Tarifa holiday guide: the best activities, bars, restaurants and hotels

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tarifa map

It’s the most southerly town in mainland Europe, only 14km from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a 1,000-year-old walled labyrinth with a youthful party scene and a world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing destination. In summer it’s also a destination for families who want just a shady dune, a bar and a place serving fish – all of which are available in abundance along the 35km of coast north of Tarifa, beyond the beaches of Los Lances (home to Santa Catalina castle, an emblem of Tarifa) and Valdevaqueros to Bolonia with its Roman ruins and the seaside village of Zahara de las Atunes. Its community swelled by surfers who came and never left, Tarifa is a curious mix of off-the-beaten-track, cosmopolitan and barefoot cool, an adventure playground that’s home to some of the best places to eat, drink and stay on the Costa de la Luz. It can also be windy. If it wasn’t, as everyone will tell you, Tarifa would be just another Marbella – and no one wants that.

What to do

Kitesurfing
Tarifa is the kitesurfing capital of Europe for those who like to strap themselves to a board, grab a kite and zip across the water. It’s probably best to take some lessons first. There’s a huge number of places offering courses and equipment hire; long-established Kite Tarifa School (KTS) is certified by the International Kiteboarding Organization and trains instructors and advanced surfers as well as novices, making it a good all-round bet. Owner Daniele Olivieri reckons beginners can master the basics after three to five days.
Beginners’ course (nine hours over three days) from €195 in group of four or €295 in a group of two, ktstarifa.com

Surfing and windsurfing
Yerick Torres of Balneario Surf gives lessons and rents out boards and wetsuits close to the old town on Playa del Balneario. Remember windsurfing? It’s still a thing. There are courses at Wind & Water Experience, north of Los Lances at Camping Torre de la Peña or at the Ion Club (ion-club.net) in Valdevaqueros. The latter has courses and kit for just about every water sport: there are paddleboarding intro courses and excursions for confident practitioners, including the paddle of a lifetime over to Africa.

Ride an ebike


couple on ebikes with coastal view

Exhilarating descents are the reward of cyclists who make it up the mountain trails above Tarifa – but some of the hills are real lungstretchers, which is where ebikes come in. Cycling – assisted or not – is also a great way of exploring the flatter coast. eBike Spain on the edge of town has mountain and road ebikes to hire, and also runs guided tours. A new 50km self-guided route takes in the beaches of Zahara de los Atunes and Los Alemanes, before cyclists are collected by van at the end of the ride by the dunes in Bolonia.
Guided tours from €50, rental from €20 a day, ebike-spain.com

Dolphin and whale-watching
The Strait of Gibraltar is full of common, striped and bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales (which are also dolphins) plus killer, fin and sperm whales, criss-crossing from Mediterranean to Atlantic. The Swiss Foundation for Information and Research on Marine Mammals offers boat trips from March to October. The best time for sperm whales is April to August; dolphins frolic year-round.
Trips from €30 adult, €20 for 6-13s, €10 for 1-5s, booking essential, firmm.org

Where to eat

El Lola


Tuan at El Lola, Tarifa, Spain

Fresh tuna at El Lola

Bearded waiters in polka-dot aprons, outdoor seating on the prettiest street in town, the strains of flamenco and an exceptional degustación de atún rojo (red tuna tasting plate, €18) make this tapas bar a perennial favourite. Fresh tuna – tartar, sashimi, tataki, air-dried, barbecued or cold with mayonnaise – is the thing, but other tapas stalwarts (from €2) are also great here, especially with ice-cold albariño wine or manzanilla sherry.
ellolatarifa.es, daily 1pm-4pm, and 7pm till late

Power House Tarifa
Healthy, beautiful people serve healthy, beautiful fare at this cafe on the main road overlooking Los Lances. The açai, mango, and coconut power bowls have acquired legendary status. It used to be in a shack by the petrol station, but recently moved into bigger, better premises further along, designed for all day lounging.
On Facebook, 9.30am-4.30pm, closed Mon

Eco-Center


Tarifa Eco Center


This flagstoned warehouse space is a social hub, produce store and yoga and dance centre, as well as an all-day organic vegetarian restaurant with nicely eclectic music. The menu might include pumpkin gnocchi with lemon zest and almonds (€11) or a pizza straight out of the wood-fired oven with a glass of craft beer. On Sunday nights there’s live music in the courtyard and, through summer, a flea market from 11am.
tarifaecocenter.com, daily 9am-2am

Raizes
Chefs Iñaki García Alcalde and Patricia Cordón Fuentes have worked in top Basque restaurants and the imaginative, playful dishes they create at Raizes put it in a league of its own. Their menu pairs the region’s best ingredients with piquant spices and clean, sharp flavours from the far east, such as anemones, seaweed and citrus (€7.50), and smoked octopus in squid ink tempura (€14). There’s plenty for vegetarians, too, and a sweet, sharp, popping lemon and lime dessert is a perfect finish. It’s a small place, with outdoor tables, so book ahead.
On Facebook, Sat-Sun lunch and dinner, dinner only Weds-Fri

California Tarifa


burger and fries at California Tarifa, Tarifa, Spain


This compact, brightly painted burger joint has cheery staff, queues and tables outside on the main people-watching thoroughfare. It does a dozen stocky, juicy burgers, including ox and tuna. The 400g XXL double burger topped with cheese and quails eggs hits the spot after a tough day watching kite surfers – and can be supplemented with nachos, fries or nuggets if you’ve been on a board or in a harness all day. Most burgers cost €5.50, or €9 with a drink, salad and chips.
On Facebook, noon-2am, closed Tues

Silos 19
Arched ceilings and worn brick floors in this 18th-century grain silo provide a sense of history; lights slung low on looping wires add a contemporary touch. The menu features dishes from popular partner restaurant El Francés, with a few twists of its own. Melt-in-the-mouth upper-back tuna (€8) is moist, lemony and served with slithers of ginger; the scallops in ponzu sauce are also excellent. A roof terrace is open for pre-dinner aperitifs.
On Facebook, Tues-Sun dinner only, plus lunch Sat and Sun

Where to drink and party

Chiringuitos


Beach bar Bienestar Tarifa

Photograph: Alamy

The boardwalk out of town and sandy tracks off the N-340 beach road are home to countless summer chiringuitos – beach bars – each with its own personality, noise level and clientele. Waikiki, at the south end of Los Lances beach, has loungers under thatched sunshades and great mojitos, while Justito de Copas on Punta Paloma further north is a good place for a sunset glass of wine. The beach bar of the Arte Vida hotel is good for DJ sessions and a convivial chillout zone, and for summer partying, indie rock, a surfer vibe and burgers (from 5pm), there’s lovely Tumbao, in a fantastic location beside the ION watersports centre on a grassy lawn above the white sands of Valdevaqueros. Virtually all chiringuitos are open April-October only.

Bar Almedina
Set inside the 10th-century bit of the town walls near the castle, this locals’ bar is the bastion of an older crowd and forgivably dark and compact. There’s live flamenco from 10.30pm on Wednesdays, and a popular aperitivo & buffet deal on Thursdays.
On Facebook, 9pm-2am daily

Taco Way/Surf Bar Tomatito


Taco Way, Tarifa, Spain

Taco Way

Big nights start in Calle Cervantes, which will be crowded with drinkers and loud with hubbub and retro tracks late in the evening. Before then, Mexican-themed Taco Way offers a lengthy Happy Hour (8pm-11pm) with €3 cocktails. Next door, Tomatito, haunt of surf instructors, offers table football and Thursday-night open mic sessions (10pm-midnight). Both bars are dark, pretty seedy and justifiably popular, with jocular bar staff and a great atmosphere. They’re open until 2am, 3am at weekends.

Vino Divino
This independent wine shop offers tastings from 8.30pm-10.30pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Italian owner Roberto has a fine selection of wines to be sampled standing at the barrel or on the pavement outside.
On Facebook, 10am-2pm and 6pm-10m Mon-Sat

Cafe del Mar


Late night music at Café del Mar

Anyone up for dancing after 3am or 4am should head to the industrial park (poligono industrial), where clubs ratchet up the action just as the old town’s night spots are winding down. Cafe del Mar runs a shuttle bus from central Tarifa to its reverberating dance floors, where revellers can enjoy house and techno or funk, soul and dancehall, bathed in blue and fuchsia neon light until the sun comes up and spoils it.
Entry €15-€20, on Facebook, 1am-6am, Fri-Sat 1am-7am

Where to stay

Dos Mares


Hotel Dos Mares at the Playa de los Lances

In the palm of your hand … Hotel Dos Mares at Playa de los Lances. Photograph: Alamy

Like an old-fashioned Caribbean resort hotel with its pool and tennis courts, lawns, palms, rooms with minibars and vibrant-coloured bungalows, Dos Mares is one the few hotels actually on the beach. It’s in an ideal Los Lances location, with two chiringuitos (Afrikana and Arte Vida) and a riding stable (Aventura Ecuestre) a few barefoot strides away.
Doubles from €109 B&B mid-season, dosmareshotel.com

Kook Hotel
Behind a heavy wooden door on a quiet street, Kook mixes contemporary cool – dark lobby, glass and concrete, atrium and a two-storey vertical garden – with comfort. Artworks, books, lamps, cushions and vintage furniture have all been lovingly sourced. Further warmth is provided by the welcoming staff. Standard rooms look on to the town walls; the roof terrace has views of the sea over the old town.
Doubles from €98 B&B in mid-season, kookhoteltarifa.com

Beach houses


Little Stone House with sea view

Little Stone House

A beach house – and there’s a wide choice in Tarifa – offers peace, privacy, a garden for children to play in and the freedom to buy fish in the market and cook it. Sleeping five, Little Stone House (above) is in a rural location below the crags of La Peña, north of Los Lances, and has breathtaking sea views.
From €160 a night mid-season (couples from €140), tarifabeachhouse.com

Hostel La Cocotera
Centrally located budget accommodation is as rare as hen’s teeth in July and August, but this boutique hostel has beds in clean white dorms at bargain rates year-round, plus a roof terrace, communal kitchen and copious co-working space for the digital nomads owners Marina and Veronica are keen to support. Prices fluctuate: watch the website for deals.
Dorm bed from €15 mid-season, lacocotera.com

Camping Torre de la Peña


Camping Torre de la Peña, Tarifa, Spain

Camping Torre de la Peña, Tarifa, Spain

There are several camping sites in the area but this one, where the mountain touches the sea between Los Lances and Valdevaqueros, is a top spot. It has a restaurant, bar, pool, washrooms, laundry and Tarifa’s top windsurfing school.
Beach plots from €11 mid-season, cheaper options by the pool up the hill, bungalows from €100 a night, campingtp.com

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