Things to do in Tarifa

Tarifa’s location on the Straits of Gibraltar, at the meeting of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, means it’s home to a unique range of sea life. You can swim with the fishes, watch the whales and dive amongst ancient wrecks. On dry land you can go rock climbing in the mountains, horse riding on the beach or watch the dramatic migrations of some of the World’s most spectacular birds. Here’s an overview of some of the most interesting things to do in Tarifa

Whale Watching

Things to do in Tarifa - Whale Watching

Whales are quite literally the big ticket item when it comes to Tarifa’s marine life. The migration of the fishes through the Straits of Gibraltar makes Tarifa a key feeding ground for may aquatic mammals, with dolphins, porpoises, Orca and sperm whales regular visitors. These huge creatures need to feed, and Tarifa has one of the best aquatic buffets on the planet.

To see these huge and graceful creatures, you should take a trip with one of the conservation focused tour companies. We’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals.

Snorkelling

Things to do in Tarifa - Snorkelling

Snorkelling is a great way for the whole family to see the unique marine life of the Straits of Gibraltar. The clear waters and rock-free shallows make Tarifa an ideal spot to get up close and personal with all sorts of sea creatures.

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals.

Rock Climbing

Things to do in Tarifa - Rock Climbing

If rock climbing is your thing then the mountains around Bolonia are definitely worth a visit. The climate means you can climb the whole year round, and there are over 250 routes at levels between 3 and 8a. The rock type here is mainly compact sand and limestone. To experience climbing in 200million year old limestone caves and underground lakes, just take the short trip to St Michael’s Caves on Gibraltar.

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals.

Horse Riding

Things to do in Tarifa - Horse Riding

Riding on the beach or in the forest, Andalusian style, is one of the great relaxations on offer in Tarifa. The climate is fantastic and the tradition of horsemanship in the region is second to none. The Andalusian style is a more relaxed way of riding than the traditional English style, and allows you a greater freedom to enjoy the scenery around you while enjoying the ride.

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals

Scuba Diving

Things to do in Tarifa - Scuba Diving

Scuba diving around Tarifa is fascinating, with the abundance of marine life and over 1,500 shipwrecks to see. Some of these were treasure ships, others war galleons, but all are now home to a diverse range of species. Gray Robinson, our Team Leader, is a PADI instructor so whatever you want to see, he can find someone who will help you find it.

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals

Mountain Biking

Things to do in Tarifa - Mountain Biking

With mountains, forests, sand dunes and flat coastal roads Tarifa offers a unique experience for mountain bikers. You can hire bikes and disappear off into the countryside or take a guided tour along some of the best local trails. Whatever takes your fancy!

Contact Graykite Tarifa for details of the best local deals

Bird Watching

Things to do in Tarifa - Birdwatching

The Straits of Gibraltar are the most important migratory landmark for European birds and Tarifa is the best place to watch their passage. Nearly 400 species of birds including Lammergeiers, Peregrine Falcons, Eagles, Storks and Black Kites pass every Spring and Autumn from their natal grounds in Europe to their winter grounds south of the Sahara. Birding the Straits understands the workings and timings of this wonder of nature.

Contact Birding the Straits for more information.

Historic Tarifa

Tarifa is a small town with a big history. The castle of Guzman el Bueno dominates the harbour front, and the historic church of San Mateo sits at the heart of the maze-like Old Town.

Iglesia de San Mateo - St. Matthew's

Things to do in Tarifa - Iglesia de san Mateo

Iglesia de San Mateo is a late 16th Century Gothic church with a neoclassical façade. You’ll find it in the Old Town, close to the castle, market and ferry port, and in the middle of the bustle of life in the maze of cobbled streets.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the history of the church in Tarifa is the Gate of Pardons, a special door through which anyone who lived a year and a day in Tarifa was allowed to pass, absolving them of sin and earning them a mass of thanksgiving. That’s how dangerous Tarifa was when Spain’s Catholic kings were trying to drive the Moors back to Africa.

These days you don’t need to be quite such a hero to visit and enjoy both the church and the thriving town it serves.

Address: Calle Sancho IV el Bravo, 8, 11380 Tarifa, Cádiz, Spain
Phone: +34 956 68 44 03
Map
Website

Isla de Las Palomas

Things to do in Tarifa - Isla de las Palomas

The Isla de Las Palomas (Island of Doves) is perhaps the defining feature of Tarifa. It’s a small promontory which precisely marks the division between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Also known as the Punta Marroqui, the island is the extreme southernmost point of mainland Europe, further south than Tunis and Algiers in Africa. At the tip of the island is tall lighthouse.

Walking down the causeway to the island is a unique feeling, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. The first time we went there the Atlantic was breaking huge waves over the causeway and throwing surf high into the air, while 5 metres away the Med was as still as a millpond. You absolutely literally can’t see that anywhere else in the world. So go and see it!

Map

Castle Guzmán el Bueno

Things to do in Tarifa - Castel Guzman el Bueno

Guzman el Bueno (Guzman the Good) is the great hero of Tarifa’s history. In a time of complicated politics, he held the town for the King against both the Moors and the King’s internal enemies. When his son was held hostage and Guzman was offered his son’s return for control of Tarifa, he is reported to have replied:

“I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honour on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.”

Guzman kept control of Tarifa, but as far as we know his son was put to death. He later played a significant role in capturing Gibraltar from the Moors and is, unsurprisingly, a bit of a local hero. His castle is open to the public to visit for a few hours every day except Monday.

Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-2pm and 6-8pm. Sunday 11am-2pm. Monday closed.
Address: Calle Sancho IV el Bravo, 9002, 11380 Tarifa, Cádiz, Spain
Phone: +34 956684689
Map
Website

Tarifa Festivals

Like many towns in Spain, Tarifa has its own unique festival traditions. Celebrate the evening of the Virgin of the Light, burn your wishes to make them come true on the summer solstice or visit the Festival of Colours. They’re all unique experiences that you’ll never forget.

La Feria de Tarifa

Things to do in Tarifa - La Feria de Tarifa

Every September, just when the weather begins to chill and the tourist traffic thins out a little, the people of Tarifa breathe new life into the town by celebrating their patron saint, La Virgen de la Luz (the Virgin of the Light).

For an entire week, Tarifeños host a carnival complete with rides and raffles, march in parades on horseback, and delight in sweet treats sold all across town.
The festival is held in honor of La Virgen de la Luz who was invoked by King Alfonso XI during the Battle of Salado in 1340 to protect the town against the invasion of the Moors.

In recognition of her assistance, during the first weeks of September Tarifeños transport the figure of the Virgin from her sanctuary 8 kilometers outside of the city to the Iglesia Mayor de San Mateo (Church of Saint Matthew), located in the heart of the city.

Procession and Carnival

A train of more than 400 Andalusian horses follows the procession, winding and clopping their way through the cobblestoned streets of Tarifa’s old town. Crowds of people line up to view the spectacle, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the horses and the Virgin as she passes by hoisted upon the shoulders of their fellow citizens. People of all kinds dress up for the occasion; sometimes little kids can barely play because of the fashionable constriction of their garments. Yet, the kids don’t seem to mind and actually take great care and pride in their attire.

Even later on at night, at the Carnival, people haven’t bothered to take off their suits and dresses. Little kids ride mechanical bulls in polka-dotted dresses and leather boots, diving for the floor and giggling as the platform jerks and twists underneath them. Teenagers pile themselves into bumper cars, or dance at the Caseta Municipal (main tent) where live bands play well into the night. People dance and drink in the streets too or inside other tents that feature traditional music sponsored by all types of community groups.

In the dark, the carnival is a jumble of neon lights, loud music, giggles and stuffed animal prizes. The summer may be winding down, but for Tarifeños, there’s never a bad time to celebrate.

If you’re nearby when it’s on, don’t miss it!

The Summer Solstice – The Night of San Juan

Things to do in Tarifa - Night of San Juan, The Summer Solstice Tarifa

The summer solstice, also known in Spain as the night of San Juan, is one of the largest celebrations on Spanish calendars, and has been considered a magical night for as long as can be remembered. Every year, on the 23rd of July, bonfires and fireworks welcome in the beginning of summer.

Spirits, imps and magical traditions related to fire and water always accompany the shortest night of the year, a special date in which you can truly enjoy the charms of the province of Cadiz.

Traditionally, the night of San Juan in Tarifa is celebrated by lighting bonfires along almost all the beaches. The flames are reflected in the dark waters and light up the coastline. The fires become a meeting point for people to organise beach parties and barbeques where sardines and meat are grilled. Obviously music, with drums and percussion groups, dancing and smiles, also plays its part.

Burning of the Juanillos

After midnight, on Playa Chica beach, opposite the Isla de las Palomas (Island of the Doves), “juanillos” are burned. Juanillos are cloth dolls, typical of the province of Cadiz, whose burning ensures good luck in the coming months. Although everybody can make their own juanillo, if you’re not feeling particularly artistic you can simply write a wish on paper and throw it into the bonfire. They say that they come true, you know…

To attract good luck and keep the bad spirits away, kids (and big kids) often jump into the sea during the night of San Juan in Tarifa. The water might be a bit cold at this time of night, but who doesn’t enjoy an extra dose of fun and good luck!

And, when the bonfires on the beach are put out, the party continues in the bars and clubs of Tarifa. Almost all put on special events in order to celebrate this all-nighter, so don’t expect to get to bed before dawn…