Hola todos! We are here again with a famous Spanish festival, La Tomatina. In this post, we will talk about another strange invention of the Spaniards, the Tomato Fight, that is La Tomatina. You will get all information about La Tomatina you need from this post.
What is La Tomatina and Where is it held?
La Tomatina, one of the most interesting and fun festivals in the world, is famous for thousands of people throwing tonnes of tomatoes at each other in a narrow street. It takes place in the town of Buñol in the autonomous region of Valencia, Spain. Thousands of participants flock to this small Spanish town for the gigantic tomato fight.
When is La Tomatina?
La Tomatina is held every year on the last Wednesday of August. The festival usually starts at 11:00 with a huge tomato fight and lasts for about an hour. In the 2023 La Tomatina we attended, the fight started at 12pm.
A Little Bit of History: How did La Tomatina Start and Become So Popular?
Although there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Buñol, the small town comes to life every August with the La Tomatina Festival. There are various rumours about how this popular festival started. According to the most prominent rumour;
On the last Wednesday of August 1945, it started by chance during a parade in the Public Square. During a parade with musicians, giants and big heads, a few young people caused one of the participants to fall and hit everything in their path. The participant got angry and started throwing whatever he could get his hands on. The crowd also got angry and started throwing tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall at each other.
Others say it started after a food fight between friends, a class war between barefoot leftist youth and upper-class snobs from Madrid, the silencing of a bad musician with tomatoes, a democratic protest against the city council and an accidental spillage of a tomato truck.
Whatever the reason, the people of Buñol obviously thought it was a great idea and immediately resumed the tradition the following year!
The tomato fight continued for a few more years until it was banned in the early 1950s. The ‘fight’ was authorised again in 1957 when the locals organised a funeral procession for the resumption of La Tomatina, carrying a coffin containing tomatoes and accompanied by funeral marches. Who in authority could stand up to this violent uprising!
In the late 1960s, La Tomatina officially became a festival, and since then its popularity has grown exponentially.
A turning point in its popularity came in 1983, when a television news programme, Informe Semanal, broadcast a story about La Tomatina. By 2002, it was recognised as one of Spain’s festivals of international tourist interest. In the following days, it appeared on the front pages of publications such as The New York Times and inspired advertisers, screenwriters and even Google’s creative team, who came up with a doodle for it.
Participation Requirements and Ticket Information for La Tomatina
As La Tomatina has gained popularity both in Spain and around the world, the number of participants has increased dramatically over the years. Due to the unpredictability of the number of participants and the increase in costs, in 2013, entry was made compulsory with a ticket and a limit was placed on the number of tickets released. These days, a maximum of 20,000 tickets are sold. 5,000 free tickets are reserved for residents of the city.
Since there is a limited number of tickets, you should buy your ticket months in advance. To give you an idea, in 2023 La Tomatina took place on 30 August and we bought our tickets on 20 July. The number of tickets left that day was around 3000-3500.
Apart from tickets, we can say that the only requirement for participation in La Tomatina is to be over 18 years old.
Where to Buy La Tomatina Tickets? How much is the Ticket?
There are several ways to buy the ticket.
The first one is through the official website https://latomatina.info. When buying the ticket, you can choose how many tickets you want. The ticket is in one person’s name, but that’s okay. The ticket price was 15 Euro for 2023.
The other method is to buy through tour companies. For example, you will come from another city such as Barcelona, Madrid, you don’t have a car or you don’t want to deal with it, or there is no train, transport etc. You can find various companies by searching ‘la tomatina from (name of the city where you are)’ on Google. These companies pick you up by bus very early in the day, bring you to Buñol and take you back to the city you came from in the evening. Some of them may also include the After Party. The entrance ticket is included in the price. There are organisations from many cities. One of these companies is: https://tomatina.es
What if we want to throw tomatoes over the lorry? It is said that the people on the lorry are usually the locals of the town. For a 750 Euro ticket, people from outside can also participate. However, we do not know where this tickets are sold.
What about the kids?
On the Saturday before the actual La Tomatina there is a special free La Tomatina event for children aged 4-14. You can find more information here or by googling ‘La tomatina for kids’.
How to get to La Tomatina?
Buñol is located 40 km from the centre of Valencia, 380 km from Barcelona and 325 km from Madrid. If you’re not travelling from Valencia or nearby, it’s about a 3-4 hour drive. Depending on your budget and how much time you have, there are several options to overcome these distances:
By Tour Buses:
As I mentioned under the previous heading, one of the ways of transport is to come by bus with tour companies. This can be one of the cheapest methods because otherwise you will have accommodation costs.
Travelling to Valencia the day before by bus and train:
Alternatively, the day before Barcelona you can take a train (3.5 hours, tickets cost 25-50 euros each way – via Renfe) or a bus (4.5 hours, about 20 euros each way) to Valencia, spend the night there and then take the train to Buñol the next day.
The first train from Valencia to Buñol starts at 7am. Note that it is a local train and the journey will take about 1 hour. There is a high chance of not finding a seat. A friend of mine who preferred this route bought his departure ticket from the station on the same day and said that you should buy the return ticket at the same time. There may be a very long queue for the return ticket in Buñol.
The direct journey from Barcelona by car will take about 4 hours and you should set off very early in the morning, unless you are travelling the day before. Fortunately, the highway between Barcelona and Valencia has been free of charge for the last 3-4 years, so you will not have any extra travel costs other than fuel.
How did we get to Buñol from Barcelona?
Our preferred method was to go by our own car. Although our original starting point was Barcelona, we had a different strategy. We arranged a camp for a week in the coastal town of Benicàssim, as the 4-hour journey would be very tiring. Thus, the distance to Buñol was reduced to 117 km. On La Tomatina day, we left the camp around 8.30 a.m. and arrived in Buñol around 10 a.m. I think there was no heavy car traffic at that time as many people preferred buses and trains.
Car Parking in Buñol
Google Maps first took us towards the centre of the city. Although there were parking areas in the new part of the city, there was a few kilometres of walking path from there. We acted a bit more like locals and parked the car in this neighbourhood. There is no official parking area here, but people park on the side of the road. Surprisingly there were no crowds and we left the car in a good position under the shade without much difficulty. Maybe 1-2 minutes after we parked, a police car came and blocked one of the two roads. There were still places to park behind. If you are going to park here, do not be late than 9.30-10. From this point you can walk 5-10 minutes to the Diputación entrance point.
La Tomatina Check-in
To enter the main festival area in La Tomatina, you need to show your ticket and get your festival wristband. It is written on the ticket where you can get your wristband. For example, ours was marked as Acceso Diputación and we especially preferred the place where we parked the car because it was close to this entrance point. The actual change point was Plaza 5 De Marzo.
Since it said Print At Home on the ticket, we printed it out and went there, but they only scanned the QR code. So it can also be scanned from the phone. On the ticket was also said don’t forget your ID or passport, but again no one checked it. Take your own risk!
La Tomatina Rules
- Do not enter the area with bottles or hard objects that could be used as weapons. This includes selfie sticks. They may throw them away at the entrance.
- Do not tear or throw other people’s t-shirts (Why do you do such things, amigos :)).
- Squash tomatoes before throwing them to reduce the impact.
- Keep a safe distance between you and the lorries.
- Stop throwing tomatoes when you hear the second siren.
Preparation for La Tomatina
Before attending the festival, you should consider some rules and recommendations. It is especially important to remember that the tomato fight can be fierce.
One of the basic rules of La Tomatina is to crush the tomato and throw it. When 20,000 people from different countries and cultures who do not know each other come together, id and instincts can come to the surface. That tomato may be thrown without being crushed and may hit your eyes, nose or ears. Therefore, it is important to go prepared.
In order to protect our eyes from both the blows and the tomato acid, we bought sea goggles that do not cover the nose for 13 Euros from Decathlon. Some people came with sunglasses, but we saw sunglasses flying in the air or floating in the tomato lake. I don’t think it’s very useful unless they are firmly on your head and protect your eyes from every angle. Regular swimming goggles will also work. Even if we don’t see them, I think there must be places selling them in the festival area. As a person who received headshots many times, I say you should definitely protect your eyes.
Always, always go with shoes. We saw a lot of unattended slippers.
Another important issue is clothing. It is useful to wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you will not feel sorry if you throw them away. Although there is no tomato stain on the top we wear after washing, I would say don’t risk it. We wore t-shirts over our old swimsuits and many people wear white t-shirts so that the tomato stain is more obvious. You can also find t-shirts sold around for the festival. In any case, it is useful to bring clean clothes with you.
Do not bring your valuables such as rings, necklaces, earrings. They may fall or be stolen.
If you want to use your phone or camera at the festival, definitely buy a waterproof case. We bought them for 8 Euros from a phone case shop in Castellon the day before. There were also shops selling phone cases around Diputacion square, one of the entrance points of the festival. Their prices were 3.5 Euros but the quality was not that good. Also, putting the phone in your pocket would not be a very reasonable move. You should be able to hang it around your neck.
Bring a waterproof bag or solution that you can hang around your neck or tie securely around your waist for both valuable things such as keys, money, ID, credit card etc. and clean clothes. If you are coming with a tour company, you can probably leave the clothes on the bus. We didn’t see it, but there are definitely places that provide custodian services. Long story short is carry as little as possible. That would be the neatest.
There are mobile toilets, there are also too many people and loong queues. It may make sense to go to the toilet before entering the festival, otherwise it is a bit of a problem there.
Pickpocket in La Tomatina!
Since it was our first time in La Tomatina, we didn’t know what we would need. Since we were travelling by car, we had a key that we had to keep safe. Apart from that, we also had IDs, cash and credit card just in case. However, we hadn’t thought about where to store them beforehand. As a solution, we put them all in a plastic bag and put it at the deep of my pocket, so they wouldn’t fall out.
In the first crowded moment after entering, I felt something in my left pocket and realised that the mouth of the bag was out of my pocket. When I turned around, I saw a 25-30 year old guy trying to move forward behind me. I put the bag back into my pocket. Maybe 30 seconds passed and I felt something again and the mouth of the bag was out again. Unlike this time, I saw the hand being pulled out and the hand seemed to belong to the idiot behind me. I turned round and shouted in English, “What the fuck are you doing, I saw what you were doing?” He got a bit scared and backed off, saying in a Spanish accent, “I don’t understand English”. Then I pointed my hand at him and started shouting pickpocket! pickpocket! Without saying anything, he continued into the crowd and towards his business. I don’t know how many people were victims that day. A woman next to me told me that someone’s necklace had just been stolen. These incidents happen about an hour before the festival. It is crucial to be sober at every moment of the festival and to bring less valuable items as the most guaranteed method.
Our La Tomatina Experience
Maybe if you see a tomato growing in the garden and smell it, you will say oh how beautiful, but unfortunately the smell of tonnes of tomatoes is not that beautiful hehehe.
When we arrived at the square around 10 o’clock, the atmosphere had already taken on a festival atmosphere. People were coming to the square from Ruiz Pons Street. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see many informative signs to get our wristbands. After asking a few people, we learnt that it was in the Plaza 5 De Marzo. The square was crowded and everyone was immersed in alcohol and music (yes at 10 am). The ticket office and the wristband office are side by side with separate queues. There was almost no queue for the wristbands and we scanned the QR code and got the wristbands in a short time. We walked around a bit and saw what was there. Honestly, you can’t walk around much in that heat.
More than 20,000 people, mostly from India, were coming together for the tomato fight. When I saw so many Indian, I immediately thought of the 2011 film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The film was about 3 Indian friends who took part in festivals such as running with bulls in San Fermin, La Tomatina and jumping out of a plane. This film may have fuelled people’s interest.
Around 11 o’clock, we decided to enter the street where the festival was going to be held. We showed the wristband in our hands and got in after a quick security check. The actual festival street is 250-300 metres away from the entrance point at the beginning of Calle Cid.
As we approached the street, we saw locals ‘warming up’ people with buckets from their balconies or hoses in their hands. In that heat, getting wet with a little cold water felt good and put us in the mood.
Crowd, Crowd, Crowd
The crowd started out of the blue. Saying excessive crowd wouldn’t be an overstatement. We were barely moving forward, but at some point we had the dilemma of whether to turn back or go further. We were now at the opposite the church when we collided with people coming from the other side. They were also fleeing from the crowd. Obviously it was equally bad everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on the news that there was a stampede in La Tomatina and so many people fainted and were injured. A friend of mine told me that she had fainted here years ago and I understood why. It was an anxious time, especially because my petite wife was with me. We were standing like a pile of fish and even I had difficulty breathing from time to time. For her, it was even worse considering little fresh air, hot weather and that crowd.
Palo-jabón (Soapy pole)
The soapy pole competition in front of the church took everyone’s attention before the fight. People try to get the Iberian ham tied to the top of a vertical pole lubricated with soap. The atmosphere was particularly energised by a Samurai who managed to climb first.
It started at 10 o’clock and normally the tomato war should have started when the ham was finally taken. But even after dozens of attempts, the last time I looked, there was still no one who had made it. Likely organisers realised that nobody will manage to grab it, so they decided to start the fight without waiting any longer.
And the Tomato War begins.
It was just after 12 o’clock and we heard the first siren. The sign that the fight has officially begun..
After the siren, the lorries entered the road where the battle was taking place. Each truck was carrying tonnes of tomatoes. First, the officials and people on the lorry threw the tomatoes in their hands towards us fish stacks. Of course, since the people on the truck cannot throw tonnes of tomatoes, at some point they lift the truck trailer and dump the tomatoes on the road.
That’s when the real fight starts. Until that moment, there are tomatoes thrown from the lorry. It is very difficult to bend down and pick up the tomato because of the crowd. You can throw it if you can get your hands on it. But when the lorry unloads, it makes a huge stockpile of battle munitions. You start to receive blunt blows to the head. Filled with ambition, I targeted other innocents I chose on the other side of the road. It was complete madness.
I don’t know how many lorries went by. We remember at least 7-8 lorries. Every time a lorry passes, we get stuck on the pavement. This is an important tip! Stay away from the lorry.
Although it is one of the basic rules to squash tomatoes before throwing them, you will not be surprised to hear that many people do not follow this rule. Therefore, be prepared for hard tomato blows to various parts of the head.
Shoes should definitely be worn. I was an idiot and forgot to bring the trainers I was going to wear amongst all the stuff we were bringing for the camping. Since I couldn’t waste my other shoes, I had to wear flip-flops. Especially after 3-4 trucks, there was a 15-20 cm tomato lake on the road. So much so that you could not distinguish between the road and the pavement. Once I tried to go down to the road and when I realised that my flip flops were coming off my feet, I had to stay on the pavement 🙂
If you want to take a tomato bath, find a place near the church. There are the most tomatoes here.
This red battle lasted about 50 minutes. When there were no more tomatoes to throw around, people sat on the road and started to take tomato baths or took tomato juice and pulp in their palms and threw to others.
On the church side, although we couldn’t take advantage of it, people were being watered with sprinklers from a vehicle a little behind.
Time to Clean Up
Finally we decided to leave. It took maybe 15-20 minutes to walk 5 minutes way.
The cleaning is a bit challenge. A few shower areas were supposedly set up but we couldn’t see them. We asked a few officials where they were but they didn’t know either. There were locals around cleaning people with their hoses. We saw a few places offering showers for 2 Euros. There were long queues in all of them.
An official said there was a stream down there. We went. The stream was not a stream but a Ganges river! But not because of its size but because of the crowd and dirtiness. The stream was very small. Its colour had turned brown and it flowed like mud. We wondered if we could find clean water if we went a little further, but no! Many had thought about it before us. Probably we were cleaner than the stream with our smelling tomato pulps.
When we came out of the stream, we saw a local who allowed to use the water in his garden. We queued behind 3-4 people. We were able to get clean there. When we got to the car, we changed our clothes. At least we were clean enough to drive to the camping site without making a mess in the car.
Many people keep hanging out there both before and after the fight and leave themselves in alcohol and music. It is completely up to you.
Interesting facts about La Tomatina
- Around 150 tonnes of tomatoes are poured onto the battlefields during the festival!
- Only about 10 per cent of the participants are from Spain and the rest are from all over the world, mostly from India.
- Considering that the population of Buñol is around 10,000, with 20,000 participants, the population of the city exceeds 3 times on a daily basis.
- In 2012, the year before the ticket requirement was introduced, 45 thousand people participated! While even 20 thousand is too many, I cannot even imagine 45 thousand.
- Before the ticket requirement, the cost of this 1-hour festival to the municipality was around 140 thousand Euros.
- Tomatoes are brought from Extremadura, Spain’s neighbouring region to Portugal, because they are cheaper.
- Tonnes of tomatoes and the stains they leave behind are cleaned up in just one or two hours after the festival and the streets are restored as if there had never been a tomato fight.
- The acid in tomatoes also helps to clean buildings and streets when rinsed.
This was our tomato fight story. Despite the overcrowding, it is an enjoyable festival that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. It satisfied our id to get as dirty as we want and throw tomatoes recklessly.
If you take the necessary precautions and go a little early and choose a good location, you may not be in danger of being crushed. In fact, if the authorities reduce the number of 20 thousand tickets to 10-15 thousand, the quality of the festival will be way better.
Hasta luego chic@s!