The last Wednesday in August marks Spain’s messiest festival. Held in Buñol, 40km (25 miles) west of Valencia, La Tomatina is a tomato-throwing spectacle that draws 20,000 revelers each year. If you’re planning on becoming part of the human passata, here’s all the information you need to squeeze the most out of this chaotic celebration.

Following a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, the festival is set to return on August 31, 2022. Here's everything you need to go to before you go. 

Revelers at the annual Tomatina festival
There's no doubt: La Tomatina is the world's biggest (and messiest) tomato fight © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

What is La Tomatina?

The (ticketed) mayhem takes place in Plaza del Pueblo (Buñol’s main square) and Calle Cid. At around 9am the palo-jabón, a large greased pole with a ham attached to the end of it is hoisted into the air and there’s a mad scramble as people struggle against each other to pull it down.

At precisely 11am, regardless of whether someone has successfully grabbed the ham (which is rare), a firework signals trucks to start tipping over 100 tonnes of overripe, squishy tomatoes onto the square. For the next hour, everyone joins in a frenzied, cheerful, anarchic tomato battle until a second firework signals the end of play.

You haven’t done La Tomatina unless you…

Aren’t still finding bits of tomato in your hair, up your nose, under your nails and between your butt cheeks for days or even weeks after the festival.

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What to pack

A change of clothes (including shoes), which can typically be left on the coach you arrived on (if not, bring a backpack-style dry bag). Buñol City Council now provides showers, so you can freshen up to a degree before you get back on the bus.

Pack a chest strap if you’re planning to film the action with a GoPro, as you’ll need your hands free for hurling tomatoes (or shielding yourself from tomatoes being lobbed at you), and a fully waterproof phone case with a sturdy neck strap for your phone – if you dare to bring it.

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Revelers enjoying the tomato pulp atmosphere of La Tomatina
Revelers enjoying the tomato pulp atmosphere © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

What to wear

Wear old clothes and closed-in shoes with decent grip, and a pair of swimming goggles to protect your eyes – the acidic tomato juice can sting. Ski goggles will also work, but these can be pulled off more easily. Leave your hat behind.

Outer layers commonly get ripped off in the fray, so it’s recommended that women wear a tight sports bra or a crop-style bikini top and swim bottoms underneath, or snug Speedos for men.

How long does the tomato fight last?

Expect the tomato tossing to last for about an hour. The chaos concludes after the second firework.

La Tomatina 'do' list

Do ensure tomatoes are squashed before you throw them. This will help to avoid injuring someone but be warned that others won’t always be so kind.

Do remember to look up. Locals join in by pelting festival-goers with their own tomato supplies from apartments above the square.

Do look out for your mates, and the people around you. La Tomatina gets pretty hectic. If you’re not big on crowds, mess and discomfort, this isn’t the festival for you.

Do stop throwing tomatoes when the second firework goes off. It’s all over, folks.

Do check your travel insurance. Insurance is included in the festival ticket price, but check it provides adequate cover for your needs.

La Tomatina 'don't' list

Don’t bother trying to avoid getting pelted with fruit. Just let it happen.

Don’t wear any jewelry. Particularly hoop earrings that could be painfully ripped out.

Don’t bring bottles or hard objects. You won’t be allowed to bring them into the festival area, anyway.

Don’t get too close to the tomato trucks. You really don’t want to get pushed under those tires.

Don’t drink too much alcohol the night before (or the morning of). The stench of rotting tomatoes in the mid-summer sun is no fun for a dusty punter. On that note, drink plenty of water before you enter the festival; it gets very hot waiting around for the fun to begin.

Don’t get too rough. Pushing, shoving and ripping people’s clothing on purpose is not OK.

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The source of gushy tomatoes at La Tomatina
The source of gushy tomatoes at La Tomatina © Senhan Bolelli / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

How do I get there?

It takes roughly an hour by bus to reach Buñol from Valencia. All festival tickets purchased via the La Tomatina website now include return same-day bus transport from destinations also including Barcelona, Madrid, Alicante, Almería, Benidorm, Dénia, Calpe and Cartagena, so you can just come for the day if you like. Keep in mind that buses from Barcelona depart at 3:30am.

What should I do if I want to return with a story?

Go on, have a go at climbing that greasy pole.

What is definitely a bad idea?

Bringing anything to the festival that you’re not comfortable losing.

What are the current COVID-19 restrictions?

There are no COVID-19 restrictions for the 2022 festival. If you opt to wear a mask, there’s approximately zero chance you’ll still have it on when the hour’s up.

Where should I stay?

Most festival-goers (who aren’t just busing in for the day) bed down in Valencia, so book early.

You can also book hostel and hotel accommodations through the La Tomatina website if you’re keen to mingle with other punters. A range of other operators, including Busabout, also offer festival packages.

If you’re traveling independently, consider staying in Buñol for the week-long celebration, which involves music, dancing, parades and fireworks. The night before the fight, a paella cooking competition is held. Book as early as possible to secure accommodation here.

La Tomatina is surely the messiest festival in the world
La Tomatina is surely the messiest festival in the world © Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock

Can I bring children?

There’s no age restriction, but bringing young kids is not recommended as the festival can get very rowdy, with dozens of people injured every year. It’s easy to become separated in the fray, so if you do bring children, arrange a meeting point before the festival gets underway, and use a permanent marker to write your phone number on their arm/s.

A safer option for kids is the La Tomatina Infantil (Tomatina Kids) event (ages 4-12) held in Plaza del Pueblo the week before the main festival. In 2022, the ‘mini battle’, which lasts up to 40 minutes, is scheduled to be held at noon on August 22.

What can I do after the festival?

One of the benefits of staying in Valencia is the easy access to the official after-party held in the city, with tickets available from the La Tomatina website.

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Remind me how this messy festival came to be?

According to the La Tomatina website, the festival began in 1945, when a kerfuffle during a Buñol cultural parade led to a market stall of vegetables falling victim to a fired-up crowd. Townsfolk reportedly revived the food fight the following year, bringing tomatoes from home. After the festival was banned in the early 1950s, a ‘tomato burial’ held in protest in 1957 paved the way for La Tomatina to be recognized as an official festival. Since 2013, the festival has been ticketed to limit attendees to a manageable 20,000.

Is La Tomatina a waste of food?

The low-quality tomatoes purchased cheaply for the festival are on the turn or already rotten, so they are unlikely to have had an alternative future in someone’s salad.

I missed out on this year ⁠— how do I start planning for next year?

Tickets typically go on sale several months before the festival and can sell out, so bookmark the La Tomatina website and keep an eye on it for announcements.

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