Getaway: Tarifa, Spain
Famous for a gusty breeze and untamed beauty, Tarifa sits perched at the southern tip of Spain with views of Morocco out across the Straight of Gibraltar. You’ve heard of Tarifa if you follow windsurfing or kitesurfing, but for other visitors to Spain, this is a destination often passed over in favor of excursions to the glitzier and easier to find Costa de Sol.
For whatever reason the guidebooks tend to mention Tarifa as hub for visiting Tangier and little else, but the reality is there’s a whole lot to see and do. If you have your heart set on adding another country to your passport you can visit Tangier for the day. And for those who just want an oceanside vacation: Tarifa’s got endless white sandy beaches, unforgettable whale watching opportunities, camping and hiking, and a laid-back vibe worth seeing first hand.
The best time to visit is in August (when the manic breeze subsides) and that’s just what I did this summer. Once you’ve arrived, the rustic, windswept beauty, panoramic views and fluffy-sand-beaches will leave you jaw-dropped…but more than anything, the surfer-town feel is a refreshing contrast to the numerous upscale, luxury resorts you’ll find along Spain’s coasts.
Getting to Tarifa may look daunting on Google Maps but actually the trip isn’t that bad. I took an overnight bus from Madrid to Algeciras (leave at midnight and arrive at 7am) then grabbed the local bus that runs from Algeciras to Tarifa. Your roundtrip ticket will be about 65€ and hey, at least you’re not paying for a hostel that night. Once you arrive in Algeciras you must walk 10 minutes to the local bus station.
Planning my trip days before, it seemed all the hostels in Tarifa were booked. That wasn’t going to stop me and so a couple of friends and I reserved a room in an Albergue “hostel” whichturned out to be a blessing in disguise. The local bus (M-150) runs from Algeciras to Tarifa and actually stops right at the Albgergue’s front door. Plus the bus passes by each hour which means you don’t need a car. Uh, what’s an Albergue? It’s kind of like a hostel but much bigger, family friendly, and is the type of place where a high school field trip would hole up. They are also a great place to check when every hostel in sight seems booked.
I stayed at the Albergue Inturjoven Sur de Europa and it was amazing (just check the pictures) and included a Phelpsian pool, B-ball court, and a terrace with stunning 180° views. It was also very clean, easy to find, and included a free breakfast. The cost was comparable to any hostel at 20€ per night. Note: If you don’t have a car, you’re relying on the local bus or taxi to visit the center of Tarifa.
And once you’ve made it? You’ll soon find yourself walking amongst old whitewash buildings with the smell of sunshine, minty Mojitos, and sunscreen in the air. The sombrilla-shaded bars will be packed with Spaniards washing down the salty taste of the ocean with icy cold beers and that sinfully good mix of fried fish with a freshly squeezed lemon will be tempting you to join the crowd.
How to Get There: You can take a 7-hour bus from Madrid to Algeciras (the well-known port city east of Tarifa) and then take the local bus from Algeciras to Tarifa. You can purchase tickets online or at the Méndez Alvaro bus station.
Where to Stay: If you want an unforgettable escape and maybe even a private room, stay at the Inturjoven Sur de Europa. If you want to stay in the heart of Tarifa and be within seconds of shops, bars, and the beach, then stay at the Melting Pot Hostel.
Nightlife: While there are a couple of discotecas located outside the city center (you’ve got to take a taxi) this is a chilled out surfer town so the nightlife is all about strolling the winding streets, sipping copas in crowded alleys, and bar hopping (in sandals). If you’re staying at the Inturjoven Sur de Europa the taxis seem well accustomed to shuttling properly-drunk groups up the mountain side at all hours of the morning (8-10€ for the 15 minute ride).
If You Visit: 1) Try kitesurfing or windsurfing 2) See playa Bolonia at sunset 3) Go Whale Watching or visit Tangier for the day.