The white sands of Bolonia Beach, Tarifa
Tarifa almost doesn’t even look like Spain. The typical terrain of miles and miles of olive trees and sun-scorched land that you see along the motorways or the slightly pebbly beaches of the Costa del Sol just don’t bare even a slight similarity to what is to be discovered in Tarifa.
In fact, Tarifa is nowhere near the Costa del Sol, rather, it is positioned towards the South-West of Andalucía, in the province of Cádiz, on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) and is particularly known for being the most southernmost point of Europe, only a stone’s throw away from Morocco.
I was fortunate enough to visit Tarifa for free, on a school trip- what struck me before anything else was how rugged and raw its coastline is; rocks and pebbles and algae cover up a host of exotic crustaceans and other marine life, bathed under a harshly hot yet windy Atlantic and Mediterranean climate perched over the Straits of Gibraltar. I had to remind myself several times that I was still in Spain, yet I felt strangely out of anything that I usually associated with Spanish landscape or atmosphere.
Tarifa’s rugged, rocky coastline
Morocco can be seen easily from Tarifa’s superb beaches and it has a port where you can catch the ferry over to Tangiers with around 7-8 daily sailings, taking around 40 minutes. Ticket prices vary but average around £50 return. There are also one hour boat trips to the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta, on the African north coast. The Berber past is felt immediately via its name, after the warrior Tarif ibn Malik, who led the conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711 CE.
Despite the allure of being able to access Africa so easily, let’s concentrate for now on Tarifa itself, as it deserves SO much attention for its stunning natural beauty and an intriguing dose of historical background.
An unrecognisable terrain- cactus leaves and dry, rocky ground hide all sorts of strange species
The town centre itself is small and familiar, with the usual Supersol supermarket servicing both locals and tourists alike. Owing to the strong Atlantic winds, Tarifa is highly popular with German surfers (tourists and expats alike) who have made it their spiritual home and it has to be said that there is such a calm and relaxing vibe throughout Tarifa, brimming with nature enthusiasts, marine biologists, wind and water-sports fans, Pagans and hippies and many other delightful types of people.
Walking through the town, you feel both at home and thrust into a foreign, exotic land with its hints of Spanish and North-African influences threaded through its streets and small, un-intimidating plazas. I was lucky to stay at the beautiful, charming and heart-stealing ‘El Beaterio’- a former 16th century monastery right in the centre. From the moment I entered the breezy, airy, charming and quirkily decorated building and shown to my top-floor room which I was to share with 3 other colleagues, I instantly fell in love.
Doors and windows were left open to let in the light and warm Summer breeze. The decor is artistic, personable and above all, so comfortable. Fairy lights, ornaments and relics collected over decades by the welcoming hosts made me feel like I was in some sort of Wonderland.
The beautiful bedroom I stayed in at El Beaterio in Tarifa
The old bell tower in what was formerly a monastery- El Beaterio, Tarifa
The highlight of Tarifa must be open to debate but writing from my own personal experience, the famed white-sand beach of Bolonia and its gigantic sand dune are what stand out in my memory.
The wind in Tarifa is famous and falls into two main categories: Levante, which comes from the East and is typically warm and dry, coming from over the land rather than over the sea.
The other is Poniente, which comes from the West, from the Atlantic ocean. With this wind, the temperature cools and the sky clears, providing excellent vistas of Morocco and makes for great windsurfing and kitesurfing conditions. Bolonia beach is an absolute sight for sore eyes, with its exotic plants and trees and its dazzling, white sands rippled by the wind.
Many people are deterred from visiting this practically virgin, stunning beach due to the harsh, face-chapping winds (it makes for a great skin exfoliation- really!) yet sunglasses make for a sufficient wind-shield here. Don’t let it put you off, it is truly too beautiful to miss, regardless of the weather.
Bolonia’s famous dune is over 30 metres high and 200 metres wide, and scaling it is admittedly quite the challenge. I am not totally unfit, yet the uphill climb had to be done with some much-needed pauses, regular water stops and constant shielding of the eyes from the grainy breeze. It is totally worth it though as the views from the summit of this almighty sand dune are quite literally breath-taking: the ocean is china blue; the sand is marble white.
Your mobile phone may very well find itself without network (or possibly connected to a Moroccan network- deactivate roaming whilst in Tarifa otherwise you may be at risk of high connection charges) but really, embrace this relative isolation- you will be at such a vantage point of beauty and time for reflection.
Bolonia beach- Tarifa
The downward descent from the Dune of Bolonia
I believe that every adventure should leave you with one experience, sight or emotion that is imprinted in you forever. For me, in Tarifa, that was seeing dolphins and whales up-close and personal for the first time in my life.
We boarded a boat at Tarifa’s port and within minutes we were already spotting the white foam created by the peaceful motions of these magnificent, dignified species of marine mammals going about their business… then there it was in full resplendent glory- the sea dance of an elegant dolphin, sunlight refracting through the ocean spray before returning to the depths.
I had seen countless images and videos of dolphins in documentaries and magazines but nothing can prepare you for the moment when you see this magical display right before your eyes. I actually gasped, along with my 50 school pupils who descended into an admirable silence as they gazed across the horizon, with only the shoots of water from whales and orcas audible in the distance.
To see a group of 17 year olds left speechless at such an incredible natural display of the wild’s beauty left me both proud and profoundly touched.
Dolphins swimming past our boat in the ocean between Tarifa, Spain and Tangiers, Morocco
With the German expatriate community of dread-locked hippies and the lingering scent of Patchouli oil in the air, along with wind-chimes hung from tree branches and the ever-present wind that rustles through the town centre, Tarifa is a sensory treat which will certainly leave its impression not only on your imagination but your heart.
While I was lucky to go to Tarifa for free on a school trip, I was not entirely at liberty to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and I vowed that I would return as soon as possible, to a land where North African culture meets Southern-European, along with German influences and a general zen-like vibe where pretty much everyone is just there to experience the natural beauty of an unspoiled land.
http://el-beaterio-tarifa.com/en/ – Website for El Beaterio, Tarifa, where I stayed.
Don’t kill my vibes- especially when in Tarifa ❤