Beyond the Running of the Bulls: Spain's 10 Wildest Festivals

In recent years, other fiestas like Valencia's tomato-throwing bash, La Tomatina, have made the international tourist radar and now draw visitors from around the world.
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Waiters running bulls in  Santo Domingo during San Fermin festivities,Spain.
Waiters running bulls in Santo Domingo during San Fermin festivities,Spain.

Every year since Hemingway published his classic, The Sun Also Rises, thousands of thrill-seekers have descended on the small city of Pamplona in northern Spain to take part in the legendary Running of the Bulls. In recent years, other fiestas like Valencia's tomato-throwing bash, La Tomatina, have made the international tourist radar and now draw visitors from around the world.

However, when it comes to the off-the-wall celebrations found in Spain, these are just the tip of the iceberg. We've sifted through recommendations from thousands of locals and travelers on minube and found this selection of Spain's wildest festivals you can't miss in 2013.


1.) El Cascamorras - According to legend, the Cascamorras festival originated from a feud between two Andalusian towns, Baza and Guadix, over a revered statue of the Virgin Mary. Baza, the statue's home, said that if anyone from Guadix could make it to the church without being stained by the locals, they could have the statue. This somber challenge has since transformed into a yearly celebration with thousands of revelers smeared in black grease-paint clamoring to splatter fellow partygoers and the invading "cascamorras" (buffoon) who comes to take the statue. (Photo by Viveydeja)


2.) Bous a la Mar -- The Bous a la Mar (literally "Bulls to the Sea") festival is held in the second week of July in the small Mediterranean resort town of Denia. The festivities, part of the local patron saint celebrations, involve running bulls from the town square to an impromptu bullring on the coast, where groups of audacious locals try to coax the charging beast into jumping into the sea. (Photo by CostaBlanca)


3.) Nit de Foc -- Every June 24th, the sleepy Mallorcan village of Mancor de la Vall is the backdrop for one of Spain's most ghoulishly fun celebrations. During the day, the festival is a pleasant affair featuring local costumes, handicrafts, and traditional food. But when the sun sets, fire-wielding folk demons take to the streets for the Nit de Foc ("Night of Fire"), while crowds of revelers gather to watch the spectacle, sample local wine, and dance to traditional bagpipe and drum music. (Photo by Francisco B. Reina)


4.) Toro de Fuego - While few traditions are as ingrained in Spanish culture as bull running, the Toro de Fuego ("Fire Bull") is a popular and unusual twist on a fiesta favorite. The Toro de Fuego is a small, cast-iron bull which is loaded down with industrial-strength sparklers and hoisted on the shoulders of a local volunteer who proceeds to chase participants through the streets in haze of smoke, fire, and shouts of rowdy delight. (Photo by Yoli Chamba)


5.) Es Firó - One of Mallorca's most emblematic festivals is Es Firó, a celebration of the region's defense against Moorish invaders in 1561. Held on the second Monday in May, Es Firó draws thousands of costumed revelers who re-enact the unsuccessful Moorish siege of the island, and top the event off with plenty of wine, songs, and fireworks. (Photo by Pere J. Oliver)


6.) Fiesta de la Mercé - No festival is dearer to the citizens of Barcelona than September's Fiesta de la Mercè. This city-wide carnival boasts tons of concerts, children's activities, exhibits, beach parties, and the famous Festa de Foc ("Fire Party"), where massive dragons are paraded through the streets to the beat of drums, all bathed in the glow of over 2 tons of fireworks. (Photo by Fernand Maulion)


7.) Mare de Deu Festival -- From the 7-8th of September, the town of Algemesí, Valencia is host to the Mare de Deu Festival, one of the oldest (dating back to 1247) and most renowned in the region. Declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, the party involves plenty of processions, drinking, and dancing, but the most spectacular part is the Muxieranga, festively-dressed teams of daredevils who built multi-story human towers along the parade route. (Photo by Toni Calderón)


8.) Festival of Moralzarzal -- While Pamplona's Running of the Bulls is a favorite among visitors, many locals now opt for a smaller, less-touristy festival in the town of Moralzalzar near Madrid. No grand histories or sacred traditions here; just an authentic, raucous good time of music, food, wine, and, of course, bulls. (Photo by David R. Azaña)


9.) A Rapa das Bestas -- One of Spain's oddest festivals takes place in the small Galician village of Sabuceda during the first week of June. During A Rapa das Bestas, hundreds of wild mustangs are rounded up from the surrounding hills and driven into an arena in the town where their manes are trimmed and they're given medicines. The thrill of this party comes from the daring wranglers who dive into the churning mass of wild mustangs to carry out their duties. (Photo by Victor Gómez)


10.) Battle of Claret -- To finish off this list, we've included a festival that embodies one of Spain's most widely-practiced summer festivities: gathering together with your friends and family on a sunny day and relentlessly sloshing each other with local wine. The Battle of Claret, held the last Sunday in July in the small village of San Asensio, La Rioja is one of the country's most popular wine battles and draws visitors from all over the country. (Photo by Patricia)