This place grabs you from the first second. Whether it’s because of the wind, or the people it brings here, or because the town is the exact opposite of the nearby Costa del Sol, Tarifa is an extraordinary Andalusian gem.
In a way, it is exactly what is expected to be the southernmost point of continental Europe, the place where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet and Europe almost kisses Africa.
Tarifa is a small white town and despite its proximity to the extremely popular Costa del Sol and its unique geographical features – slightly outside the focus of mass tourism. Tucked away on a small peninsula in the southernmost part of Spain, surrounded by mountains, ocean and sea, the town of 18,000 has a lot to show and feel.
This makes it an ideal place to visit for a day or two, or even three, especially if one wants to take a break from the crowds of the overdeveloped and suffocated by mass tourism nearby coast – the 150km stretch of coastline known as the Costa del Sol, which is just an endless Sunny Beach, with huge hotels and restaurants that offer Indian, Mexican and Italian food at the same time.
Less than 50 kilometers west of one of the Costa del Sol’s main attractions, Gibraltar, Tarifa, whose white buildings are not quite four stories high, is different.
Tarifa is located on the European side of the narrowest part of the Strait of Gibraltar. On the other side is Morocco – only 14 kilometers away and the ferry ride to Tangier takes 35-40 minutes.
This also defines the Spanish city itself. Due to its location, it is known as one of the windiest places in Europe. This, along with the warm weather and beautiful beaches, have made it the most popular kite and windsurfing location on the Old Continent.
The Strait of Gibraltar is a kind of funnel and creates the so-called venturi effect, which causes strong winds to blow in the area 300 days a year. It is either eastern – Levante, from Africa, or western – Poniente, from the Atlantic.
The constant presence of these powerful winds has even created a name for the locals – in Spain you can meet the expression “mad as a tariff” and it is precisely because of the maddening effect that the wind can have on people.
However, you are not in such danger for a day or two.
The location of the city at the narrowest part of the strait gives one a wonderful opportunity to hop on the ferry to Africa and wander around the market and aromas of Tangier, but also another, less obvious one – to watch whales and dolphins.
Tarifa is considered one of the best places for this purpose in Europe and local agencies even promise a second free tour if you fail to see at least one of the marine mammals on the first one. Several species of dolphins, as well as pilot whales, live permanently in the waters of the strait. Killer whales, sperm whales and fin whales also appear seasonally and the narrow strait is the perfect place to see them.
Along with them goes the feeling of sailing between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as watching the fishermen out at sea. They and their catch are also what attract the dolphins and killer whales.
Tarifa also has magnificent beaches, but before that you must go to Tarifa Island, also known as Isla de las Palomas – Pigeon Island. It is a stone’s throw from the harbor and is home to Punta de Tarifa, the official southernmost point of the continent.
Apart from the fact that you will actually be at the end of Europe, walking along the short bridge that connects the island to the city, you will be between the two seas. On one side of you will be the Atlantic and on the other – the Mediterranean Sea.
And from Pigeon Island there is a great view of Tarifa, its surroundings and the mountains above the city.
After that it’s time for the beaches. The most famous of these are Playa de Los Lances and Playa de Valdevaqueros, but the beach starts directly opposite the island. Long, wide, sandy, further on with dunes – this is a dream beach, and in addition to it, the view of kite surfers enjoying the waves.
However, given that the beaches fall on the Atlantic Ocean, it is good to keep in mind that the water will not be as warm as it might seem given the temperature of the beach.
Naturally, a city in such a place cannot be without a long and rich history, full of battles and remaining fortresses.
The name Tarifa itself is derived from the name of the general Tarif ibn Malik, who participated in the conquest of Spain by the Arabs. Their centuries-old presence is distinct throughout Andalusia – Al-Andalus is the name the Arabs give to the entire Iberian Peninsula, it is also present in Tarifa – in the architecture, atmosphere and food.
It also remained in the form of a fortress – Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno. It is located near the port. It was built by the Moors in the 10th century to protect Tarifa from the reconquista, who managed to return the city to the Spanish king in 1292.
Like any city with history, Tarifa has a charming old medieval town with narrow streets, old buildings, lots of shops and cafes and a Moroccan feel. Interesting is the Plaza de la Ranitas – the Square of the Little Frogs, whose fountain is decorated with eight ceramic frogs.
Tarifa is close to two natural parks – Parque Natural del Estrecho and Parque Natural Alcornocales. The first starts almost from the city, and the second is above it.
A wonderful walk is the road to Colada de la Costa – about one kilometer from the center of Tarifa, and offers great views of the coast of North Africa. The walk can be extended through the park in an eastern direction, or you can choose a 9 km walk along the coast to the west – from Tarifa to the town of Bologna, among pines and sand dunes.
After which to sit down to a glass of wine with tapas in the old town. Or in a Moroccan restaurant. To extend the Tarifa spell a little longer.