August is right around the corner, and no better way to spend it than by attending the La Tomatina festival in Spain.
For the uninitiated, the Tomatina festival Spain, or La Tomatina as it is famously known, is an annual celebration in Buñol, a small village 40km west of Valencia.
The festival takes place on the last Wednesday of August every year. During the La Tomatina festival in Spain, the festival goers participate in a food fight where they throw tomatoes at each other.
Before we get into our la Tomatina festival guide, let us understand the roots of this tradition. How did the Tomatina festival originate?
1. The Origin of La Tomatina Buñol
It all started in August of 1945; during the giant and big heads figures parade at the town square, a group of young people attending the parade witnessed one of the big heads figures’ heads fall. The big heads participant flew into a fit of rage and started causing chaos by knocking down everything in his way.
A market stall of vegetables that lay close by fell victim to the rage and chaos of the crowd present there. In a matter of seconds, everyone in the crowd engaged in a vegetable battle by pelting each other with the vegetables from the vegetable stall until the local forces ended the food fight.
In the subsequent years, the young people pre-planned the vegetable battle by gathering in the town square last Wednesday in August, and this time their weapon of choice was the tomatoes.
Though, in the following years of the 1950s, the tradition of tomato throwing met with an unfortunate setback when repeatedly police intervened, which finally led to the local council deciding to ban the la Tomatina festival because of the ruckus and also because they thought that the festival did not hold any religious significance.
This did not dampen the people’s spirits; as a sign of protest for banning the tomato fight, they would hold a ceremonial tomato burial on the same day every year. In this ceremony, the residents carried a coffin with a huge tomato inside, accompanied by a music band playing funeral marches. The protest was successful, and the ban was finally lifted in 1959 as the la Tomatina festival was reborn.
However, the festival only caught flame in other parts of Spain when reports of a journalist named Javier Basilio were broadcast on the Spanish television program Informe Semanal. The increase in popularity also led to more participants throwing tomatoes.
As a result, in 2002, the La Tomatina festival got officially recognized as the Festivity of International tourist interest by the Secretary Department of Tourism of Spain. As the surge of popularity began to grow among the people in other parts of the world, in 2013, due to security concerns, the local council decided to restrict entry to 20,000 participants only.
Due to the recent pandemic, the Tomatina festival had to be cancelled in 2020 as well as in 2021 consequently, and this was the only second time ever the festival did not take place since its inception. Fortunately, as the situation has improved, the La Tomatina festival will resume this year (2022).
2. How to Attend La Tomatina
To enter Buñol during La Tomatina will require you to show your wristbands that will be given to you after you buy tickets for La Tomatina. Since the restriction, it has become mandatory to pre-book la Tomatina tickets to enter Buñol. Although the entry ticket is only 12.00€, they tend to sell out quickly. Better catch them before they run out.
Buñol is a small town consisting of roughly a population of 10,000. Hence you will have to book your accommodation either in Valencia or Barcelona. Many tour companies are dedicated to offering packages solely for attending the La Tomatina festival.
3. Before, During, and After La Tomatina
- Festival goers usually take the train to Buñol, but you can travel by bus, car, and taxi, depending on how you have planned your trip.
- Though the festival begins at 10:00 AM, people swarm the Plaza del Pueblo as early as 6:00 AM. You may want to juice up with necessary vitamins and nutrients or faint due to weakness, and you never know when the paramedics may arrive.
- Before the actual tomato fight, the celebration kickstarts with El Palo Jabon. It is an important part of La Tomatina, wherein a two-story-high greasy pole has a slice of ham on top, which the crowd is supposed to take by climbing as the rest of the crowd cheers in unison. However, only a handful of people have achieved the feat of grabbing the slice of ham atop the greasy pole.
- This goes on until 11:00 AM when the first siren’s sound signals the beginning of throwing tomatoes. A convoy of lorries steadily enters the crowded streets filled with roughly 26,000 Kg of tomatoes.
- You must stop throwing tomatoes when the second siren goes off. The tomato throwing lasts for a good hour until the second siren, after which no more tomatoes should be hurled. Even among all the frenzy of celebration and enjoyment, people are very mindful of such protocols.
- Finally, when the streets are overflowed with squashed tomatoes, the water cannons play, and the hose cleans everything in its way, including the people and the streets. People say that the citric acid in tomatoes leaves the streets and corners squeaky clean.
- After an exhilarating and chaotic couple of hours, the locals prepare food for the visitors free of cost since Buñol is a fairly small town where the restaurants stay closed during La Tomatina.
- The day does not end here; apart from the tomato fight, people also partake in other festivities, such as the enormous Paella cooking contest.
- The La Tomatina Official After Party takes place around 7:00 PM nearby Buñol and goes on until 5:00 AM, as the party animals indulge in booze to the beats of reggaeton.
- The tickets for the After Party are to be purchased separately and are not inclusive of La Tomatina itself.
4. 5 Most Important Rules
The visitors must be well aware of the 5 most important rules when attending La Tomatina:
- You are not allowed to enter bottles or other objects, as these hard objects can injure other people during food fights.
- Tearing other people’s t-shirts is strictly forbidden.
- Always squash tomatoes before hurling them at someone, as it minimizes the impact.
- Always maintain a safe distance from the convoy of lorries when they pass you.
- You must stop throwing tomatoes as soon as the second siren goes off.
5. Tips for Surviving La Tomatina
Knowing valuable tips and advice regarding an unfamiliar fiesta in a foreign country can make a difference in having an experience of a lifetime or a miserable trip. Here are some helpful tips to make the most out of the experience:
- Wear used trainers instead of flip-flops or sandals, as you can easily break or lose them. You may also stomp your foot in the ruckus if you aren’t too careful.
- Wear old clothes that you would be fine with throwing away. Even though a rule is laid down to discourage ripping others’ clothes, people still do it regardless.
- Do not carry a backpack with you as it may get stolen or snatched away. Instead, use clothes with sealed pockets to store your cash and other essential items.
- Bring goggles because if the citric acid goes into your eyes, it may irritate you.
- Please do not carry your mobile phones unless they are waterproof. Same with video cameras, it will make you an easier target for the pelters.
- Finding food and water during the fiesta might be difficult, and you must be prepared if such a scenario arrives.
- Buñol doesn’t have much to do apart from La Tomatina, so you might want to extend your visit to other places, such as exploring Valencia or Barcelona.
La Tomatina continues to be one of the craziest and most exciting places for creating lifetime unforgettable experiences. It has also inspired people in other parts of the world to re-create the same experience: a Colombian town holds a tomato fight every year when they have a surplus of harvest, and a city in the United States of America celebrates it under the same name with full credit to the Spaniards.
So, what does your bucket list look like?