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Things to see in Tarifa: from a whitewashed coastal town to a surfing mecca

Tarifa is located at Europe’s southernmost point, and is one of the province of Cádiz’s most popular tourist destinations. It is highly regarded by lovers of surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and other sports requiring strong winds and the sea. The strength of the easterly wind, which would be a huge hindrance for other towns and villages, has been a blessing for Tarifa. It has become a mecca for the aforementioned sports, attracting fans and professional sportspeople all year round.

Before its popularity as a wind sports destination, Tarifa was already attracting loyal tourists who returned year-after-year, enjoying the narrow streets of its historic centre, a series of monuments which seem to have been placed at random and the dozens of inviting bars serving delicious grilled fish.

If what you’ve read so far has caught your attention, keep reading to discover the main things to do in Tarifa, which will ensure that your trip is a successful one. Here we go!

Things to do in Tarifa

Our first tip for exploring Tarifa’s town centre is to forget about using a map, instead opting to follow your nose around its old town, which has been declared a Conservation Area. You’ll come across some charming squares, nooks filled with flowers, quaint souvenir shops and terraces perfect for sitting back and watching the world go by. If you’re looking for more suggestions, we strongly recommend the following things to see in Tarifa:

Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno

This is Tarifa’s most important monument, complete with castle walls and a series of watchtowers. The fortress, which dates back to the tenth century, was constructed by order of Córdoba caliph Abd al-Rahman III. You’re probably familiar with the story of the nobleman and soldier Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, and where his nickname El Bueno [The Good One] came from. History books explain how Guzmán refused to relinquish control over the fortress, despite his enemy threatening to kill his son. One tale explains how he rebuffed this demand, saying “should Don Juan put [my son] to death, he will but confer honour on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.” It is well worth visiting: not just for the castle itself, but for the magnificent views that can be enjoyed of the town and the port.

Iglesia de San Mateo

This is the largest church in Tarifa. It was constructed in the sixteenth century in the late Gothic style. Its façade was finished later, in the eighteenth century, by architect Torcuato Cayón.

Iglesia de San Francisco de Asís

Although this church dates back to the sixteenth century, it was almost entirely demolished in the eighteenth century. It is for this reason that the church has notable Baroque and neo-Classical features. Look at the stone details decorating its façade and interior, as well as its rich religious imagery. The altarpiece in this church, which depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, dates back to the sixteenth century, making it one of Tarifa’s oldest pieces of art.

 

 

Puerta de Jerez

This pointed arch, watched over by two large towers, has a gateway which leads into the historic centre. An altarpiece designed by local artist Guillermo Pérez Villalta was fitted in the year 2000 to mark the gate’s restoration, depicting ‘Cristo de Los Vientos’.

Walk along the rampart

Since the restoration of various sections of the fortress’ walls, visitors can now take a walk along 500 metres of its rampart. From here, visitors are treated to some magnificent views of the village, the Isla de las Palomas and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Isla de las Palomas and Punta de Tarifa

This island, connected to the continent by a motorway, can be reached by foot. It is larger than Tarifa’s entire old town. Its southernmost point, the Punta de Tarifa, is home to a lighthouse built upon an ancient watchtower. You can take an interesting guided tour, where you will learn about the importance of its five Phoenician hypogea excavated in the rock, the uses of the rocks dug from its quarries and its former military use.

Mercado de Tarifa

The market still retains its sense of localness, often associated with traditional markets. Local people come here in the morning to purchase fresh and locally sourced produce. It’s a great place to learn about local fish, and to take a good look at the huge slices of bluefin tuna. You could also have a refreshing drink or sample some tapas in its small square.

Other things to see in Tarifa: trips for active tourists

While you’ll be spoiled for choice of things to see in Tarifa, you should resist the temptation of spending your whole holiday in the town. Instead, you should find the time to go on some trips…you won’t regret it! Some of your options include:

  • Dolphin spotting. You won’t have many better opportunities to go dolphin spotting. From the Port of Tarifa, several companies organise boat trips that take tourists along the coast to catch a glimpse of several cetaceans, such as the friendly dolphins that play in the wake of the boats.
  • El Estrecho Natural Park. This park boasts a flourishing flora and fauna, both on land and under water. Visitors can also go horse riding, hiking, bird watching and diving here. The outer limits of this natural park are the Playa de los Lances and the Natural Monument of Duna de Bolonia.
  • Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia. This ancient Roman city lies between the Playa de Bolonia, the Sierra de la Plata and the Sierra de San Bartolomé. We recommend stopping by its visitors’ centre to learn the importance of this settlement. While the route is marked out, it’s not clear enough. Between the forum, the thermal baths, the theatre, the temples and the aqueduct, you’ve got history in the palm of your hands.
  • Water sports: surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing… Lovers of these sports flock to Tarifa for its favourable sea and wind conditions, the various schools which offer lessons and equipment, and the ‘surfer’ vibe in the area.

The best beaches in Tarifa

Tarifa’s excellent beaches are far from a hidden secret. Many of them, in fact, are amongst the best beaches in Cádiz. There is something for everyone along its 35 kilometres of coastline. From the west to the east, you will find:

  • Playa de Atlanterra. If you’re coming from the west, leaving from Zahara de los Atunes, this is the first beach that you’ll come across. It’s located alongside the town of the same name, with excellent beachfront bars and crystal-clear waters that will leave you constantly wanting to take a dip.
  • Playa El Cañuelo and Playa Los Alemanes. The former lies in a beautiful natural setting. However, this beach is fairly difficult to access, which is why it is designated as a nudist beach. The latter, which sprawls out alongside a luxury resort, is very peaceful. It is also known as the Playa del Búnker, because of the construction on its sands.
  • Playa de Bolonia. Located close to the Roman ruins, this beach has an enormous sand dune which has been declared a Natural Monument. Its cove of crystalline waters, meanwhile, is impossibly beautiful. This always ranks highly in lists of the region’s best beaches.
  • Punta Paloma. Surrounding this beach are several rocky coves.
  • Playa Valdevaqueros. This enormous, unspoilt beach offers a fantastic opportunity to disconnect from the rest of the world. It is also one of the most popular windsurfing beaches.
  • Playa de los Lances (North and South). Both are large, although the latter, lying near Isla Paloma, is less ‘wild’ and attracts more people. Both of these beaches are found close to the town, making them fantastic options if you’re not looking to travel very far.
  • Playa Chica. This family-friendly beach is small, as its name may suggest. It is sheltered, so it’s a good option for days with a strong easterly or westerly wind.

Good restaurants in Tarifa

Almost everywhere in Tarifa serves good food, from the beachfront chiringuitos to the finest restaurants. Two establishments that may go under the radar at first, but which will amaze you with the quality of their cuisine and their fantastic menus, are El Ancla (Avenida Fuerzas Armadas) and El Lola (Guzmán el Bueno, 5). The latter is also renowned for its exquisite vegetarian dishes.

If you’re looking for something more elaborate—perhaps with a creative twist—we recommend paying a visit to La Palmera (Sancho IV el Bravo, 34) and Bibo Tarifa (Playa de Valdevaqueros), which is run by famous Spanish chef Dani García. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, we recommend eating at Bar Los Melli (Guzmán el Bueno, 16). Here, you can try their delicious tuna-based tapas or cuttlefish croquettes cooked in their ink, at a reasonable price.

 

Information of interest

How to get to Tarifa

  • By car. N-340, km 84. If you’re coming from Málaga, you need to pass: Marbella, San Roque, La Línea and Algeciras. If you’re coming from Cádiz, you need to pass: San Fernando, Chiclana, Conil, Vejer, Barbate and Zahara de los Atunes.
  • By plane. Closest airports: Gibraltar (50 km), Jerez (135 km), Seville (220 km) and Málaga (150 km).
  • By train. The nearest train station is found in the town of Algeciras (20 km).
  • By bus. Tarifa is well connected to nearby cities with the Comes bus service (http://www.tgcomes.es/).

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