On the last Wednesday of August every year, a small town in eastern Spain becomes a scene of absolute carnage. Thousands of people from Spain and beyond descend on the town for no other reason than to have a massive fight.
The brawl – which lasts for exactly one hour – is intense, unrelenting, and completely chaotic. By the time the fight ends, the streets run red…
…with mushed tomatoes.
This is La Tomatina, one of Spain’s weirdest festivals (and in Spain, where other festivals include such activities as wine fights and mass pyromania, that’s really saying something).
What began as a little altercation between a group of friends in Bunol in 1945 has grown to become the world’s biggest food fight. 30,000 people take to the narrow streets to spend 60 minutes flinging 120 tonnes of squashed, ripe tomatoes at each other.
It celebrated its 70th birthday in 2015, and it even got its very own birthday Google Doodle to mark the occasion (that’s how you know you’ve made it).
It’s a certified bucket-list experience and one that you’ll never forget – but there are a few things you should know and remember that will help you navigate the madness and have the absolute best time possible.
So whether you’re heading there this year or you’re already planning next year’s trip, here’s our survival guide to La Tomatina.
These days La Tomatina attracts around 30,000 people to Buñol, on top of the 9,000 people who live there for the rest of the year. Because of the festival’s huge popularity, it became a ticketed event a few years ago.
It only costs a tenner and it’s well worth it, but just make sure you buy and print your ticket before you go. No barcode scanners here, I’m afraid!
Buñol is a small town and there’s not a huge amount of accommodation there, so if you’re wondering where to stay we say do what everyone else does; stay in Valencia.
You can take a train to to Buñol on the morning of the big fight. The train departs from Saint Isidre in Valencia, rather than the main train station, and it’ll take you around 45 minutes to get there.
The trains depart from early morning and it’s a busy route on the day of Tomatina, so get up at the crack of dawn (or before that) and be ready for some very full carriages.
Some hotels and hostels will run private coaches to Buñol on the morning of the fight, this is well worth looking into (particularly as with many of them, you can leave a spare change of clothing etc. in the coach).
It is an absolutely terrible idea to bring anything that’s worth anything to La Tomatina.
Not only does everything get drowned in tomato, but the event can attract quite a few pickpockets – you don’t want to have to think about your valuables when you’re trying to keep your aim true.
That said, it’s not easy to leave everything behind for a day, particularly when you need to bring ID to transfer your ticket to a wristband and money, to refuel after the fight.
You’ll see some locals in the town offering to look after belongings for a small fee, and there are some lockers for rent around town too. Make use of them!
I don’t know if you’ve ever had tomato pulp thrown into your face and eyeballs for a solid hour before, but let me tell you it’s not any kind of fun. You won’t be able to see anything and it’ll sting, so get some goggles (or a snorkel mask) and keep those peepers protected.
(Or Croc-style shoes, which you can buy for a few Euro when you’re in Valencia). It’s not a piece of advice we thought we’d ever be giving, but actually they are the perfect footwear for such an occasion.
Whatever you’re wearing is going to get absolutely brutalised, but it’s not just that – afterwards, do you really want to be walking around in the August sun with your feet caked in slowly-drying over ripe tomatoes?
Yeah didn’t think so. Flip flops you say? Yeah, fair point – but they’re not as sturdy as you might want a pair of shoes when you’re in the middle of a mass food fight standing in a river of smushed fruit.
People mostly wear white tee-shirts at the fight. You should wear white too (when in Buñol and all that). With that being said, you should also note that your white t-shirt will almost certainly go see-through during the fight, so bear that in mind. We recommend wearing swimwear underneath your clothes.
This is not as gross as it sounds, and it’s an integral part of the Tomatina experience. There’s a greased up pole in the middle of the town, at the top of which is attached a ham.
People will attempt to climb the greased pole to get the ham, and as soon as someone does, the tomato-laden trucks roll in and the fight is on.
This is supposed to be fun, not injurious. Squash your arsenal before firing. Getting hit in the face with an actual tomato at full force is not nice, so make those missiles mushy first. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…
You’ll probably want to have lots of pictures of the madness, but you DON’T want to bring your camera or your lovely shiny smartphone into the thick of things, or it may end up a shiny little crouton in the gazpacho around your feet.
Get a waterproof case or even a good clear plastic ziplock bag… or just take a disposable camera for the day.
It’s an hour-long fight. When the cannon sounds the end of the fight, that’s the end of it. You’re not supposed to fling one more fruit once the shot has been fired to end the scrap.
It’s not well-received. One of the other important rules is not to rip tee-shirts off people. This used to be a fairly regular sight at the festival, but since it’s entirely un-cool to rip people’s clothes off in the street, it was banned. Them’s the rules. Don’t be that guy.
Flights to Valencia
- Dee Murray