The bulls that will be fought during each evening’s bullfight in Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros during the eight days of the San Fermin Festival are corralled at the Corrales de Santo Domingo near the Arga River that snakes its way through the heart of Pamplona. When the first rockets are fired and the gates of the corral are opened, the bulls burst forth into the streets of Pamplona to race toward the end of the carefully barricaded route.
The bulls first charge up Calle Santo Domingo, or Santo Domingo Street, towards the first pack of red and white-clad runners who are anxiously awaiting their arrival. The beginning of the route here is usually filled with highly experienced, hard-core runners who train throughout the year for the annual run and take the ritual very seriously. This section is also where the icon of San Fermin is located to which locals and hard-core runners sing a prayer three times before the start of the run while gesturing towards the statue of the region’s patron saint.
These runners need all the blessings they can get, because soon Calle Santo Domingo narrows as its grade increases, making the uphill run even more dangerous as charging bulls and a dense crowd of runners all vie for space to sprint for their lives. After a slight leftward curve, Calle Santo Domingo once again widens to allow runners the space to begin diving out of the way and spreading out a little in order to allow the fastest of the bulls to pass by.
As the route approaches Pamplona’s City Hall, called the Ayuntamiento in Spanish, and the Plaza Consistorial or the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, it makes a turn to the left onto Calle Mercaderes. The Plaza where this turn occurs is the ideal spot to enter into the actual route for those seeking to participate in the run. (For more on why that’s the case, be sure to read The Complete Guide to Participating in the Running of the Bulls article here too.)
The bulls only run for two short blocks down Calle Mercaderes before they are forced to make a sharp right turn at one of the most dangerous spots along the route known as La Curva in Spanish, or Dead Man’s Curve in English. But calling it a curve is a bit of a misnomer because it’s definitely a hard right-angled turn onto Calle de la Estafeta. It is here that bulls will sometimes wipe out, often getting confused, frustrated, turned around, and separated from the pack when they do. (I talked at length about why this can create a potentially dangerous combination of circumstances for runners who find themselves in this area alongside a bull in the main article Pamplona, the Festival of San Fermin, and the Running of the Bulls, which you should most definitely check out if you haven’t already.)
The Calle de la Estafeta is the final and longest stretch of the Running of the Bulls route, and is my favorite place to participate in the run. Here the bulls will regain their momentum as they barrel into the final dense packs of waiting runners and race past the boarded up shops and wildly cheering crowds of drunken onlookers hanging from balconies overhead.
There’s another slight veer to the left at the very end of the route to direct the exhausted bulls and runners into the tunnel that forms the entrance to the bullring, or the Plaza de Toros. Although it is literally the last few meters of the 875-meter run, this is yet another of the most dangerous points along the route because the narrow tunnel forms a chokepoint through which all bulls and runners must pass (sometimes together) to get into the bullring and end their exhilarating run. For this reason, this point is sometimes called the Tunnel of Death. (If you want a good story about my own “Oh, Shit!” moment in the Tunnel of Death, you can find it in the main narrative here.)
Once bulls and runners make it into the arena of the Plaza de Toros, they have successful completed the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. The mood inside the 20,000 person arena is electric and thrilling as the fun continues with an enormous public party. The bulls are then corralled backstage within the arena and prepared to be fought at that evening’s bullfight.
Then the next morning and the next and the next, they do the entire thing yet again!
Click here for the interactive version of the Running of the Bulls route map that I created on Google Maps.