Young men during the bull-running
"A spectacle capable of getting you out of bed at half past five in the morning for several days in a row". These are the words of Ernest Hemingway on the running of the bulls in San Fermín. During this event, the streets of Pamplona are a 24-hour party, where the bull is the star turn. Night and day, risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.
Just before midday on 6 July, the Square in front of the Town Hall in Pamplona is packed to bursting. This is because the most eagerly-awaited moment of the year is about to arrive: the fiestas of San Fermín. Thousands of Pamplona's inhabitants, dressed in the typical red and white outfit, holding bottles of champagne and their red handkerchiefs high in the air, wait for the "chupinazo", the rocket fired from the balcony of the town hall which marks the beginning of the festivities. This is the moment when the pent-up excitement of all those present overflows into nine days of non-stop celebrating through the streets of the city. Be warned: you won't be able to resist joining in the fiesta. The spirit and atmosphere of San Fermín are very catching, so there's only one thing to do: just let go and enjoy it!
The vital element: the bulls
The beginning of the Sanfermines is not the only heart-stopping moment of these festivities. This is just one of many such occasions, and not the least of these is the running of the bulls. Every morning, in a breakneck and obstacle-packed race, hundreds of people run through the old part of town in front of the bulls until they reach the bullring, where the animals will take part in the afternoon bullfight. These three thrilling minutes of unrivalled risk and excitement are the reason this event is so well known all around the world.
It is also worth going to a bullfight during San Fermín, particularly because of its special atmosphere which is totally unlike any other bullfighting event. The "peñas", or special clubs, sit in the seats in the sun and put on an alternative show, livening up the proceedings with singing, dancing and jokes. Both day and night you can be sure that wherever you go you will find enthusiasm, joie de vivre and fun for all. You can drink and dance in the venues opened by the "peñas", enjoy open-air dancing and concerts, see exhibitions of folklore, or in the morning take the children to the parade of giants and "cabezudos" (figures with enormous papier-mâché heads) among many other events in the programme.
This festive atmosphere is present in the streets of Pamplona until 14 June. That day, thousands of people once again congregate in the Town Hall Square, this time with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the following year.
Taking part in San Fermín
If you wish to come to the San Fermín fiestas, you should make your arrangements well in advance. You can see the bull-running anywhere along the route starting from the second barrier; you can rent space on a balcony, or you can see it from the bullring by buying a ticket. But if you want to make sure of good seats, you must be there by six in the morning. If you decide to run with the bulls, bear in mind that you have to be at the route before 7.30am, wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. You should also have chosen beforehand the stretch most suited to your abilities, as you can only keep up with the bulls' pace for about 50 metres. It goes without saying that you need to be in good physical condition as it is vital to stay calm and keep your wits about you. The best plan is to visit the Tourist Office, where they will tell you everything you need to know to ensure you have the best possible experience in San Fermín.