Spain’s Wackiest Festivals

Green Travel — By Stephanie on July 19, 2010 at 5:35 pm
tenerife south map Spains Wackiest Festivals

Enjoy the scenery of Tenerife... or attend one of the wackiest festivals in the world?

I’m always looking for unique travel ideas.  In fact, when asked what I would do if I won the lottery, usually its a tie between: (1) book an exotic vacation and (2) purchase all the camera equipment I’ve ever wanted.  But then I heard about some of Spain’s wackiest festivals.  Hands down, I’m hopping on the next airplane….

One place I’ve always dreamed about visiting is Tenerife – home of the Burial of the Sardine festival.  Each year, around the time of Mardi Gras, the bizarre tradition takes place in Santa Cruz, in the Canary Islands.

I’m sure there is just as much drinking as in New Orleans, but this procession is less about beads and bare breasts, and more about the carrying of a huge dead fish created from cloth and situated on a throne through the streets. “Mourners” dressed as pregnant women and widows follow behind until the parade reaches its Plaza Europe destination, which is followed by a fireworks display.  Just how much fun you think this could be is directly correlated to the amount of alcohol you consume.

Want to go next year?  Time to start planning your trip and searching for cheap flights to Tenerife now.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

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The Carnival Queen at the Burial of the Sardine Festival in Tenerife

If sardines aren’t your taste, then consider tomatoes instead.  Although the actual Tomatina Tomato Fight lasts only about 1 hour, the wacky festival lasts an entire week in August each year in the Valencia region of Spain.  Its one of Spain’s most popular celebrations.

Who doesn’t love a food fight?  If you want to take part in this very fun annual tradition, start practicing your throws right now. There will be tons of tomatoes to toss!  The actual tomato fight occurs on the last Wednesday of August at 11 a.m..  Most of the participants have been imbibing since the night before, so anything goes!

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This is one way to really immerse yourself in the local Spanish culture!

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Who knew tossing a goat from a church tower could be so much fun?

From sardines to tomatoes to… goats?

In Manganeses de la Polvorosa, in northwestern Spain, the annual festival that honors the town’s patron saint, St. Vincent, falls on the fourth Sunday in January.  The annual tradition involves a group of teenagers who kidnap a local goat from a field.  The poor kid (the goat, not the teen), is paraded through the town center, up into the bell tower of the church from which it will be thrown up to 50 feet to be caught before the cheering crowd below.

You’ve got to be kidding, you might be thinking… right?  Well consider this reason for the bizarre tradition:

“According to local legend, there was once a priest in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, who owned a very special goat.   It’s said that the good padre would often travel throughout the countryside all around the village, miraculously feeding the poor and the destitute with his goat’s milk.  One day, however, the beloved goat wandered into the church’s belfry .. and when the bell rang out for Sunday mass, the frightened goat leapt from the tower and went hurtling toward the street below!  Luckily, the goat was caught with a blanket and saved.  Every year since then, the famous event has been reenacted, in honor of the loving priest and his goat, and to mark the beginning of El Festival de Santo Vincente.”

Not surprisingly, animals rights activists have been calling for an end to this festival that is so old, no one can say when it began!  Even more reason to try to get there to see the 2011 festival before goat-tossing is a thing of the past…

Goat tossing may not be your thing, but what about massive crowds and a herd of raging bulls?  Every year on July 6th, the annual Pamplona Bull Running Festival begins at noon.  Thousands of people flock to San Fermin for this week-long celebration which dates back to the 14th century, thanks in large part to the notoriety gained from Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”

Originally, the festival was a religious feast, but it has since evolved into a spectacle more focused on the thrill of running ahead of the bulls to avoid getting trampled. In three short minutes, the bulls run down the streets a distance of about 825 meters, starting from a corral at Santo Domingo, to the bullring where they will fight that afternoon.

Organizers of the event say that the running of the bulls is “perfectly safe,” yet there are plenty of stories of spectators being trampled or gored by the crowd of a dozen massive creatures.

Me?  I’ll take a seat above the streets in a nice little balcony, where I can watch the event from a safe distance!

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Look out - here comes the running of the bulls!

We all know the eventual fate of the bulls that run through the streets of Pamplona to meet the matadors in the bull ring.  And tossing goats from church towers doesn’t meet most animal husbandry standards these days.  Despite its name, the “Taming the Beasts” festival in Galica, Spain (Rapa das bestas) is a more animal-friendly tradition that doesn’t include cruelty or death.  Or so they say….

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Taming the beasts pits human strength against wild horses

Dating back to the Bronze Age, the fiesta that is also known as the Shearing of the Beasts begins with the rounding up of hundreds of wild horses from the surrounding countryside.  The horses are corralled, and then both men and women can have a try at wrestling the horses to the ground, using only their hands and arms.

No ropes, whips or other implements are allowed.  When (if) the beasts reach the ground, their manes and tails are cut as a sign of domination.  The festival is a celebration of courage and the village’s independence.

At the conclusion of the three-day festival, the horses are released back to the hillside.  Horse hairs from the shearing are used in brushes or mattress fill, so that nothing goes to waste.

Bare-handed horse wrestling is certainly a wacky tradition, and many animal rights activists have been calling for an end to the Rapa das Bestas festival, despite the claims that it doesn’t involve animal cruelty or death.

Judge for yourself.  Head to Sabucedo the first weekend of July for the 3-day festival.

If you would rather not partake in festivals that involve animals or food throwing, you can still have a devilish good time at the Disguised Devils festival (La Endiablada) in Cuenca, Castilla y La Mancha.  Each year at the beginning of February, the villagers “disguise” themselves as devils and tie large cowbells around their waists.  The 3-day revelry includes brightly colored paper hats which are replaced with cardboard bishop mitres.

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Celebrating La Endiablada in full costume!

Nothing like crazy costumes, running through the streets and dancing around to the clanging of cowbells to spell a really good time!  But why does this bizaare tradition exist?  Unfortunately, the documents explaining the festival were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War.  Yet, most believe that its a celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary and to honor the town’s patron saint, San Bias.

The cowbells and crazy behavior are said to scare off Satan to prevent him from attacking the purity of the Virgin Mary.  Since this tradition has been held since the 13th century, don’t you think that Satan would be starting to catch on? Or perhaps he’s busy tossing goats, wrestling horses or running from the bulls…

There’s plenty to choose from when it comes to Spain’s wackiest festivals.  Just be sure to bring your sense of humor — and perhaps some really strong ibuprofen.

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  1. Gloria says:

    In Galician “besta” means either “beast” or “mare”.

  2. manolin says:

    The goat stuff is forbidden now, so update the article pls.

  3. You Missed out Fallas! Spain’s and probably Europe’s Biggest and best festival – One week of fireworks street parties culminating in over 400 fires throughout the city –
    And you might like to know we run a great day trip to La Tomatina – more here

  4. Pablo says:


    The burial of the sardine (entierro de la sardina) it’s a common festival around Spain. It’s celebrated when the winter is close to end, because the sardines (fish) cannot reach the inner part of Spain during spring and summer in the old times when no refrigerator exists. Usually it’s mixed with the Carnaval festivities, and Tenerife’s Carnaval (or mardi grass if you prefer) is one of the best in Spain.



  5. Jack says:


  6. Stephanie says:

    Cool, thanks for the additional info on the Burial of the Sardine festival, Pablo! Cheers!

  7. Great article!

    Check-out U.S. Beach Festivals, Events, etc. @

  8. Kernel Panic says:

    hahaha :-D

    It is hard to enumerated all the strange traditions here in Spain XD

    Every region inside Spain have their own traditions.
    For example, here where I live, in the Catalonia region, there are many traditions that involves giants, dragons, human castles, devils, fire, death parades…and so on.

    I know, it’s really weird, but all these traditions have their roots in the middle ages.

    Greetings from Barcelona :-)

  9. Bettse says:

    Very cool! Love the pictures that go with this page.

  10. sarah says:

    this is extreemly weird!!!

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