Encierro – The Running of the Bulls

Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls is the Star Event of the Sanfermines:

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Pamplona Running of the Bulls

The Running of the Bulls (Encierro) is an event that takes place in many towns across Spain, however it is the Pamplona’s Encierro that is famous the world over, thanks to Hemingway. Over 85 years after Hemingway’s cult novel The Sun Also Rises, the Pamplona Running of the Bulls is still as popular as ever.

The Running of the Bulls is the centre-stage event of Pamplona’s Sanfermines or Fiesta de San Fermín,  an annual celebration that takes place in the city from July 6 – 14 .


As we stand in front of the Town Hall, we learn of the four rockets and the significance of each of them in the organization of the running of the bulls:

  • the first rocket is fired from the main balcony of the Town Hall when the clock on the Church of San Cernin strikes 8:00 a.m. It signals the opening of the gates of the corral and the release of the bulls and oxen. Simultaneously, the barrier by the Municipal police is withdrawn and the runners are let through.
  • the second rocket is fired to signal that the entire herd of bulls have left the corral
  • the third rocket is fired when all the bulls have entered the bullring, and
  • the fourth rocket indicates that all the bulls are safely enclosed in the corral at the bullring and the bull run is over

Plaza Consistorial seems awfully small and even with just breathing space between the runners, it’s hard to imagine how so many participants manage to squeeze into the space. They do warn that if you’re claustrophobic or have had too much to drink, you shouldn’t take part.

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Running of the Bulls Route - Pamplona

Running of the Bulls Route

Starting at Santo Domingo, the 848.6-metre Running of the Bulls route ends at the Bullring:

Santo Domingo – Plaza Consistorial-Mercaderes – Estafeta – Baja de Javier – Telefonica – Lane – Bullring

There are usually 6 bulls in the herd and they are accompanied by eight oxen. At the end of the run, the bulls are held at the Bullring corral and in the afternoon they are used for bullfights.

Running of the Bulls Rules

Whilst the event might look chaotic and rowdy, there are actually rules that the runners have to obey for their own safety and the safety of others. Pile-ups do occur – this is when one or a few people trip and cause others to fall over them. According to the experts, a cardinal rule is that if you do trip, and are in close proximity to the bulls, it’s best to curl up and keep still. You may be hurt by the trampling bulls, but the injuries are likely to be less fatal than being gored by a bull if you got up, as had happened to a young American runner. 

From the little coverage that we see on the news, the bull run might give the impression to thrillseekers that it is fun, but from the number of deaths and injuries to-date, we know that it is a dangerous sport.  The rule says that you must be at least 18 to take part, but one of the fatalities was a 17 year old.  Anyone mad enough to contemplate this bull run should at least find out from the locals, and the experienced, the tactics for being a good runner.

Within a matter of a few minutes, when all the bulls have entered the bullring, the run is over.  The bulls are held in the corral at the bullring and in the afternoon they engage in yet another popular Spanish tradition, the Bullfight.

Watching the Bull Run

For the majority of visitors who come to see the bull run, there are several places where you can watch it safely: many locals are renting out balconies for €20 – 30 per day; the outer barriers on the street are free but they are also very popular and you have to get there at least 90 minutes before the start; or at the bullring.

The Running of the Bulls is the main event of the Pamplona Sanfemines, but throughout the nine-day festival there are lots of other ceremonies, events and festivities taking place. If you are contemplating attending Sanfemines, it is recommended that you book your accommodation way in advance for this highly popular festival.

For Pamplona hotels, see Here.

So, what is your thought on this? Let me know!

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