Overview of Tarifa
Tarifa sits at the southern-most point of mainland Europe, where the Med meets the Atlantic. Just 14km across the Straits of Gibraltar at its narrowest point, the town enjoys spectacular views of the Rif mountains of North Africa, just across the water. But ´Tarifa´ encompasses much more than the small medieval fishing town; ten kilometres of white sandy beaches, the unspoilt countryside of the El Estrecho Natural Park, and some of the best kite & windsurfing conditions in Europe have established Tarifa as a true surfers´ paradise.
The coastline is as popular with nature-lovers as with its infamous surfing crowd, and between birdwatching, horse-riding, kite-surfing, wind-surfing, whale-watching, rock-climbing and scuba diving, there are ample ways of engaging with the beautiful rolling countryside or blue waters.
Having managed to retain its rural quality, Tarifa is amazingly undeveloped for such a coastal hotspot. It is a bustling, vibrant place, but each of its out-of-town attractions and excellent hotels are sparsely dotted along the coast. This is part of the appeal – driving south along the coastal N340, you ´feel the map´ as the mountains clear and Tarifa´s town and beaches appear below. Navigation is easy, almost always a short drive along the same road between activities.
It is for this reason that hiring a car is the best way to travel around Tarifa, to enjoy the views and make the most of everything the area has to offer. Consult our general Car Hire page for the best deals within Andalucia.
This little fishing town was the first point of the Moorish invasion of Southern Spain in AD711, when the Berber chief, Tarif Ibn Maelik, landed with four boats sailing from Ceuta carrying 400 foot soldiers and 100 horsemen. It is suspected that the town got its name from this same ´Tarif´, which in turn may be the origin of the word ´tariff´, as Tarifa was the first port in history to charge merchants for the use of its docks.
In 1292 Sancho El Bravo reconquered this corner of Iberia, then in 1295 Guzman El Bueno defended the town against the re-invading Moors. According to the local legend, the Moors captured his son and threatened to kill him if Guzman didn't surrender the town. He refused and threw down his sword from the castle tower, with which they killed his son. The narrow cobbled streets, tumbling jasmine and beautiful wrought-iron rejas make Tarifa old town a charming place for a stroll. The original castellated city walls of this ancient town are tightly woven into the fabric of the whitewashed houses. Although much of what we see today was actually constructed in the C18th, the Moorish influence on the town´s architecture and labyrinthine layout is still apparent. This is best displayed by the vaulted Jerez Gate, the main entrance point to the old town. Read more about Tarifa's main sights here.
Local fishermen still use the Almadraba method of fishing, using a circle of boats and nets, a practice which has not changed since Phoenician times, over 2000 years ago. The bluefin tuna fishing season generally starts at the end of March and runs for about three months. Dishes using this Tarifa specialty can be sampled in many local restaurants.
But even in this sleepy, historic town, the new crowd brought in since the 1990s by the kitesurfing industry is apparent everywhere; boutique home and fashion shops can be found on every corner of the old town, and at night the walled area transforms into a network of buzzing bars and clubs. The old and the new are blended with effortless taste in what is increasingly becoming one of Andalucia´s hippest destinations.