The obvious thing to do when attending any popular event is to plan well in advance. Naturally, I did the complete opposite and only had about 10 days to prepare for my visit to Pamplona. Here a few lessons I learned that will help you plan a future last minute trip!
Last Minute Planning for the Festival of San Fermin & Running of the Bulls
Accommodations. In town accommodation books up months in advance, so don’t expect to stay near the action without a few concessions. Jen & I stayed in nearby Salinas, a tiny village about 15 minutes by cab from Pamplona. The taxi fare was about 17 Euros give or take, so it would’ve been much more fiscally responsible to book earlier, closer to town. The hotel rate wasn’t bad ($150) though considering we booked about two days before arrival. Ultimately we booked through Priceline, but we also looked into LastMinute.com, Hostels.com & HostelWorld.
If it’s too late to book a decent hotel or hostel in Pamplona, you have a few alternatives. You can camp in one of the parks in town with the rest of the Gamberos (drunk idiots), however your tent will only be so secure and, yeah, you’ll be sharing a field with hundreds of fall-down wasted teenagers and twentysomethings. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my bag o’ electronics in a tent all day, plus the crowd left something to be desired, so for me, camping was definitely out.
Many revelers don’t book any accommodations at all, choosing instead to crash in doorways or on the floor of the bus station. I am way too old for shenanigans like that, but it’s certainly an available option, especially for the young and wild and free. Keep in mind you’ll probably be covered in sticky sangria from the day before, so having a shower might be a luxury you won’t want to live without.
Finally, there are a variety of group tours that may have last minute availability beginning at $350. (Try Busabout to start.) Jen & I looked into a few of these, some stationed in San Sebastian an hour’s drive away and others with camping options nearby. The benefit with a group tour is that all your activities, ground transportation and accommodations are sorted out, so you don’t have to waste time translating bus schedules and train tickets – someone else handles all of that. The tours can run several days though, and if you’re anything like me, two nights in the melee is more than enough time to experience the festival.
Finding a spot to watch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – splurge for a balcony. Yes, it’ll drain up to $200 from your wallet, but you didn’t travel all this way to watch the bulls whiz by as you stand behind 3 rows of people. Balconies usually include a light breakfast and mimosas, you get an unobstructed view of the bulls and your pictures will turn out exponentially better.
My view from below
A balcony view
Even if you don’t, you can definitely still enjoy the spectacle. Just get there early, stake out a spot (likely atop a fence) and prepare to wait. It was thrilling even without a perfect view, so Running of the Bulls can be done on the cheap!
Running. Since 1581, Running of the Bulls has put Pamplona on the map. Beginning at 8 a.m. each day from July 7-14, the run is a thrilling three minute experience. Even watching it is breathtaking! I won’t get into all the tips for running here because A. I didn’t run and B. you can find that anywhere. I do feel a particular duty to advise that if you’re planning to run, do keep in mind many of the other runners will be drunk and lacking sleep, so their poor decision making may affect your life along the way. Be aware of the bulls, but also of the Gamberos.