In the small, sleepy Spanish town of Buñol, Spain you’ll find one of the world’s strangest yearly food festivals. Although there are many global festivals that celebrate with food, Buñol is unique for hosting the world’s largest food fight, using only tomatoes! La Tomatina occurs on the last Wednesday of August every year when tens of thousands of people crush into the town square to hurl tomatoes at each other. And to make it even stranger, the whole day starts off with a few brave souls trying to climb a greased pole to knock off a ham at the top!
History of La Tomatina
The origins of the festival are murky but its humble beginnings are loosely linked back to a group of youths who accidentally incited an argument during a parade. The argument ended in a fruit and vegetable fight. The following year, a group of youths reenacted the fight with tomatoes they brought from home and a tradition was born.
La Tomatina hasn’t had a smooth ride, as iconic festivals go; it was banned more than once by the local authorities and many of the participants in early years were arrested for their participation.
As the festival grew in popularity, however, more people attended and in the 1980s the town hall (or town council) took over organising the festival and put in a place a few simple rules.
1) tomatoes must be squashed before they are thrown
2) nothing else can be thrown
3) trucks and lorries have right of way
4) there can be no ripping of shirts
5) all hurling must stop when the second cannon sounds
The festival starts with the climbing of the greased pole, around 10am and a bang from a water cannon at 11am indicates the start of tomato chucking madness. The food fight lasts for one hour and a second cannon shot marks the end of festivities. Over 150,000 tomatoes (nearly 40 metric tonnes) are thrown during just one hour!
Although it’s not a rule, wearing safety goggles and gloves is definitely recommended. Tomatoes are highly acidic – in fact, the cobbled streets of Buñol almost glow they are so well cleansed after the festivities – so protecting your eyes is really important. Take travel insurance with you just in case; participants have suffered cuts that required stitches, eye infections, heat stroke, hypothermia and severe bruising. Travel insurance could help lessen the financial pain should the worst occur.
Need to Know
The festival has grown from a few local participants to over 40,000 people crowding Buñol to join in. In 2013, with safety concerns mounting, the local council decided to make La Tomatina a ticketed event and they limited participant numbers to 20,000. Tickets to the festival are now €10 each and should be purchased well in advance of the festival. You can buy individual tickets through the festival website or through tour operators who specialise in La Tomatina packages.
The town of Buñol is a stunning example of traditional Spanish architecture and the cobbled streets ooze history (when the rivers of tomato juice aren’t running!). Check out the town’s 13th century castle and visit the nearby Alta and Turche caves.
Buñol is in the Valencia region of Spain and it’s well worth the short drive to the seaside city of Valencia. Enjoy relaxed, beachside fun or head to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, which blows your preconceptions of Spanish architecture out of the water! Paella originated in the Valencia region and it’s the perfect place to try this famous Spanish dish; pair it with a crisp white or bold regional rosé and watch the sun dance across the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Happy travels!