Romeria San José horses at Sanlúcar ferry line, Photo by Lifecruiser

It was a year ago now since we were in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Andalusia, Spain and experienced the big famous event of the pilgrimage Romeria de San José.

This is an ancient tradition from around 1280 for the Spanish people to make a pilgrimage to the White Dove, the Virgen del Rocio – in the church in El Rocio, Huelva.

It’s done 3 times a year. This one was around the Dia de San José (San José Day) in March, with people from Andalusia participating. There is also one in May and another one in the autumn, but that one is by foot.

There is a telling about how the third voyage of Christopher Columbus (1498) had to delay the departure from the Sanlúcar port until the crew returned who was on the pilgrimage of El Rocio.

We were absolutely stunned, because Sanlúcar was invaded by thousands and thousands of gorgeous Spanish horses, with wagons or riders (Romero’s) and even donkeys etc.

Romeria San José riders at Sanlúcar, Photo by Lifecruiser

Where ever we looked there were horses and peoples in a very festive mood. We had such a good time just watching this stream of equipage coming into town – and it never seemed to stop, an endless stream it was.

I’ve never seen so much horses in my whole life and those were beautiful Andalusian horses mostly. This one looks almost exactly like in a saga!

Romeria San José white horse at Sanlúcar ferry line, Photo by Lifecruiser

We soon found out why they came exactly that way: they were planning to cross the river Guadalquivir with the ferries, to get to the Doñana National park which they’re riding through to get to El Rocio.

Can you imagine to pack yourself in with all those horses on the ferry to cross the river?

Romeria San José romero's on Sanlúcar ferry, Photo by Lifecruiser

They were jammed and the ferries (several) went back and forward in at least 2 days to get them all over!

They had a lovely road in front of them, staying overnight in the national park, some sort of camping out. You can see that they’re well prepared with their wagons. What a feast!

Romeria San José wagons at Sanlúcar ferry line, Photo by Lifecruiser

Sanlúcar looked very empty afterward when they all had left, abandoned like a good old Western ghost town.

The place where they were heading, El Rocio, looked very similar to an old Western town with sandy streets and places to tie up their horses outside the saloons… Ehrm, I mean restaurants.

Yes, we just had to follow them there to see when they arrived at their goal and had an absolutely fabulous day, photographing, eating and drinking, watching the people and horses.

Something that’s very striking on some of the horses, are their manes. Just have a look at this gorgeous one:

Romeria San José grey horse at Sanlúcar ferry line, Photo by Lifecruiser

This is such a combined folk feast really, on one hand something religious, on the other hand an excuse to have a giant party and meet family members, relatives and friends. We love it, such a fantastic experience.

First thing they did when arriving was to go straight into the church and visit the virgin to be blessed by her. As you can see the church is very well maintained, a really beautiful church.

Romeria San José romero's at El Rocio church, Photo by Lifecruiser

When they came out, some of them went to rest I’m sure, but there were some very persistent romero’s that kept partying on the horseback all evening!

We couldn’t force ourselves to leave that festive atmosphere with the singing and partying Romero’s, so we stayed late in the evening having such a good time. Ah, what a memory.

Little did we know that we should be so lucky to aim our stay in Sanlúcar at the right time to be able to see one of Spains most famous romeria‘s, which for a horse lover like myself, was like being in heaven. It was a traffic stocking, but by horses!

This was only the small one, the big Romeria del Rocio is in May (I think it’s 27 May – 3 June 2009): when people comes from the whole Spain: up to a million of them! Just to see the lady.

There are 4 main routes:

  1. Sanlúcar, used by people from Cádiz province
  2. Los Llanos from Almonte (the oldest one)
  3. Moguer, used by those from Huelva province
  4. Seville, most popular for other provinces and even from abroad

If you’re planning to go to Andalusia, be sure to go there during the Romeria in May – though I suspect that you have to book your accomodation well in advance as always when there are big events.

See Lifecruiser’s Romeria San José photos overview if you’re short on time – or all of them in the Romeria San José photo slideshow.

It was such a great time and we wouldn’t mind going back another time!

Lifecruiser Andalusian horses

21 Comments on “Thousands by horse to El Rocio”

    Lifecruiser said:

    If anyone of you want to know more about the festival in El Rocio I found a video:

    Spanish festival El Rocio Video

    A. said:

    I just can’t imagine that number of horses all together! They are such handsome horses though – beautiful!

    Maribeth said:

    How wonderful! I love the handsome white horse. I also love Gattina’s white cat and my white German shepherd. Perhaps I like white animals? LOL! Wish I had been there in person. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Ling said:

    That’s a magnificent horse. Probably belongs to a Prince or a King, I think. Captain, how come you don’t own a horse?. :mrgreen:

    Lifecruiser said:

    That’s mainly because of my bad spine, Ling. It can’t take the movements and bumps any longer unfortunately. One of my biggest sorrows ;-(

    …and it takes so much of your time to take care of it in the right way.

    I’ll have to stick to the dream.


    The horses in the photos seem to have incredibly long manes.


    I usually spend my holidays in Mazagon, Huelva and whenever I have a chance go to El Rocío. It’s a beautiful place to take pictures and to eat at local restaurants. The impressive church, the incredible white color of the façade and the magnificent altar are a must-see. I always remember the sand on the ground and horsemen riding elegant horses just like the ones you show here. The place seems just like some Western movie set as you just said only altered by a couple of souvenir stalls on the entrance and road full of cars coming from Matalascañas. During El Rocío celebrations the place is cram packed. It is better to go some other day, at least for me. Nice captures.

    Lifecruiser said:

    Yes, you got a point there @Carlos, for some it might be better to go when it’s not so crowded, like we did in March, if you don’t like crowds.

    But I suspect that it’s more festive during the big El Rocio, with more colorful wagons and dresses, so it’s a balancing :-)

    …though I must say that I’d go there at any time, because like you, I like it very much and could visit often!

    Gattina said:

    The horses are so beautyful. I always was afraid of them and now not anymore. Strange !
    I have been visiting the Exposition of the chinese terra cotta soldiers, they showed 10 of them in life size ! 1.80 m, very impressive ! I’ll show them on the next occasion.

    Gennaro said:

    Love the photos. I would love to be on that ferry. For a few minutes anyway. I image it gets a bit messy after that :smile:

    claudie said:

    wouhaaa! What a fabulous slideshow! And a super report! This is really a place to visit! I’ve never seen so many horses in the same time! There is a horse club near my house and I know a nice teenager who’s got a blog about his horse and the club. I will post something about so that you can see better the place you will soon discover. :razz:

    Esther Garvi said:

    LOVELY pictures! What an experience!!! Andalusians are just toooooooo beautiful, and to see them all together must have been amazing!

    Jannie Funster said:

    Well, the world just never ceases to amaze me. The different traditions people get up to. Imagine all those horses in one place. And on the ferry! Just beautiful. My favorite photo is the one of the grey horse with the long, long mane.

    Hootin' Anni said:

    We got to see the Andalusian horses perform once…but alas, not in Spain! They are a gorgeous breed.

    How ya doing? Long time no see.
    Hope all is well with you and yours.

    Kuanyin said:

    OMG–these photos are awesome! :!: :!:

    I would have loved to have been there–an experience of a lifetime! You lucky ducks!



    It’s rare to see horses in a city like Singapore. And I could never imagine seeing so many horse on a ferry!

    TorAa said:

    I really understand you had to stand and to watch all those beautiful horses.
    It’s so impressive and fantastic. Thinking about all the horses and romero’s to cross the river. Wow.

    Excellent photos

    RennyBA said:

    You make such great, readable and informative travel post and of course, then again: it’s your trade mark! ;-)

    Of course I wanna go there too – to see the Lady in May!

    The only place I’ve been to in Spain is Marbella, but that’s long, long, long time ago.


    That looks like a wonderful event. The horses are magnificent.


    The horses are great I was raised on a farm and they certainly bring back memories. Suppose thats what photos are for. The Andalusians are simply beautiful. Great travel blog. The layout is top notch. :razz:

    francisco said:

    I have rooms in el rocio.if you like go to el rocio you can call me and have holiday near of doñana.have room where is the celebration of the romeria of the day 60 euros but for the romeria 1.000 euros(because are seven days).call 697.285.273 and you can ride a hourse and visited doñana

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