Pure madness. That is the only way I can describe the amazing and unique festival known as La Tomatina. If you can imagine, more than 20,000 people and over 150,000 tomatoes, combine to create the biggest, dirtiest, grossest, food fight in the world. It was one of the most shocking & awesome experiences I have ever had, and hopefully this will help you decide to go to it.
What Is La Tomatina & Where Is It Held?
La Tomatina is a colossal food fight where participants throw only tomatoes at each other purely for entertainment. It is held the last Wednesday of every August in the very small town of Buñol, Spain, a part of the province of Valencia. It is a tradition dating back to 1945 when it was borderline illegal. Through the years it gained popularity and notoriety, yet the local authorities frowned upon the event occurring. It wasn’t until 1980 that the town hall took control of the event, finally acknowledging that it was going to become a regular occurrence no matter what, and it’s popularity grew exponentially. As many as 40,000 people were inundating this tiny town in the days before and after the festival every year, which has now prompted the local authorities to take action to regulate the number of people who come.
With various celebrations going on in the days before the actual tomato fight, such as cooking contests and fireworks, the main event is held on Wednesday morning, which as I said above is the last Wednesday of every August. La Tomatina begins at 10 am with participants trying to climb a heavily greased pole (similar to a telephone / utility pole) to reach the ham that is situated at the top. Once the ham is reached (usually about 11 am) a water cannon fires off to let you know that the festival has begun.
Six dump trucks (larger than those in the states, as these are closer in length to 18 wheelers) slowly bring in the approximate 40 metic tons of tomatoes as participants from within the trucks throw tomatoes in every direction. Once each of the trucks reaches various points in the (very short) route through the city, they lift the bed and dump the entire contents of the truck into the streets, creating a literal river (usually about up to your mid shin) of tomatoes.
After one solid hour of throwing tomatoes at complete strangers, the second water cannon goes off to notify you of the end of the event. Fire trucks then slowly creep their way through the masses and hose down the streets. Believe it or not, the street is actually cleaner after everything is washed away than it was at the start thanks to the acidic tomato juice disinfecting and cleaning the cobblestone streets.
How Do I Get Tickets to La Tomatina?
Of all the things you need to work out for this festival, like transportation, accommodation, etc., this is probably the most difficult things to sort out. So as of 2013, the local authorities decided to charge a €10 ($14) entry fee for anyone who wants to be in the center of the “Tomato Area” (as they put it). You receive a bracelet when you arrive in the town and although it looks a lot like an entry fee, the local authorities swear it is not. They say they are a “…government tax of the Excellency Town Hall of Buñol…” So it’s a ticket, and without one, you can’t get down and dirty with tens of thousands of tomatoes.
In order to get a ticket you need to go to Spain-Tastic’s website and see what is available. (I will refer to Spain-Tastic numerous times throughout this post, only because they are the only certified online seller of the tickets) Even as I post this, more than two months before the actual festival, the individual tickets are sold out. But don’t worry, there are other (more expensive) options to get a ticket. If you head over to the Tomatina Tours page you can see the different options that are available to purchase, but the great part is, a lot of this helps you reduce the leg work later on by guaranteeing your transportation from various cities to the festival, including cities quite far away like Madrid or Barcelona.
The ticket options start with “VIP” options and meals / drinks included, and move up to full transportation to and from various major cities to the festival, and some even include a shower after the event is over before you leave. That might not sound like a big deal, but trust me, you will have tomato in the most unmentionable places you can think of. The shower after is something you’ll be eternally thankful for. The tickets keep going up in price until you reach one of the ultimate tickets, a place inside one of the dump trucks to shower tomatoes down on everyone as you slowly drive through the center of the town.
Finding Accommodation For La Tomatina
Much like The Running Of The Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, this event has thousands and thousands of people who want to attend which make finding accommodation difficult but not quite as bad as Pamplona. The good thing is you have some options, but you need to plan ahead and book in advance if you want to ensure you have a place to stay.
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 – FREE (but there is a catch)
So there aren’t exactly any designated camp grounds, at least none that I found. But there is an option for those budget travelers who don’t mind not having an uncomfortable place to sleep. Something that was extremely common as I walked through the streets of Buñol was people sleeping in their cars. I got the chance to speak with some of these travelers, and a lot of them were foreigners who decided to come last-minute and couldn’t find accommodations. The only option they had left was to put up a few shirts or a sheet in the windows, recline the seats, and doze off for the night. Although not the most comfortable, it is a cheap place to sleep (if only for a night) and safety in numbers is definitely a plus if there are a few of you in the car. The catch to this however is that temperatures in Buñol can get into the high 90s during the summer and baking in a car is the last place you want to be if the temperature is that hot. So that being said I wouldn’t recommend this option, but if you’re really in a jam, I suppose it is a possibility.
Hostels – $35-80 per night (dorm) $100+ per night for a private room
So there are not too many hostels in the city of Buñol itself, and those that are fill up fast. The next closest option would be the city of Valencia which, thankfully, has a plethora of places to stay, and is only about 30 min away. The even better part to this is, most of those hostels will either provide transportation to and from (for an additional fee) or they can direct you to somewhere to find transportation back and forth to the festival. I definitely think this is the most economical and comfortable option. For those who are deciding to go from farther away, as I mentioned above, Spain-Tastic does provide options for tickets that include transportation from both Madrid and Barcelona which are about 3 and 3.5 hours away respectively.
Hotels – $140+ per night
Hotels in the city of Buñol are harder to come by (and usually come at a premium) but there are quite a few in Valencia. If you are going to spring for a hotel, you might as well look for the Spaintastic options for tickets, as they have accommodation options inclusive of tickets and transportation to and from the festival which will take care of two tasks at once.
Air BnB – $60+ a night depending on location
Air BnB options are limited but they are there. Various options are available (in advance of course) both in Buñol and in Valencia however this option (although it may provide a cheaper accommodation) leaves you with the task of finding your own transportation to the festival if you end up staying outside the city. With a little planning, you can exercise this option and save yourself some cash if you book outside of Buñol, provided you can find some transport to the festival, but of course you take the chance the longer you wait to book anything.
How To Get To Buñol
The task of getting to Buñol is difficult, however it is not quite as difficult as it is for one of Spain’s other major events, The Running Of The Bulls. The nearby city of Valencia has its own airport which makes for a pretty easy transition to get to the event. Book in advance to guarantee the cheapest fare and availability on flights. If you can’t fly in to Valencia, you are going to have to go a decent drive away in order to get there, such as Allicante Airport about 2 hours away. Of course the broader you search the more likely you are to get cheaper fares, such as flying into Madrid Airport (about 3 hours away) or Barcelona Airport (about 3.5 hours away). More than likely you will be able to find decent fares into these cities (especially if you are flying from within Europe) but the problem then becomes how to get to Buñol / Valencia from there.
The busses are the most popular and most crowded option. These seats fill up very fast so make sure you book in advance to guarantee you have a seat, otherwise you may have to wait as long as 24 hours to find another open spot on a bus to head down, which would obviously mean you would miss the festival. Trains are available from each of the two major cities near by, they will run you $90+ from Madrid and $100+ from Barcelona if there is any availability. Another option is to share a ride down using a website like Carpooling.com. The name says it all, people advertise where they are going and how much they would like passengers to chip in for gas, and then you meet up and drive down together. This is a great way to save cash and meet new people, and the drivers gain reputable profiles on the site so you know you are traveling with someone safe. Finally the last option would be to drive yourself, and as I mentioned above, if you are daring enough, (or out of necessity) that car could also double as your accommodation, but I wouldn’t personally recommend that.
All of these options being considered to get to Buñol, it may be wise to check out the transportation included ticket options that are available.
What To Do After The Festival
The fun doesn’t stop after the festival is over. Countless people parade through the city, covered in tomatoes, to eat, drink, and be merry for the rest of the day and into the night. It is definitely worth it to fit this into your schedule since it’s a great way to mingle with the locals and try some awesome local food & drink. Every bar and club will be open and packed with people from all over the world who came to the festival, and what better way to meet people than while covered on every inch of your body in tomatoes / tomato juice.
How Do I Clean Up After La Tomatina?
Many of the locals are kind enough to stand outside with hoses to help rinse you off, but because there are so many people you usually get a mere three or four seconds under the freezing cold water to help clean yourself up. Another option is to walk to the near by Buñol River to jump in and wash off, or use the public showers (which will be extremely crowded) very close to the river as well. Your best bet would be to bring a towel with you in a waterproof bag and wipe yourself down. It isn’t as good as a shower, but it will help getting the majority of the tomato off of you.
Tips For Attending La Tomatina (Ladies Make Sure You Read This)
- Everything you bring will get covered in tomatoes – Be well aware of this and don’t bring any important belongings or things you want to keep clean. No matter your efforts, they will get dirty. All it takes is for someone to push you / or you trip into a river of flowing tomatoes and the liquid will get into everything.
- Bring the bare minimum – You don’t want to be worrying about keys or wallets etc. bring the bare minimum and make sure it is all very secure wherever you keep it, especially your cash.
- Bring a change of clothes – If you have a small drawstring backpack (that you don’t mind getting dirty) that is ideal, wrap your clothes tight in ziplock bags or waterproof camping bags if you have them.
- Wear clothes (including shoes) to the event you can throw out after – Makes for fewer things to carry afterwards and they will smell of tomatoes so its best to get rid of them.
- Wear sneakers, DO NOT wear flip-flops or loose-fitting shoes – You will certainly lose any loose-fitting clothing especially shoes. If you do, you are in trouble for the rest of the day. Also the cobblestones are hard on the feet and easy to trip on so proper sneakers are a must.
- Buy goggles and ear plugs – For obvious reasons. These items will eliminate a lot of potential problems. Also buy them before you get to the event. Goggles are sold there, but at a higher cost, so you’ll save some money buying in advance.
- Get a waterproof camera – You could take a chance (like I did) and get a LifeProof case for your phone, but you take a big chance in losing the entire phone. For example, as I was taking a video, (with my back against a wall and no one behind me) a rogue tomato somehow ricocheted off of the building and knocked the phone clear out of my hands, despite the fact that I was holding it with both hands. Had it not landed on the shoulder of the woman in front of me (we were packed in extraordinarily tight) it would have fallen to the ground and I literally would not even have been able to bend down to get it, it would have gotten trampled. You take a chance in bringing it but I say do a waterproof camera or a Go Pro camera with a waterproof case instead.
- Get there EARLY – The line to pick up your tickets is very long so the earlier the better.
- There are massive crowds – If you don’t like crowds or having your personal space invaded, do not go to this. You are literally moving as one mass during the festival, it is so packed in on the tight streets you have absolutely no personal space.
- Find a spot with your back to a wall – This minimizes you getting pushed around too much and you want to avoid that, it can get aggressive in the middle of the street.
- ***Girls Pay Attention*** – Ladies, be warned these next few are for you. DO NOT go to the festival alone. Unfortunately some use this as a chance to be aggressive and women end up getting pushed down or fall and if you don’t have someone looking out for you, it could get bad.
- Layer your clothes and tape your bra – I know this sounds ridiculous but I saw numerous people doing it and it works. For some reason locals (and foreigners alike) have developed the very unbecoming habit of trying to rip off girls tops during the festival. If you have multiple layers on you’ll be fine or maybe a spandex top on under a looser fitting shirt, and as a precaution tape the hooks on your bra with a few rounds of duct tape, or better yet wear a sports bra. Better safe than sorry.
- Go in a group, and stay together – Power in numbers and the more of you the better. As I said it can get rough so having a group look out for each other ensures all get to enjoy it safely.
This festival is one of the most fantastic and unique experiences that Europe has to offer. With some planning, staying aware of your surroundings and a few safety precautions it can easily be enjoyed. It is well worth the trip to be a part of this amazing event, I definitely hope you can make it, and I hope this guide to La Tomatina helped you out!
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