Where's the Party?
Las Fiestas de San Fermin take place in Pamplona,
the capital of the northern Spanish province of Navarra.
Dates for the Diary
The opening ceremony is held at noon on July 6, and from
then on it's non-stop hell-raising until midnight on the July
14. The bull-run is at 8am every morning from the July 7 onwards
but you might find that it's impossible to get into the street
on the busier days (ie the first three or the weekend) after
What's it all about?
Las Fiestas de San Fermin is an annual event in honour of
the town's co-patron San Fermin. It incorporates a
range of events, from Basque wood-chopping and barrel-lifting
to firework displays, fairgrounds and live music - and, of
course, bull fights. The bull run evolved into an event in
its own right after a few daredevils decided to run alongside
the bulls as they were herded through the streets to the bull-ring.
You'll need to book at least six months in advance if you
want to secure a hotel room. Hemingway's room at Hotel
La Perla has been booked for every night of the fiestas
for the next 40 years by a Swiss publisher who, with laudable
optimism, intends to celebrate his 100th birthday there.
If you intend to engross yourself fully in the fiesta and
snatch some sleep in the open air, pack lightly but don't
forget to bring a good sleeping bag. There are two lock-ups
in town where you can leave your gear.
The nearest airport to Pamplona is 6km away at Noáin.
There are daily flights between here and Barcelona or Madrid.
International flights arrive in Bilbao (150km away)
where you can catch a bus to Pamplona.
If you're travelling from the United Kingdom, there are daily
ferry connections from Portsmouth to Bilbao and Plymouth
to Santander, but it's a 24-hour voyage. There are
only two buses a day from Santander to Pamplona, and it will
take about 3 hours. Many travellers choose for convenience
to travel with tour companies, which run fleets of coaches
to the event. Most of these tour groups are based at outlying
campsites and run regular shuttles into town.
Where to stay
It is best to be as close as possible to the fiesta, as buses
to the outlying areas do not run throughout the night.
Be prepared to pay up to three times the peace-time
price for hotel rooms in town. Cheaper options in the old
5 Calle San Nicolás
(Tel: +34 948 22 50 95; Fax: +34 948 21 20 12)
Pensión Casa Garcia
12 San Gregorio (Tel: +34 948 22 38 93).
You might be lucky enough to find a dorm bed at the last minute
in one of several townhouses in Calle de la Estafeta but all
the hotel rooms have usually been taken.
Hundreds of revellers sleep in Pamplona's parks, on roundabouts
or in the Plaza del Castillo. This beautiful old square
with its flowerbeds and bandstand takes on the appearance
of a battlefield almost as soon as the party has begun, despite
the efforts of an entire army of street-sweepers.
Prices for drinking on the terraces are inflated during the
fiesta and, as in all Spain, there is one price for drinking
at tables and another for standing at the bar. Even so, US$30
would be sufficient for a day's food and plenty of drink.
You can get a good meal of bull stew or Navarra trout for
about US$6 in a self-service restaurant and a litre of sangria
for the wineskin will cost about US$3.
Once you're there
If you choose to sleep rough be aware that in recent years
there have been increasing reports of thieves slashing the
bottoms of sleeping bags to get at money belts etc.
You can buy the bull-runners' uniform (white jeans, shirts,
red bandanas and sashes) all over the town. A wineskin is
a useful accessory but don't be surprised (or stingy) if people
assume you won't mind passing it around!
Runners should walk the course first, preferably with somebody
who has run before, but there are always plenty of veterans
who are willing to give advice. Wait until the crowds have
thinned after the first few days.
Spectators should be prepared to entrench themselves at least
an hour early for prime positions (try the high walls above
Santo Domingo or right on the corner at Mercaderes).
Don't wear thongs or sandals because the ground is always
littered with broken glass and bear in mind that more people
have died falling off the ramparts or lost the use of their
legs at the Mussel Bar fountain than have ever been
badly hurt in the bull runs.
Take some time to witness the other events which make up
the Fiesta San Fermines. You can pick up a programme for the
week from the tourist information point in a double-decker
bus, which is stationed outside the city hall for the duration
of the fiesta.
If you want to witness the bull-fight you should buy tickets
at least a day in advance. The corrida at the Plaza de
Toros in Pamplona is rated much more for the riotous party
than for an exhibition in the art of bullfighting. For an
experience that you won¹t forget buy the cheaper tickets
for the sol (sun) section. The local kids arrive in this section
carrying buckets of sangria. They will throw more than they
drink... along with eggs, oranges, tomatoes and bags of sugar,
flour and cocoa powder.
The concurso de recortadores is, for many, a more
attractive and more spectator-friendly way to see the animals
in action. The cow is not harmed and the men, in line with
the spirit of Los San Fermines, are protected only by the
swiftness of their feet. Their aim is to slip a metal disk
over the cow¹s horn as she charges them and the spectacle
is more easily appreciated by somebody unacquainted with the
complex rituals of the corrida.
An escape to the beach at San Sebastian is a good way
to recuperate after the bull run, as is a drive up the beautiful
Bidassoa Valley (where Hemingway fished for trout)
to the village of Lesaca, or a picnic beside the river
at the old Roman town of Puenta La Reina.
Almost every town and village in Spain will have a fiesta,
and many of them involve bulls and bull runs of some sort,
such as running down a mountain and even jumping in a harbour.
There are also similar festivals in the South of France, notably
in Arles at Easter and Nîmes at Pentecost.
The Spanish and French Tourist boards will have full details.