In Spain we’re experts in local festivals of all different kinds. And within the province of Valencia itself, we don’t fall short (a good example being The Fallas). But there are other festivals in the area that are worth discovering. In this article, I’ll be telling you about La Tomatina, an amazing festival of fun, where tomatoes take centre stage.
La Tomatina: what is it?
La Tomatina is the name of the most popular and international festival in Buñol. Basically, it’s a “battle” in which people throw over-ripe tomatoes (unsuitable for human consumption) at one another. All in the spirit of fun and entertainment.
This takes place in a few closed-off streets. When it’s over, this part of town and everyone in it is dyed tomato red.
The origin of La Tomatina
The festival of La Tomatina is now quite a few years old, and you have to go back to 1945 to find out how it started. You may think that this event began as a way of getting rid of poor quality tomatoes, or because of a large crop resulting in a glut… but no; La Tomatina originated from a quarrel between neighbours.
It was the last Wednesday in August 1945 when Buñol was holding a parade. As it reached the Plaza del Pueblo, a group of youths tried to join in but, in doing so, accidentally knocked over one of the participants. The latter got very angry and started to strike out, making everyone else angry too and they all retaliated.
As chance would have it, the commotion occurred next to a vegetable stall, where tomatoes were on sale. People began grabbing the tomatoes and throwing them at one another, resulting in the police intervening to stop the brawl.
The following year, these youths who’d been involved in the fight thought that it would be fun to do it again, so they set up another “tomato battle”, although this time they brought their own from home.
But this did not please the authorities, so in the 50s, realising that this event was being repeated year after year, with increasingly large numbers getting involved, they banned it from taking place.
Luckily, the residents of Buñol took no notice of the ban (even though several were arrested). So the roots of this event grew stronger, until it became a tradition and the festival was finally authorised, subsequently adopting the official name of La Tomatina.
Why is it held?
La Tomatina now forms part of the identity of Buñol and its inhabitants. It’s an authentic tradition that’s eagerly awaited every year. In fact, its importance has transcended borders, as since 2002 La Tomatina has been considered a Festival of International Interest.
How is it held?
Initially, there was no maximum capacity set for taking part in La Tomatina, which would attract over 45,000 people. However, since 2013, there has been a limited capacity, and to take part in La Tomatina you need to purchase a ticket costing €15.
On the day of the event, you need to show your ticket to be given a wristband to enter the area in which La Tomatina is held, via two access points: Calle San Luis, 52, and Calle Diputación, 2.Once the water cannon is fired to mark the start of La Tomatina, the action begins. Along the closed-off route, large trucks approach, overflowing with tomatoes, which are thrown and unloaded. In total, more than 100 tonnes of tomatoes are used!
Where is La Tomatina held?
As I mentioned, La Tomatina is held in Buñol, a town 39km from Valencia, so you can get here by flying to Valencia and then continuing by train, bus or hire car to Buñol.
To get an idea of the magnitude of the festival, Buñol has a population of around 9,500 inhabitants, and on the day of La Tomatina, it attracts around 22,000 visitors who are keen to join in the tomato fight.
When is La Tomatina held?
La Tomatina is always held on the last Wednesday in August, so the date varies from year to year. As you can imagine, at this time of year it’s usually sunny and temperatures are very high, so if you’re coming, remember to protect yourself from the sun and drink enough water.
In 2023, La Tomatina will take place on Wednesday 30 August, from 12:00 to 13:00. Tickets are already on sale, so if you’re thinking of coming, try to buy one as soon as possible before they sell out.
If you can’t come on this date, but are visiting Buñol some other time, you can at least visit the Museum of La Tomatina, which has an immersive room. It’s open Friday to Sunday from 10:30 to 13:30, and Wednesday and Thursday by prior appointment, through the Tourist Information Office.
La Tomatina for children
For safety reasons, children under 16 years of age are not allowed to attend this event. But this doesn’t mean that the younger members of the family have to miss out on the tomato fight.
To enable children to enjoy La Tomatina safely and to instruct them in the art of tomato throwing, there’s also a children’s version of La Tomatina, aimed at those aged between 4 and 14. La Tomatina for children takes place on the Saturday before the official date of La Tomatina.
Our tips for enjoying La Tomatina
If you want to take part in La Tomatina, remember that it’s a festival that attracts huge numbers of people. Thousands of people are all crammed into a few streets, so you have to be very mindful of the fact that there is absolutely no personal space at this event.
Try to buy your ticket for La Tomatina nice and early, otherwise you run the risk of missing out. You can arrange your own trip to La Tomatina, by buying a single ticket, or book through a travel agency, as some companies organise trips to Buñol that include the ticket and transport.
Getting to Buñol in good time is strongly recommended, at least two hours before the start of La Tomatina. In terms of what to wear, opt for comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting stained (because it’s going to end up red). And so that the acid from the tomatoes doesn’t irritate your eyes, add some goggles to your outfit.
I hope you’ve learned a few things about La Tomatina from this article and that it’s helped you decide whether you’d like to take part in this original festival. If you need another reason apart from fun… you may be interested to know that tomatoes have antioxidants that are good for your skin!