5 Tips for Surviving the San Fermin
Wild, exciting, tiring, mayhem, messy, expensive and very, very crowded. Every year on the 6th of July, the San Fermin begins in Pamplona, Spain. It continues for over twenty hours a day until the 14th. They come from all over the world and start arriving on the 5th of July. A city of about 200,000 suddenly explodes to over 1,000,000 extra people per day and it doesn't stop for 9 days. How will you survive all that?
If you dislike crowds, don't come to the San Fermin.
There are not enough beds, barely enough room and the central area of Pamplona turns into a total messbut, Oh is it fun. We are talking probably the largest party on Earthand you have a shoestring budget!
First of all you have to plan this. Many places are booked up a year ahead for the San Fermin. Leave it too late and there will be no beds left in Pamplona.
What not to do
A place to stayNormal cheap hotel prices of around 40 Euros per night can reach 400 Euros a night (per person) during the festival. Most will think along the lines of a hostel, hotel or BnB. The hostels can be fun, but there are other alternatives.
There are several campgrounds in the Pamplona area, these can change so do a search on them. But you do have to bus in and out.
- Sleep anywhere
The city officials lift the lid on Pamplona during the San Fermin. You can sleep anywhere (not recommended for solo femalesthere was some trouble on this score in 2016). Parks, benches, wherever you likeplan on carrying very little with you, because you will have to tote it everywhere all the time.
- Couchsurf or know somebody who is living there.
- Stay in another town
Here's a trick. Find a BnB in say Vitoria-Gastiez and take the train to Pamplona. Carry a small bag and few items with you and leave all your other stuff in Vitoria. Then sleep in a park or somewhere for a night or two and return.
- Just do 1 or 2 days
Try to arrive early in the day, party, sleep, party sleep and leave. Most people only do a maximum of 2 days at the San Fermin. Even then it's going to cost you. A good place for a couple of nights is the Xarma Hostel, not far from the actionbook well in advance.
- Stay longer in the Basque Country
In 2015 I rented a room in an apartment share for 2 months (June and July), it cost me the price of one night in a cheap hotel (San Fermin prices). I did the entire San Fermin Festival (including food and drink) for less than 200 Euros (as opposed to 5000) that way. Plus I went to other places, got to know locals, paid local prices for my beer and pretty much enjoyed myself, 2016 was similar.
ClothingEverybody wears white, it's an equalizer and represents the martyrdom of San (Saint) Fermin. This is part of the Festival.
- White shirt, white trousers or skirt, white shoes, a red waist sash and a red scarf (that is not put on until 12 Noon on the first day). You can buy these all over the place in Pamplona. The Chinese shops are best for this, they're cheaper. The shoes are going to be ruined, so get the cheapest ones you can and throw them away afterwards.
You will probably get, very messy. Soaked in Sangria, beer, water, cheap champagne, a watery mustard mixture and just about anything other liquid that can be thrown over you, especially on the first day.
It's all part of the funjust close your eyes when stuff is thrown at you, then throw some back.
Did you know that Sangria makes a great hair gel? I was drenched in the stuff and it set on my hair, which turned into a very solid block!
- Something warm. Sometimes it can get quite chilly at night and even during the day if a rain/thunder storm shows up, usually accompanied by a strong wind.
Be safeEven though this goes without saying, every year people get robbed or attacked. The thieves and baddies head for Pamplona to see how much they can get away with. The rest of the time Pamplona is quite safe.
- Carry only the money you need and hide it somewhere.
- Cameras and smartphones are targeted more than your money. Unless you are hell bent on taking photo's, don't carry one into the "party". Not only will they be vulnerable to thieves, there's all that liquid flying around as well. A decent plastic bag around your smartphone, inside a zipped pocket worksor use a waterproof fone.
- In 2016 a number of women were assaulted because they thought they were safe walking alonethey were not! Always go with some people if you are a solo female. Even some guys were robbed when alone on an apparently deserted street in the early hours of the morning. Safety in a group is best.
- Watch where you walk!
Pamplona is a very clean city normally, but during the Festival they allow you to just drop your plastic glass or bottle and the streets end up with tons of litter (cleaned every morning and sometimes even in the day). The Police may stop you if you are carrying a glass or glass bottle and tell you to put it in plasticNow!
Food and drinkIf you thought the rooms were pricey, the food and drink try very hard to catch up with them. Here are a few tips for saving money on what you put down your mouth.
- In the Old Town there are stores which sell you munchies and liquids, they are expensive. Think before you head in there. You can save a lot of money getting your vittles from supermarkets a short distance away from the center. Eroski, Caprabo, El Corté Inglis and those little Locutorios sell stuff a lot cheaper. Calle Amaya hosts a large Mercado (mornings only) where you can buy all kinds of vegetables, bread, cheeses, fish and meat at very reasonable prices.
On Calle Olite, just up from the Bull Ring, is my friend Raul's
, Locutorio Olite. Beer is cheaper there and he has a big freezer of ice during the San Fermin plus other stuff.
- Walk a couple of kilometers away from the center and you will find places to eat that do not have San Fermin prices because they are local areas, far away from the crowds (you might even be staying in such an area).
TransportationArriving and departing, with prepaid tickets, are one thing. Getting around locally, is a bit different. Pamplona has an excellent local bus service but during the Festival a number of streets are closedso are their bus stops. This can be a bit frustrating and each year is different. You will have to ask locally if you want to use a city bus and go somewhere else in town. Bus prices go up a little, during the festival. Note that most people here speak Basque or Spanish and that's it (better than Madrid though).
- If you want to get away from the crowds for a while, just hop on a bus and ride it to the end of the line. Spend a few hours in peace and quietkind of like I did.
- For those of you who are winging it.
All transport centers will be very crowded, just like the streets, so be prepared for that. You may have to wait quite a long time in lines if you decide to buy a bus or train ticket out. Trains and intercity buses will be full, resulting in having to wait maybe even an extra day to leave.
Complain about the Bull Run. It's part of their culture. If you can't handle other peoples cultures, put your hand on your mouthand stay home. The Encierro is 3 minutes out of a 20 hour day, there are another 19 hours and 57 minutes of festival to be involved in.
Plaza Castillo, slightly less crowded than the streets and events happen there all during the San Fermin.Enjoy yourselves
The Festival of San Fermin can be quite exhilarating and a lot of fun. You get to mingle with people from around the globe and take part in one of the largest parties on the planet. See my overview
from a couple of years ago. If you want to know just what it feels like to take part in the Enceirro, have a read of Greg Rodgers experience of it
All things considered I reckon this was one of the most amazing times I've ever had. I met many people, walked a lot of kilometers and somehow managed 6 days and 3 hours of it in 2016 (the 7th one I decided I'd had enough and went to bed early for the rest of the festival).
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