Bed Bugs on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino to Santiago might be a spiritual journey, but it’s not exempt from common earthly troubles like bed bugs. Who would have thought that such little creatures could be such a huge pain in the neck? In the past decade, bed bugs have infested some albergues along the Camino causing trouble not only to pilgrims but also hospitaleros.

Although bed bugs on the Camino de Santiago are inconvenient, the problem is being handled and should not be a reason to give this one-of-a-kind journey. In fact, bed bugs are not exclusive to the Camino or the cheap albergues. You can equally come across them in a five-star hotel. Their widespread reign was not brought about by uncleanliness as much as by the massive increase in international travel.

Before I get started on how to fight these little incarnations of evil, let’s get something straight!

Camino ≠ bed bugs

While it’s a problem, it’s also very likely you will walk the entire way without making this unpleasant acquaintance. Many pilgrims, me included, experience a bedbug-free pilgrimage. And if there is an outbreak in an albergue, be 10 or 200 km away, you will know about it (you would be surprised how fast rumors travel on the road).

Bedbug Facts

Bedbugs, or in fancy terms – Cimex lectularius, is a blood-sucking insect. They are, quite simply, a de-romanticized version of vampires.

  • Bedbugs are approximately 4 mm long creatures of a reddish-brown color.
  • Bedbugs feed on human or animal blood. They are nocturnal creatures that hide in dark spaces until the night. Unfortunately, they are not very picky in terms of their habitat and don’t stick to beds exclusively but can infest furniture, sleeping bags, rucksacks… anything fabric-based.
  • Fortunately, bedbugs don’t transmit any diseases, at least not in temperate climates, so you don’t need to be afraid of long-lasting consequences. However, their bites can be quite painful and create rashes for some people or provoke an allergic reaction. You will know bed bugs have bitten you if the bites are in a line or zig-zag pattern.
  • While you sleep, they don’t just bite but also sneak inside luggage, sleeping bags, or clothes and thus hitching a ride to the next albergue to spread their reign of terror.

Before You Go on the Camino

There are a few things you can do to prevent bedbug infestation before you leave for the Camino.

  • You can buy sleeping bags, backpacks, or sheets that have been pre-treated against bed bugs.
  • Get a silk sleeping bag liner as bedbugs find it difficult to get through silk.
  • Spray your equipment against bedbugs yourself using permethrin-based products. However, be careful and make sure to follow the instructions as the product might be toxic to pets.
  • Arm yourself with a small torch so you can check the beds thoroughly, and if you know, you are sensitive to insect bites, in general, consult your GP and take along some medicine. Otherwise, you can buy a general treatment in pharmacies along the road. Pharmacies in Spain are like Starbucks, on every corner, literally.

How to Spot a Bedbug

You know there are (or have been) bedbugs if you can find the following indicators on  the mattress or bed frame:

  • small blood spots
  • clusters of suspicious black dots (their feces)
  • cast-off see-through skins
  • live bed bugs on the mattress or the bed frame

On the Camino

  • When you get to an albergue, don’t put your backpack on the bed just yet.
  • Take out your torch and make sure to check everything above and beyond the bed. Examine the bunk frame, mattress as well as pillows (if available). Focus on cracks, mattress seams, and bed joints in particular because, as mentioned already, they like dark spaces.
  • If you do find anything inform the hospitalero immediately, pack your stuff and shuffle on to find new accommodation. You might be offered another room, but I wouldn’t take the risk. If one room is infected, it’s likely the others are too although it might not yet be visible.
  • If you are slightly paranoid and need to take it a bit further, don’t put your backpack on, under, or against the bed no matter where you are. Keep it closed when you aren’t packing or unpacking and seal it in a plastic bag overnight.
  • Keep yourself covered, as the bugs go after exposed skin. Hence most bites are on the arms, feet, or neck.
  • Before packing and walking on, thoroughly shake out the sleeping bag.

If You Find a Bite

  • Rule number 1: Don’t panic, it’s gonna be OK.
  • No matter how tempting it is, try not to scratch the bites and seek out the closest pharmacy to buy the necessary treatment. If you feel queasy or have a violent skin reaction, pay a visit to a local hospital.
  • Inform the hospitalero immediately. However, if you don’t notice the bites until you are on the road, tell the hospitalero in the next albergue, so they can call and inform them for you.
  • Whether you have a single bite or a hundred, assume the whole “operation” has been compromised. Before you settle in the next hostel, you need to debug your belongings.

Debugging on the Road

Method 1

  • Layout all your possessions on the ground (outside) and spray with Permethrin or other bug insecticide known to be effective against bed bugs.
  • Allow the items to dry in the sun
  • Next, wash them by hand or a washing machine with hot water and dry in a hot dryer.
  • If you are in a bigger town and have the finances, take everything including your clothes, sleeping bag and backpack to the dry cleaners.

Method 2

  • If it’s summer, take everything out of your backpack and turn all the pockets inside out.
  • Put everything into a black garbage bag (pack loosely)
  • Close it tightly
  • Leave it boiling in the sun for several hours
  • Then, if possible wash everything in hot water and dry in a dryer.

After the process is done thoroughly examine all the seams and pockets of all your items. It’s a hassle, I know, but if you fail to act quickly, you risk spreading the bedbugs to other albergues and even to your home after your return.

Bottom Line

Bedbugs have been a problem on the Camino but definitely not a reason to give up the pilgrimage altogether. It’s probable you will not come across any infected albergues. Plus, if you follow the advice and check beforehand, you will be able to avoid impending disaster and find another place to sleep.

Keep safe, be smart, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

18 thoughts on “Bed Bugs on the Camino de Santiago”

  1. I read somewhere that bed bugs don’t like alcohol. The two times we have encountered bed bugs my wife got the bites and I did not sleeping in the same bed. But I typically have a drink or two or three when on holidays.

    • I doubt it had anything to do with alcohol. Same thing happened to us. Wife got bites and i had no signs of bites. But reality is some people react to bb bites and some do not. I most likely had bites but had no reaction. This happened before at another setting and exactly the same thing happened.

    • Good advice. I was planning on hostelling it most of the way when I go, but now I’m thinking, “camp as much as I can and then stop off for a bit pampering (sans bed bugs hopefully!) once a week. But your suggestion really resonates. Thank you.

      PS: have you camped the Camino Frances?

      • I haven’t camped on the Camino, Spain is not really open to wild camping, and there are few campsites along the way. I mostly stay in albergues and then once a week stay in a pension to have time on my own.

  2. After completing the Camino, my son treated me to two nights in a fancy hotel. Don’t remember the name, but the advertised as “the letters.” 5 star hotel.
    I was chomped on for two nights. I complained to the staff and was told they didn’t have bedbugs. I complained to my son in CA and he talked to the manager who said we had a language problem and I didn’t understand him! His English was just fine!
    The bill was not paid.
    When I returned home, I put everything out on the grass, emptied my purse and then when tip to my front door where I took all my clothes off and went straight to the shower. I sprayed all my stuff outside and took the luggage straight to the dump!

  3. I read that using a silk liner to sleep in I’d the best deterrent, or a material already treated with permethrin. Treat rucksack and sleeping bag before you go.
    Never had any problems. Prevention always better than cure.
    As it reached 35C in daytime in September and very warm nights, a liner is all I took with me!
    Buon Camino!x

    • I know someone who wore a liner but still got bitten in spots where skin was exposed. So unless you are totally i side the liner throughout the night any exposed skin will be bitten. And those that react to bb bites will react to it. I do not react to bb bites so i have no reaction.

  4. My wife and I were bitten by bedbugs on both of our Camino, the first in 2009 in Spain and the second in 2013 in France just before we reached St. Jean Pied A Port, the last stop before crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. Neither time did we have any warning that bedbugs were in our accommodation. And neither time were the hostels particularly interested in reporting or cleaning them out, which is a big job during the Camino late summer season, September. My wife had bad reactions to bedbugs, so had to see a doctor to get antibiotics and strong antihistamines. Also had to wash our backpacks and all our stuff in very hot water/hot dryer, luckily these were available. Bedbugs to be treated as a serious problem on the Camino!

  5. Very interesting great information i walked camino francis 2012 33 days .i encountered no bugs .i used a silk liner .i think it was treated thanks for your great reports

  6. We only encountered the little blighters once on the Frances. And it was in a very nice, almost new, albergue in Foncebadon. It was a privately owned one as well.
    It was a pain in more ways than one but we dealt with it with minimal fuss.
    What we did find out later was the Municipale albergues are debugged and inspected regularly so even though some of the Municipales are somewhat old and shabby maybe you are less like to get the “chinchas”?
    All part of the rich tapestry that is the Camino.

  7. I had read about bed bugs before doing the Camino. So I brought along my own bed sheet, sized for a single sized bed that I had sprayed with bed bug repellant. I would place this sheet on top of any bed upon which I slept with my sleeping bag. I never had an issue. But my sister that was along on the Camino with me did not do the same thing and she get bed bug bites at one location.

  8. Hi there,
    Always lots of good information in your Blogs, I have done 2 Caminos, and used a Eucalyptus Spray, and never been bitten once, you can buy a cheap atomizer in a $2 Shop, and just Spray all your clothes & Equipment once a week.


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