Whether you’re looking to catch some waves or to lounge about perfecting your tan, Tarifa’s two most popular beaches won’t disappoint. Located just north of the town is Playa de los Lances, a pristine, 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) stretch of golden sand that’s reserved solely for bathers during the summer months. A little further north – about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) out of Tarifa – is Playa de Valdevaqueros, where the Levante and Poniente winds (easterly and westerly respectively) carve out a constantly changing landscape of sand dunes. Super-cool chiringuitos can be found on both.
As you’d expect from a town that’s become Europe’s unofficial surfing capital, there are loads of surf schools in Tarifa, offering equipment rental and classes to suit all levels. Try Dragon Tarifa for competitively priced tuition in board, wind and kite surfing, or Rebel Tarifa, one of the best specialist kite surfing schools. Equipment can also be bought or rented on the trendy beachside promenade, Calle Batalla del Salado.
After a morning on the beach, head into Tarifa’s old town for lunch. As you’ll quickly discover, its narrow streets and pretty squares are packed with bars and restaurants to choose from, and you’ll no doubt settle upon a favourite during your time here. El Lola does fantastic tuna dishes and has a lovely little terrace, while Bar Francés is so popular that table reservations are essential for lunch or dinner.
Tarifa’s old town is small but well worth spending a few hours getting lost in – something that’s not difficult to achieve in this maze of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses. Check out the Puerta de Jerez, the only medieval entrance still standing (so-called because it opened onto the northbound road to Jerez de la Frontera) and the charming central square, Plaza de la Ranita (Little Frog Square).
Just south of the old quarter is the Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno. Built in the 10th century, the castle takes its present-day name from Alonso Peréz de Guzmán, the commander who defended the town from a Moorish attack in 1294.
Visit the whales and dolphins
Spend your second morning in Tarifa getting to know the local marine wildlife. A large population of whales and dolphins lives in the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow strip of water that separates this part of the Spanish coast from North Africa – indeed, if you’re here for a little longer, Tangier is just 35 minutes away by ferry and worth a day trip.
Breeds that call the Strait home include the common, striped and bottlenose dolphins, as well as pilot, killer, sperm and long-finned whales. Whale Watch Tarifa and Tumares are the best companies to book with, offering excursions of up to three hours long. Excursions cost about €30 (£27) per adult during low season, but expect to pay around €20 (£18) more during high season.
After lunch in the old town, a siesta is recommended to avoid the hottest part of the day; then spend a few hours hiking the beautiful landscapes surrounding Tarifa. There is no shortage of routes, as the town is situated within easy reach of two natural parks, the Parque Natural del Estrecho and the Parque Natural Alcornocales.
There are beautiful walks of all levels and lengths available in the Parque Natural Alcornocales, where you’ll find the largest cork oak forest in Spain and have the opportunity to spot local wildlife, such as kestrels, vultures, wild horses and deer. If you’re after a coastal track, head to the Parque del Estrecho, where several routes in the direction of Algeciras – a port city 23 kilometres (14 miles) to the east – offer spectacular views of the North African coast.
Experience the nightlife
Round off your two days in Tarifa by experiencing the town’s vibrant, bohemian nightlife. As with all destinations in Andalusia, things get started late, with locals heading for post-dinner copas at 11pm or even midnight; join them at Café Central, a popular meeting spot with a large outside terrace, or at Almedina, a bar cut into the medieval city wall near the cathedral.
At about two in the morning, it’ll be time to hit the club and, as you’d expect from one of the coolest towns in Spain, there’s no shortage of options. Two of the best are Mombassa and New Rif Tarifa, offering live DJ sets, cocktails and packed dancefloors until breakfast time – the fitting end to 48 hours in this wonderful place.