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La Tomatina (Spain) Survival Guide

Prepare for day that’ll kick your primal instincts into overdrive…  Imagine flurries of tomatoes mushy and firm being pelted at you, the overwhelming stench of the overripe vegetable intermingled with spilled sangria, sweaty chaos, and that unwavering Spanish sun beating down on your head and shoulders.  Oh yeah, and you’ll never forget the sound of thousands of cheering ecstatic people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a tiny street.  This is La Tomatina… it takes place every August in a tiny Valencian town called Bunol in Spain and you are going to love it. Before you plan your trip to La Tomatina, check out this survival guide to avoid any rookie mistakes!
Our tour group with ThisIsValencia in front of the Torres de Serranos

 

Buy your entry ticket or opt into a group tour for La Tomatina  

Doing a group tour makes a lot of sense since you have someone to bus you into the city of Bunol (where La Tomatina shakes down) in the early morning, and also to take you back to Valencia after the fight is over.  You could always try and do it yourself, but this means you’ll need to figure out your own way to Bunol and how to get back after all the madness is over.

Depending on your group tour, the majority of tours I found will give you a festival shirt, goggles, food, transportation, and the entry ticket to get in.  My friends and I used ThisIsValencia, which was perfect for our group.  For about €85 (a €5 discount for early booking), we got sweet t-shirts, goggles, paella lunch, transportation to and from Bunol, a happy hour event the night before in Valencia, unlimited beer and soda during lunch time, La Tomatina official entry ticket, and a relaxing afternoon at the public pool. Honestly, it may be a good thing for you to take a dip in a pool before you get into your shower with all that tomato sludge…

Much needed Paella lunch at the park

Know the schedule of events  

Get to Bunol in the early morning (a lot of people arrive around 9 or 10AM) so you are able to make your way down through the city to the tomato fight area– it’s about a 20-minute walk or more, depending on how often you stop and buy sangria or beer along the way.  Once you get to the street, everyone will already be packed in like sardines, watching others attempt to climb the greasy ham pole.  At 11AM, a cannon will sound, which marks the start of the fight.  At 12PM, another cannon will sound and this ends the fight.  Everyone will then make their way back up the hill through the city towards the buses.  Along the way, locals will hang hoses over their balconies or rig them up in the street to help you wash off your new tomato-filled outfit.


Pictures or it didn’t happen 

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t prepare any way of bringing a camera with me.  We got a waterproof disposable camera in Bunol on our way into the fight, and it broke after 12 pictures (naturally, I only got to have pictures BEFORE the fight started).  Buy a disposable waterproof camera beforehand (from a reputable source), get a waterproof phone case, bring a GoPro paired with the proper accessories kit, and any device that will allow you to capture this incredible experience. You will have hilarious moments, and no one will believe how insane this event is without some photo documentation.


Climb the greasy ham pole  

I’m sorry, what?  Yes…there is a greasy pole with a GIANT ham affixed to the top.  The object is to climb the pole covered with lard and bring down the entire ham before La Tomatina begins.  This is a lot harder than it looks and apparently, no one has gotten the ham down before 11AM (the cannon signal) the past 4 years.  The base of the pole has a mishmash of people climbing on top of each other to get up to the ham.  People are ripping off each other’s shirts, shoes, and skin.  My fiance (now husband) decided to try his luck at this and he ended the afternoon with welts, shoeprints on his body, sunburned, shoeless, and had the time of his life.  Watch this video of the event-– if you skip to 19:00, he’s the guy without the shirt climbing the ham pole.  It seems the locals don’t particularly want the tourists to get the ham, so people are also being pulled down left and right– girls, boys, it doesn’t matter.  Overall there is a spirit of chaotic camaraderie.  Plan to get in there and try your luck!


Optimal tomato-fight ensemble 

Many people are encouraged to wear white so you can see how tomato stained you get…  But it really is a free-for-all.  Some people wear elaborate costumes (I’ve seen entire Power Rangers crews), matching group outfits, swim suits, old “throw away” clothes, athletic clothing, or in my case the standard cotton shorts and tour t-shirt.  Don’t expect your clothes to ever be the same after this; unless you are able to get it into a laundry machine within a few hours.  The tomato stench takes a few washes to get out, and your clothes may be altered by the tomato acidity.  A lot of people wear clothes they don’t care about then simply peel it off and dump it in the trash cans on their way back to the buses.  

Our awesome knock-off Crocs

Let’s talk shoes  

This is probably the most important part– because you will be up to mid-calves in La Tomatina splendor. You NEED to have footwear that’ll stay put on your feet.  If you plan on climbing the greasy ham pole, you will definitely need real shoes.  For those that plan on staying out of the pole-climbing action, a pair of canvas sneakers, Croc clogs, or tennis shoes will work just fine.  Just remember that your shoes are going to get real nasty, so don’t bring your favorite pair or wear the only shoes you’ve got for the trip.  If you forget your shoes, swing by an H&M store or a gift shop in Valencia to buy a knock-off pair of crocs for a few euros.  I kept my shoes on for the event and then ditched them after I got back to the bus.


Getting a tomato thrown into your eye really hurts (and the juice burns too) 

I’d try and secure a pair of goggles that will survive through the fight. The “swimming” goggles the tour company gives you won’t do anything.  They end up fogging up and cutting off the circulation around your head.  If you are really serious about wearing protective eyewear, then opt for the snorkel dive mask goggles.

 


Position yourself for optimal tomato fighting  

Everyone is already packed shoulder to shoulder and when the fight starts it only gets more crowded.  Huge trucks filled with tomatoes and their throwers slowly forge through the alley way and people are shoving to get out of the way.  If you are in the epicenter of the alley (near the ham pole) you will not have much room to move, much less bend down to pick up and throw a tomato at anyone.  If you are up against or near a wall in the alley, chances are you will get smashed against it every time a truck comes.  My friends and I set up in one of the alley ways around the corner from the main street.  Even though it was still crowded, we had enough room to pick up and throw tomatoes– which is what you will want to be doing.


Ditch tomato shreds, seeds, and sticky clothing

Get rid of as much tomato debris as you can as you wind your way through the city back up to the buses.  Kind strangers will hang their hoses over the balcony, but you will find long lines of other festival goers trying to wash off too.  For the ladies, if you wear a bathing suit underneath it’s easiest to simply take off your clothes and wash off your body and clothing separately.  Tomato seeds are tricky little buggers and are extremely difficult to get rid of.  It’s even easier if you decide to throw away your tomato sodden garb all together, wear your bathing suit back to the bus, then change into a fresh outfit for the rest of the day. If you plan on bringing your clothes back, then bring a plastic bag to keep it in.

Now you know the secrets to a successful La Tomatina festival! Now get out there and have an unforgettable time!

**Please note that this post contains some affiliate links which help keep The Petite Adventurer operations running thoughtfully at no cost to you. All products recommended are personally vetted by yours truly! 

 

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