By no means am I a thrill seeker. Truth be told, I’m the exact opposite. You’ll never catch me jumping out of a plane, or going bungee jumping, or anything even remotely close to it. That being said, I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. I don’t know what compelled me to do this incredibly dangerous act but alcohol may have been involved. Aside from the actual running, this event is one of the most impressive festivities that Spain has to offer, and if you have the chance you should definitely check it out.
About The Festival
The Running Of The Bulls is a part of the huge San Fermin festival in the small town of Pamplona in north-eastern Spain, near the French border. The festival is held every year from July 6-14th , during which there is a bull running through the city streets. Racing from their corral to the bull fighting arena, any daring onlooker can jump into the race and try their chances racing in front of about a dozen bulls. The threat of injury is very real, with numerous people getting injured during the run (usually between 200-300 every year) and 15 people being killed during the race since the record keeping began in 1910. The festival is an amazing experience outside of the running, as it also draws visitors from all over Spain and beyond.
How Do I Get To Pamplona & Where Should I Stay?
Plan ahead. That is the best advice I can give you for this trip, and I can’t say it enough. The further ahead you plan, the more money you will be able to save yourself. With the influx of people who go to this festival, airfare to any airport even remotely near Pamplona will skyrocket on dates around the festival, so here are some options. If you don’t mind paying for it, domestic flights in Spain can fly into Pamplona Airport, Logroño-Agoncillo Airport (1 hour away), San Sebastián Airport (1 hour 15 min away), Burgos Airport (2 hours away), or Santander Airport (2 hours 30 min away) , at the dearest cost. Subsequently international travelers will also be hit with large fares trying to fly into the next closest international airports, Bilbao Airport (1 hour 45 min away) Zaragoza Airport (1 hour 45 min away), or Biarritz Airport in south-western France (1 hour 30 min away). Prices will go up in France as well, but early bookers tend to save money and still stay close to the festival. For those that are in trouble and need to branch farther out, Madrid Airport (3 hours away) is an option but if you are like me and wait until the absolute last-minute, the last option I would recommend would be what I did, flying in to Barcelona Airport which will be just about a 4 hour 30 minute drive. Take it from me, it pays to plan ahead.
How to get from the airport to Pamplona?
Now once you land in whatever airport you managed to get a decent fare for, the next obstacle is getting transportation to Pamplona. The first of three options is to rent a car. If you are going in a group this may be a great way to save money and add a bit more adventure to the travels. For extreme savers, the car can also double as a place to sleep, but personally I wouldn’t recommend it, seeing as it is Spain in July and anywhere between 85 and 95 degrees. But the down side to a car is it is usually more cumbersome than helpful as you have to worry about parking for it as well, and although that doesn’t sound like a big deal, with a festival that draws these numbers of people, it becomes a task. For solo travelers renting a car is the most expensive option. Your second option would be to take a bus, but be well aware that the overwhelming majority of people going to Pamplona will be taking a bus, and they book out very far in advance. Getting a bus ticket will be very difficult and I would make it a priority to check times and availability before booking your flight to make sure you’re not stuck without a ride the first night you land. Keep in mind the busses aren’t always the most comfortable or time efficient as they pack everyone in and usually make multiple stops on the way to their destination. The third and final option you could do would be a ride share. There are websites all over Europe such as Carpooling.com which allow you to put in your desired route to the search engine and it will show you if any member of the site is planning on going the same route. If they are you can request to join them and chip in a set amount (determined before confirming the booking, usually posted quite clearly in the listing) for gas, meet up and travel together. This is a great way to save cash, meet new people, and you don’t have to worry about parking the car once you get out in the city.
You have a lot of options for accommodations in Pamplona but you may need to do some research in finding somewhere that hasn’t been snatched up already. For any of the options below, I can’t stress it enough, you must book as far in advance as possible in order to save some money. Here are the different choices you have:
Couchsurfing – FREE
Many of you have heard of the website Couchsurfing.com but for those who aren’t familiar, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A willing host lets you crash on their floor, couch, extra bed, futon, or whatever is available, for free. Trade off is you chat a little, meet some new people, and make some new friends from a foreign country who may be able to return the favor some day. It’s a novel idea and is used all over the world. Now during a major event like this you need to read people’s profiles carefully as many will say they do not accept surfers during a big festival like this, but it is somewhere to check for accommodation, you never know, you might find something and get a free place to stay.
Camping – $10-20 per night
So the most cost-effective option which a surprising number of people did while I was there was camping. There are pay campgrounds (some less than $10 per night/per tent), and there were quite a few people who had no problem getting comfortable on any old patch of grass or field that happened to be close to the city. I tend to travel with expensive belongings (my photography camera, my iPad etc.) so I prefer to have somewhere I can lock these things up. But if you’re traveling light and enjoy the outdoors, this is a great and cheap option for you.
Hostels – $55-110 per night
Every hostel in the city will fill up and to be honest, the majority closest to the city center fill up months in advance. Another idea is to check hostels in nearby towns as well since there will almost certainly be transportation to Pamplona from where you are. This option, if you find anything, will run you anywhere from $55-115 a night. Any other time of the year you would pay less than 1/3 of those prices, but during the San Fermin festival, the rates all go up.
Air BnB – $70-400 a night depending on location
Another website letting people share their apartments or houses is Air BnB. The basic premise of the site is, if you have an extra bedroom, or in this case even a free couch, you can charge guests per night to stay in it. If you’re in a jam its an option and usually the places are really nice. The people staying leave references for hosts so you know the type of person you’re staying with and it can be a very clean and tidy place to crash. Those closest to the action or with balconies you can watch the running from, will charge the highest prices, some going for as high as $500 a night.
Where Should I Be To Watch The Running Of The Bulls?
You have a few choices when it comes to watching the event, the first and most obvious of which is to station yourself along the route. Now the route is blocked off by two rows of very large very thick wood fencing, large enough for a person to jump through but narrow enough to block a bull. These fences are the most common perches for people to sit on throughout the length of the route. You get a great view, but the spots are hard to come by. I saw people going to the fences almost 3 hours before the run to get their spots and hold them so plan ahead.
The next option is to rent a spot on a balcony. There are countless balconies all along the route and many of the owners allow spectators to come up at anywhere from $60-200 per person. These are a very comfortable way to get a great birds eye view of the action but obviously pretty pricy.
Your third and final option is to buy a ticket to enter the bull fighting arena and sit down inside and wait for the action to come to you. Although you miss the actual running and only catch the end of the route, you get to see some great action (as well as a traditional musical performance) on the inside of the arena. Tickets can be bought from vendors walking around outside the arena for around $40 each if you barter with them.
If you are in Pamplona for more than one day, I would definitely recommend trying out at least two of these options. It is definitely worth it to try to see both the route during the run, and the inside of the arena.
So You Want To Know How To Run With The Bulls
Think about this long and hard. You can go to the event and watch the running from awesome seats right along the route, or even go into the bull fighting arena and watch all of the action, all the while staying safe. But if you’re insisting on running, here is what you need to know.
- 12 bulls run, 6 aggressive bulls, and 6 castrated steers which help guide the bulls but are not aggressive
- The first rocket goes off at 8am letting you know that the gates are open, the second rocket means all of the bulls are out
- Get in the street early, it gets full fast and its harder to get in the more crowded it gets (and the police stop you)
- Train, and be in decent shape, the run is 830 meters, just over 900 yards and lasts about 4 minutes
- Wear proper clothes, good running shoes and no loose clothing, and don’t have a backpack or anything unnecessary on you
- Don’t try to film yourself, the police will throw you out as soon as they see a camera in your hand
- If you want to mount a GoPro on your head or chest, that is fine, so long as its mounted and you don’t have to hold it, they will allow you to run
- DO NOT position yourself near corners, bulls can’t run corners and often crash into walls or fall down, stick to straight paths
- Don’t position yourself near the end of the course to try to make it easy for yourself to run into the arena, they funnel off the first 500 or so people closest to the arena to a nearby road to clear the entrance
- Don’t run into the arena too early before the bulls, if you do, you’ll be heckled by the crowd for being a coward and they’ll throw trash at you
- DON’T FALL, do everything you can to stay on your feet
- If you do fall . . . see the above rule
- If the bulls are getting too close and you can’t run fast enough, tuck flat against a wall and let them go by
- Don’t run in front of the bulls for too long, just one or two seconds is fine, then step aside to let them go by, you won’t outrun them, there are too many obstacles in front of you
- Once the bulls make it into the arena, the larger placid steers guide them through to the corrals
- If you make it to the arena, be warned, one at a time they let a bull back into the arena for people to try their luck with them
Hopefully this helped getting you to, and then enjoying one of the coolest festivals that Spain or even Europe has to offer. It is an amazing time and a great atmosphere. Be safe and enjoy yourself.
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