When I backpacked through Europe, I was surprised at how few travelers I met who had Tarifa, Spain, on their itinerary. In fact, the only people I met who were planning to go to Tarifa were the backpackers I met when I was in Tarifa. That being said, the small beach-town is absolutely beautiful and has a lot to offer in terms of beaches, adventure, food, and fun.
Tarifa is actually the southernmost part of not only Spain, but Europe itself. There is no train that goes directly there, but you can take the train to Algeciras, which is only about 30 minutes away, and then catch a bus from there. What I did was I rented a car and drove from Sevilla to Tarifa. While a bit pricey, I got to see some great scenery (pictured above) like mountains, beaches, palm trees, and beautiful resorts, while also getting to have the unique experience of driving in Spain (luckily, they drive on the right side of the road like in America, so it wasn’t too difficult).Accommodation
I stayed at a really laid-back hostel called The Melting Pot that I would highly recommend. The woman at the desk was extremely helpful and patient with me when I got lost trying to get there (I made it to the town fine, but there are so many small streets that I got a bit disoriented). Moreover, the hostel is walkable to everywhere in town and they are affiliated with many of the local tour companies to give you good deals on activities. The rooms are really clean and spacious (shown right), and there is also a giant living room with comfortable couches and a TV as well as terraces to hangout in. Breakfast, computers, WiFi, and parking are all included in the price.
If you’re looking to stay in a private room, Koala Tarifa is known as being the best in the city. It is located in the historic area near the central church and is owned by two wonderful, friendly, and helpful people, Bjorn and Marta. You can choose from spacious apartment-style rooms with or without garden access, and some even have balconies.
Do and see
Despite being a small town there is a lot to do and see in Tarifa. Here are some of my personal recommendations:
There are so many authentic, non-touristy tapas venues in Tarifa, that it would be difficult to recommend just one. Luckily these dishes are small, meaning you’ll be able to hop around to different venues and sample the different kinds. One of the most popular tapas bars is Bar El Pasillo on Guzmán el Bueno, which is one of the more affordable restaurants and also has outdoor seating. La Morilla, located on Calle de Sancho IV “El Bravo”, is also very good and is the oldest restaurant in Tarifa.
When most people picture Tarifa, they immediately think of kitesurfing. There are tons of kitesurfing schools and rental shops all over the town, and at any moment if you are near the beach you will see the sky littered with colorful kites. I would recommend Ocean Impact if you’re looking to take lessons, and they offer windsurfing, as well.
Even though the ferry to Morocco, Africa, is expensive at about $85 round trip, it’s definitely worth it as it only takes about 35 minutes each way and gives you a glimpse of an entire different culture and country. Right when I got off the ferry I was able to hire a local guide for 20 euros (about $27) to show me around, introducing me to locals, taking me to meet craftsman, browse local markets, eat in authentic restaurants, stroll through the Jewish quarter (which I had no idea there even was in Morocco), and telling me about the history and culture of the country. Just remember not to feel bad about not buying things. For example, I visited a carpet shop and was given a beautiful, hand woven carpet to sit on while being served tea and having staff showcase myriad pieces of work for me. Afterwards, they were really pushy when trying to convince me to buy something. You have to remember that just because people are being over-the-top nice to you doesn’t mean you are obligated to make a purchase.
Along with windsurfing and kitesurfing, Tarifa offers various ways to have an adventure. Girasol Outdoor Company provides opportunities to mountain bike through the Spanish countryside as well as through Los Alcornocales National Park. They also offer rock climbing opportunities in the San Bartolo area, which is right by the water and features climbing with heights of 82-263 feet. Want to ride a horse on the beach? Aventura Ecuestre offers horseback riding adventures right on, and in, the water.
If you walk along the Paseo Marítimo and Playa de Los Lances, you will not only get the chance to relax on a white sand beach and swim in the refreshing azure waters; you’ll also be able to stand right in between where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Ocean. Just walk toward the Santa Catalina Castle and across from there will be a dock. Walk out on the dock for rare photo opportunities as well as the chance to touch both oceans at the same time.
Take in the view from the Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno
The castle, located on Guzmán el Bueno street, is more than 800 years old and was named after a 13th-century general after a very harrowing tale. Apparently, in 1292, the Moors held General Guzmán el Bueno’s son hostage, asking him to surrender the castle to them. He refused, even dropping his own dagger down to his enemies to show his bravery. Sadly, they used the knife to slit the boy’s throat. Despite the disturbing history, a climb to the top of the castle’s towers will give you views of the city, ocean, mountains, and even nearby Morocco.