Thinking of a cool summer trip? Think no further and visit La Tomatina, the biggest food fight of the world! This blog will give you some insights on the festival and describe the way I experienced it in the summer of 2017. There are a lot of pros and cons regarding this traditional festivity, but I will not mingle onto that topic. Let me take you on a journey to describe how it feels to smell like tomatoes for a week! Be sure to check this one off your bucket list!
On the last Wednesday of August, the small town of Buñol in Spain celebrates the world famous La Tomatina festival. It is one of the most famous festivals in Spain which attracts a lot of tourism. The festival first started in 1945, when a brawl between young inhabitants of the town was near a vegetable stable filled with tomatoes, the rest is history. After briefly being banned in the 50’s, until its revival in 1957. La Tomatina in its current form was established since the 80’s, at that time the town started to facilitate the tomatoes to all the visitors of the festival.
Preparations to do before you go
Be sure to purchase your ticket a couple months before the festival starts. Since a few years they limited the amount of visitors allowed in Buñol, do to its popularity. The safest way to purchase your ticket is through the official page of La Tomatina (http://latomatina.info/en/). The admission ticket itself including a shuttle bus is around € 50,- per person from Valencia (leaving from Barcelona or Madrid is around € 90,- per person). For a few extra euros you can also get a delicious Paella meal (without tomatoes) after the festival is done. Also make sure you decide what kind of ticket you want, because there are a few varieties possible (all with different prices). There is a pre party, the actual La Tomatina itself and an after party for those who simply cannot get enough! Check the official page for a ticket of your liking.
We only went for the actual festival and had a brief experience of the after party, be sure to buy a transportation ticket as well for the buses or coaches to take you to the festival sight.
You can also choose to buy an arranged ticket with a hostel in Valencia, but we recommend you book your flight tickets yourself to Valencia and there for a few days yourself.
Be sure to pack the following:
- Goggles, if you do not bring goggles you can always purchase them on the bus/coach but for a higher price;
- Waterproof holder for your phone, it gets messy. So if you want to use your phone during the food frenzy, be sure to buy a waterproof holder which you can carry around your neck. Also usually available for purchase on the bus/coach;
- Set of clothing you want to throw away. And with throwing away set of clothes I really mean everything you will wear. Shoes, socks and even underwear are not safe for the tomatoes. You will get an official La Tomatina T-Shirt, up to you if you want to keep it as a souvenir or just go in the mayhem with it like most of the people do (be sure to wear a white shirt, you will see why 🙂 );
- If you bring a GoPro, be sure to not carry the selfie stick with you. Long objects are not allowed inside, you will be forced to leave it outside of the festival perimeters! Only bring a waterproof camera.
Early in the morning we left our hotel in Valencia to gather with thousands of other tomato enthusiasts at the Valencia main station. From there several busses/coaches leave early in the morning between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM. There are some fast food restaurants which open early at the station, so be sure to buy yourself some breakfast.
Be prepared, because chaos is what awaits you. There are a lot of buses and coaches everywhere. You are assigned to a specific line number and all the buses have line numbers, but they do not come in any order of ranking. If you do not find your bus or coach, do not worry. We just asked the tour guide (every bus/coach has one) if there were free spots and stayed with that tour guide throughout the day.
You can also drive there with your own vehicle if that is what you prefer.
The drive by bus/coach took about 1 to 1,5 hours. Of course a lot of visitors (20,000 fellow souls) will also attend, so it takes some extra time to get parked.
During the bus ride our tour guide told us about the history of the festival, gave us the bracelets to show that we have a valid entry, a free T-Shirt of La Tomatina, and another bracelet if you purchased the Paella meal afterwards. She also sold waterproof holders for phones and safety goggles.
Once arrived we walked through Buñol, passing a lot of local DJ’s playing Latin music, food and drink stands, and locals enjoying the annual festival with family and friends.
After walking for 20 to 30 minutes we finally arrived at the security entrance. Be sure to NOT bring a backpack, valuable items (like passport, wallet), or a selfie stick. Blunt items are not allowed inside and you will be forced to either get a locker (not recommended, just a few and crowded) or leave them in a trash can. We left all our valuable items in the bus/coach and were fortunate that our tour guide took our backpacks with her.
After getting through the security check we were there, let the festivities begin.
La Tomatina begins
Thrilled, that is what we were after walking towards the towns square to get close to the action were 20,000 people were waiting for the madness to begin.
Before the tomatoes come to play, palo-jabón steals the show. Palo-jabón are poles covered with soap with a Spanish prosciutto (dry-cured ham) on top. The person who climbs to the top wins… the ham! It is a fun event and you will see people teaming up trying to get to the top of the slippery pole.
After that, the water cannons start to kick in. All over the streets water cannons blast cold water on the visiting crowd, hyping everyone up. If you were sleepy waking up early to catch the bus, no worries, this will wake you up better than coffee.
There you are, soaking wet and it is 11:00 AM. Now what? Now, the fun really begins! After a few firework blasts you will see trucks coming through the crowd. Security infront of the vehicles make a safe path for the trucks to pass. But, the trucks are not empty handed. They are filled with tons of tomatoes!
The people on the trucks have no mercy at all. They have one job: to distribute the tomatoes by force into the crowd. 7 to 8 trucks will pass, leaving red everywhere they go. Let the food fight begin!
People will go crazy, the streets are filled with tomato juice and you will have to get your arsenal of tomatoes and throw them at as many people as possible. Be sure to squash the tomatoes a bit, they can be brutal to the head. One hour of total mayhem until the last firework blast strikes 12:00 PM. The fight is over, and your white T-Shirt is red/pink. Your shoes are filled with mashed tomatoes, and you see a lot of red around your goggles.
Walking back to the security gates you will see the aftermath, like a bad horror movie all the walls are covered in tomatoes with rivers of tomato juice going into the sewer.
Clean up time, locals will wait for the tomato throwers with their cold garden hoses to clean you. Worst shower ever if you are fully covered in tomato pieces :-).
After disposing all of our clothes and wearing everything new from our backpack we received a liter of sangria and some Paella. Music everywhere and until 14:30 PM, we enjoy the aftermath.
Tips during the food fight
These tips will make your life easier and give you all the chance to focus on throwing tomatoes:
- Wear solid shoes, not flip-flops. The shoes will go to the garbage bin later on, be aware of that;
- Wear a white T-shirt, get a red T-shirt after the festival ;-);
- Bring that waterproof camera or use that waterproof holder for your phone. You want to make some pics while attending;
- Goggles on, wait for a water canon to spray away the tomato mash of your goggles when blinded by a red sight and go on with the fight!;
- Just enjoy! The actual festival takes an hour, be sure to enjoy every single minute of this ridiculously cool event!
La Tomatina is a once in a lifetime must visit event. Writing about it does not come near the experience of actually being part of the action. Yes, there is some controversy about the event, but experiencing this once will be something you will never forget.