If it’s the last Wednesday in August, it’s got to be the world’s messiest festival.

In Buñol, Spain – 40km (25 miles) west of Valencia – La Tomatina festival is a wild, silly and very, very saucy tomato-throwing spectacle that draws 20,000 produce-pitching revelers each year. If you’ve always dreamed of throwing your, um, tomato in the ring, here’s all the information you need to squeeze the most out of this chaotic, one-of-a-kind celebration.

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 its end – is hoisted into the air. A mad scramble ensues 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 provides a signal to parked trucks to start tipping over 100 tons 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.

Why does this wacky tradition exist?

The festival dates to 1945, according to the La Tomatina website, when a kerfuffle during a cultural parade in Buñol led to a market stall of vegetables falling victim to a fired-up crowd. Townsfolk reportedly revived the food fight the following year, bringing their own 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 total attendance to a (somewhat) manageable 20,000.

You haven’t done really La Tomatina unless you…

Are 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.

Revelers mock a swim in tomato pulp at the annual La Tomatina tomato-throwing festival, Buñol, Spain
While you won’t literally be swimming in tomatoes, wearing a swimsuit to La Tomatina is not a bad idea © Biel Alino / AFP via Getty Images

What to pack for La Tomatina

Most important: a change of clothes, including shoes. You can usually leave this on the coach you’ll take to Buñol; 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 your 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.

What to wear to La Tomatina

Wear old clothes and closed-in shoes with decent grip, and a pair of swimming goggles to protect your eyes – that acidic tomato juice can really 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 we recommend that women wear a tight sports bra or a crop-style bikini top and a swimsuit bottom underneath, and that men sport a snug Speedo.

How long does the tomato fight last?

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

Revelers enjoying the tomato pulp atmosphere of La Tomatina
“You say tomato, I say...” © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

La Tomatina: the “do” list

  • Do...ensure your tomatoes are fully squashed before you throw them. This will help to avoid injuring someone. Be warned, though, that others won’t always be so kind.
  • Do...remember to look up. Locals join in by pelting festivalgoers 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. That’s when it’s all over, folks.
  • Do...verify your travel insurance. The festival ticket price includes insurance; make sure the policy provides adequate coverage for your needs.

La Tomatina: the “don’t” list

  • Don’t...bother trying to avoid getting pelted with fruit. Just let it happen.
  • Don’t...wear any jewelry. Hoop earrings in particular: these can get ripped out, painfully.
  • Don’t...bring bottles or hard objects. You won’t be allowed to bring them into the festival area.
  • 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 midsummer sun is no fun with a hangover. 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.
A boy used a bucket to hurl crushed tomatoes during La Tomatina tomato-throwing festival, Buñol, Spain
The tomatoes come from all angles during the hour-long frenzy – so keep your eyes...peeled © Jose Miguel Fernandez / AFP via Getty Images

How do I get to La Tomatina?

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 other cities in Spain, such as Barcelona, Madrid, Alicante, Almería, Benidorm, Dénia, Calpe and Cartagena, so you can just come for the (messy) 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 great story?

Have a go at climbing that greasy pole.

What is the biggest no-no at La Tomatina?

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

Where should I stay?

Most festivalgoers who aren’t just busing in for the day spend opt to stay 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 attendees. 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 in town.

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 to La Tomatina?

There’s no age restriction at the festival, but we’d advise against bring young kids as things can get very rowdy (dozens of people get 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. This year’s “mini battle,” which lasts up to 40 minutes, will take place at noon on August 24.

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. The birthplace of paella, Valencia is a beautiful coastal city well worth sticking around to explore afterward.

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 are already on sale for 2024 and will sell out – so book soon. Bookmark the official ticket site to be first in line for 2025 tickets, which go on sale several months before the annual event.

Keep planning your trip to Spain:

See the best of Spain on these 5 road trips
How to see the country with kids
What you need to know before your trip to Spain
13 ways to see Spain on a budget

This article was first published Jul 27, 2022 and updated May 3, 2024.

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