Experiencing Fiestas San Fermínes, more commonly known to guiris as The Running of the Bulls, has been the highlight of my summer, and that’s a tough competition to win. The yearly festival is held just an hour from Logroño in the city of Pamplona, Navarra and lasts for a week.
Arguably the largest, most popular festival in all of Spain, there was no way I was missing out! We decided to go for the chupinazo, or opening ceremonies, on July 6th. News stations estimated that over one million people would be there to kick off the party.
The chupinazo begins with Pamplona’s mayor coming out to the balcony of city hall. He says the famous words, “Viva San Fermín!“, to which the crowd replies, “Viva!” And “Gora San Fermín!“, “Gora!” The crowd sings together while twirling their pañuelos, and so begins the festival. Everyone immediately begins popping champagne, cheering, and throwing every bit of liquid in site. It was an incredible experience. Don’t expect your white clothes to stay that way for long. We tried to “hide” by a group of older people, which backfired after they jumped right into throwing stuff with everyone else!
Be forewarned that the chupinazo is not for anyone who struggles with claustrophobia. After waiting around in the plaza for hours, people head straight into the bars surrounding Plaza del Castillo, where techno music starts pumping and dance parties start up. Unfortunately, I was desperate to use the restroom and rushed into the closest bar with my group of girl friends, along with everyone else. More and more people came in as we were waiting in line and soon I was pressed against a wall and freaking out! Lesson learned.
The place we spent most of our time was Café Iruña (Plaza del Castillo, 44). It’s actually an upscale restaurant, but during San Fermín they remove all of the seating to create a huge dance floor. Two full bars with mega speakers line either side of the room, and people spend the night there dancing. The music didn’t turn off until 6:00!
We spent a full 24 hours out partying in the streets before the Running of the Bulls. The weather was absolutely terrible: cold, rainy, and windy. We stuck it out by hiding in a bank’s ATM area and running from spot to spot under a random emergency blanket we found. That probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but it made the night even more ridiculous.
One of my favorite memories was in the early hours of the morning when it was raining yet again. Half of the group was trying to find the other half and we were pushing through crowds of people dancing under tarp tents. It was so crowded that we finally decided to just go out into the rain and dance there. People followed our lead and soon we had a dance party going in the rain between the two tarps. It was so fun!
There is never a lack of things to do. Beautiful fireworks were shot off at 23:00 and random street parades were all over the place. We met a ton of English speaking tourists, as well as people from all over Spain. A friend of mine met a guy who took us to climb up and see where the bulls were sleeping! At around 4:00 on July 7th, people began to line up along the route of the encierro.
We managed to find a spot right on the boundaries of the race, crowded around the fence. Us girls squatted down and the guys stood behind us. This was probably my least favorite part. People begin pushing and trying to convince you to let them have your spot… Which just isn’t happening when you’ve waited there for almost 2 hours. Nonetheless they insist on how far they’ve travelled to be there and on and on, etc.
At 8:00 the shot is fired for the race to begin. There were so many people running in front! There were a couple of people and a bull who fell on the path right in front of us, which was pretty terrifying, but over all I was unimpressed. The run itself only lasts 2 minutes.
It could be different if you’re actually running with the bulls, or viewing the race from the insanely priced balconies, but for me the highlight of the Running of the Bulls was the party… San Fermín itself. There’s definitely a camaraderie you develop with the people who stay out for 24 hours straight to experience San Fermín… once it’s 5:00 in the morning, the events that happened at 23:00 or midnight seem like days ago. We talked to multiple people who had flights within 2 hours after the run, and just didn’t want to leave.
We were dead tired, covered in spilled alcohol, and frozen from rain and wind by the time we crawled onto the bus. I fell asleep immediately and Jay told me I almost fell out of my seat on the bus, but everything was more than worth it. San Fermín is the most memorable party I’ve ever witnessed and I can’t wait to go back next year!