For nine days, an unassuming, peaceful town has its population numbers swelling from around 200,000 to well over a 1,000,000 for the festival of Sanfermines. The festival rears up, roaring tremendously and sweeps through every house and every mind, filling the streets with people and becoming the city. The streets are awash with wine, the skies alight with fireworks, and everything in between filled with the sounds of marching bands, and uproarious celebrators. Then it disappears in what seems like nothing more than a blink, leaving nothing behind but sweet memories and anticipation for the festival’s return. There is an incredible beauty in this, a symbolism of the transience of life and all the festival’s visitors have a deep appreciation of this. This article explains how to run with the bulls in Pamplona (but the skills learned here can be applied to any bull running, regardless of location). It’ll have you itching to get out there and experience the adrenaline-filled, sweaty run for yourself. Don’t forget to add it to your BUCKiTDREAM list!
The running of the bulls is a practice that involves people running in front of a group of untamed bulls that have been let loose on a sectioned-off course through a town’s streets. The most famous running of the bulls is the Sanfermines Festival held in the honor of Saint Fermin in Pamplona. The Pamplona run has been broadcast live on the Spanish national television channel RTVE for over 30 years. It is the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival, which is held every year from the 6th to the 14th of July. The first bull running is on the 7th of July, followed by one on each of the subsequent mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8 am. Though there are many cities with bull running, Pamplona is where we recommend you head.
The origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, youngsters would try to speed the process by running in amongst them. After years and years of this, running amongst the bulls became progressively more competitive – a display of the men’s courage. As it became more popular, word spread and it became a tradition throughout Spain that is honored to this day. In Pamplona, the six bulls used for the run, are also featured in the afternoon bullfight of the same day.
Booking Your Trip
Due to the worldwide popularity of the event, overcrowding is guaranteed. So if you’re planning on going, booking many months in advance is recommended. As accommodation gets booked up months in advance, the next best thing on short notice is the campsite around five miles from the city centers.
It is free to run with the bulls. However, you will pay in fear and adrenaline (and possibly injuries) that all amalgamate to create quite the spectacle for viewers.
Getting To Pamplona
While there are no international flights into Pamplona Airport, you can fly to Madrid or Barcelona and, from either, take a connecting flight to Pamplona. The airport is only four miles from the city center.
There are also frequent trains from Barcelona, Madrid and San Sebastian to Pamplona, plus regular bus services.
Participants must be at least 18 years old to run with the bulls (you’ll be asked for IDs).
You must run in the same direction as the bulls.
You must not incite the bulls.
You must not be under the influence of alcohol.
With the drinks flowing and the infectious energy of the party pumping through your veins, it’s easy to become overzealous and rambunctious, the dangers of running with bulls quietly exiting your mind. Do not let this happen! Make whatever necessary preparations to steadfast yourself against your own desire for glory, and under no circumstances should you consider running if intoxicated. Much like drink-driving, drink-running doesn’t just put you in danger, but everyone around you too.
A first rocket is set off at 8 am to alert the runners that the gate is open. A second rocket signals that all six bulls have been released. The third and fourth rockets are signals that all of the herd has entered the bullring and its corral respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the first rocket and the run’s finish is two minutes and thirty seconds.
The run is usually comprised of six bulls to be fought in the afternoon, six steers (castrated bulls) that run in the herd with the bulls, and three more steers that follow the herd to encourage any reluctant bulls to continue along the desired route. The average speed of the herd is 15 mph.
The length of the run is 875 meters. If you doubt you can sprint fast for 875 meters, this is most certainly not the race for you. It goes through four streets of the old part of the city via the old town hall square before entering into the bullring through its callejon (tunnel).
Injuries, Fatalities, Medical Help
Every year, a number of people are injured during the run. Though not all of the injuries require hospitalization. A major risk is in runners falling and piling up at the entrance of the bullring, which acts as a funnel as it is much narrower than the previous street. In such cases injuries come both from asphyxia and bruising to those in the pile and from goring on occasions where bulls crash into the pile. This kind of blocking has occurred at least ten times in the history of the run. Goring is a lot less common than one might think but is potentially fatal, so following the safeguards is essential.
In order to minimize the impact of injuries, 200 medical volunteers are at hand. They are deployed in 16 sanitary posts every 50 meters, each one with at least one physician and a nurse. In addition to the medical posts, there are 20 ambulances at hand to whisk those with serious injuries to the hospital in less than 10 minutes.
There is no formal dress code, but the very common traditional attire is white pants, white shirt with a red scarf around the waist and a red handkerchief around the neck. So if you really want to immerse yourself in the experience, this is definitely a must – plus, it makes for some great photography to take home to the friends!
Many runners that want to be perceived as daring, wear colors other than white, a common alternate color choice is blue. Blue is thought by some to draw the bulls’ attention. If you participate in this highlighting, you’re braver (or maybe just more reckless) than us!
It is certainly possible to take a lot from the experience without actually participating in the run. Places to watch the run from include:
The Street: you can stand behind the fences that mark the route of the bullpen but it’s advisable to arrive before 6:30 am to get the best spot, right up against the fence directly overlooking the run.
Private balconies: If you have the opportunity, get yourself onto a balcony overlooking the bull run for an incredible bird’s eye view of the action
Plaza de Toros: You can also go to the bullring and watch the climax as bulls and terrified, wide-eyed runners rush into the arena.
Alright, now you know how to run with the bulls. But the experience is found in the act, so back your bags, jet set, and get ready for the run of your life (or for your life)! It’s a truly unforgettable experience, you won’t regret it. Be sure to record your highlights in your BUCKiTDREAM planner, and if you’re looking for some other incredible destinations to explore, be sure to check some of our other articles. Happy travels!