Another August of holidays and cooky festivals in Spain has come to an end. Bulls running, parades, and the best of all… a tomato food fight. I attended this festival – known as La Tomatina – this time last year and it was easily the craziest one I’ve ever been to. In the tiny town of Buñol outside of Valencia in the East, tourists flock from literally everywhere for the chance to throw some tomatoes at perfect strangers. So many people participate in fact that there’s a limit on how many people can be in the city.
If you’re in Spain and up for this one-of-a-kind experience, here’s what you need to know.
– How to Get There –
A few companies run a day trip from Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. They’ll shuttle by bus early in the morning, let you have your fun during the day, and have a meeting point in the afternoon to shuttle back. Most will include a paella lunch before departing home, but it’s a good idea to bring snacks. Tickets will go on sale 1-2 months before the festival and the prices go up the closer it gets, so book early.
You can try to take local transport from Valencia, but because of the limit on people allowed in the city, they may have a cutoff. Driving there will be the same issue and parking will be quite far away, if at all, so I highly suggest the package option. Visit the official website for more details and ticket info.
– What to Bring –
You will need the following :
- Your printed ticket
- Clothes you don’t mind throwing away for the fight
- Old sneakers you don’t mind throwing away or having smell for about a month – NO flip flops as they will get sucked into the river of tomato juice
- Waterproof housing for a phone or camera that can be strapped to you – nothing in your pocket will survive
- Change of clothes & shoes
- Snack for the bus
- A snorkel mask (not swimming goggles) is pretty helpful, not necessarily to be able to see but to protect your eyeballs. I got a tomato straight to the eye and thought I was blind for a few seconds. A bit dramatic? Perhaps.
- GoPro or waterproof camera (but your phone with a waterproof case is fine)
DON’T Bring :
- Purse, wallet, anything you don’t mind leaving on the bus.
- Money – you’re already paid for so you don’t need any
- Anything with you when participating in the fight. Maybe bring a euro or two if it can fit in the waterproof bag.
– What To Expect During The Fight –
The entire point of the tomato fight – if you were wondering if there was a reason for it – has nothing to do with the vegetable itself actually. A ham (the subject of many Spanish festivals of course) is strapped to the top of a greased pole and at the fire of a gun, anyone who can get to the top first, claims the ham and respect. It takes a while for someone to reach the top, so in the meantime, locals like to toss buckets of water off their balcony onto the mob for a laugh – so welcome it with a cheer. It’ll be difficult to see the status of the ham, but be careful if you mount someones shoulders for a glimpse – its tradition to flash your hoo-hahs if you do it and the crowd will be expecting it.
After a bit of time, there’ll be some cheering and someones either fallen or successfully gotten the leg. It’s usually an Australian or British tourist, but whomever it is, they parade their ham down the street and a few moments later… the fight begins!
Dump trucks filled with tons of tomatoes and volunteers to do the lobbing will file one by one down the street in intervals. The closer to the square where the pole and ham are, the more crowded and more action there is. Heed my warning, the space between the trucks and the buildings is SMALL and you’ll be pushed like sardines by guards so the trucks don’t run you over. If you have claustrophobia, avoid this area. Between each truck procession is when you can grab handfuls of ‘maters off the ground and begin assaulting anyone in your vicinity. Tall people beware, you’re the easiest target. It’ll be everything you hoped for and more – a massive, adult food fight in the street with no teachers or parents to reprimand you.
After a few of these processions and perhaps a few hours later, you yourself will be a tomato, the streets are a river of juice, and it’s all over.
– After the Fight –
Now, the bus companies won’t allow you on the bus if you’re still dirty, which is quite the conundrum seeing as you’ll be fully saturated in juice, seeds, and skins. But fear not! The sweet Spanish locals offer hose showers along the streets – some for free, some for 1€. This shower is more like a 5 second rinse and they control the hose, but it’ll do the job for the short term. Some places along the road will offer a proper shower for a bit more if you’re really uncomfortable. Once back to the bus, use a towel to get leftovers off and change into clean clothes for the bus ride home.