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Popular among surfers due to its windy climate, Tarifa is often overlooked by visitors to southern Spain. This beautiful town has it all – from stunning beaches and whale-watching to a hilltop castle and a grungy, bohemian ambience all its own. Read our guide to getting the most out of 24 hours in Tarifa, Andalusia.
Kick off your 24 hours in Tarifa by hitting its stunning beaches, the two most popular being Playa de Los Lances and Playa de Valdevaqueros. If you’re in the mood for some high-adrenaline action, join the kite surfers, who flock here from all over the world for the consistently windy climate. Due to its location, at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, Tarifa is buffeted by two strong winds: the Poniente, which blows from the west; and the Levante, which surges in from the east. The result is more than 300 days of ideal surfing weather per year – a climate that, according to legend, can drive people crazy.
There are dozens of kite surfing schools in Tarifa, catering to every level of ability. Among the best are Dragon Tarifa, which also offers surfing and wind surfing classes), where beginner courses start at €30 (£27) per person, and Rebel Tarifa, which offers a five-night course including accommodation for €425 (£383) per person. All schools hire out the necessary gear, but, if you’re looking to buy your own, the main beachside drag of Calle Batalla del Salado is lined with surf emporiums.
Alternatively (or as well as, depending on how active you like to be), spend you morning in Tarifa whale-watching in the Strait of Gibraltar. This narrow stretch of water separates the southernmost tip of Continental Europe from North Africa – the gap is just 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) wide at its narrowest – and is home to an active population of fin, sperm, pilot and killer (orca) whales.
The best time to see the first three species is between and April and October, while the orcas are particularly active between July and September. Again, there’s no shortage of companies offering sighting excursions, but the multi-lingual and knowledgeable staff at Whale Watch Tarifa will take you on an unforgettable outing.
For lunch, head to the old town, where you’ll find a huge number of tapas bars and restaurants to choose from. One of the locals’ most visited spots is El Lola, a cute tapas joint that serves Spanish classics (think tortilla and croquetas) alongside more adventurous dishes, such as Japanese barbecue tuna (using Almadraba tuna caught off the Cádiz coast). It also has an intimate terrace out front that’s perfect for watching the world go by. Alternatively, if you have a car, it’s a 20-minute drive out to the spectacularly appointed El Tesoro, one of the region’s most famous restaurants.
After avoiding the hottest part of the day with a post-lunch siesta, visit the mighty Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno. Squatting at the southern end of the old town, it was built in the 10th century as a defence against Christian invaders – a role it successfully fulfilled until 1292, when Tarifa was captured from the Moors by Sancho IV of Castille (who’s remembered by a statue outside the castle). The building takes its name from Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, a commander who suppressed an attempted Moorish siege of the town in 1294, prompting the king to name him Guzman ‘The Righteous’.
Finish off your afternoon in Tarifa in the beautiful old town – a crunched-together maze of narrow streets and whitewashed houses sweltering in African heat. Indeed, so strong is the Moroccan flavour here that you have to remind yourself you’re still in Spain. Two of its main sights are the Puerta de Jerez, the only one of four medieval, arched entrances to Tarifa still standing, and the charming Plaza de la Ranitas (Little Frog Square), so-called because of the eight ceramic amphibians that surround its central fountain.
After dinner or tapas, say adios to Tarifa by experiencing its legendary nightlife. You’ll mix with locals as well as surfers and bohemian-types from all over the world in cocktail joints such as Surf Bar Tomatito and (just next door) Taco Way. Join the crowds as they move on to Mombassa nightclub, where you can dance, drink and make new friends until 7am.