I can hear a swirling outside the window almost like a siren call as I write. There are many stories about Tarifa. Stories of people going crazy, even suicides, because of the pervasive, never ending wind. Some of it’s true, much of it legend. For centuries, Tarifa has been inspiring larger than life tales and adventures.
Strategically located on the southernmost tip of Europe and just 11 km from Africa, Tarifa has today become the windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of Europe. Almost every day you can see hundreds of surfers in what looks almost like a choreographed stage show for your pleasure. With grace and great style, they jump and sail through the air while racing with the wind. It’s beautiful, yet intimidating sport.
But surfing isn’t what brought us here. We’ve come to meet up with dear friends from Berlin who once lived in Birmingham.
Meeting our friends on Valdevaqueros beach is what lead us to a different sort of Tarifa adventure. Matt and I were staying at a hostel in town about 10 km from the beach where our friends had set up camp. There is a cheap and easy bus from town to the beach, but easy is rarely us, so we chose to run the distance and get some exercise before lying on the beach all afternoon.
It started mildly enough with almost 2 km on a wooden boardwalk overlooking a beautiful white sand beach in town. For entertainment, we got to watch the fishermen in their daily ritual. Soon the boardwalk ended and we found ourselves running on a grass trail for a pleasant stretch going over a footbridge to emerge in a small field of sheep. We were pretty certain this was someone’s farm and not an actual trail, but we keep running. Soon the terrain changed and we were moving through what looked like baked mudcake. Finally we saw a trail (strong word) that, once we skirted a few goats, led back to the beach. We were unexpectedly greeted on the sand by a gaggle (ok, maybe “herd” is a better word, but it doesn’t capture how funny this group was) of sunning bulls (see image below.) I wonder if the howling wind has the same crazy effect on them as humans.
A short distance ahead, the beautiful stretch of beach became unpassable because of the tide, so we found ourselves scrambing over rocks to reach the top and realize we were still three bays away from our destination. More rock scrambling, beach running, sheep, a few more goats, some stretches of highway, and a couple of horses for good measure and we arrived at our destination. Lying in the sand, cold mojito in hand almost three hours after setting out, the beach scene was even sweeter than usual. We knew we had worked for it.
Had we not have taken the path least traveled, we might have been fooled into thinking Tarifa was only about the beach, the wind, and the surf. Now we know it’s also about fisherman, farmers, and crazy bulls.
SEE & DO
Kite and wind surfing – it’s THE thing to do in Tarifa and what leads surfers here year after year. The entire town caters to the surfing crowd and there are schools all over town to teach you how (and endless shops to get you geared up.)
Old Town & the Fort – the beautiful white buildings and maze-like structure of the old town make you wonder if your actually in Morocco. At night, the town comes to life with lively cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Morocco – it’s stunning how close Africa is when you are standing on the beach in Tarifa. You feel like you could reach out and touch the shore. It’s easy (30-45 min) and inexpensive (30 euro) to visit Tangier by ferry. Almost everyone we talked to discouraged people from going because of the hassle you get when you arrive at the port from pushy sellers wanting to show you their wares or take you on a tour. I really wanted to make the trip but we simply ran out of time (too busy scrambling over rocks.). We will make the visit one day and won’t be discouraged by warnings of aggressive hawkers. We’ve been to Morocco before and know you just have to relax and have fun with it. Don’t take any valuables, leave any negative attitude behind, be smart and aware, and embrace the banter. Dipping your toes into Morocco will be worth the effort.
Whale Watching – Summer is whale season and there are many cruises to chose from at the marina. Our friends took a cruise with their kids and got to see Orcas. Many people also got sick, the waters are choppy, so consider Dramamine or another remedy just to be safe.
Manodragora – this Morrocan-influenced restaurant is reason enough to visit Tarifa. We experienced dishes with the most intricate combinations of flavors. My favorite was a carpaccio of mushrooms topped with diced figs and shredded parmesean. Ridiciuosly good. http://mandragoratarifa.com
La Jara – great spot for a traditional Andalusian meal with a uniquely Tarifa twist. Everyone in our group loved the starters and primi but many people, myself included, were disappointed by overcooked tuna. (Tarifa is known for tuna.)
For convenience and price, we chose Hostal Tarifa. It’s really a hotel, not a hostel. It’s bright and new with nice staff and a great location but lacks the charm of many nearby places. http://www.hostaltarifa.com
For staying in the old town, I would recommend checking out Hostal Africa or Hotel El Escondite del Viento (we would have stayed here but they were closed for siesta during the time we would have checked in.)
If you have a car, there are a world of options including the beautiful Dos Mares. Also, check out airbnb for one of the most fun options I’ve seen – a yurt community! http://www.domareshotel.com
There are several buses per day connecting Tarifa with Andalusia’s larger neighbors: Malaga, Cadiz, and Seville.