San Fermin - Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

By TripHobo Travel Expert on May 26, 2016
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 Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

Image Source: Camilo Rueda Lute;pez/Flickr

The Pamplona Bull Run, the running of the bulls or the Encierro is a pivotal part of the fiestas of San Fermin that takes place every year from 6th - 14th July. Even though there are many other events that take place during the festival, the daily bull run of 825 meters down the cobblestones that starts on 7th July is considered as the main event and rightly so as the experience is unmatched.  This unique ( read insane) event attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.

San Fermin was initially started as a weeklong festival to honour St. Farmin, the patron saint of Pamplona, through prayers, fireworks, bull fights and partying. This festival been celebrated for the past 500 years and continues as a traditional even today.  There are many interesting stories to the addition of bull running in this festival. One story suggests that San Farmin died at the hands of angry bulls that mangled and dragged him through the streets of the old town while he was walking back home after having one too many sangrias.

Another story suggests that it started as way to bring out the bulls from their pens or offsite livestock enclosures into the bullfighting ring.

San Fermin festival

 Image Source: Leo Smith Photos/Flickr 

During this event, the Spaniards and tourists literally run with about 12 to 15 dangerously hefty bulls from the holding pen to the bull ring. Every twist and turn of this thrilling episode that lasts up to 3 minutes is covered on live television. The bull running is conducting through all 7 days of the festival. Every morning runners gather in the streets wearing white and use red accents such as red bandanas, sashes, scarves, etc. Although there is no particular uniform as such, Spaniards consider the white and red attire to represent the saint (white) who was assassinated (red). About the bulls, they are colour blind so they just don’t care.

The night before, the bulls are held in pens on the outskirts of Pamplona, only about a kilometer away from the ring. The runners and spectators start assembling on the premises at the crack of dawn all set to face those dangerous bulls, but you can never really be fully prepared. Imagine running while you can feel the breath of a huge animal on your hind side. Scary right?! Anyway so the runner wait for the sound of two cannon shot at around 8 am which signal that the bulls have left the pen and are charging towards the ring. The runners essentially run with the bulls while the more adventurous ones run right in front of the bulls for that extra thrill for as far as they can before getting off the bulls’ path. The run lasts for approximately 3 mins. A lone bull is more dangerous than a herd, so sometime steers (calmer & slower bulls) are released along with the dangerous bulls.  However, in the Maschimo culture there is nothing more embarrassing than having run with a steer and not with the bull.  

Image Source: Camilo Rueda Lute;pez/Flickr

The onlookers gape as the sea of red and white poppy sticks run for their lives in panic, terrified of being gored or injured by the bulls or being trampled upon by fellow participants. Reportedly there have been 15 deaths mostly from goring since the year 1910. However, dozens of runners are injured every year.

Suddenly after 3 mins, the bulls are gone, the terrified participants pick themselves up and head to a nearby bar to grab some good breakfast and celebrate their participation in one of the most life changing experiences.

Spaniards from across the country are glued to the television following every twist and turn in the run that last for 180 seconds or less. After the run, there is abull fight in the evening.

Planning on experiencing some unadulterated adrenaline rush at the Bull Run? Here are a few tips to help you survive and not become one more statistical figure in the column of casualties.

Tips -

  1. Observe the run a day prior to the day you run.
  2. If you fall, cover your face and stay down until an onlooker taps you with a newspaper roll when it is safe.
  3. Don’t drink before running.
  4. Get some good night sleep.
  5. Listen to the rocket sounds at the start.
  6. Stick to the side of the bull, not literally!
  7. Run for your life!!
  8. Please leave the animal alone, the goal is to race not touch it!

How to reach Pamplona

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How to reach Pamplona

By plane

Pamplona has a small airport named Pamplona-Noain Airport that is connected with several cities including Madrid and Barcelona. The nearby, there are international airports are Bilbao (156 km), Zaragoza (170 km), or Biarritz, France (115 km) with flights to several international destinations. There is NO public transport to/from the airport to Pamplona. Airport transfers may come in handy.

By train

There are daily trains from and to Madrid, Barcelona, Vitoria, Galicia, Asturias and Zaragoza and other Spanish cities. Urban buses connect the train station to the city center in Pamplona.

By car

You may want to rent a car and drive from/to Madrid in 4 hrs., Barcelona -  4 hrs., Biarritz - 1.5 hrs., Bilbao - 2 hrs., San Sebastián - 1hr.

Underground parking is available.

By bus

Travelling by Bus is the cheapest way to get to Pamplona. There are several daily bus services from Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Vitoria, Zaragoza, Oviedo, etc. Same bus station links Pamplona with all the localities in Navarra (e.g. Estella, Tafalla, Tudela, Sangüesa, Olite, etc.) The bus station in Pamplona is underground.

Areas to Stay

Pamplona offers lots of good accommodations, but during San Fermín expect all hotels in the city to be completely occupied or have raised their prices four- or fivefold. So ensure that you book your accommodation well in advance.

Palacio Guendulain, Gran Hotel La Perla and Hotel Castillo de Javier are some the best hotels aound that will give you a complete feel of Pamplona and San Fermin.

Are you ready for this thrilling adventure? Get planning before it is too late!

While you are visiting Spain during the Pamplona Bull Running festival, you can also try out a bunch of other fantastic activities like camping, surfing and yes, attending the Bilbao BBK Live Festival! Wondering where you can grab the last-minute tickets for this all inclusive activity? We've got a solution!

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