The ultimate Worldpackers Tarifa travel guide
From beautiful beaches to a magical old town filled with cozy cafés, Tarifa has so much to offer. Learn more about this Andalusian destination that should be on every traveler's bucket list.
When I got off the bus coming from Algeciras and felt the strong wind hitting my face, I did not imagine that I would end up falling in love with Tarifa. I'd had a long journey, I had not slept much, and with every step I took, the strong bursts threw me back a few meters. "What I am doing here?", I thought to myself.
The days passed and the wind did not stop, but my affection towards Tarifa began to grow. I spent most of my time in the historical center (where the wind was not so strong), and enjoyed walking peacefully through Tarifa's small, lovely streets surrounded by two-story white houses.
I often wished that the wind wasn't so strong and annoying, as I really wanted to enjoy Tarifa's white sand beaches and crystal clear sea. Still, I cannot deny that I left Tarifa with the feeling that, someday (not so far away in time), I would come back to this beautiful place.
Often passed over in favor of more famous Andalusian destinations, Tarifa has so much to offer and should be on every traveler's bucket list. Read on to discover everything you need to know about visiting Tarifa. How to get there; what to see; what to do; where to eat — everything is covered here.
Where is Tarifa?
Tarifa, an Andalusian city in the south of Spain, has the peculiarity of being the Spanish city that is closest to the African continent. In fact, boats leave (as long as the wind permits) to Tangier (Morocco) every day.
Tarifa has its tourist peak during the months of June, July, August and September, when the wind is not so strong and the weather is more than pleasant. The locals say that during these months, cars queue up to three hours to enter the old town.
How to reach Tarifa
Getting to Tarifa is not as easy as getting to Madrid or Barcelona. Tarifa does not have an airport, so you have to arrive by land or water. But don't allow that to stop you! There is always a friendly option for the budget backpacker or digital nomad on the go.
Getting to Tarifa requires a bit of extra planning and careful consideration about which option suits you best, in regards to both time and budget. Here's a breakdown.
As previously noted, Tarifa does not have an airport. Therefore, if you are thinking about flying, you will first have to fly to one of Tarifa's neighboring airports, be it Malaga, Seville, Jerez de la Frontera or Gibraltar (remember that Gibraltar belongs to the United Kingdom, and not to Spain).
Once you arrive at one of these airports, you will have to find a way to go to Tarifa by land; either by car, or by bus.
In my case, I arrived at the city of Malaga on a night flight, spent the night at the airport and, at around five in the morning, I was picked up by a Bla Bla Car that brought me to Algeciras. I then took a 45-minute bus that finally left me a few blocks away from my hostel. I mentioned that getting to Tarifa can be complicated, right?
Tarifa is well-connected to all the major cities in Spain (and even some of Portugal's) so getting there by car should not be an issue.
If you come from Malaga, the road takes around an hour and 45 minutes. If you come from Seville, it's about 30 minutes more, approximately.
The old town of Tarifa can be very chaotic to navigate with a car (especially during the high season), but having your own means of transport can also be extremely helpful, especially if you are planning to spend a few days in this magical town. There are many places worth visiting that are 20 minutes away by car (Punta Paloma and Playa de Bolonia, for example).
In the case that you come to Tarifa by car and want to use it during your stay, do not take it into the historical center. Park outside Puerta de Jerez in the wide and quiet streets where you will easily find a free parking spot every day.
Pro tip #1: Are you familiar with the concept of carpooling? Carpooling — or ride-sharing — happens when a person making a trip by car is willing to share fuel expenses with other travelers. Carpooling is just one of the many perks of the collaborative travel community, and is a fantastic advantage for travelers looking to travel on a budget.
I used carpooling to get to Tarifa (via Bla Bla Car), and paid significantly less than I would have had I taken a bus.
Pro tip #2: If you don't have the budget to rent a car, it is very common to hitchhike around Tarifa. In the summer months, you will see tons of people hitchhiking to and from the most touristic points of Tarifa and the surrounding area.
If you don't have a car, don't get frustrated. People from Tarifa are very friendly and they will happily take you wherever you want to go!
Yep, you guessed it. Tarifa does not have a train station either. Therefore, if you want to use this means of transport, you will have to take a train to Malaga, Seville, Jerez or Algeciras. I personally wouldn't recommend going to Tarifa by train, as I don't think it's worth the hassle. But hey, if you love traveling by train, feel free to do it!
Regretfully, there is not a great bus supply to get to Tarifa. The schedules are a bit limited and they change according to the day of the week. For example, if you travel on a Sunday, the schedules are much more restrictive.
In my case, I used carpooling to get to Algeciras and from there, I took the bus to Tarifa. That bus cost me around 3 Euros, one-way. I did some research and found that the buses from Malaga to Tarifa cost around 17 Euros — not such a nice price for budget backpackers, if you ask me.
That's why I always recommend looking at different carpooling platforms to see if someone else is heading the same place! Carpooling is almost always cheaper. In the worst case scenario, it will be the same price as a bus or train, but at least you'll be in a car full of like-minded travelers.
Since Tarifa is so close to Africa, boats leave constantly to and from Tangier, Morocco. Therefore, if you are in Africa and you want to travel to Europe, do not discard this option.
Pay attention to weather conditions because if there is a lot of wind, boats will be canceled. And, believe me, it happens quite often.
What to see and do in Tarifa
Tarifa is a town in which to simply be. Please do not forget this. It is place to relax and tune in to the flow of energy that Tarifa's magical Andalusian streets give to the world.
But this doesn't mean that there are not things to do in Tarifa. As always, I will not recommend places just for the sake of recommending. For me, places have to have something special. If I recommend a cathedral, it is because of what I experienced inside it. If I recommend a beach, it's for a particular reason and not because everyone visits it.
That being said, the days I was in Tarifa there was a lot of wind, and I could not visit places I would have visited had the wind not been there. That's why this list is not only subjective, but also based on my personal experience visiting Tarifa.
1. Watch the sunset at Playa de Los Lances
Playa de los Lances is the closest beach to the old town of Tarifa and can be reached by foot from the historic center in 15-20 minutes. The beach is wide, with clear sand and turquoise water.
You can visit Playa de Los Lances at any time of day, but whatever you do, don't miss sunset! The sun sets in a truly unique way and it seems that at dusk, the world is on mute and allows you to fully immerse into a meditative state.
Seeing the sand blown by the wind, the sun setting behind soft clouds and people walking peacefully by the sea makes this moment a piece of art. Take a coat because it might be a bit cold.
Pro tip: There are heaps of cozy bars facing the sea where you can sit to watch the sunset. You cannot leave Tarifa without having seen the sunset from one of these bars. Demente, Café del Mar or any bar you want — you choose. But be ready for one of the best sunsets of your life.
2. Kite surf!
Tarifa is the biggest spot for kitesurfing in all of Europe!
Kitesurfing is a sport has been slowly but steadily gaining popularity. Although I do not practice it, I would love to do it. A year ago I bought a kite but I never even took a class. I deeply regret it.
Tarifa is one of the most famous places to practice kitesurfing because of the wind and consequent perfect waves at the beaches that surround the town. There are more than 20 points where you can kite surf (and windsurf) in Tarifa! Some of these spots are near town, while others are a few miles away.
I spoke with people who stayed in the same hostel as me and they were SO happy because they were kitesurfing all day, every day. If you are interested in kitesurfing or already love this sport, you simply cannot leave Tarifa out of your bucket list.
3. Visit Punta Paloma and Playa Bolonia
Punta Paloma and Playa Bolonia are absolutely stunning and not to be missed. Although they are a little away from Tarifa, you can get to them by car in about 20 minutes. And it is one hundred percent worth it.
The landscape you see on both beaches is simply dazzling. The sea has incredible colors and will leave you hypnotized. You could easily spend hours watching the waves hit the shore's white sand.
As I told you before, if you visit Tarifa during the high season, tourism will be extremely high and you will encounter a lot of other people with the same itinerary you have. Better to avoid the high season and visit when you can have magical places like Punta Paloma and Playa Bolonia to yourself!
4. See a flamenco show in La Almedina
I have been to many different parts of Andalusia and in all of them, I always searched for the opportunity to see a traditional flamenco show. And although I tried many times to see one of these shows, I never actually went through with it.
Why? Because all the options shown were always SO touristic. And of course, at prices that I could not afford. Shows made for tourists and not for locals. I mean, why should I watch something produced purely and exclusively for tourists?
Luckily this finally changed in Tarifa. Every Thursday, in La Almedina, you can watch a flamenco show for free! No high prices for tourists, or tours that offer things that are not authentic. You simply go to La Almedina (try going at least half an hour before the start of the show), drink a beer with the local people of Tarifa, and enjoy a gorgeous performance.
When hands begin to clap and feet hit the ground, the audience becomes completely silent. I was instantly lost in the magic of the show, enraptured by the artistry of the dancers and the beauty of the music.
I left La Almedina so happy. I had seen a local Flamenco show and fulfilled one of my major bucket list goals for the region of Andalusia.
5. Learn about the history surrounding Tarifa
It's undeniable that Tarifa is a fairytale town surrounded by incredible beaches and crystal clear waters. So of course, it only makes sense that Tarifa also has a unique history worth exploring.
There are many beautiful churches to enter and visit, such as San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa María.
Make sure to visit Puerta de Jerez — Tarifa's only entrance through the old Moorish city walls that remains today! The Jerez Gate will take you directly to Tarifa's historic center.
The Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno is also worth a visit. This castle and fortress overlooks the sea and the coast and mountains of Morocco are visible from its towers!
Last but not least, the Archaeological Complex of Baelo Claudia is incredible. This archaeological site and National Monument is what remains of an ancient Roman city, and is surprisingly so well-preserved that it has become the most complete Roman urban complex on the Iberian Peninsula.
Where to stay in Tarifa
Being a popular tourist destination during the European summer, Tarifa has a lot of different options for accommodation; hostels, hotels, Airbnb, guesthouses, etc.
However, you should know that during the low season, some places close their doors as the amount of tourism that reaches the town drops considerably.
During my stay in Tarifa, I stayed at La Cocotera Boutique Hostel and Coworking, a hostel in the heart of the town that has a detail that makes it especially unique. It has a co-working space on the top floor! Perfect for digital nomads who always need good WiFi and a place to focus for a few hours each day.
Not only does La Cocotera have a co-working space, but it also has more than comfortable rooms, with beautiful decor and a lovely terrace, perfect for having a nice breakfast breathing Tarifa's fresh air (as long as the wind allows it, of course).
Obviously, the prices change depending on the time of year you visit Tarifa, but a bed, in a dorm for six, will cost around 20 Euros. La Cocotera also has private rooms and finished studios complete with facilities!
Pro tip: If you are a van lover and traveler, La Cocotera will let you use their hostel facilities for a fixed fee (per day).
If La Cocotera is not of your taste, there are several other hostels in Tarifa. I recommend searching for something in the old town or near Puerta de Jerez.
Renting apartments is getting more and more popular. It's often cheaper than staying in a hotel, and also allows you to save money when it comes to daily meals, since you can cook your own breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Apartments in Tarifa are generally more expensive than hostels, but cheaper than hotels. Prices also vary according to the season.
- Hotels and guesthouses
Tarifa has several hotels and guesthouses, located throughout the historic center and the surrounding area.
Personally, I almost always prefer staying in hostels to hotels as I feel it's more conducive to having a social life. But hey, it depends on the trip you are on, right?
Worldpackers offers an incredible variety of work exchange opportunities in Tarifa! You can even exchange your skills for accommodation at La Cocotera, the hostel I stayed at!
Where to eat in Tarifa
Tarifa has incredible Andalusian gastronomy! And not only that, but many of its best places to eat are cheap! For less than 5 Euros, you can eat delicious, quality food, surrounded by locals. What more can you ask for?
Located in the heart of Tarifa, a few meters away from the Church of San Mateo, Mesón Siglo XIX is where I tasted one of the best Spanish Tortillas I've had. Homemade and made to order. What's more, they do not serve you a piece of tortilla, but they serve you the WHOLE tortilla. The best part? It only costs 2 Euros. Really. A whole tortilla and a pint of beer for 4 Euros!
Bar Los Melli is a very typical Tarifan bar where locals always go. So of course, you must also go! The croquettes in this bar are unique and their flavors will teleport you to another dimension. And as is the case in most places in Tarifa, you can eat well and drink a beer for 5 Euros or less!
3. El Picoteo
Located in the middle of Tarifa, El Picoteo is always full of people. Seriously, you will find people eating at this place all day, every day. That's how good the food is.
The secret for El Picoteo is not to sit at a table, but at the bar. This way, you can choose any of the tapas available, while paying way less than if you sit at the table and choose a dish from the menu.
One day, I sat at the bar and ate for less than 3 Euros. Incredible.
4. Café Azul
If you are a lover of good coffee, Blue Coffee is your place. Owned by an Italian, Café Azul serves exquisite coffee and healthy breakfast and brunch dishes for more than fair prices.
I ordered a cortado and a bowl of homemade yoghurt, cereals and honey, and I paid 6 Euros. Not bad for a breakfast, right?
If you went to Tarifa and didn't eat at Pasteleria la Tarifeña, something went wrong. Pasteleria la Tarifeña is the bakery in Tarifa. Everyone goes to try some of their products and, after tasting them, they all go back for more.
The sweet things sold in this place come from another world. I cannot explain how they can be so good (and addictive). And to make it even more sweet, I only spent 2 or 3 Euros very time I went!
Nightlife in Tarifa
Although Tarifa does not have big discos like Barcelona, it has great nightlife. Tarifa's nightlife is social; everyone meets in the same bars, and talks and laughs until late at night. You ask for a drink in a bar, chat with friends, go to another other bar, meet other friends, ask for another drink, and so on.
In the summer months, Tarifa's bars — which are all mostly located in a central square — are full of people. The crowds can get so big that it's often difficult to even walk through the square! (This is also the reason why the people of Tarifa are not their happiest during the summer months.)
If you want to keep on partying once the main bars close, you can always find a disco open until late (Café Del Mar is a great option).
1. Go to Tarifa in September
I know that this is very specific and not everyone has the chance to choose a particular month to go to a certain place. But if you can visit Tarifa in September, do it. The weather is still good, and tourism goes down a lot. Locals say that this is the ideal month to enjoy Tarifa at its best.
2. Stay several days
While it may seem that there's not a lot to do in Tarifa, stay for several days. Tarifa is a place to be, and not just stay. It is a place to walk, meet locals, make new friends, go for tapas or beers, and enjoy the sunset. Trust me and stay in Tarifa for at least five days or a full week.
3. Travel to Morocco
This is something I didn't do and would have loved to. It's a shame that with Morocco so close, I didn't step on African soil for the first time. Boats to Morocco leave almost every day, and there are even tours that take you to Tangier and bring you back the same day (for a fixed price).
4. Walk through Tarifa
Public transport in Tarifa is almost null and this almost forces you to walk. Do it. Walk Tarifa. Get lost in its little streets. Go without a map. Let yourself flow and free your mind. Tarifa is the perfect place to get lost.
I arrived in Tarifa without knowing very well what I was going to find. Having already traveled to so many touted-about magical places, I was even a bit skeptical of the hype. But when I left, I promised to return.
Tarifa is a quiet corner in Spain that maintains its peaceful way of living, its beautiful rhythm, its vibrant culture and its unique way of seeing life. Whether right or wrong, I don't know. But I love visiting places like these ones.