Practical Advice for Attending Spain’s Messiest Festival, la Tomatina

If I could live on one food for the rest of my days, I would choose the tomato (or maybe ice cream…just not tomato ice cream). Like Bubba Gump can eat shrimp in every which way, I’m a huge lover of the perfect fruit/vegetable/I don’t even care and easily eat them daily.

Then, say you, what happens when my friend convinces me to hop a flight to Valencia to attend the Tomatina, a tomato chucking festival and one of Spain’s most well-known fêtes?

You say tomato, I say HELL YEAH!

A Brief History of La Tomatina

Buñol, a small village just a half hour’s drive from Valencia, has been practically half-asleep for its history. In the mid 1940s, however, a group of youngsters wanting to demonstrate during the town’s festivals grabbed a bunch of tomatoes from a local frutería and began throwing them. The following year, they did the same. Since the early 1950s, the town hall has allowed revelers to chuck tomatoes (grown in Extremadura and unsuitable for eating) on the last Wednesday of August.

The Tomatina is now considered a Festival of Touristic Interest – so much so that the town decided to limit the entrances this year, allowing just 20,000 tickets to be sold to help pay for operating costs, including clean-up and security. About 5,000 of these were reserved for the residents of Buñol.

Getting to Buñol

The town of Buñol is located about 40km inland from the region’s capital of Valencia, cozied up to a mountain. Served by the regional RENFE commuter trains on the C-3 line, you can arrive to Buñol’s train station (if you can call it that) in 45 minutes. The station is located at what locals call ‘Buñol de Arriba,’ or the part of the pueblo on the hill, and there are plenty of places to buy souvenirs, leave your bag at a local’s house in exchange for a few bucks, and grab a beer or sandwich.

In the end, we decided to take a tour bus, which promised round-trip transportation and safe-keeping of our belongings. Though Kelly and I made an effort to speak the bus driver to get an idea of just how safe the bus would be in the middle of a festival of drunk guiris, we watched the bus pull out 20 minutes before the assigned return time, and we were forced to wait 90 minutes while it went to Valencia and came back for us. We had decided to take our bags with a change of clothes and snacks with us and store them at a local’s house, thankfully, or we would have been cold and stinky for hours. The organization was terrible and not worth the 35€ we paid for the entrance, transportation and luggage storage. If we did it again, we’d take the cercanías train.

Keep in mind that you can’t just show up to the Tomatina after this year – revelers are required to pay a 10€ entrance fee, and only 15,000 tickets are allocated for visitors. While there was outcry that the town hall of Buñol has privatized the festival without debate, I personally thought this was the best way to make the party accessible and enjoyable.

The Clothing and Gear

Rule of Thumb: everything you wear to the Tomatina will be covered in tomato gunk and stink, so be prepared to part with it once the tomato slinging is done. I threw everything away but my swimsuit!

Kelly and I made a run to Decathlon for a plain white cotton T, elastic biking shorts, a swim cap and goggles. You’ll see people in costumes, in plastic rain coats, in swimsuits and the like. We also bought disposable waterproof cameras, a small wallet for our IDs and health insurance cards and paper money, which we put into plastic bags.

I was surprised to see the number of people with GoPros. Having gotten mine for the Camino and then unpacking it for sake of weight, I wish I would have had it on me. Word on the street is that you can get relatively cheap cases for your DSLR or point-and-shoot, so consider it if you want better pictures than this:

Without fail, you should bring a change of clothes. Most townspeople near the center of the village will let you use their hoses for a minimal fee, but wearing wet clothes in damp weather won’t do you any favors. I brought a simple dress and a pair of flip-flops for the after party that rages on all afternoon, as well as a bottle of water and a sandwich. Food and drink is available in Buñol, and for cheaper than the Feria de Sevilla!

The logistics of La Tomatina

There are two parts to the city of Buñol: la de arriba (upper Buñol) and la de abajo (lower Buñol). Kelly and I got a call from our friend Gatis just as we pulled into the parking lot. Scoping out the party, we assumed we were near the entrance, so we told him we’d meet him at the gates in 10minutes, after we dropped off our bags.

Turns out, the village is a lot longer than we thought, and it took us far longer to get there!

When you sign up for the Tomatina, you’ll be given a wristband that you must show to access Plaza del Pueblo, where the action takes place. You then have to walk about 500m downhill towards the castle, passing food stands and bars, before arriving to two of four access gates. Show your wristband, but not before going to the bathroom – there is NOWHERE to pee once you’re in Buñol de Abajo.

Shortly before 11am, one of the townspeople participates in the palo de jabón. Climbing up a wooden pole slicked with soap, the trucks can officially pass through once the pueblerino has reached the top and hoisted the ham leg, which sits at the very top, over his head. Five trucks carrying tons and tons of tomatoes will pass through once a siren has been sounded. Participants understand that they cannot throw anything but tomatoes (which you should squeeze first to avoid injury), and only between the sirens signifying the beginning and end of the event, which only lasts one hour.

Those who live in the city center board up their houses and drape plastic sheets over their facades, though they’re quick to douse you with water after you’re finished. Call them campeones – they’ll hit you with water first.

The majority of the after party from what we could see is held in the part of the town uphill. There was music, beer and sausages. Had I not been so cold and smelly, it would have been my happy place.

The Experience

I can’t say that experiencing La Tomatina was ever on my Spain bucketlist (and neither is San Fermines, so don’t ask if I’ll ever go to the Running of the Bulls). But when a week with nothing to do, a cheap place ticket and an eager friend suggested going, I figured this would be my one and only chance to do so. Am I glad I did it? Most definitely, but I’m not planning on signing up for it again.

That said, it was a lot of fun. Being crunched up between total strangers, mashing tomatoes in their hair and putting it down the backs of their shirts, swimming afterwards in what was essentially an enormous pool of salmorejo, was serious fun. Belting out Spanish fight songs, squashing the fruit so as not to hurt anyone when I pelted him with it. The water fights, the after party, the townspeople who so graciously gave us their gardens and their hoses to use (Luisa, I’m looking at you, and we owe you a bottle of your beloved fino). I even found the downpour just before 11am to be hilariously good fun.

Have you ever been to the Tomatina, or are you interested in going? What’s your favorite festival in Spain – have car, will rock out – y’all know me!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Why are the tomatoes from Extremadura not fit for eating? (Just curious.)

    Thanks for the write up! I doubt I would ever do this, but it’s interesting nonetheless!
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..What’s With all the Al- Words in Spanish?My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It was one of those, ‘well, why not?’ moments when I booked the flight! It was fun, but I probably wouldn’t do it again. Did you go to the Toro festival this year? I saw it on the news and thought of you.

  2. They use tomatoes from Extremadura because they’re rotten/overripe, right?

    Anyway, this looks like a just, plain fun thing to do—thanks for sharing your experience of it! ^_^ (Hardly good, “clean” fun though heheheheh)
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..How to Spend 48 Hours Eating in Úbeda, SpainMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      You’re right – the tomatoes can’t be used because they are bruised or overripe, so they get thrown instead. THAT is why I stunk so much after the event!

  3. Rena says:

    Ah, come on Cat, I want to go with you next year! It has always been on my bucket list, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’m going to keep this blog as it seems to have seriously good advice for when I do, thanks. See you in October, besos.

  4. amelie88 says:

    I’ve always been on the fence about whether I’d actually want to do this. But it sounded like it was a lot of fun! Loving the goggles.
    amelie88 recently posted..A Look Back at the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona 2: Illegal Immigrants and Border PatrolMy Profile

  5. Haha that looks so much fun! I’ve wanted to go to the Tomatina for the past 2 years but I haven’t been able to either year. Hopefully your tips will come in handy next year!
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..The 5 Best Things to do in San Sebastián, SpainMy Profile

  6. LOVE the outfits!!!
    wanderingeducators recently posted..The Art of Eating a DurianMy Profile

  7. lol at the goggles. I don’t think I’m fun enough for these kinds of festivals. Ive been in Thailand during Songkran but I’m not a bit fan of chaotic and messy!
    Kate @30Traveler recently posted..Citi Bike New York – A Trap For The NoviceMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It’s not a festival I want to go back to, honestly. Oktoberfest, yes. But the Tomatina was one of those things that kind of happened and I rolled with it!

  8. Michael says:

    Now you got me thinking about tomato ice cream. I’ve had mushroom and lobster ice cream so I think tomato ice cream would probably be pretty good!
    Michael recently posted..The Benjamin Franklin House in LondonMy Profile

  9. I love that you did a Decathalon run for this. We discovered Decathalon when we were in Spain, and I’m still missing it. Sigh. Such great deals.

    I would LOVE to go to this festival. Looks like so much fun :)

  10. Melissa says:

    Part of me thinks that looks like fun, while the other part of me thinks I’d hate it! The pinkish photos are a hoot!
    Melissa recently posted..Chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine! (A trip to the Choco Museum in Cusco, Peru)My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Yes, I still feel that way about it. I had fun, I threw some rotten fruit, and then I went home smelling. Not keen on doing it again, though!

  11. I’ve always been fascinated by this festival but have never been, so love seeing these photos and hearing your account!
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..Amazing Fashion of Women Doing Manual Labor in IndiaMy Profile

  12. Wow — what an amazing experience. But will you ever want to eat spaghetti with tomato sauce again?
    Terry at Overnight New York recently posted..The Time Hotel: Off-Broadway Week Two-fer DealsMy Profile

  13. How much I want to go there. Just curious do small kids participate around 4 years old?
    Marina K. Villatoro recently posted..Releasing Baby Turtles – Monterrico, GuatemalaMy Profile

  14. Thanks for the great insight into the the Tomatina Festival. I always wondered what it was all about. I’m relieved to learn that the tomatoes can not be eaten. I hate the thought of wasting food.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..JORDAN: Why I’d Prefer to Forget Visiting the Dead Sea, JordanMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Oh, Mary, if you smelled the tomatoes, you definitely wouldn’t eat them! I reeked of rotten veggies for a while!

  15. Maria says:

    Wow!!! That thing might be crazy!!! I have never been there, but it has to be an incredible experience. I’ve been told though, that people there are most from overseas visiting the country. Is that correct?? Are there Spaniards too enjoying the party??
    Maria recently posted..How to enjoy La Merce Barcelona FestivalMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      You’re right – most of those visiting are foreigners, but there were some Spaniards, as well! We mostly saw Japanese and Australians, and quite a few other Americans, too!

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  1. [...] As a teacher, I relish in my two months off. Over the past seven school years, my vacaciones have allowed me to explore other parts of Spain, walk the Camino de Santiago, visit friends and family at home in Chicago and attend world-famous festivals. [...]

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