Surviving The Running Of The Bulls

THIS IS TRAVEL TRAMP’S INCOMPREHENSIVE AND INACCURATE GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS. FOLLOW THE DISTURBINGLY HAZY ADVICE IN THIS POORLY COMPILED ARTICLE AND MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, YOU WON’T BE GORED BY AN ANGRY FIGHTING BULL ON THE STREETS OF THE PAMPLONA.

With La San Fermin Fiesta– Spain’s most notorious festival- set to kick off on 6th July, 8 days of carnage and revelry are soon to be unleashed upon the streets of Pamplona. If it’s your first time- even if you are an old hand- being under prepared is a dangerous game to play. My own misadventures from Pamplona taught me the hard way what to expect. And that’s why I have taken it upon myself to guide you through the mess, the drink and the brutal terror that is The Running of the Bulls.


If you love danger then great…

Have no illusions festival goer, the streets of Pamplona are a perilous place to be during La Fiesta. If the bulls don’t run you down during El Encierro- as the bull run itself is called- then the outlandish quantities of cheap drink that flood the city might just take you over the edge. Combine alcohol with bulls and you’re left with a dangerous coalition of destruction just waiting to cause complete carnage.

Even the man who wrote the book on surviving Pamplona- the literally titled ‘Fiesta: How to survive the running of the bulls’- was gored and hospitalised in 2014. It hasn’t stopped him wanting to keep running though.


The Running of the Bulls isn’t a walk in the park..

It’s as opposite as it’s possible to be opposite. It’s a mad sprint through narrow, cobbled streets as you push your way through hundreds of other runners throwing themselves out of the way of the animals and people. There’s just no room for everyone- let alone with charging bulls hurtling through the crowd. A brash Basque even tried to trip me up by sticking his leg out from the sidelines. Some people just wake up in the morning wanting to see pain.

If you get knocked down, stay down. People get hurt during the run. A lot of people. The official website even runs a ‘gore count’ during the festival. You can track daily how many runners have become yet another bloody statistic.

Get there early and look the part…

The local man probably tried to trip me because he was a bit of a dick and also because I expect I looked ridiculous in my touristy red beret and purple hoody. The ‘real’ runners- anyone other than me really- wear all white, with red neckerchiefs and red belts. Try and follow the traditions, and run with a rolled up newspaper in one hand too. Looking the part will stop you getting pulled out by police if you look like too much of a novice or it might stop you getting abuse from locals.

Surviving the running of the bulls

The first runners begin to assemble on the narrow streets…


Everyone congregates by the pull pen. Early. Really early. 6am early. If you’re late you might not get a place. A last prayer is said in Basque and Spanish before a firework signals the release of the bulls. And then you run. And you hope you’re prayer was heard by someone. Or at least by the paramedics waiting to pick up your mangled body.

Surviving the running of the bulls

Waiting for the casualties…


It’s not just the bulls…

The fighting bulls come first. These are the tough, angry ones. The tradition of El Encierro is to run these fellows into the ring where later in the day they are fought. But after the bulls come the steer, who are let loose to guide the bulls along the route. I thought all the bulls had run past me, but then I turned around and saw a huge pack of horned steer trampling people from behind. They aren’t as aggressive,  but you still don’t want to get caught by the pack.

Surviving the running of the bulls

The gentle steer…


The run is just under 1km long. It’s over in minutes. It ends in the arena, but…

The end of the run isn’t the end of the carnage…

The aim for the runners is to get into the arena before the last bull or steer and before they close the gates. I watched the run the day before I participated and wondered why so many people jumped over the barriers near the end. No one really tells you this, but the run is just the beginning. I made it to the arena and thought it was over. How foolish I was. Once the gates close, you are trapped in. There’s a huge, drunken crowd baying for more blood, and the bulls are released one by one into the packed arena. They even have a huge replay screen showing the best hits of the day.

You can jump out of the arena with some difficulty if it gets too much at this point. Drunks might try and push you back in though, or hurl sangria bottles at you from the stalls. 

Learn to love 2 Euro Sangria…

La San Fermin Fiesta isn’t all about the bulls though. It’s much, much more than that. There are open air concerts, marching bands and parades of giant headed monstrosities. And of course, drinking. Heavy, heavy drinking. The cobbled streets literally run red with wine and sangria for 8 days straight. Learn to love the cheap sangria and you can’t go wrong. It might be the biggest and longest party you ever go to.

Surviving the running of the bulls

These Spaniards set up a portable alcohol dispensing device and proceeded to dispense said alcohol into my face…


In fact, while very few people have ever actually been gored to death by the bulls- 15 in the last century- many more people are consumed by the drink each year. Just look at these guys…

Pamplona La San Fermin

These chaps have had a tipple too much…


With great drinking comes great irresponsibility…

Don’t run drunk. It won’t go well. The bulls will get you. If you pass out on your own somewhere- anywhere really- then expect to be robbed in the night by an opportunistic thief. You’ve been warned.

And watch out for the fire bulls that rampage through Pamplona during the night, launching volatile pyrotechnics down the narrow streets in a blaze of fire. In a state of intoxication, these rampant monstrosities are wildly terrifying. 

Surviving the running of the bulls

Mayhem on the streets…


Learn to sleep rough…

Keep your valuables safe from the pickpockets and make Pamplona your home for the festival. Chances are you won’t have any accommodation- it’s booked out years in advance- unless you are an organisational aficionado and started planning in the last millennium of course.

Surviving the running of the bulls

The perfect spot to catch up on some sleep…


The park becomes a ramshackle campsite. You can leave your bags in the locker room at the bus station nearby. Get cold, and you can even sleep in the bus station. If you can get a spot that is. And if you don’t mind buses hurtling towards you every minute of the night as they drop off more drunken tourists and take out the casualties.


Make the most of it…

There’s nothing else quite like La San Fermin, or at least nothing on the same scale. The Running of the Bulls is one of those bucket list adventure things- most people will think you’re crazy, stupid, or both. Enjoy the party, and enjoy the traditions. Don’t get gored and it might be the best festival you get to be part of. No one really spectates in Pamplona, so get involved. 

Surviving the running of the bulls

The streets of Pamplona are packed 24 hours a day…


Richard Collett

For the intoxicated tale of misadventure that was my trip to The Running of the Bulls, read on HERE.

This ‘guide’ is intended as exactly that, a ‘guide’. Don’t take any of the words above as infallibly factual. La San Fermin is an unpredictable festival- anything can happen.

Did I miss something? Don’t agree with The Running of the Bulls? Then comment below!

About the author

I'm Richard, the founder and editor of Travel Tramp. I'm a travel mad Englishman on one epic adventure around the world. I love going to countries that don't exist and destinations no one's even heard of.

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