Tips on Running with the Bulls at the San Fermín Bull Run in Pamplona

running with the bulls at the Sanfermines festival in Pamplona, Spain

San Fermin Pamplona - Navarra on Unsplash

Bullfighting is deeply rooted within global historic traditions. However, local public opinion now leans against the tradition. Though the site includes information for tourists interested in attending the events, TripSavvy trusts its readers to make their own decisions on the ethics of bullfighting as an attraction.

Running with the bulls is dangerous and is not recommended. Each year dozens of people require medical attention after running with the bulls. It is important to get tips on running with the bulls from people who have run before.

The biggest problem is that people run with very little knowledge of what to expect. The other major reason why there are so many injuries is that people often run whilst incredibly drunk. Imagine a mountain climber or base jumper drinking before doing their own dangerous activities!

Here are some tips we've picked up from people who have run with the bulls and lived to tell the tale. In no way does this advice constitute safe passage through the Pamplona Running of the Bulls. Hundreds of hyperactive people running from six angry bulls are unpredictable—this advice is simply intended to assist you. If you insist on running, good luck!

The San Fermín Festival & Bull Run

The bull runs are just one part of the San Fermín Festival (although they certainly are the most famous), one of Spain's oldest fiestas. Taking place in the northern city of Pamplona from July 6–14, the festival originally was a religious celebration with roots dating back to the 15th century, but became much more frivolous and fun over the years.

The bull run was popularized in the English-speaking world thanks in part to Ernest Hemingway, who included a detailed depiction of the event in "The Sun Also Rises."

Don't trick yourself into thinking that bull runs are somehow a safer, more humane equivalent to Spain's bullfighting. Firstly, the bulls you run with in the morning will be in a bullfight later in the evening. Secondly, bulls' hooves are not designed to run on cobblestones. Bulls trip and often break their legs.

Another thing to remember is that the bull runs begin at 8 a.m. You could get up early, but most revelers party all night. Despite its popularity, the practice of drinking all night long and then attempting to run with the bulls is not recommended.

Also, remember that there are bull runs all week long. You don't have to run on the first day—in fact, it's often the most dangerous due to the large volume of people who want to participate. Instead, party all night on July 6 and watch the first bull run on the morning of the 7th to get an idea of what to expect. You may even find that as fun as it looks in pictures, running with the bulls for real isn't your thing.

Would we recommend running with the bulls? No. 

Bullfight in Pamplona, Spain during the San Fermín Festival
San Fermin Pamplona - Navarra on Unsplash

How to Get the Most Out of Running with the Bulls in Pamplona

If you're still insistent on running with the bulls, knowing what to expect is key. Having no idea of what's going to happen or how to stay safe during the bull run can go a long way in keeping participants safe.

First of all, you'll need to know when the event is officially starting. Two firecrackers go off to signal the start of the run. The first is to alert participants that the bulls have been released from the pen. The second is to announce that they have started running towards the start of the course.

Unless you are at the very beginning of the course, neither of these firecrackers is a signal for you to run. If you do, you'll never see the bulls. Instead, follow those behind you—when they start to run, you'll know it's time.

Unfortunately, waiting for the bulls to approach makes the whole thing more dangerous, but not waiting means you can't really say you've run with the bulls. In order to stay safe, keep the following advice in mind.

Number One Tip: Follow the Official Rules

These are adapted from the official rules issued by the town council, with a few extra notes (we've also removed some rules intended for local residents only).

  1. Children under 18 may not run or enter the course.
  2. Do not climb on or over the fences.
  3. Do not hide in corners, dead ends or doorways on the route before the release of the bulls (of course, if you need to take refuge in such places during the run, that's fine)
  4. Those who are drunk, high, or otherwise perceived to be a danger to others, will not be allowed to run. You will be removed and kept away from the course during the bull run, so even watching the spectacle won't be an option.
  5. Do not carry anything while running.
  6. Participants must be dressed appropriately. This includes the traditional San Fermín costume (white shirt and pants with a red scarf) and appropriate footwear.
  7. Do not distract, grab onto, harass or mistreat the animals.
  8. Do not take photos from within the course.
  9. Follow all instructions from the authorities (this may be a little difficult if you don't speak Spanish, so just follow the others).
Crowd at the Sanfermines festival in Pamplona, Spain
San Fermin Pamplona - Navarra on Unsplash

How to Stay Safe Running with the Bulls in Pamplona

  • Don't run on your first day at the festival. Watch a few bull runs to get an idea of what to expect. If at all possible, walk the course with someone who has run before.
  • Not only should you avoid running on the first day for the reasons mentioned above, but it's also possible that you won't even be allowed to run. Each year, more and more people come to Pamplona to run with the bulls, and the first day is always the most popular. As a result, local police are getting stricter on who they allow to run, and a seemingly inexperienced foreigner is more likely to get pulled from the crowd on the first day than on any other day.
  • In addition to the bulls, watch out for other participants falling on top of you or tripping in front of you. With large numbers of people running, this happens a lot. Even if you think you can outrun a bull, take into account that when five people fall down in front of you, it is going to be difficult to take evasive action. 
  • If you go down, stay down. Cover your head and just lie there. You might get a few bruises, but it is safer than trying to get up. Onlookers will tap you on the shoulder when it is safe to move.
  • Take the corners tight, as the bulls are going to go wide.
  • Swallow your pride and start at what's known as "dead man's corner." It's 300 meters from the end of the course and is marked as such. Starting at the beginning will almost inevitably result in injuries. It is also unlikely that you will be able to start at the beginning anyway, as the police try to pick out the tourists and take them to a safer starting point.
  • Don't drink. If you must imbibe, keep your intake to a minimum.
  • Get some sleep. While sleeping outside in parks is permitted and many people do so, it's not the most comfortable situation and poses a high risk for pickpocketing. Try and book your accommodation as soon as possible—if no hotels are available, many locals will rent out spare rooms and even couches in their apartments during the festival.
  • If you want to get into the arena, don't fall too far behind the bulls, as they will close the gates shortly after the bulls have entered. You don't need to actually participate in the arena action: once in the ring, you are free to climb the wall and watch from the safety of the spectator areas. However, don't run too close behind the bull—you don't want to risk it turning around and causing more trouble!

Pamplona Bull Run Route

The bull run covers a total of 875 meters in the historic center of Pamplona. Head to the festival's official website to see a map of the route and start getting the lay of the land.

  1. Cuesta de Santo Domingo
    The steep uphill start to the Pamplona running of the bulls. If you'd rather watch than participate, the area by the church offers some of the best views (along with the bull ring at the end). This is considered the most dangerous stretch because of how riled up the bulls can get immediately after being released.
  2. Plaza del Ayuntamiento to the Curva de Mercaderes
    There are plenty of places of refuge and wide spaces here. The bulls also tend to slow down a bit once they reach this stretch. Once you reach Calle Mercaderes, stick to the right-hand side—the bulls will often take the curve on the left.
  3. Calle Estafeta
    A dangerous corner where the bulls always run wide. If you need to get out of the way for a moment, do so in a way that doesn't block other runners.
  4. Baja de Javier, Duque de Ahumada, Telefonica building
    The street narrows here and crowding can occur. Additionally, there are few places to hide. This late in the run, the bulls spread out, which makes things more complicated—though you'd think it would be easy to see a bull, they're much easier to spot when they're in a group.
  5. Callejón
    This narrow street creates a dangerous bottleneck. The animals are getting tired and slowing down—and so are the humans, which can cause chaos.
  6. Plaza de Toros
    Head immediately for the sidelines as you enter the bull ring. Don't stand in the middle of the ring—you'll be right in the path of the bulls with little chance for escape. You'll see several people wearing green shirts dragging capes on the ground in order to lead the bulls to the pen—it's very important to let these guides do their job without distraction, and participants in the bull run have been known to beat up those who interfere with the guides' work.
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