When I was planning my trip to Spain and Portugal last summer, I realized that the day La Tomatina is taking the place in 2014 was falls within the period that I will be travelling to Spain and Portugal. Since La Tomatina is an event that happens once a year, I decided to take advantage and go to La Tomatina. Because, #yolo, right?
So What is La Tomatina?
It’s a festival that takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year in a small town called Buñol, Spain (30kms away from Valencia or 3 hour train ride from Barcelona).
It’s a festival where you throw tomatoes for an hour (over 120 tons of tomatoes are thrown during the hour).
How to get tickets for La Tomatina?
You need to get your tickets in advance in order to enter the festival.
You can buy your tickets online here.
There are different types of tickets/packages you can get and starting from different locations (leaving from Valencia, Barcelona, or Madrid).
I got my tickets through SpainTastic tours and the package I got was Tour C (which included roundtrip transportation to & fromValencia toBuñol as well as a La Tomatina T-shirt). The tour left Valencia at 8am (the festival starts around 11am) and returning at 3pm (although, because of the delay with the bus, we didn’t leave Buñol until around 4pm).
How to get to Buñol?
The closest airport to Buñol is the airport in Valencia. So you can fly into Valencia and stay there and take the bus (with one of the tours) or take a train from Valencia to Buñol.
If you are staying in Madrid or Barcelona, you an also get to Buñol by taking the train or by purchasing tickets for one of the tours from those cities.
What was it like to participate in La Tomatina?
I have seen pictures of the festival, but I didn’t know what it would actually be like until I got there. And wow, it was more intense than I imagined!
The festival starts with jamon (a big piece of ham) on a greasy pole and people trying to climb the pole to get the jamon. While we are waiting for this to happen, the locals that live on the houses along the street that the festival happens will spray water on the crowds (and it feels great to be sprayed on, because the weather is so hot!).
And after someone reaches the jamon, there is a big whistle and the festival starts with trucks full of tomatoes and people from the trucks throwing tomatoes at you. Then people on the streets will pick up the tomatoes and throw it back at others and the throwing goes on and on.
When the first few trucks went by, I didn’t feel like it was intense. But after a few trucks, there were so many tomatoes being thrown around with everyone in the heat of the tomato fight, that things got really crazy!
After the hour of the tomato fight ends, the streets will be full of tomatoes (some parts of the street, there will be tomatoes and tomato juice that come upto your ankles). And this is when you will start to realize how much tomatoes can smell! I am not sure how showers work when you are not part of a tour, but when you are part of a tour, there are shower trucks (basically water truck with a hoses) for you to quickly rinse. There is a long line-up and you will have to wait and once you get to the front of the line, you have to wait for your turn for the hose to come to you and to quickly wash away. It’s not a proper shower, so you will have to wash when you get back to your accommodation.
There are tour package options that include a paella lunch, but I didn’t go with that tour, so I just bought lunch from the food trucks. There are also porta potties around the area if you need to go to the washroom.
I liked everything about my tour package except the wait time for the bus to go back to Valencia. The bus was scheduled to leave at 3pm, but it didn’t end up coming until 4pm. And waiting in the heat (there weren’t very many shade areas) for 2-3 hours was not fun :(
After the festival, there are after parties if you are interested in attending them. I didn’t end up going to the after parties since I had an early flight to catch the next day.
Overall, La Tomatina was definitely a once in a life time experience and I highly recommend it if you are in Spain around the festival time.
* One more thing – about 2 days after the festival, I noticed red spots all over my body. I was still travelling in Europe and I was worried that it might be bed bugs. But when I googled images of bed bug bites, my red spots didn’t look like them. So I did some more google research and it turns out that my red spots were acidic reactions from tomatoes. Since I was near the end of the trip, I didn’t get any medication to apply and by the time I got home, the red spots went away.
Questions you may have before going to La Tomatina (at least these were the questions I had before I went, so hope this helps! If you have other questions, please comment and I will try my best to respond):
1. Which city to stay in when going to La Tomatina?
If your travel plans/itinerary permits, I personally think it’s best to stay in Valencia, because it’s the closest city from Buñol and there’s also an airport in Valencia (so it’s easy to fly in and out of Valencia).
You could also get to La Tomatina from Madrid and Barcelona, but that means you will have to get up extra early (ex. the tour from Madrid leaves at 3:30am) and the ride back to Madrid/Barcelona will probably not be the most pleasant one with everyone in the bus smelling like rotten tomatoes!
You could also stay in Buñol and attend the night before La Tomatina parties. But I didn’t end up doing it as I wanted to explore Valencia too and try all the good food that’s in Valencia (Valencia is famous for their oranges and paellas).
2. What do I need to bring?
- Clothes + swimsuit (that you don’t mind throwing away) – I recommend that you bring/wear clothes that you don’t mind throwing away, because your clothes will smell like tomatoes. The smell of tomatoes in 30+ celsius weather after the tomato fight is not pleasant (I’ve heard about people using tomatoes to get rid of skunk smell – that’s how strong the tomato smell is), so whatever you wore during the tomato fight will have the tomato smell that will be hard to get rid of. I wore my bikini that I was going to throw away and wore a tshirt and shorts. For guys, I saw a lot of guys wearing swim shorts.
- Goggles – when tomatoes will sting your eyes when they are being thrown around, so best to wear goggles to protect your eyes! (I got mine from the dollar store, but they sell goggles on the streets at La Tomatina, so you can get it there too)
- Aqua shoes or sandals (don’t wear flip flops) – It get’s pretty crazy once the tomato fight gets heated up with all the tomatoes on the ground and people throwing tomatoes. So it’s easy to lose your shoes if you wear flip flops. And if you wear your runners or closed shoes, they will get soaked in tomatoes and will not have a pleasant smell (same reason as I mentioned above for clothes).
- Some cash in a ziplock bag – they only take cash on the streets for food and drinks, so best to bring some cash and keep it dry in a ziplock bag.
- Shower cap (highly recommended for girls with long hair)– I know this sounds a bit odd… But I read reviews about La Tomatina and how hard it is to get tomatoes out of your hair. So I took the showercap I had at the hotel and wore it during the tomato fight and it was the best idea ever because the tomatoes really smell and the showers they have are not proper showers (it’s just a truck with a hose and people spraying it for you so you can quickly rinse), so it’s hard to get the tomatoes out of your hair.
- Waterproof camera – I brought a waterproof disposable camera to capture the scenes from the festival (you can see my pictures below)
3. Should I bring my camera/phone?
I LOVE taking pictures and I debated whether or not to bring my phone in a waterproof case until the day of the event.
But I didn’t want to risk it, so just ended up taking a waterproof disposable camera to La Tomatina.
At the festival, I saw a lot of people with their phones in the waterproof cases and even saw some people that brought their DSLRs in a waterproof case, but I found that when you are actually in the middle of the fight, it gets so crazy that you don’t really have the time to be taking lots of pictures (you are more busy throwing tomatoes and trying not to fall).
For me, I ended up running out of film on my waterproof disposable camera even before the festival ended (I think I was too into the tomato fight that I didn’t control the number of films I have left), so I ended up asking random people from the festival that had their phones to take pictures of me after the festival and they emailed them to me after. It was a good conversation starter and to meet people from different parts of the world ;)
So bringing your phone/camera is really up to you – whether you are ok with the possibility of the phone/camera getting ruined (and if you are not ok with that, then it’s best not to bring, because you don’t want to spend the time at the festival worrying about that and fully enjoying the festival instead).
Or another way to protect your phone/camera during the festival is to stay near the end of the street where the fight happens (as it will be less crazy than in the middle of it).
I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not to bring your camera/phone :)
4. Is there lockers to store my stuff during the fight?
Since I was part of a tour, they had a designated storage area, so I stored my bag with dry clothes to change into. But the line ups are very long and if you could avoid using one, I wouldn’t recommend using it.
For people that are not part of the tour, I heard of people asking locals (either at their houses or at a store) to leave their bags, but I am not sure how easy/hard it is to do that.
Pictures from La Tomatina: