We found WiFi in the rest of Spain to be available at many places as well, although generally not to the degree we experienced while walking the Camino.
Most accommodations had free WiFi available, although like our Camino experience, the actual STRENGTH of the signal varied substantially. As we also found on the Camino, buildings made of stone – and most older buildings in Spain are – will suck the life right out of the signal. We found that WiFi being “available on the property” meant that it was available in the lobby or common areas at a minimum (at one hostel, it worked GREAT in the kitchen, but sucked 10 feet away inside our room). Sometimes, that was the ONLY place it was available.
Like the Camino, a lot of bars (most serve coffee and some kind of food as well, so don’t feel as if you need to order an alcoholic beverage – unless you WANTED to, of course) and a lot of restaurants also have WiFi available (although not to the density we found along the Camino). 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) – unlike the Camino routes, the passwords weren’t written on the wall very often and you had to ask the waiter/waitress/barkeep for both the name of the connection (it wasn’t always readily apparent and sometimes was downright cryptic) and the password.
(In a rare-exception to the typical Spanish custom – especially in the south of Spain – of paying when you are done eating, one restaurant presented the bill BEFORE you were served – but it also contained the password for the WiFi – and you weren’t required to pay immediately, of course. This was a common occurrence when I was in Greece, so when eating-out, check your bill or receipt for the WiFi password.)
As along the Camino, staying in expensive accommodations was no guarantee of good WiFi or robust connection to the rest of the Internet. Most in-room signal strengths left a good deal to be desired in most cases.
As we also discovered along the Camino, strong WiFi signal was 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”). It seemed that “hostel” often meant “once-fancier place that had seen better days, but could still pack people in by cutting the price and calling themselves a ‘hostel’ instead of a ‘hotel,'” and while you could STILL get a nice-enough room for less than you could get a room at a Motel 6 in the US (and last I checked, Motel 6 CHARGES for WiFi access in most locations), this usually meant this low price was at the expense of Internet access and the data line leading away from the property often seemed to be on a lower-speed network.
As we discovered along the Camino, while a WiFi router may BE capable of handling 256 users, that doesn’t mean it does it WELL. More people staying in a property meant more people trying to cram into that often slower-speed data line leading away (my favorite analogy is to compare it to getting 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). In a few places we stayed at, I found the staff using the front desk computer for streaming movies – which takes away from the available limited bandwidth for the REST of place, of course. In one place, not only was the front desk clerk streaming a video, he was also playing an on-line game on his mobile device via the WiFi.
Some larger public places also had free WiFi – train stations, airports and bus depots for the most part, but some cities offered outdoor public “hot spots,” as well as places like shopping malls. WiFi could also be found on some (but not all) ALSA buses (and understand that the bus is MOVING, so service is not only slow, but subject to cutting in-and-out, so it’s probably a bad choice for watching streaming TV shows)(the instructions for accessing the bus’ WiFi is on the wall behind the driver – and is in SPANISH, since it IS Spain, but I was able to figure it out, even with my “Taco Bell menu” level of Spanish comprehension). It was NOT available on the RENFE train system.
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)!