Water cannons, a coveted ham and staying clothed
The origins of La Tomatina are somewhat blurred, but it is said to have been a strong tradition in the town of Bunol since the mid-1940s. Suggested origins include everything from a food fight among friends to a joke played on a bad musician to the attack of a city councilman by disgruntled townsfolk. Being a festival just for fun, it was actually banned during the Spanish State period for having no significance until it was resurrected in the 1970s. Due to La Tomatina’s immense popularity, peaking at over 50,000 participants in 2012, the town has imposed a 20,000-person capacity and ticketed entry to the celebrations. La Tomatina takes place during the week-long Bunol Festival.
The tomato fight itself runs for exactly one hour, with the first event kicking off around 10am or 11am. More tomatoes than you have ever seen before are delivered to Plaza de Pueblo (the town centre) and the festival doesn’t begin until a courageous soul collects a ham, which sits on top of a two storey-high, lathered-up wooden pole (called Palo Jabon). Sometimes this doesn’t happen and the firing of water cannons signals the beginning of the hour. Then, chaos ensues and you are on your own with your tomatoes until the cannon fires once more to signal the end of the food fight. There are rules, like squishing your tomatoes before throwing them to reduce impact and not ripping anyone else’s clothing, but be warned - they are not always followed.
When is it?
Tips and tricks
La Tomatina is a popular festival, so it’s best to book your accommodation and ticket in advance – or book a tour that will cover this plus some meals and other activities.
Bunol itself is a small town and many revellers opt to stay in nearby Valencia.
Bunol is accessible by bus or train during La Tomatina, which will get you close to Plaza de Pueblo where the food fight is held.
Your clothes and shoes are going to get dirty at best and, at worst, torn off even though it’s against the rules to rip other people’s clothing – don’t wear anything you don’t mind ruining. Thongs are also a big no-no.
Waterproof cameras are safest if you plan on snapping the action between throws.
Sunglasses might fall off, but there’s always goggles to protect your eyes. Alternatively, keep your shirt tucked in to save a dry patch for wiping.