Tarifa is at the southern tip of continental Europe, within sight of Africa and on Spain’s Atlantic coast. It is a mecca for windsurfers and kite surfers as it has ideal wind conditions and great beaches, all the surfers give it a hippy vibe and makes it feel a million miles from the glitzy Costa del Sol. In fact, it is just over an hour’s drive from Marbella, and so it makes for a perfect day trip. Grab your surfboard, jump in the car and let’s go exploring!!
Tarifa is relatively small, with a pretty Old Town which has definite North African influences. Most people come here for the beaches and the watersports, and there are some excellent schools offering tuition to get you started. The top three beaches are Playa de Bolonia, Playa de Valdevaqueros and Los Lances Beach. They are all popular for windsurfers and kite surfers as there are unique wind conditions, with a strong and consistent wind throughout the year. If you want to enjoy the beaches here in Tarifa, it’s going to be windy!
Tarifa’s Best Beaches
Playa de Bolonia is ranked top for the stunning dunes, great kite surfing and chilled out hippy vibe. It is a short drive out of Tarifa and worth the trip, especially if you combine it with a visit to Baelo Claudia, the most comprehensive remains of a Roman town on the Iberian Peninsula. This includes remains of the city walls, gate, administrative buildings and temples, shops, a market, Roman baths and theatre. There’s an excellent visitor centre which offers a good overview of the site and it’s very close to Playa de Bolonia. Beware that the beach gets very busy in peak summer, but if you are happy to walk a little away from the cafés and bars then you can usually find a nice spot.
Playa de Valdevaqueros is highly recommended for kite surfing. The surfers give it a cool, laidback vibe and there are some great bars with live music and good food. Whether you’re surfing or just watching you will enjoy it. The beach bar Tumbao comes highly recommended, but there is no shade on this beach, so bring an umbrella or a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Los Laces is Tarifa’s main beach and it comes very popular as it’s long, wide and clean, with wonderful sand. You can head out from the town and walk for miles, sunbathe, kite surf, or just breathe in the fresh sea air. The sunsets are amazing.
Insider’s Tip – Tarifa is on the Atlantic coast, so the water is colder and rougher than on the Mediterranean coast. If you go to Los Laces, you can walk over to the Playa Chica on the other side of the Isla de las Palomas for a dip in the Med and see the difference!
If watersports aren’t your thing, there’s still a lot to love about Tarifa. History buffs will be interested to see the remains of the medieval walls and the 13th century city gate the Puerta de Jerez. There is also a very well-preserved castle dating back to 960AD and the impressive San Mateo church.
A Nature Lover’s Paradise
Tarifa is wonderful for nature, as it’s part of the Intercontinental Mediterranean Biosphere Reserve and you can watch a huge number of migrating birds. Get out your binoculars and see if you can spot the migrating storks in Spring and Autumn – they are stunning. You can go dolphin and whale watching from here as well, with many companies offering a 2 hour tour out into the Straits of Gibraltar. Most people are lucky enough to see dolphins and pilot whales and the guides will explain about them and help you to spot them too. It’s a great family activity, as long as you don’t get seasick.
If you are on a day trip from Marbella, head to one of the great beach bars for a cool vibe, relaxed atmosphere and good food. There’s often live music in the summer and you’ll enjoy watching the surf dudes and kite surfing nearby. If you decide to stay over for the night in one of the campsites or hostals then you can head out and enjoy the nightlife, which is focussed around the centre of the Old Town. The clubs and bars get going late and stay open all night and are full of a young surfer crowd having lots of fun.
Getting to Tarifa
You really need your own transport to visit Tarifa as you’ll want to bring plenty of beach stuff and want to be flexible to visit a number of beaches in one day. If you’re travelling from a vacation rental in Marbella to Tarifa, avoid the weekends if you can, as the traffic can be bad and the beaches crowded. We recommend that you get up and out early, especially if you visit in the summer, as that’s the peak time.
Staying in a vacation rental in Estepona cuts 20 minutes off your journey and removes some traffic black spots, so if you want to explore Tarifa, Sotogrande, Gibraltar and other sites on the western Costa del Sol, we’d recommend choosing Estepona.