I am standing on the walls of the Guzmán El Bueno Castle. Below me are the blue waters of the Mediterranean and in the distance I can spot the lights of Tangier, Morocco. I have arrived in Tarifa, Spain, at the southernmost point of the European continent, the place where Europe ends and Africa begins…
I love these kind of places: they make me somewhat dreamy, nostalgic and curious at the same time. I could sit here for hours, watching the ferries coming in and out, wondering what lies across the water, a mere 13 kilometres away, but no doubt a whole world apart.
I have been travelling extensively through the stunning white villages of Andalucia to discover the Moorish influence in the region. The numerous castles, the white-washed houses and the winding little streets all bear witness to Andalusia’s Moorish past. Tarifa is my last stop on this trip and I am curious to see what 700 years of Moorish rule (roughly 700 AD-1450 AD) has done to the city’s layout. Curious about the best things to do in Tarifa!
1. Castillo de Guzman el Bueno
The castle is situated in the south of the city and offers great views over the Strait of Gibraltar. It was built in 960 as a defensive bastion against the raids from northern Africa. As the southern-most point of the Iberian peninsula, Tarifa was an important strategic entry point into Europe for would-be invaders, so good defensive structures were essential.
The castle is named after Alonso Pérez de Guzman, who became the hero of the Christian Reconquista at the end of the 13th century. As a Spanish nobleman, he was in charge of Tarifa when the Moors tried to recapture the city. The Moors threatened to kill his son if he didn’t surrender. Like a true hero, Guzman threw down his sword from the castle walls for the besiegers to use. From that moment on, he became known as “Guzman El Bueno” (Good Guzman)
Inside the castle you can see a small display on the life of Guzman himself. Explore the various archways, stairs, gates and towers and climb up to the ramparts for impressive views all the way to Morocco!
2. Puerta de Jerez
When approaching the old town from the north, it becomes immediately clear that the Moorish heritage is still very present: the medieval Puerta de Jerez could easily be mistaken for the entrance to a Northern Africa medina. It is the only Moorish gate that remains from the four original ones. Some claim the gate dates back to the 9th century, but other evidence suggests it was built in the 13th century.
Above the arch you can see an inscription revering King Sancho IV who conquered the city from the Moors.
3. The old town of Tarifa
Once through the Puerta de Jerez, the narrow lanes and whitewashed alleys are another reminder of the once-so-close link between the 2 continents. Put away your phone and guide book and take some time to get lost in Tarifa’s maze-like old quarter, stopping occasionally for a few tapas or a beer on one of the many historic squares of the old town, like Plaza Santa Maria.
4. Enjoy the beaches or go windsurfing
On this part of the Atlantic Coast, the wind blows stronger than anywhere else in the area, so it’s no wonder Tarifa’s gorgeous beaches are known as a hip and breezy mecca among windsurfers. Beginners have a decent choice of surfer schools and clubs to tackle their first waves on Playa el Palmar, while more experienced kite- and windsurfers usually go for Playa los Lances or Playa de Valdevaqueros.
If you’re not into watersports, you can head for Playa Chica.
Check out this useful guide for the various beaches in/around Tarifa.
5. Explore the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia
Approximately 20km from Tarifa, surrounded by Bolonia beach, lies one of Andalucia’s most significant and well-preserved Roman archeological sites: Baelo Claudia. It dates back to the 2nd century BC when the city´s central Forum was constructed, but it wasn’t until the rule of Claudius that this monumental city was truly established and it became a strategic point for trade routes between Europe and North Africa.
Once you’ve walked through the modern visitor centre, you arrive at the site proper. An amphitheatre, luxurious thermae and big social spaces like the Forum with its 12 remaining columns give you an idea of the vastness of the place. A sight not to be missed on your Tarifa itinerary!
6. Go on a daytrip to Morocco
There are enough things to do in Tarifa to keep you busy for a few days, but if you are staying longer, why not take a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar and go to Morocco for a day? From the port of Tarifa there are regular ferries to Tangier that day 1-2 hours sailing. (depending on the company you are taking)
You can find further information on timetables and prices on FRS Iberia and Intershipping. Don’t forget to take your passport!
I stayed in Tangier for a full 3 days, you can find plenty of things to do once you’re there in my Tangier guide.
Have you ever stood on the borderline of two continents? If so, where was it?