Animal Rights and Travel: Why I Cried at a Bullfight

bullfight seville


*Warning: This post contains an account of animal cruelty and some graphic descriptions.*

Daniel and I decided to take a quick trip to Seville in order to get out of Granada over the past few days. We had purchased some tickets to go see one of Spain’s most famous traditions—bullfighting—and we made sure to look up bus times well in advance so we could make sure we wouldn’t miss it.

I was already having conflicting feelings about it before I even pressed the purchase button online. I was incredibly curious, but I also believe in ethical travel and have been an advocate for animal rights while being a tourist. I felt hypocritical telling others travelers how they could keep ethics in mind on the road while choosing to support a complicated, unethical activity myself as a tourist.

I also knew only vaguely of the contentious debate currently going on in Spain and how bullfighting has been banned several times, only to return again because it aids tourism and because older generations claim it as an important tradition. The king of Spain is said to be a big fan and some traditions (however terrible) tend to die hard.

In the end, my curiosity and wish to experience the culture won out.

“I’m going to cry,” I told Daniel, half-jokingly.

horses bullfight seville

But there was a part of me that was also excited that I would be experiencing something that I’ve seen in pop culture many a time, and it is almost impossible not to get caught up in the festive feeling that the bullfights propagated. We arrived early, cheap beer in hand and chatty until the sound of the trumpets echoed around the arena.

Horses entered the arena first with padded armor over them. The matadors followed close behind while photographers snapped their pictures—matadors still enjoy a celebrity status in Spain and the older generation follows its favorite champions. After they had been introduced to the cheering crowd, a group of matadors walked to the outskirts of the arena.

matadors bullfight spain

“Wait,” Daniel said. “Why are there so many of them? I thought there was just one.”

Turns out, bullfighting follows a series of steps. Once they released the bull, each one took turns tiring him out. He was a beautiful animal with a shiny coat and rippling muscle, and it was hard not to admire him for the gorgeous creature he was. Before we could ask someone why there were several matadors, blindfolded horses entered the area once again with riders carrying lances.

bullfight arena seville

“What is going on?” I asked. “What are they going to do to him?”

My question was answered almost instantly as one of the riders stabbed with bull with his lance. Blood spurted out and down the bull’s back. I had known that this would be a gruesome fight, and I had seen a lot of gruesome things on my travels, but there was no sport in this. I had thought it would be a classic battle of man versus beast, a fight that seemed at least even.

It got worse. The matadors speared him with miniature hand spears that dug into his skin and stayed there. It was like a terrible, brutal form of acupuncture that killed rather than relieved pain. The bull was becoming tired now, and was breathing heavily and foaming at the mouth. Finally, the main matador made his appearance, where he did the traditional dance with the bull, encouraging him to charge into his waving cape.

For a moment, I could understand why this remained of the tradition. The bull and matador read each other like partners in a flamenco show. The bull’s horns would come dangerously close to the matador’s body, almost brushing it as he passed. But my acceptance of this show was short-lived when the matador pulled out his sword.

matadors bullfight seville

“I can’t look.” I covered my eyes and looked away. I hadn’t realized, but tears were streaming down my face. They felt hot and wet against my skin as we baked under the sun. I was about to turn my face back to the arena.

“Don’t, Alex,” Daniel said.

I could hear yelling and cheering. Daniel later told me that since the bull didn’t immediately die, they had stabbed him in the face with a dagger over and over again. I sat there, numb, before saying that I wanted to leave. We got up, discarding our unfinished beer, and tried to make sense of why something like this would still exist in our modern day.

I am ultimately thankful that I had this experience this weekend. It is good for me to be aware that events like this are still going on. While it is a personal decision to decide to attend, I encourage travelers to think carefully before purchasing tickets for bullfighting and to think twice about any sort of activity that puts animals’ lives in jeopardy.

Have you ever been to an event like this that has made you reevaluate your ethics when you travel?

Keep wandering (even when it’s hard),

Alex Signature Wander


  1. fabiolaofmexico

    Yes, I’ve been to a few bullfights. Bullfighting is very popular here in Mexico. In fact, the largest bullfighting arena in the world is here in Mexico City, and my hometown has a long bullfighting history. I personally have met people who live off it. I’m not surprised it was shocking for you. I think it helps to have someone explain what’s going on while you’re watching The first parts of the show (or ritual) are meant to anger and weaken the bull and also allow the matador to assess how he should approach the bull. In the final part, the matador “dances” with the bull but is meant to kill him at the end, which is clearly the heart of the controversy. However, this doesn’t happen all the time. A fine bull can be “pardoned” at the end and is allowed to live the rest of his life in peace. Personally, I think bullfighting should evolve to become less bloody and more of a sport, but I don’t know what would happen to these bulls. They’re much too aggressive, and they can’t be fought more than once because they’re also too smart. So ending bullfighting might also spell the end of these beautiful animals. I’m torn on this issue.

    1. Post
      Alex Schnee

      Thank you for your insight on this! I appreciate you taking the time to put together this answer, and it has definitely deepened my understanding of the issue. It is complicated, and you’re right, there is no clear line on what to do.

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  4. hippiekit

    I’ve been to Spain twice this summer and am currently living here for one month to study Spanish. I can’t even kill a cockroach, so there is no way I could go to a bullfight, just seeing pictures makes me cry. I was in Thailand in March and the things I saw there in relation to animals still makes me cry. Eating is hard for me everywhere I travel because I don’t meat. Once in a while I will have chicken, but that’s it and it’s so hard to find good veggie food outside of the US.

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