On the southernmost point of Spain, Tarifa looks directly across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco, just 14 kilometres away …
Tarifa, on the southernmost point of Spain, looks directly across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco, just 14 kilometres away. Africa is so close you feel that you can almost touch it!
Across a shimmering blue sea the magnificent Rif Mountains rise up right in front of you and extend across the horizon. It's a dramatic and magical vista. At night when the lights come on, it twinkles and glowers at you.
Not surprisingly, given its location, Tarifa was the very first Spanish town taken in the Arab conquest that followed 710 AD and its history of defence and reconquest is full of heroics by stirring hombres called Sancho El Bravo and Guzman el Bueno.
There is something very ancient about the place and Tarifa's Moorish heritage is still predominant within its medina (the old city centre). Narrow cobbled streets, tumbling jasmine and beautiful wrought-iron rejas make Tarifa old town a charming place for a stroll.
Local fishermen still use the almadraba method of fishing using a circle of boats and nets, a practice which has not changed since 13th Century.
But these days, this traditional little fishing town has been transformed by more modern conquistadors - the wind and kite surfing set.
It is now known throughout the world as a Mecca for these sports and they have transformed the town. Whitewashed alleys and twisting streets are now lined with music bars, surf boutiques and companies offering excursions into the Strait of Gibraltar. There is no shortage of night spots which will rock you until the sun rises again … and beyond.
Ten kilometres of magnificent white sandy beaches - the seemingly infinite vista of sun, sand and sea which is La Costa de la Luz - and some of the best windsurfing conditions in the world have established Tarifa as a true surfers paradise.
It's position at the point which not only separates Europe from Africa but also the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean gives it a unique micro climate. Tarifa has the dubious distinction of being Europe's windiest town.
For birdwatchers too, Tarifa is a jewel. Its unique position between two continents and with a great variety of habitats close at hand (wooded hills, virgin coastline, sand dunes, salt pans, winding rivers, grassy plains and adjacent mountains), makes it equally famous for birdwatching. Massive flocks of raptors, buzzards, vultures, eagles and various species of stork ride the hot air currents across the Straits.
For visitors who are not interested in water sports, the wind is an obvious drawback. It's not windy all the time, just when the Levante blows from the east. But when it is really blowing on the beach it can feel as if you're being sandblasted!
Time then to abandon the beach and travel inland, because as soon as one is a few miles from the coast the severity of the wind quickly drops away.
And it's not difficult to find plenty to do, with the rolling countryside of the Alcornocales National Park on your doorstep, several other fabulous natural parks close by too, not to mention the magnificent mountain terrain further inland around Ronda and Grazalema. There are many nature related activities to enjoy in the nearby countryside including horse riding, mountain biking, rock climbing and trekking.
There's always the option of a day trip to Morocco, only 35 minutes away from Tarifa on the high speed catamaran … but a totally different world.
It’s not just the wind that likes to play between the Pillars of Hercules. All year round, an assortment of whales and dolphins pass through on their way to the Mediterranean or returning to the Atlantic.
Several companies in Tarifa run whale and dolphin watching boats out into the Strait. What better than to be on a bright blue sea, Spain just here, Morocco over there, a school of dolphins jumping and playing alongside, a whale or two blowing spectacularly a little further across the waves?
We recommend that you choose a company called Firmm. They are a team of research biologists who conduct an ongoing study of marine life in the Straits of Gibraltar and they promote eco-tourism in their quest to protect the marine mammals.
Tarifa is unique for lots of reasons, an amalgam of incredible nature, windsurfing, mystery and legend; a place of incredible light, sun and sea, wind and wonders. It's well worth a visit.