or boyfriend/girlfriend/children/spouse/family even – keeping the conversation short helps spread the bandwidth around. Or don’t complain when the picture gets choppy and conversations start getting really LONG lag-times – some of us are ALSO trying to use the Internet too, you know.
If you have a need for more-consistent – or constant – contact and/or access, consider getting local mobile phone service for your SIM-enabled unlocked smartphone or tablet device (covered elsewhere in this blog)!