Top Ten Things to see and do in Tarifa

Kite Surf 

Kite surf is the reason Tarifa is no longer just a fishing village. Around thirty years ago the surfers came and conquered and nowadays the Batalla del Salado, Tarifa’s main commercial street, is lined with surf clothing emporiums and board shops. 

Championships are held here but novices are welcome too – there are a huge number of kite schools (try Hotstick) that can train you up and you should expect it to take a couple of days before you get out on the water alone.You’ll probably spend in excess of €130 on training.Kite surf central is Playa Valdevaqueros, about 6km outside town.  

Whale watch

The Strait of Gibraltar teems with dolphins (common,bottlenose and striped) and whales (fin, pilot, sperm and killer) and most of the companies who offer excursions, for example Firmm, are so confident of sightings that they’ll take you out again for free if you don’t see anything. 

High summer is the time to see the killer whales and early summer for sperm whales – the other species can be seen all year round. Prices start at around€30 per adult and a little less for children.   

Playa Los Lances

Although the surfers kite off Los Lances in the winter, in the high season the beach is reserved for swimmers and sunbathers; quite unlike the beaches to the east of here, Los Lances is still relatively undeveloped and wild. 

Broad and backed by an unspoilt bird reserve, it’s perfect for family days out, walking and messing about in the water. There are a number of chiringuitos if you get hungry and on the other side of the causeway that leads out to the island, tiny Playa Chica is more sheltered and perfect for toddlers.   

Baelo Claudia 

Roman ruins are in plentiful supply all over Spain, the best known probably being the aqueduct in Segovia, but nowhere on the peninsula has a whole Roman city been so perfectly preserved as at Baelo Claudia in Bolonia,around 14km outside town in the Cádiz direction and barely signposted from the main road. 

You’d think they weren’t keen on visitors but it isn’t so – the visitor centre is state-of-the-art and worth seeing for its own sake. The walkways and ramps that take you from amphitheatre to temple to tuna processing plant are recently refurbished and have increased accessibility and yes, you heard me right – the main reason the Romans settled here was to make a tuna sauce which they called garum

Punta Paloma 

In the Tarifa area and fed up of wearing clothes? Head out to Punta Paloma, a headland around ten kilometres outside town. 

There are  a couple of campsites to stay in out there,or just go for the day and bare all in a series of sheltered little coves.Windy days can be particularly exfoliating. Probably best to pop something back on before heading into El Mirlo, a legend in the area where the fish served isn’t merely fresh – the owners catch it themselves.

Hike 

Sandwiched between two Natural parks – Parque Natural Los Alcornocales and Parque Natural Del Estrecho - Tarifa is a hiker’s paradise. Even in high summer the sea breezes keep long walks feasible, though it would probably be best at that time of year to favour the shadier walks through the beautiful Cork Oak forests. Small box sets of maps are available from each park's visitor centre. 

One route of interest is the Algarbes route in the Parque Del Estrecho that starts near Punta Paloma and takes you past a Bronze Age cluster of cave tombs before ascending to the dramatic rocky outcrop of San Bartoloméand one of the best coastal views on the Costa de la Luz. While up there you can eat in another of the area’s most famous restaurants – El Tesoro.   

Horse riding

There are a huge number of riding schools and stables in the countryside around the town including hotels such as the Hurricane, Dos Mares and El Cortijo Las Piñas and there are horse riding centres that cater to all levels.It certainly isn't difficult to see why this area is a rider’s paradise – old cork-cutter paths wind through the cork forests and the coast is peppered with smuggler trails. 

Apart from that you have long Los Lances beach itself and comfortable riding weather year round.   

Party 

And there are a number of ways to do it in Tarifa. Every September as the tourists trickle home the town celebrates its feria – a week long frenzy of fairground, food and the odd dollop of religious fanaticism. At the beginning of the week the Virgen de la Luz arrives in town by way of a spectacular procession of horses and riders. At the end of the week she leaves.Sounds simple, but what a week! Noise, colour, the smell of incense perfuming the cobbled streets - if you’re here at that time it’s an experience not to be missed. 

Not to be outdone by Cádiz up the road and its world famous carnival each spring, Tarifa celebrates its own the week afterwards and does it in style – the streets fill up for a weekend with Flintstones and pharaohs and the bars move their business out into the street. Not for the faint-hearted.  

If you haven't got the patience to wait around for either event and you're still young enough to consider 7am the end of your evening,  there's an all-year round outpost of the legendary Café del Mar or try Tarifa's own La Ruina.

Walk the castle walls. 

Tarifa’s castle, known as the Castle of Guzmán el Bueno, is said to be Andalusia’s best-preserved Caliphal castle – Caliphal meaning that it was built by the Caliph, Abd-ar-Rahman III in the year 960 when Muslim power was at its height on the peninsula. 

As if that wasn’t enough, it comes with a great story: In the year 1296 the castle was back in Christian hands and being defended against a force of Moors led by the Infante Don Juan, wayward brother of the Christian king Sancho. Guzmán himself was defending the castle and earned himself the nickname “El Bueno” when the besieging force kidnapped his infant son and threatened to kill the child if he didn’t surrender. 

Instead, he threw down his own knife from the octagonal tower that still stands and instructed them to do it with that. They did as well, but they never got to stand on the ramparts, as you will, and take in the astonishing views of the African coast, a mere 15km away.   

Leave

One of the best things you can do in Tarifa isn't in Tarifa,or Europe for that matter. This is the last stop on the continent and provides the perfect excuse to get on the ferry for a day trip, to Africa. Around here,Africa looks like Tangier, the legendary port town that made a name for itself as a den of iniquity and espionage when designated an International Zone in the mid-twentieth century. Writer and composer Paul Bowles famously settled here and blow-ins included William Burroughs and the Rolling Stones. 

It's often said that the smoky, intrigue-ridden setting of the movie Casablanca was actually modelled on Tangier. Guided excursions are available from outlets all over Tarifa but you might as well get on the ferry yourself and tickets will cost just over €30 each way. Ferries leave every two hours and if you fancy making an overnight of it, some very chic riads have cropped up recently and restaurant Le Nabab is fantastic. 

Images Copyright Robin Graham 2013

Apartment in Tarifa

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