Tarifa, the most southerly city on the Iberian Peninsula, is a mecca for all activities involving wind and water. Tarifa is the perfect example of a laid-back and Spanish town in the province of Cadiz, some times referred to as the wind capital of Europe. When the Levenate and Poniente winds blow, the beaches are full of kites of every description.
But there is so much more to Tarifa than just wind and kites. It’s a huge hub of activity, where visitors can enjoy both the mighty Atlantic and gentler Mediterranean seas simultaneously. Being that I’m a parent, I wanted to put together a good list of things to do with kids in Tarifa!
Go Whale Watching
From April to October, you can take a boat trip from Tarifa to see sperm, pilot, fin and orca whales as well as lively dolphins.
Orcas are the main draw here as they follow the migrating bluefin tuna as they move from the Med to the Atlantic to spawn. Watching these beautiful whales and their antics as they catch tuna and work as a pod to round them up is fascinating and a real privilege.
Note: If you are sensitive to motion sickness, take your medication 30-45 minutes early to ensure it takes effect so you can enjoy the trip without feeling sick.
Eat Like a Local
Head for the charming Old Town of Tarifa where you will find a great variety of cafes and bars serving fabulous desayuno (breakfast), from chocolate y churros and tostada to Mexican-style egg dishes and the absolutely to-die-for Spanish jamon.
One other food tip: try the local sea food when you’re in Tarifa. It is literally caught off the coast by the small fishing fleet using traditional methods and will be served to you on the day it is caught.
Learn to Kite-Surf
If you don’t already kite-surf (and if you do, you’ll know all about Tarifa’s incredible beaches and clean wind), then here is the place to learn. This is a good activity for adults and older children
Come in the summer months for pretty much guaranteed sun, smooth winds, and a huge variety of kite schools. With mile upon mile of pristine sands stretching from Playa de los Lances to Playa Valdevaqueros and beyond to the bay of Punta Paloma, there is no shortage of places to start your kite-surfing education.
Head for Baelo Claudia
Accessible from Tarifa by car, Baelo Claudia is an incredibly well-preserved Roman village by the sea. This is an amazing free museum where you can walk on historical streets. It took us an hour and a half to go through the site and museum – be sure to check the time table before you go on their website. We arrived 20 minutes before the next group was allowed to go in but always good to be prepared when traveling with kids.
These Roman ruins are extensive and remarkably intact. The views from here across the wide bay to the mountains beyond will leave you in no doubt as to why the Romans wanted to live here…because I wanted to live here!
Whether you’re a beginner or a certified diver or prefer to snorkel, you can do so in the Mediterranean while you’re in Tarifa. The meeting of two seas creates a specific bio-diverse environment, rich in marine life, which makes diving in Tarifa an amazing experience. Plus, the water is crystal clear and warm…on one side. I just finished my Advanced PADI diving certification in Tarifa and it was a fabulous experience but diving from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean it is a serious temperature shock.
Take a Bike Ride
Cycling is one of the most popular activities in Tarifa after kite-surfing. It’s all about the mountains here; whether you want to challenge yourself to a steep uphill, or enjoy a delightful ride through town or down the coast, Tarifa has a place for everyone!
Chill at the Beach
After doing all the activities that we listed above it is time to take some time to chill and relax at the beach.
There are beaches here to suit all tastes. If you like big expanses of open sands and a few waves, then head for Playa de los Lances right in town. At the most southerly point of the beach, you will find cafes and chiringuitos (beach restaurants) serving coffee, beer and snack food. All are great places to hang out for a few hours, see, and be seen.
If you prefer your beach with a little more natural interest, then head west along the Colada de la Costa route for stunning sandy coves with incredible rock formations to explore. There are no chiringuitos here though, you might want to take a picnic!
Check out the Guzman Castle
Tarifa’s very own fortified castle, an impressive, solidly-built Moorish structure, played an important part in early Spanish history. Recently, the castle has also been restored. As the southern-most point of the peninsula, Tarifa was an important strategic entry point into Spain and the rest of Europe for would-be invaders, so good defensive structures were essential.
Guzman Castle was originally built as an alcazar (Moorish fortress) in 960 AD on the orders of Caliph Abderraman III of Cordoba, to protect Tarifa against raids from Africa and the North (Vikings). This Caliph also constructed a number of defenses along the Iberian coast, typically square castles in the style of the official Umayyad state architecture, but the Tarifa one is trapezoidal due to the hill’s contours. Guzman’s descendants later became the Duques de Medina Sidonia, one of Spain’s most powerful families. A stronghold and sight to behold.
Visit Church of San Mateo
The main church of Tarifa is located right smack in the center of the old town. Expect to see a wedding or religious festival if you swing by, because this is where ALL of them happen! The church possesses a striking 18th-century Baroque facade, with a 15th-century Gothic interior. The sculpture of San Mateo (St Matthew) is crafted by renowned master sculptor Martinez Montañez, who had previously crafted many works in Seville cathedral. Also look out for the Visigothic tombstone, which dates from the 7th-century, testament to Christian worship pre-dating the Moorish era.
Just an hour away by fast-cat is Morocco and the port city of Tangiers. It is very possible to head here for a day and see the best that the city has to offer. The first several times I had visited Tarifa was to hop on the ferry to Morocco (check out my blog post about this here)