La Tomatina is one of the messiest, yet exciting food fight you can attend in the world right now
Tens of thousands of people from all around the world, partake in throwing tomatoes at each other in the annual festival which is held in the small Spanish city called Buñol. The celebration has been going since 1945 and is basically one massive sangria fuelled party. We have never been to a festival like this and I must admit we had way more fun than I thought we were going too.
So, from our experience we have put our heads together to produce 9 hacks that will help you survive the day and ensure you don’t come home battered, bruised and with a nasty red eye infection. At the bottom of this blog you will also find some handy links, and a download of last years’ festival map along with our guide to securing the best position. If you want to get a better insight into the day check out our Video Blog: An Insight into a Day at Spain’s Most Epic Festival: La Tomatina, to give you a better idea of what to expect.
Quick Summary and Tips at a Glance
- A massive food fight festival in the town of Buñol in August every year;
- Over 150 tonnes of tomatoes and tens of thousands of participants;
- Over 150 tonnes of tomatoes and tens of thousands of participants;
- 5-6 waves of trucks loaded with tomatoes; and
- The actual tomato fight lasts about an hour (but feels like forever).
Tips at a Glance:
- Use Valencia as your base and catch a train to save some cash;
- Bring a spare set of clothes and hand into one of the storage points;
- Make sure to bring your ID to pick up your ticket;
- Bring a bumbag/fanny pack and ziplock bags to protect your valuables;
- Get in early to secure the best spot, uphill of the main square;
- Security is tight and strict on potential weapons i.e, selfie sticks, go pro extension;
- When a truck passes you by, face the wall so to minimise headshots; and lastly
- Be considerate, squish tomatoes in your hands before pelting them at people.
So Firstly, When is the La Tomatina Festival?
The La Tomatina festival is held annually on the last Wednesday of August in the little city of Buñol, Spain and attracts thousands of visitors from all around the world to partake in throwing over 150 tonnes of ripened tomatoes at each other.
What is the Best Way to Get There?
There are three main options to get to the event:
- Take a local train from Valencia;
- Join a Day Tour; or
- Stay in Buñol.
Of those three options, we think the best and cheapest is to stay in Valencia and take the train to Buñol, which will leave more Euros in your pocket to splurge on Sangria. Valencia is located 40 kilometers away from Buñol, so it only takes just over an hour to get to the festival; The trains leave frequently from the main train station (València Nord), which is walkable from the majority of hotels and hostels. You will want to be on the first train in the morning to ensure you have plenty of time to pick up your ticket and drop off your belongings at a storage point (locker). One of the biggest benefits of this option is that you have plenty of flexibility on when you get to the festival and when you can leave in comparison to a tour.
If organising public transport isn’t your thing, there are a number of tour operators that provide a bus to and from the event, they also include your tickets and provide a booze bus like party atmosphere to keep you amped the whole time. This is a good option if you don’t mind spending a bit of cash for the convenience, but you do risk getting stuck with a massive bus of rowdy people.
The last option is to stay locally in Bunol itself. Accommodation can be tricky and you will need to book well in advance. Some hotels and hostels will also have a minimum stay period so if you’re constrained by time then it could be an issue. We decided to stay for the festival and then instead of hanging around, we took a short flight to the island paradise of Majorca. Also, keep in mind that prices also tend to be higher at this time because hotels cash in on the increased demand.
Number one: Get to La Tomatina Early to Secure the Best Spot;
In order to secure the best position, you really need to commit and arrive early to the festival. I know this is the case for a majority of events, but you have to take into consideration the time to pick up your ticket, drop off your belongings and make it through security. The whole process took us much longer than we anticipated so give yourself plenty of time. If you are planning on basing yourself in Valencia, you want to leave before dawn and catch the first train out.
When it comes to finding that optimum spot, you will need to tick off these three items:
- Where you are in reference to the main square;
- Near a water supply; and
- Close to one of the Shower Points.
Once you’ve passed security the first point of call (after buying yourself a pint of Sangria of course) is to make your way to the main square, which is the epicentre of the festival because it is home to the symbolic Jamón perched on top of a lard-covered pole. The atmosphere around here will be absolutely insane, with people singing and chanting, it will also be super crowded and somewhat similar vibe to a mosh pit. While it is fun to watch brave souls challenge themselves to climb the pole to retrieve the Jamón (which triggers the start of tomato truck convoy) or groups of people trying to form a human pyramid, you want to make sure you are at the upstream side of the square. As soon as the festival is triggered (If no one snatches the Jamón, a bell will ring or a pistol will go off on the hour) you want to be moving up the hill as far as you can. If you get stuck on the downstream side of the square, it will be so packed that you won’t be able to make it up the street.
The further upstream from the main square, the more tomatoes you will have at your disposal. This is because near the end of the festival all of the trucks dump their remaining tomatoes in one go, therefore if you are closer to where the trucks originate from you will probably experience 5 or 6 waves of trucks before this happens. If you are downstream you will probably get 2 or 3 waves of trucks before they dump their load.
The next main point when looking for that perfect spot is to situate yourself near one of the water taps. There are a number taps spread along the whole street, so you should be able to spot them pretty easily. When there are hundreds of people around you throwing tomatoes left, right and centre, you are more than likely going to receive a direct hit to your face and get acidic juices in your eyes. Last year we noticed a lot of people with soar red eyes after the last truck rolled by, so if you have a water source nearby, you can wash your face and eyes regularly throughout the event to hopefully minimise any irritation.
The last thing you will need to consider will be your exit strategy, the closer you are to where the trucks originate from, the earlier you can get to the shower points. You will definitely beat the vast majority of people that will be down near the square and will allow you to get in dry clothes earlier.
Number Two: Make Sure You Waterproof your Valuables;
No matter how well you try, you are going to get absolutely drenched and covered in tomato purée. And the longer you stay dry the more of a target you become, so you need to keep your stuff dry. The problem is if you need to pick your tickets up you need to bring ID which means it can get ruined, especially if you brought your passport with you. There are a couple of options when when it comes to storage, the event organisers do have a couple of drop off points, however the system they employ isn’t the best. Basically, they make you pay a few euros to put all your stuff in a black rubbish bag in which they then put it on a shelf and they give you a ticket. We ended up using this for service to hold a bag with a spare set of clothes, but all of our valuables we ended up bringing with us.
They best way to keep your stuff safe is to take a couple of those the plastic Ziplock bags to put your money, phone and bank cards in, and then put them inside a bumbag/fannypack so you can’t lose them. One of our friends risked it and just put it in her bumbag/fannypack without a bag and her phone got destroyed. another helpful tip is to wear the bumbag/fannypack under your clothes for extra protection.
Number Three: Bring Yourself Eye Protection
This tip we learned the hard way, after copping a couple of direct tomato headshots, we realised the value of having googles. They may not look the most flattering but if you value your sight consider taking a pair with you. Tomatoes are acidic so the juice will irritate your eyes, especially if you cannot find somewhere to flush your face during the throwing component of the festival. If you decide not to take them with you, the best way to protect yourself is to face the wall when the trucks are passing. This is the point when you are most likely to get hit in the face from the tomato throwers in the tray of the trucks.
Number Four: Buy your tickets online;
If you are organising the event solo, make sure you buy your tickets beforehand. The event used to be free up until 2015, but now you have to buy tickets online prior to the event. The organisers release the tickets close to the festival date, so make sure you check the official website regularly for updates. You can only buy a voucher online, which you have to change to a ticket at one of the kiosks on the day.
It is important that you read the fine print on the voucher, we found out that it is a requirement to bring some form of identification (something with a photo: drivers licence, proof of age card, passport etc.) with you in order to cash in your online voucher. The tellers take this rule seriously, a couple in front of us in the line were refused a ticket because they could prove their identity, and so make sure you bring something with you.
At the bottom of this page, you can download a copy of last years’ ticket which lists out the terms and conditions.
Number Five; Bring Ear Plugs
In the peak of the moment, you are likely to suffer a couple blows to head. Most of the time the tomatoes are somewhat squashed and won’t hurt if you’re hit, but we were surprised by the amount of under ripe tomatoes and even a couple of random potatoes being thrown around. Getting hit on the side of the head with a firm tomato can really hurt especially if it is a direct shot to your ears. We definitely recommend investing in a set or two of foam ear plugs.
Number 6: Bring Cheap, Indispensable Clothes and Shoes;
Red tomatoes, white shirts, it kind of goes without saying but your clothes are going to get completely destroyed. Everything you wear will be stained pink by the end of the day, so it’s best to plan ahead and buy a set of staple clothes you don’t mind disposing of. When it comes to picking an outfit, most people tend to wear white clothing so you can get take a really contrasting set of before and after photos.
The most important item is what you chose to wear on your feet, you want to invest in something that is enclosed and has plenty of grip. The festival is completely crowded (especially around the main square) and feels like you’re in the epicentre of a mosh pit in a music festival, there is a definitely a good chance that someone is going to step on your toes, and so closed in shoes are a must.
When searching for your perfect pair of festival shoes, make sure you consider how much grip is on the sole. In some areas the streets are paved with stone and become slippery from all the squashed tomatoes. My shoes did have some grip, but I still managed to stack it downhill on the way to the showers. Take it easy after the last truck has passed you by, there is no point rushing to the showers, so keep calm and take a steady pace.
Number Seven: Plan Your Exit Strategy
When you are up against tens of thousands of other festival goers that have all been subjected to a brutal hour or more onslaught of tomatoes, you will want to have a good exit strategy in place so you don’t get caught waiting for ages in lines for the showers and to pick up your belongings. The best thing to do is to ensure you position yourself on the upstream side of the Main Square, so when the last truck passes, you will have a great head start on hitting the showers before everyone else.
It is important that you don’t linger around too long after the last truck passes as there can be hefty waiting times for the showers. Once you have gotten as much of the tomato chunks out of your hair, head back to the storage point and pick up your belongings and your dry set of clothes. Now you can chill and continue the party at one of the many bars, or if you are completely wrecked, you can go and jump on any train as you please. If you would like a map of last years’ festival, you can download it from the bottom of this page.
Number Eight: Be Wary of the Security Restrictions;
The security personnel at the festival was much stricter than we were expecting. The guards were targeting any type of item that could be deemed as a weapon, which included a whole range of random items including selfie and GoPro sticks. Initially I was not allowed past the first checkpoint because I had a GoPro stick with me. I argued that is wasn’t a weapon because it was less 30 centimetres long and made of foam, but the security team wouldn’t budge on their decision and barred me from entering. Luckily I had enough time to run back to the luggage storage point and leave the stick with my spare set of clothes.
Be wary of what you have on show when going through the security points, all there were three sets of security and police checks before getting to the main square. While it was a bit of an inconvenience to leave my Go Pro stick behind, it really wasn’t a big deal. We were happier that the event organisers had plenty of security and enforced the rules, which put all our minds at ease and allowed us to enjoy the festival without too much worry.
Number 9: Perform the ‘Tomato Angel’ Manoeuvre
We didn’t realise beforehand, but around the time when you have faced 4 or 5 waves of trucks (I’m assuming by this time the first truck is probably at the end of its route) the trucks all stop and start dumping their payload on to the street. This was absolutely madness, I have never seen so many tomatoes in my life. And if you are like me and you want to take your La Tomatina experience to the next level, this is your moment to shine. There are so many tomatoes that you can literally make tomato ‘snow angels’, or just power glide straight through them. If you do attempt any of the manoeuvres remember that you are well and truly going to be covered head to toe, but it is worth it.
I hope you have enjoyed our La Tomatina survival guide, if you have any questions at all, make sure to leave a comment below or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Make sure to also check out our video blog from the day to give you a little bit more of an insight into the day.