Because we’re backpackers not billionaires, our adventures rely heavily on budgets and cutting costs where ever possible. It might be nice to have a front row balcony seat to the festivities of San Fermín, but that’s not where all the fun happens anyways. Here are some of our top tips for saving dough at San Fermín.
1. Book Early. It doesn’t even need to be said, I know, but seeing as how we didn’t follow our own advice here, there it is. Buses, trains and planes know that hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on Pamplona for San Fermín, so while there are a lot more options than usual, if you wait, what’s left will cost you.
2. Camp Out. Consider booking through a tour group. By tour group I don’t mean guy with a flag in front, thirty or so strangers hooked up to walkmans and schedules for every second of your time. There are several companies, the majority from the UK, that offer packages on camping in and around Pamplona during San Fermín. Your mileage on this may vary, but if you’re hard core procrastinators like us, ignored tip numero uno, and can’t grab a coveted hostel spot in the city center, transportation alone might be worth it for you. Cabs are costly (even without the insanity that is traffic during the festival), buses are unreliable at best (we waited over an hour for a city bus that never showed) and walking is a highly regrettable option if you’re outside Pamplona proper (trust us). So in addition to shuttle buses that run you from the festival to the campground and vice versa throughout the day, most groups include a hot breakfast each morning (bacon! eggs! watermelon!), tours of Pamplona and the bull run route, entertainment/concerts at the campground, t-shirt and pañuelo (red neck tie) to be worn during San Fermín and of course, your tent. Be sure to check each groups Facebook page, if they have one, because they often announce great deals off their regular rates, especially if you book in advance. For some reason the majority using the groups are Australians or Kiwi so just be aware, unless you are from there, you might be the only one at your site not from Oceania.
Some Suggested San Fermín Tour Groups
Festival Adventures - this is the tour we chose because they were the cheapest and were the only ones to provide an air mattress. They were also located farther from the center of the campsite so if you weren’t up for all night partying you could avoid it. They were also much smaller than all the other groups so could provide a more attentive service. The people working here were incredibly helpful and nice and we cannot say enough good things about them. To read more about our experience at their site check out our post here.
Fanatics - this was by far the biggest of the groups with well over 1,000 people at the site. It was also probably the most raucous so if you are looking to party hard non-stop with like minded Australians this might be the one for you.
PP Travel - a smaller tour group that offered transportation to Pamplona from the UK, which none of the others seemed to do. While Fanatics and Busabout work completely independent of the other groups, PP Travel and Festival Adventures work together in that they will let people from one anothers tours hitch a ride to and from the camp site to the center of town, which is incredibly helpful since all of them operate at different times.
Busabout - we didn’t have much experience with Busabout. The other tours were all located at the same camp site while Busabout was elsewhere. However, those who we met using Busabout spoke highly of it.
Another inexpensive option is to stay at one of the campsites without a tour group. Most will sell you a tent if you don’t already have one and prices per night are as low as you’ll find anywhere. We were located at Camp Ezcaba, which is the closest campsite to Pamplona’s center. They charged 6 euros for a nights stay with another 6.50 if you wanted to buy a tent, and included bathrooms, showers, plenty of outlets, a restaurant and pool. They also offer spaces for mobile homes and have indoor rooms for rent. Camp Ezcaba has transportation to and from Pamplona but you have to pay extra for it. If the tour group and campsite idea is unappealing or not an option, you can really save some money by camping for free in one the parks around the city. Rules for tents, fires, etc. change each year so be sure and read up before you arrive. For a first hand account from someone who took this route check out this great post from Aim to Travel.
3. Wear Red and White. Until the chupinazo on July 6th marking the start of San Fermín, Pamplonians go about their business as usual. However, on July 6th everyone from babies to bull runners show up in the uniform of the fiesta: white shirt, white pants/shorts, pañuelo (red neck tie) and faja (red sash for your waist). These things are extremely easy to come by upon arrival as you can’t walk two feet without running into a store that sells everything you need. Don’t buy from places that look like legit stores – their prices are higher and that’s just silly. Stop by a make shift for-this-week-only-pop-up-shop and grab what you need there. Don’t be afraid to haggle with them on price, especially if you’re buying multiple items. Some stores sell entire outfits for around 12 euros, but if you booked with a tour group, you probably already have a white shirt and panuelo. With that said though…
4. Buy Two Sets of Whites. Sangria flies through the air all day, every day, every where in Pamplona for about a week. If you’re planning on attending the opening day chupinazo complete with the most epic sangria fight on the planet, make sure and grab an extra t-shirt and extra pants or shorts. Even if you’re not in the thick of things by town square, you’ll be covered head to toe in pink within minutes. Day old, sun soaked, bootleg sangria the morning after? Not so much. Chuck ‘em.Your pañuelo and faja should last you the week, so you’re set with one of each.
5. Buy your booze outside the city center. The cheapest option we found was at a small Asian mart across from the bus station on Calle Yangus y Miranda. Don Simon Sangria will be your beverage of choice and should run you no more than 3 euros for 1.5 liters. If you end up in need of alcohol by Plaza del Castillo, walk anywhere else to buy it. Tiny pop up alcohol shops can be found throughout the winding streets surrounding Plaza del Castillo so there really is no reason to pay that premium. If you have some extra cash, are looking for a souvenir, and or are looking for something to carry around your sangria in other than a plastic bottle, you might want to get a bota bag. These wineskin pouches, which you will see plenty of people carrying and using to squirt sangria into one anthers mouths, run between 5 and 10 euros. If you are planning on keeping it after the festival be sure, just like with everything else, not to bring have it on you during the opening day because it will turn pink, wet and sticky in no time.
6. Go to the Bakeries. Restaurants are expensive at San Fermín and while there are 5 euro kebabs and 4 euro hot dogs to be found, the serious budgeters can grab a baguette at a local bakery for around 1 euro. Good options can been found near the large fountains in the city center. As always, the further from the action you get, the lower the prices become. Walk past La Cuidadela (this park should be on your right as you leave the center) into the more residential area of Pamplona, and restaurants there offer tapas for as little as 1 euro a piece.7. Don’t Over Pay to See the Bulls. You can watch the morning encierros (bull runs) inside Plaza del Torros for free if you get there early enough. If they’ve reached capacity, scalpers will be on hand to soften the blow with tickets to the event. The most expensive encierro will be the innagural run, the morning of July 7th. Seats are at a premium that day, so payment for a ticket in should be expected. Regardless of what day you go on do not pay more than 10 euros for a ticket. If you’re planning on seeing a bull fight while during San Fermín, your best bet, as with the encierro viewing, is to go later in the week. Locals selling tickets will work together to lock in specific prices (some as high as 50 euros per ticket), making it difficult to find a bargain at times. You shouldn’t pay more than 25 euros for this ticket.
Bonus: If you are seriously strapped for cash, consider attending the closing ceremonies or even the final days just before it. The chupinazo, the opening encierro and the craziness that encompasses the first few of days at San Fermín will cost you serious change. By the fourth or fifth day of the fiesta, many visitors make their way to the beaches of San Sebastián for recovery and Pamplona’s tourist to local ratio begins it’s descent back to normality. Hostels may have lower prices and greater availability and merchants will want to sell their stock.Attending the end of San Fermín instead of the beginning lacks the energy of the start, so if you can budget for the latter, do so without hesitation. If it simply can’t be done, don’t worry - you may get more of an authentic experience anyways and a less crushing blow to your wallet. That, and running with the bulls, is always an exhilarating (read: terrifying) experience, no matter what day it is.