Every July in the north of Spain there’s city that epitomizes, danger, drinking and dancing: Pamplona. To revel in those activities, the entire population dresses in red and white for the city’s famous festival, The Running of the Bulls (in Spanish, el encierro — literally, “the enclosing”) in celebration of San Fermines. San Fermin is the patron saint of Pamplona and also of cobblers, winemakers, and bakers. This makes sense, since the celebration of San Fermin is a week of wine, running, and eating. If there was ever a legendary party, particularly of men, it’s this revelry week in Pamplona. I thought I might have been down under in Australia, because if there’s ever a non-stop party that involves drinking, danger, and the opportunity to risk one’s life, the Aussies will be there to participate wholeheartedly.
San Fermin is a 9-day party. The entire city is outdoors, at all times. You’ll even see elderly people still dancing at 3 a.m. by the light of the moon… but of course, this is Spain.
The running of the bulls starts each morning at 8 o’clock, when a rocket explodes to let the people know the bulls have been released. It’s an incredible, adrenalin-sparking sight. The bulls’ route winds half a mile and the average encierro lasts for three minutes. Take note, encierros can be dangerous for runners and bystanders. The size of the crowd, the bulls’ unpredictability, and the experience of the participant all contribute to the ever-changing risk factor. These bulls are not calm, tranquil farm animals that one would approach to pet.
At this festival, it’s not only the running of the bulls that ignites the party — there are also fireworks, bullfights, music everywhere with dancing, and religious ceremonies. The kickoff party is known as Txupinazo and starts at noon in the square. It’s completely insane! Be careful, because like the festival, Tomatina — in which tomatoes will likely be thrown at you — it is not tomatoes that will be hurled, but rather wine, champagne, and water balloons. It’s great fun if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.
Other Important Tips:
- BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS. They are everywhere! Many will even cut through purses and backpacks in the middle of huge groups when you’re distracted by the excitement. The police station is actually another party, since so many people end up there, frantic with problems. Do not be one of them.
- If you’re brave and capable enough to participate in the running, enter the track before 7:30 a.m. through the gates in the Plaza Consistorial. Do not wear any cherished garments. You can tie your country’s flag around your neck, which is prevalent with Australians.
- If you fall, curl up and don’t move until someone taps you on the shoulder. If you’re near a bull and you fall, do not get up. The bull will leave you alone and continue running, but if you get up, the bull is likely to attack you. This is the most common mistake among runners.
- If you’re not wearing red and white, you really will look out of place. This is a party where it doesn’t matter where you’re from in the world. Everyone is rejoicing, so simply wear the appropriate clothing.
- It does get cold. Even though you’re in Spain and it’s summer, there are nights when it can feel freezing.
You’ll have an amazing time in Pamplona! It’s one of the world’s biggest parties, and one you surely won’t want to miss.