Tarifa, located at the southern end of Spain’s Costa de la Luz, is the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Tarifa is the most southern city in Spain and lies just 14 kms from the coast of North Africa.
Morocco is almost within touching distance and, for many people, Tarifa is simply the stopping off point for a trip to Tangier whether that’s for a day trip or for a little longer.
If you do fancy a Moroccan adventure here are some popular tours that you can book if you don’t fancy travelling independently.
Trust me though, it’s worth spending a little more time here. We often head to Tarifa for the day as we live less than an hour’s drive away.
The beaches here are the big draw but be warned, Tarifa is Europe’s windiest city which means that, even in summer, it can feel as though you’re being sandblasted whenever you go anywhere near the beach.
The wind does mean, however, that Tarifa is a mecca for kitesurfers and windsurfers (it’s Spain’s kitesurfing capital for very good reason) so, if it’s an adrenaline rush you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. It’s possible to book kitesurfing lessons although I’m far too much of a coward to have even contemplated this!!
Playa de los Lances is a 7km stretch of wide golden sands and is on the Atlantic side of the town. The waves here can be huge but, on a calm day, there’s nothing better than a dip in the clear waters. If you prefer your beach to be a bit more sheltered from the wind then head to the tiny Playa Chica on the Mediterranean side.
Whichever beach you choose, there are plenty of chiringuitos when it’s time for a beer and a bite to eat. As this is the Costa de la Luz expect lots of fish dishes including tortillitas de camarones and tuna.
If you have a little more time to spare in the area and are looking for a truly special beach it’s definitely worth the drive to Bolonia. Just over 20 kms north of Tarifa, Bolonia has miles of largely untouched golden sand backed by pine forests with walking trails which lead into the Parque Natural del Estrecho. The piece de resistance is a huge sand dune which is reportedly one of the largest in Europe. A climb to the top of the dune is worth the effort as you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the beach, the pine forests and the mountains of Morocco.
It’s also more than likely that you’ll end up sharing the beach with a cow or two!
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The results of my Facebook poll are in – 63% of you prefer beaches to mountains. With some stunners like these to choose from it’s no surprise. ??? #beachlife #bolonia #boloniabeach #tarifa #tarifabeach #torreguadiaro #torreguadiarobeach #sabinillas #sabinillasbeach #costsdelsol #costadelaluz #andalucia #spain #sandbetweenmytoes #lifesabeach
If beaches aren’t your thing then how about these ideas?
Isla de las Palomas
A walk along the causeway leads to the southernmost tip of Europe and an old military fortress (which is, unfortunately, closed to the public). From here you have the Mediterranean Sea on one side of you and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, not to mention a fantastic view back to Tarifa itself. Just to prove it, there are signs halfway along the causeway!
Depending on the weather, you might find yourself dodging the waves on the causeway so be prepared!
Castillo de Santa Catalina
As you walk back towards Tarifa, you’ll see this fortress overlooking the causeway, with Playa Chica to its left and Playa de los Lances to its right. Despite appearances to the contrary, this fortress was only completed in 1933. It. It was badly damaged during the Spanish Civil War and is now in a state of disrepair so, unfortunately, can’t be visited.
Castillo de Guzman el Bueno
As with much of Andalucia, there’s something for the history buffs and in Tarifa’s case, that’s the Castle of Guzman el Bueno which sits on a rock at the edge of the old town near the port. Originally built in 960 AD as a fortress it has been restored in recent years and a wander along the ramparts has outstanding views across to Morocco and over the old town.
Entry to the castle is €4 or, for an additional €1, your entry ticket also gives you access to walk along part of the town walls.
Inside the castle there is information on its military history throughout the years and you can even have your photo taken as Guzman el Bueno himself!
Miramar de Tarifa
For more views head to the town hall near Plazuela del Viento. There are some pleasant gardens here (with a lovely mosaic frog fountain) which are a nice spot to sit under the orange trees before climbing the recently renovated lookout tower with views of the port, Morocco across the straits, and the old town walls.
Tarifa Old Town
The whitewashed old town with its narrow, cobbled streets is always worth a wander. Tarifa has lots of quirky shops befitting its hippy vibe, as well as plenty of bars and restaurants all contained within the old city walls.
You can reach the old town directly from the port area by the castle or, alternatively, you can head through the Puerta de Jerez, the only one left of the three original city gates. The Puerta de Jerez is on Avenida Andalucia.
Tarifa doesn’t have a thriving street art scene in the same way that Estepona does but, on the outskirts, near Lidl (which you’ll pass as you drive into the town) there are a few large murals. You’ll also find a frequently changing display along the promenade as you walk away from the town towards the northern end of Playa los Lances.
Getting back to nature
Tarifa is the place to go if you fancy heading out into the Strait of Gibraltar for a spot of whale watching. There are several whale watching companies in Tarifa all offering two-hour trips to see whales and dolphins, plus three-hour trips during the summer months where you’ll have the opportunity to spot orcas. We took a three-hour trip with FIRMM and, although the orcas were elusive on that particular day, we spotted lots of pilot whales and dolphins.
Tarifa’s proximity to North Africa also means that, in spring and autumn, it’s on the migratory route for many species of birds. I’ve been lucky to spot a lot of vultures when hiking in the nearby Parque Natural del Estrecho, and witnessed hundreds of white storks in flight attempting the journey to Morocco.
Keep an eye on your mobile phone while you’re in Tarifa. It’s so close to the African continent that it frequently picks up Moroccan network signals without you realising it, so you might want to switch off data roaming.
Driving to Tarifa is easy as it’s a straightforward route on the A7 (which becomes the N340 just after Algeciras). Once you leave Algeciras behind the road passes through the Parque Natural del Estrecho and, about 5 kms before you reach Tarifa, there’s a sign for the Mirador del Estrecho which is definitely worth a stop (although it may be easier on the way out of Tarifa). The views from here are breathtaking particularly on a clear day when you can see Morocco as well as Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa.
If you’re planning a visit to Tarifa in the summer then be warned, it gets busy and, if you’re driving from the south, you might well find yourself stuck in traffic on the N340 (the only road in and out). We made the mistake once of deciding to go there one summer Sunday afternoon and, after sitting in slow-moving traffic for what felt like hours, just turned around and headed home. So much for spontaneous decisions!
You could also find yourself struggling to park as, although there are plenty of parking spaces in Tarifa, these soon get taken by the summer crowds. My tip would be to get there early. We generally aim for a free parking space near the bullring or, alternatively, head down towards the beach and use the parking area just behind the seafront off Calle Almadraba.
Where to eat
For the archetypal Spanish breakfast I recommend stopping at La Palmera and grabbing a seat on the pavement opposite the castle. It’s nothing flashy but the fact that it’s always crowded with locals tells you all you need to know. In fact, on a Sunday morning during the summer months, it’s more than likely you’ll have to queue for your breakfast. It’s worth the wait though. Their churros are light and crunchy and served with thick and creamy hot chocolate to dunk them in, and the café con leche has just the right kick. Add in some freshly squeezed orange juice and you’ll still get change from €10.
For lunch there are plenty of restaurants in and around Paseo da la Alameda all serving fresh fish dishes whether you like fish stews or prefer the region’s fried fish specialities. Be sure to try Tarifa’s famed tuna too. Not sure about the sea donkey though!!
If it’s just tapas you’re after then have a wander around the old town. We always make a beeline for Bar Rico every time we visit Tarifa to get our fix of their delicious tortillitas de camarones. It’s on Calle de Coronel Moscardo, a small square in the old town.
Once the sun’s gone down and you’re ready for dinner, I can highly recommend Vaca Loca. It’s a carnivore’s delight and, even though I don’t eat meat, it does have a few non-meat options including the spinach quiche which is delicious. Portions here are huge so make sure you’re hungry before you go.
Vaca Loca is tucked away on Calle Cervantes in the old town – be warned, it doesn’t take bookings.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth then definitely drop in to Pasteleria Bernal for some cakes and pastries. It’s on Calle Sancho IV El Bravo right in front of the impressive Church of San Mateo. There are a few tables outside if you want to stop for coffee and cake or you can do as we do (every time) and take a selection home – delicious and great value. Pasteleria Bernal even opens on Sundays which is a rarity in Spain.
Where to stay
Although we’re only about a 45 minute drive from Tarifa and make regular day trips throughout the year we love staying over and making a weekend of it now and again.
On our first overnight stay we booked into Hostal Gravina right by the Church of San Mateo. You can read my TripAdvisor review for more, including why it’s not the best choice for New Year’s Eve if you don’t intend to party all night!
On our most recent stay we booked into the Kook Hotel and we’re already planning a return stay we loved it so much. It’s in the old town right by the city walls and fits Tarifa’s hippy vibes perfectly. You can read more about my stay on my TripAdvisor page.