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 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-romanticised 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 time comes. Unfortunately, they are not very picky in term 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

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 silk liners 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 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 other 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 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

  • Lay out 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 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!

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  1. James on April 10, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Sensible article, well written.
    I always use a a bug resistant silk liner. Cheap and effective:))

  2. Katie Golsan on April 10, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    My daughter and I did the camino in Sept 2015. Upon arrival at an albergue, we checked the beds as instructed, when we and two other women found traces of blood on the sheet just as you describe, we did as we had read–we informed the albergue owners–we were all 4 screamed at and told how dirty we were, and literally thrown out on the street and our money for the night was not returned. We concluded it was naive to think they would thank us since after all, it was terrible for their business to say that. We were terribly distressed by this event and would think twice before saying anything again.

  3. Pim Prins NL on April 16, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    I did the camino in October-Noverber2017 and never saw bedbugs. I always checked my bed.
    Never put your backpack on the bed, that is rule number one!
    Be clean, body and sleping equipment.

  4. Barbara Cartwright on April 16, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    In Sept 17. I sprayed my sleeping bag & liner, rucksack & all my outer clothes befor I went. I didn’t have any problems. My friend was bitten at an alburgue, but wasnt aware until on the road the next day. She informed the next alburgue who kindly leant her clothes, whilst they treated and washed everything she owned. They also informed the previous alburgue.

    • Leslie J Mitchell on April 16, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      Good, common sense article. I have worked as an hospitalera at an albergue, and we requested that pilgrims never put their backpacks on the beds. We were diligent about checking the beds and never had an issue with bedbugs. If a pilgrim showed up with possible bed bug bites, we would lend them clothes and help them wash everything, without judgement.

  5. Regina Daly on April 17, 2018 at 1:39 am

    All the albergues I stayed in had plastic mattress covers. The management in some places gave out sheets with corners built in . Then I put my sleeping bag on top. There was never any problem.

  6. maria on April 17, 2018 at 5:58 am

    it is a problem and especially one we as travellers should be well aware of. Shoes should be left OUTSIDE the room, bags NEVER placed on beds and everything shaken out prior to laying on and spray the bed as soon as you arrive. These are quick and small precautions.
    The albergue should be informed and do not worry if they react badly…they are in denial and know exactly their errors.

    • Ruby Tuesday on April 17, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      Thank you for your info on those blood sucking creatures. I’m just starting to plan my trip now & I’m looking for ALL the information I can get. And believe me….those nasty creatures are on my mind!

  7. Mornina on April 18, 2018 at 6:32 am

    I wish I had seen this article before. I’m about to start a first time walk to see if I want to do the whole Camino Frances. I’m in Spain already & start from Lugo tomorrow. I enquired in Mountain Warehouse about a spray for bedbugs & they only had skin spray insect repellent so I thought there wasn’t a product available. I did spray my silk liner with natural insect repellent (Mosiguard) before I left which made it smell nice but not sure how effective it will be.
    ONE QUESTION – How do 4mm bugs get through fabric? Are the leaving holes as they go?

  8. Elise S Ciribassi on April 19, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    My husband and I did Camino in June 2017 and encountered only clean wonderful bed-bug free Alburges.
    I did not even meet anyone that encountered them. We did spray all our belongings and backpacks well with a permethrin spray from the hardware store before we left. The Alburges we used seemed to have plastic coated mattresses that appeared newer? My advice–go and have fun! trip of a lifetime. Don’t let bed-bugs spoil your trip.

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