Preparing for the Festival of San Fermin 2013

| March 7, 2013 | 14 Comments

No amount of planning can prepare you for the Festival of San Fermin 2013 (locally known Sanfermines). Every year over a million visitors from around the world descend on the small town of Pamplona in Spain for 9 days in July.

The streets of this proud Navarre region are taken over with revellers adorned in white and red celebrating one of the craziest festivals in the world, the Festival of San Fermin. And most of them are only there to see, or participate in, The Encierro. Better known as the Running of the Bulls.

Running with the Bulls, San Fermin Bull Fighting Pamplona

Bullfighting at the Festival de San Fermin

Festival of San Fermin 2013

If there is only one festival you plan to go to in 2013 then the Festival of San Fermin 2013 should be it. It will be the craziest, scariest, most exciting and adrenaline fuelled few days of your life.

San Fermines 2013 runs between July 6 to July 14, as it has for the last few hundred years. The festival marks the celebration of Saint Fermin who is one of the two patrons of Navarre, and is also considered as a martyr in the Catholic Church.

At noon on the 6th July the Festival of San Fermin 2013 will officially begin when the chupinazoa ceremonial rocket, is fired from the town hall in Pamplona.

From then on it is one wild ride of sangria, bulls, dancing, fireworks and little sleep.

Festival of San Fermin 2013 Program: July 7 – 14 July

Every day after the 6th July until midnight on the 14th July, the San Fermines will run in the same fashion:

The Encierro or Running with the Bulls

San Fermin Running with the Bulls still

Still image from our video while running with the bulls

From 6am, those not tanked up on sangria and still able to run safely will start gathering on the narrow streets of Pamplona.

This was one of the most terrifying parts for me as the tension slowly builds in the crowd and you really begin to contemplate what you are doing. Nervous hugs, jokes and silence ascends on the crowd of locals and tourists standing shoulder to shoulder in the pale morning light.

If you have any second thoughts then this is the time to seriously consider if you want to put your life at risk.

Just before 8am the runners ask for the protection of Saint Fermin by singing a chant three times before a small statue of the Saint near the bulls corral. At 8am the first firecracker is set off to announce the release of the bulls. A second firecracker is quickly sounded which signals that the last bull has left the corral.

In total there are six fighting bulls that have never run before accompanied by six oxes that are seasoned veterans. These oxes guide the other bulls to the arena. Shepherds also guide the unpredictable bulls to ensure they don’t turn on the crowd. Although it does still happen.

From there it is a wild 825 metre dash along the narrow fenced streets of Pamplona into the bullfighting arena. As the first bull enters the arena a third firecracker is released before the fourth firecracker announces the end of the run now that all the bulls are safely locked away in the bullpens.

Festival of San Fermin, Running with the Bulls Video, Pamplona

Festival of San Fermin – Running with the Bulls

But that doesn’t signal the end of the fun.

Once all of the bulls have cleared the bullfighting arena, young bulls with their horns wrapped in padding are released into the bullring to cause carnage. Be careful not to get taken out, or the crowd will laugh! And whatever you do, don’t touch the bulls or you will be set upon by the locals who consider the bulls sacred.

Festival of San Fermin 2013 Street Party

Hopefully you survived the running of the bulls and came out unscathed. And that is lucky as this is when the Sanfermines Festival really kicks off. As the Running of the Bulls finishes, the Festival of San Fermin 2013 continues.

Everyone grabs their sangria filled bota bags (wine skins) and parties on the streets until the following run the next morning.

We always took this opportunity to retire to our accommodation for a few hours to catch up on sleep, go surfing in San Sebastian, and grab some delicious local pinxtos (tapas). We wouldn’t return to Pamplona again until the evening because we needed the rest as the party is unlike anything you have every experienced.

You will see scenes that astound you, but make you rush to join in.

Like the men with Firebulls, which are basically a paper mache bull with fireworks strapped to their backs, running through the crazy crowd. Children chase after them and everyone ends up covered in scorching hot cinders. Watch the video below…

There are also countless parades and street bands wandering along the cobbled stones singing and dancing with the crowd. The Spanish really know how to party. 

Bull Fights at the Festival of San Fermin 2013

Every evening from 6.30pm between the 7th and the 14th July the bullfights begin. The six bulls that ran that morning will be killed in the bullfighting.

The atmosphere in the arena is even crazier than in the street. I am not sure if it is the blood-lust or the sangria that gets the Spanish crowd so excited, but they definitely were enjoying themselves.

Just be aware that attending the bullfighting isn’t for everyone. I am not squeamish but by the killing of the third bull I had enough and wished they would finish each fight sooner.

We also appreciate the controversies surrounding the bull fighting and that post covers our thoughts on it which you might want to check out before deciding to attend or not.

Bullfighting in Spain, Sanfermines, Festival of San Fermin

Bullfights at the Festival of San Fermin

And while the Pamplona bullring is the fourth largest in the world, it is full every afternoon and tickets are hard to find. We managed to buy some on the gate a few hours before the fight but were lucky to snap some up.

Where to stay for the Festival of San Fermin 2013

Finding accommodation for San Fermin 2013 can be nearly impossible if you don’t organise it months in advance. We joined Busabout for their Running with the Bulls tour which proved ideal.

The Busabout campground is located about an hour from Pamplona. However they provided breakfast every morning as well as tents and transportation to and from Pamplona throughout the day, and night. Don’t miss the last bus at 3am or you will be there until 6am like our friends were.

What to take for the Festival of San Fermin 2013?

Festival of San Fermin, San Fermines 2013, Sanfermines 2013, San Fermin Festival 2013

Ready for action at the Festival of San Fermin

If you are visiting Sanfermines for the first time then don’t go along with any preconceptions. Have an openmind and be prepared to party like it’s 1999 all over again.

If you are visiting San Fermin 2013 with a company like Busabout, then you don’t need much else other than some sturdy running shoes and a sleeping bag. They will provide you with the tent, red bandanna, white t-shirt and extra tips on where to go and what to do.

While the days are hot in Spain, the evenings can be cold, so consider taking an old sweater that you don’t mind throwing out afterwards. The stink and stickiness of sangria never comes out.

Should I run in the Festival of San Fermin 2013?

Most definitely.

But be aware that this is a very dangerous and risky activity. 15 people have been killed in the Festival of San Fermin since 1925. While the last death was an American tourist in 2009 every year there are hundreds of people injured while Running with the Bulls.

Luckily most of these are not serious.

If you want more information and a full list of the activities during the Festival of San Fermin 2013, then check out the the Navarra Council website.

Or book your festival now!

About the Author ()

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

Comments (14)

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  1. Dale says:

    It was great to read about your experience last year as I’ve never been to see the spectacle that the whole festival must be with so many people all together enjoying themselves – but it’s still wrong in my eyes.

    I read last year your thoughts on how well the bull is treated in the run up to the fight, how it’s more of a dance and celebration of life than an outright blood spectacle; however, imagine it was a human.

    Take a human, put them at The Ritz, feed them with the best food possible, make them dance & dance around them as they bleed to death. It’s just not right.

    And, I know it’s just my personal opinion, I’m sure there are many who would love the opportunity to run alongside you, but it’s just not for me, Cole.
    Dale recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?My Profile

    • Thanks Dale for your comment. One of the reasons we write this blog is to hear from fellow travellers and get their perspectives on various things we do. I completely understand your feelings and so glad you have shared your personal feelings with us here! Hopefully you understood that I was in no way encouraging or forcing people to go and witness a bull fight themselves. And I definitely wouldn’t want to see this happen to a human. I admit that the bull fighting is a very cruel part of the festival and we don’t condone violence or torture of animals in any way. We just felt like we had to attend to witness a fight ourselves. Rest assured I won’t be attending again as by the end I was feeling quite sickened.
      Thanks again and we hope you continue reading.
      Regards,
      Cole

      • Dale says:

        I had read that it made you both feel quite sick towards the end and of course, I know you’re not trying to persuade people to go or not to go, you’re just giving people a peep into what happens drawn from your own prospective & in quite a well written manner too.

        Everyone should make their own mind up for themselves and with this great post people will be aided in that, either for going, or against.
        Dale recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?My Profile

  2. I so intend to do this, THIS YEAR I HOPE! Finally the stars are aligning. Thanks for the guide and hopefully I can buy you guys a beer while we are there.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Top 12 Photos of 2012My Profile

  3. I live here in pamplona & specialise in tours to the san fermin festival. I love meeting new sanfermineros too!

    If anybody needs anything then just get in touch ok.

    Viva San Fermin!
    PamplonaMan recently posted..San Fermin 2012 video Pobre de Mi (closing ceremony)My Profile

  4. Nancy says:

    For me, while traveling in Spain, seeing Pamplona, is not during the running of the bulls. To celebrate the killing of animals, not only is something I don’t want to participate in, but the city is much more beautiful without zillions of people.

    • I was just in Pamplona a week ago Nancy while walking part of the Camino de Santiago and it is so different when San Fermin is not on! So quiet and I wasn’t getting sprayed with sangria… So travelling to Pamplona outside San Fermin is definitely a good idea :)

  5. Jackson says:

    I’m sooo jealous. I’ve wanted to attend the Festival of San Fermin for ages. I saw it on television when I was a child and my curiosity and fascination were immediately aroused. I went to high school with a Spanish kid whose father had once been a matador, and who had participated in the festival countless times. We’d gather around Jorge in the cafeteria and listen to him brag about life in Spain. His bragging was more than understandable. Can’t wait to see Pamplona.

  6. Rebecca says:

    What a great guide! Thank you so much. My boyfriend and I are going this year and we cannot wait. One question: Do you have to register beforehand to run with the bulls or do you just show up? How do you know where to go?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comment and questions :)
      Are you going with a tour company like Busabout or doing it yourself? If you are with a company then they will provide you with all the on-the-ground information. But basically there is no registration and you will start lining up about 6am on the run. Make sure you are near the start of the bull run so they you don’t get moved out by policemen who will remove anyone past a certain point. Best place is in the big square by the town hall. Just before the run you will be allowed to move to wherever you want to start from. Just be patient :)
      Lots of people can give you tips, info too. Did you see my post and video about the actual running with the bulls?
      Good luck and enjoy the experience!
      Cheers,
      Cole

  7. Excellent! I will be heading there tomorrow and running/partying on Friday.

    Cannot wait. This post was excellent. Thanks :D
    Chanel @ La Viajera Morena recently posted..The Frugal Way to Safeguard Your IdentityMy Profile

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