San Fermin 2014: How to Survive the Pamplona Bull Run

7th-14th July 2014

Jumping from the Navarre fountain in Pamplona is a rite of passage for wine-drenched tourists at the Pamplona Bull Run in San Fermin. The fountain aside, the Pamplona Bull Run is one of the most dangerous festivals you can get involved in and each year hundreds of people injure themselves taking part. Some have even been known to lose their lives to the cause. The Pamplona Bull Run is 825 metres of unadulterated fear and adrenalin as you and thousands of equally insane thrill seekers run like the wind to avoid a mauling from a hot, bothered and very, very angry bull!

Both the Bull Run, and the wider San Fermin festival are great fun, provided that you know what you’re doing! So, without further ado, here’s our guide to surviving the Pamplona Bull Run and making the most out of other San Fermin events 2014.

History of San Fermin

The daily Bull Run forms an important part of the festivities, but San Fermin festival is actually a week long party where the people of Pamplona pay homage to their patron Saint, San Fermin, through prayer, fireworks, bull fights and lots and lots of partying!

Celebrated every year from 7-14 July, for over five hundred years, ever since the 14th Century, San Fermin forms an important part of the culture of Pamplona and is one of Spain’s longest running festivals.

Interestingly, the Bull Run itself was not part of the original religious and largely somber festival and was added later as San Fermin took on a more adventurous side.

Some say it was added because San Fermin met his death at the hands of angry bulls who mauled and dragged him through the streets of the old town while he was drunkenly walking home after a few too many sangrias.

Others suggest that San Fermin actually met his end by decapitation but was then tied to a bull and dragged through the streets.

Far more likely is that a couple of foolhardy lads thought it would be funny one evening during San Fermin to run out in front of the bulls as they were let out of their pen for a fight in the bullring. Presumably surviving the ordeal, they decided to repeat the trick the following year and the rest, as they say is history!

Regardless of why it was added, the Bull Run is now a vital part of the San Fermin Festival and has developed over the years to become a world famous event.

The Bull Run

Performed every day at 8am during San Fermin, el encierro or the Bull Run, is in many cases, the only reason why many come to Pamplona. Some get up before dawn to ensure they get themselves a place in the world’s most famous Bull Run, others haven’t gone to bed, and many are still drunk.

The Bull Run is great fun but it’s also pretty dangerous – for starters you’ve got some huge bulls running at full pelt behind you that are not in the best of moods and won’t think twice about running you down. If you survive the bull you’ve still got the huge crowds to negotiate. Indeed, most injuries are caused by people tripping up and being trampled on in the mad rush to escape the bull.

Here are a few top tips to help ensure you survive your Bull Run experience!

1. Pick your section wisely
The run may only be 825 meters long but is divided into two legs meaning that you won’t be able to do the full run. The first section stretches from the bull pen where the bulls are released to Calle Estefeta and the second takes you from Calle Estefeta to the Bull Ring where the bulls will stay in situ until the bull fight later that evening.

Which section you choose is up to you but the second section down Calle Estefeta to the Bull Ring is generally considered as the better of the two runs. However, it’s also the more dangerous and is where the most accidents happen.

If you do take on the second section, remember that if you make it as far as the bull ring (or Encierro de toros as the locals would call it), be extra careful at the entrance to the arena as it gets very narrow here and there is lots and lots of crowding.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you do make it as far as the bullring without being killed, you’ll still have more dangerous thrills ahead of you as the ‘baby bulls’ are unleashed for a run about. They are no less dangerous than their older brothers and sisters and you’ll need all your wits about you to avoid becoming another casualty statistic!

Top Tip: If you can, avoid the corner of Calle Estefeta when the bulls enter the second part of the run. This is a sharp turn and the most dangerous part of the entire Bull Run. Lots of people get trampled here and this is also where many of the bulls also fall over.

2. Stay down if you fall!
This may sound like the worst advice ever especially when you’ve got stampeding bulls chasing after you! However, staying down with your hands on your head curled up in a ball like the jockeys do when they fall at the Grand National is the best thing you can do. Only get up once the on-rushing bulls and terrified masses have passed through.

3. Arrive early to ensure you can take part
If you are going to take part in the Bull Run, make sure that you arrive early. Thousands and thousands want to take part but not everyone can take part. The last thing you want to do is save up specially to go only to find that you can’t take part purely because you didn’t get up early enough. It’s never too early to arrive at the start but provided that you’re along the route by 6.30 am you should be able to take up your place without any problems.

4. Make sure you’re fit to take part
Even those amongst you who have an active dislike of exercise would be fairly confident of being able to run 400 meters, however, the Bull Run is not for the faint-hearted and nothing quite prepares you for the strange combination of adrenalin and fear that comes over you once the run gets under way. If you don’t feel well in the build up and have any doubts about taking part, the answer is quite simple- Don’t!

The other crucial thing to remember is DO NOT take part drunk or without a good night’s sleep under any circumstances. The Bull Run is no walk in the park and you will all your wits about you to make sure you make it through in one piece.

Also, the local police (who are the only things more scary than the bulls) will have no hesitation to chuck you out if you so much as look drunk.

5. Leave your cameras and wallets at home
While it’s tempting to bring your wallet with you so that you can buy yourself a well-earned pint afterwards- Don’t! San Fermin is famous for pick-pocketing which you won’t even feel happening with all the nerves pre-run.

Don’t bring your camera either; much as you think you’ll have time to take pictures you won’t. Besides, the chances are that if you slip or crash into someone once the run is under way you’ll break it anyway!

Oh, and those oh so friendly local police will also confiscate any cameras if they catch you with one. You have been warned!

6. Stay vigilant… even as a spectator!
Not all of you are going to fancy taking on the bulls and will head for the relative safety of watching on from the sides. Protected by barriers, clearly you’re much safer on the side lines than you are in the middle of the Bull Run, but you’re not immune from danger. The bulls can get dizzy and disorientated and it is not unknown for them to charge the spectators without warning so make sure you concentrate at all times.

N.B. To blend in with the locals make sure you wear a white t-shirt and trousers accompanied by a red neckerchief.

Bull Fighting

Bull fighting is another important part of San Fermin and takes place every day at 6.30 pm in the city’s bull ring.

If you’re not aware of what a bullfight or corrida involves, you’ll need to know that while it’s a fantastic spectacle it’s also not for the faint-hearted.

So, if you’re an animal lover or squeamish in any way, visiting a bullfight is certainly not advisable! Read more about Bullfighting: A Bloody Tradition.

Other Festivities

There’s so much more to San Fermin than the bulls and bull runs. The festival is essentially a week of fiestas, fireworks and lots and lots of alcohol (most of which is consumed well after dark!)

The real highlights are Txupinazo (the opening ceremony) which starts at midday on 6th July and the weekends when the town comes alive to the sound of music and the music and fireworks which kick off the festivities at 11pm each night and go on until 8 am the following morning. However, in all honesty it’s party time throughout the week with people out every night drinking and dancing in the cluster of traditional bars in the center of town.

The drink of choice is Kalimotxo – a local Basque drink which is essentially a mix of coke and the local red wine. This is readily available from all stores and a very cheap way of drinking during the festival.

If you’re LGBT and in search of a good time, head to El Mesón or Nicolette in the old part of the town for a night of fun, frolics and some serious partying. Alternatively, M-40, is another good option.

One activity that should be avoided at all costs is the crazy custom of climbing up the city’s fountain and jumping off the top into the crowd below. This has absolutely nothing to do with San Fermin and is predominantly the preserve of drunken tourists. The danger is not so much jumping off but putting all your faith in the drunken ‘catchers’ below.

Whatever you do, make sure you keep an eye for a curly haired, middle aged local with a comedy beard called Kukuxumusu. He loves the foreigners that come to take part in the festival and ever since 1996 has been keeping an eye out for the ‘Guiri del año’ (foreigner of the year) to give a prize to in recognition of their contribution to the festival. The winner receives a figurine trophy complete with horns and is invited to a special meal held in his/her honor. With the prize in mind, you might want to brush up on the daily prayer that the San Fermines sing every day in front of the small statue of their infamous patron saint before the start of the encierro to boost your chances of being noticed by Kukuxumusu. This video should help:

So there you have it, our guide to surviving the Pamplona Bull Run and making the most of the festival of San Fermin.

Where to stay

San Fermin and the Pamplona Bull Run are the biggest events in Pamplona’s calendar so the chance that there is much, if any, accommodation still available is quite remote. However, it’s definitely still worth checking for available Pamplona hostels on the website.

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Thanks to,  kozumenAbeeeer & Lobberich for the Flickr images. Please note that all images were used under the Creative Commons license at the time of posting.

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