It’s summer in Europe and where does everyone head for a long week of strong winds or even stays several months camped out on the beach? Yep, Tarifa (south of Spain) is the kiting capital of Europe and with its infamous strong winds you may want to get a few tips on the place. Rob first went there over 20 years ago as a windsurfing grom and when learning to kitesurf it was his first kiteboarding trip in 2001. Since then he’s been back many times and now Caroline is based there for the summer. So here’s our tips to get you up to speed:
Tarifa is a massive 10km long bay with a wide sandy beach. You can kitesurfing pretty much the whole length, dependant on the wind direction and time of year. At the NE end of the bay is Tarifa town which has a beautiful old walled town, with cobble streets and lots of great restaurants and bars. Be warned it’s a bit of a labyrinth of tiny streets, so it’s easy to get lost and that great restaurant you find the first night, will take you all week to stumble across again. To the west of the old town is the newer part of the town which has grown over the years to cater for all the watersports enthusiast (it used to be windsurfing, but now kitesurfing has firmly taken over). The vast majority of apartments are down this end of the bay, then there are several large campsites and hotels stretching right along the 10 km of beach.
There are two directions:
This is cross-on from the right, generally light to moderate, pretty constant and can kick up a bit of wind swell. Everyone loves the poniente and you can kite pretty much anywhere in Tarifa. You’ll get it far more regularly outside of the summer months.
This is the infamous crazy wind that blows cross shore to cross offshore from the left. It can start pretty moderate but get up to 40-50 knots or more. Levante may just come in for a few days or blow night and day for a couple of weeks. It can drive you a little crazy and when the direction has more North in it then it can get pretty damn gusty.
As we said before there are a lot of different beaches and particularly in the summer you’ll want to spread out as it can get very busy.
For most it’s just for the poniente wind and its more onshore here. Generally it won’t be quite as busy as the beaches further down the bay and during the summer months kiting off the main town beach is not allowed.
You may see a few people head out in the the Levante at the far end near the causeway – the wind is cross off and can be gusty so really it’s only for advanced riders.
Super flat water but it’s small and can only hold a few kiters at a time. You have to know when it works as it needs the Levante to be in just the right direction otherwise it can be very gusty. When it does work expect to be dodging all the pro riders who will be throwing down trick after trick. Also It is not 100% clear if we can really kite in there, so be aware you might get the police turning up to turf you out.
This is the longest section of beach, with access from the Rio Jara campsite right down to Los Pinos (ArteVida). There is a car park that runs for a couple of kilometers and a small cafe/bar in middle. This is a great spot in a poniente winds as the beach is really wide and you can try and find your own spot (unless it’s mid summer then it’s busy everywhere!). Please bear in mind that the wind tends to blow slightly offshore in a Levante wind meaning there’s the risk of being blown out to sea if anything goes wrong. To be safe buy a ‘Sea Angels’ pass from any of the main kite stores which will cover you for the patrolling rescue boat should you need it. Passes start from just €30 and are a fraction of the cost of rescue (€100+ !) if you get caught without one, and a great confidence booster too!
At the end of the Los Lances length of beach is 1/2 km of rocky coastline with the Hurricane Hotel in the middle. After this you get to Valdevaqueros, which is this smaller bay but when people speak of it they really mean the first stretch where you have Tumbao beach bar and the Spin Out center. This is the place to kite when it’s Levante, as the direction means it’s more likely to be cross shore. Its also got a couple of great bars/restaurants so it’s good to hang out with family or friends in between kiting. In the middle of summer you won’t be able to see the sand for half naked sun worshippers – people (non-kiters) flock to Tarifa from Spain and France to party and enjoy the sun – so be prepared to step over people recovering from hangovers as you lay your lines out.
This is the part of the beach that runs on from Valdevaqueros and hooks round into a massive sand dune. A lot of schools teach up here, even in the strong levantes as the sand dune can pick up an students who drift off downwind. Its also a little less crowded with beach dwellers, in the summer, though equally busy on the water.
Time of year
The wind is more consistent from May – October as is the general weather. It also doesn’t get dark until 10pm in the middle of summer and can blow all day and night so kiting until sunset is a common occurrence. Outside of these times you can still get classic conditions but you will also get some rainy days and colder weather. Tarifa houses are built to keep you cool in the hot summers so be prepared to wrap up warm, even when inside, during the off season.
Learning to kitesurfing in Tarifa
I think it’s probably safe to say that Tarifa has the most kitesurfing schools by square mile of beach! Walk down the high street and every other shop is a kitesurfing shop that offers lessons, head down the beach and there are people learning everywhere. And you can see why, wide sand beaches for several kilometers along with consist wind, day in day out. And yes it can be crazy windy but the schools have learnt how to get the students out and teach them in stronger winds. Its hard for us to recommend any particular schools because there are so many – during the summer you’ll hear people say 50+ kite schools! If you are reading this and had a good instructor in Tarifa then post your recommendations in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Kiting Day Trips
Some days you may want to take a drive and kite at a some of the other beaches near Tarifa that can work during the strong Levante and give you more moderate conditions:
Los Caños de Meca
About a 45 drive minutes up the north-west coast. The wind will generally be pretty strong up here too but it can get some small to medium sized waves and the wind be more cross onshore.
25 mins drive south-east after Algeciras. Even if it’s blowing 50 knots in Tarifa, if you head east there can be far lighter or no wind. For Palmones, when it’s working the wind is generally 15-20 knots cross shore with a river mouth which gives those looking for really flat water a place to play. You’ll park on the east side of the river, launch off a smaller beach but can then kite off here or slightly downwind to where there is a much larger sandy beach.
15 minutes east before Algeciras. Again the wind will be far lighter here than in Tarifa, during the Levante and it will be an onshore wind. I’ve never been there when it’s been windy enough but its worth a look if you are getting sick of strong gusty levantes!
Can’t say we personally have any experience of La Bajeta but it’s a wave that breaks offshore – it takes about 30 minutes to kite out to it. So as you’d expect its only for advanced riders and you’ll need to tap into some local knowledge if you want to discover this hidden kitesurfing spot!
One thing that might catch you out is that all the shops will closed during the middle of the day, in what is the typical “siesta” time – 2-5pm. And when we say all, we mean all bars, cafes and kite shops! The exception is the bigger supermarkets which open all day during the summer.
When you first wander around the Old Town you may only spot a few bars and wonder where all the action is, but head down some of the alleys and BOOM, it’s wall to wall parties! And remember this is Spain, head out at 8 even 9pm and it can be pretty quiet, particularly out of season – it’s common to head out for dinner at 10-11pm, go to a bar at 1am and get to a club at 3 or 4am!
- Mombassa nightclub (warning – things won’t even begin to bump until after 4am!)
- La Ruina is an upstairs ‘paid entry’ bar with a DJ that’s really popular, but don’t worry about the entry fee (approx €5) as you get a free drink with it!
- Bien Star (on the beach close to old town) for sundowners/pre party warm up drinks
- Thurs is flamenco night in and around the Old Town near Lola
So many amazing restaurants across the town and you’re in Spain so the tapas is amazing! You’ll also find heavy Moroccan influences due to the close proximity to Morocco and lots of European ex-pats means great pizza & pasta for refueling after a long days kiting and in preparation for a long night partying! Here are a few of our favourites but this site has some good recommendations too
In Tarifa town:
- If we’re talking tapas then Los Mellis has my vote everytime. Tucked away in a back street, sitting out in the street, the food is amazing, the red wine delicious, it’s not expensive but be prepared to hand around to get a table.
- Surla for breakfasts (and lunches) and good wifi / good for veggies and all kinds of diets, as well as Cafe 10 inside the Old Town walls, or stop off at Wet Cafe en route to the beach (and for all your other kiting needs!)
- Mandagora – for excellent moroccan fusion
- Lola for tapas (if you can get a table – go early!)
- La Tribu for great pizza – super thin and massive! Always playing watersports videos with a casual pub/bar vibe.
- Vaca Loca – if you love steak then eat here often. They are amazing and it’s in the heart of the old town’s bar area so great place to kick off a night out.
Near the beaches
- Hurricane hotel – has a nice restaurant with an a la carte menu.
- At the Valdevaqueros beach you have two main hang outs:
- Valdevaqueros has a branch of the Hurricane Hotel for great bbq and salad lunches by the beach. There is also the newly opened outside juice bar iZumo which will keep you healthy with organic cold pressed fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies. Alongside there is Tumbao beach bar which is where all the young hipsters hang out on the grass by the kite beach to live music until the sun goes down around 10pm
- Spin Out is the other centre which is also a popular daytime and early evening hang out with Chiringuito Tangana, a bar and lunchtime restaurant with great food.
- Pacha Mama for post session beers and grub in a lively setting on the way back to town
Supermarkets and Markets
There are several supermarkets in town and most open from 9am until 10pm in the summer (often closed on Sundays though).
- Mercadona & Dia are the two big supermarkets on the road in to town from the beach. Supposedly Dia has the better wine selection for those interested (though I always found most €3 bottle of Spanish red wine is pretty amazing).
- Lidl is over the other side of town on the way in from Algeciras.
- SuperSol is the original supermarket slightly more central, just off the highstreet. Not quite the select of the big stores but it has a nice bakery and its closer for those living nearer the old town.
- There is a great bakery in the old town called La Tarifeña, just through the Puerto de Jerez entrance
- The Fish market is open every weekday morning and can be found at the old market hall. So much fresh fish and even if you’re not buying it’s great to wander round.
So many awesome campsites and they are all setup brilliant so you are generally shielded from the wind and sun. Apartment blocks run back from the town beach along with authentic places to stay in and around the old town. Off season you can get some really good prices, in season demand is high so expect it to be more expenses and book early.
- ‘Camping Valdevaqueros’ – amazing staff run that place – lovely and just across the road from kite beach so no driving in traffic jams every time you wanna kite
- There’s also ‘free’ camping for vans and the brave right on the beach next to Tangana (though no facilities at all so be prepared to rough it in the Levante!)
- I’ve got several places through Frank at Tarifa Direct and they’ve always been really helpful.
- Airbnb is becoming a popular option for finding everything for basic studios through to stunning high end posada’s in the old town.
- This great Facebook group – Tarifa room mate – may help you find a shared place to stay with some like minded kiters!
Hotels and B&B
- If you want something cheap and don’t mind sharing, then we’ve heard great reviews from kite friends about the ‘Melting Pot’ hostel
- The Hurricane Hotel – it’s the original Tarifa hotel, situated outside of the main Tarifa hotel, in a secluded spot between Los Lances and Valdevaqueros beaches. It’s not the cheapest hotel but for those wanting something special this is a great place.
- There are plenty of amazing hotels but I know little of them personally so TripAdvisor maybe a good place to start looking.
Driving and Traffic Jams
Word of warning – during high season (July/August) it can take several hours to drive the length of beach to & from the town and Punta la Paloma. Avoid heading west towards the beach during the morning and then from the beaches back to town in the late afternoon and early evening.
On a similar note parking during high season had can be tricky at some of the beaches so get down earlier to be sure you get a spot.
Travel & Flights
Most people will fly in and your easiest option is Gibraltar, as its only around a 30 minute drive to Tarifa (although you may get held up queuing at the borders – see below). Malaga is another good option with lots of daily flights but just a little longer to drive across from (2hrs). You could fly into Seville if you fancy spending some time in this amazing city first but the drive to Tarifa gets longer still (2.5hrs).
There are plenty of other options for European travellers, with good train and coach options or do what a lot of kiters do and drive down. Both myself and Caroline have made the trip from the UK and got the ferry from Portsmouth, UK down to Santander and then drove from there (gas is relatively cheap too!). You can make it in one long day of driving (12-15h) or spend a few days driving down checking out some of Spain’s best towns and cities.
- If you fly in then you’ll want to hire a car. You could get away with being car free if you stayed at one of the campsites next to the beach, but for most people you’ll want the freedom of being able to move to different beaches dependant on the conditions.
- If you fly into Gibraltar then it’s worth looking at hiring a car from the Spanish side of the Gibraltar board (Gib is a British territory), a place called La Linea. Sometimes the prices are significantly cheaper and it’s only a short 5 minute walk from the airport, through the border to car hire garages. You can also find this saves time as driving in and out of Gibraltar, through the border, can be slow with frequent queues of traffic.
And if there is no wind or you want a break then there is plenty else to keep everything entertained:
- Mountain biking – I’m not into MTB but I hear there are some pretty great trails in the hills behind Tarifa
- Horse riding – several companies run horse riding treks along the beaches or in the surrounding hinterland
- Trip to Tangiers, Morocco – this is a great day trip, straight from the harbour in Tarifa, just a 30 minute ferry and Tangiers is a really interesting place to explore (or better still travel 3 hours further to the ‘blue’ town of Chefchaouen). There are tours that can be organised in Tarifa or get the ferry over and they’ll be lots of tour guides waiting at the Tangiers harbour, who will show you round for a only a few Euros.
- Vejer de la Frontera – A short drive west and you’ll see this white town sitting high on the hill top. Pop over there for a walk around the streets, beautiful views and more great tapas. And everytime I’ve been it’s seemed windy, we’ve rushed back to Tarifa and there hasn’t been a breath – so you can relax and enjoy the place!
- Sunbathing – Join the hundreds of sunbathers at Valdevaqueros (it would seem that topless sunbathing is the norm in southern Spain!), or find a quieter spot on any of the other beaches – even when it’s really windy you can normally find some shelter from the breeze.
- Long boarding – check out Oh My Long for group longboard sessions, as well as parties – there is a long promenade that stretched along the whole length of the town’s beach.
- Wake park in Marbella
- Stand up paddleboarding – you can rent boards at all the stores on light wind days for either a general paddle to explore the coves or catch some waves (more in the off season).
It’s not hard to catch Pro Kiters throwing down and on some days it seems like for every 20 kites 1 has a Red Bull logo! Several of the top riders count Tarifa as their home along with many more arriving during the summer between tour stops. Visit around major competitions (like the VKWC or Tarifa Strapless Kitesurfing Pro) and you’ll get to see the world’s best in action.
- Aaron Hadlow now has Tarifa as his summer base kiting with old pal and long time Tarifa local Alvaro Onieva.
- 2013 World Champion Alex Pastor, another local, loves the lagoon and can also be found hanging out at his own shop in town.
- Liam Whaley is the new wunderkid, having won the first two stops on the freestyle world tour. Catch him wowing you in the thick of it at Valdevaqueros or joining Alex at the lagoon.
- And of course there is 2013 world champion Gisela Pulido, she is definitely an entrepreneur as well as pro kiter and if she is not on the water, you’ll often find her working away in one of her pro centres.
Board and kite repair
With all the wind there is a good chance some of you are gonna need some repairs!
- Both Kiteworld Magazine and iKsurfmag have great travel guides and articles on Tarifa.
- if you’re in the UK then Planet Kitesurfing Holidays have lots of options for Tarifa trips (my first few trips to Tarifa were with Planet and they always sorted us out great).
- If you’re thinking of staying longer and possibly even working online using Tarifa as your base, then these guys have written a great guide for other ‘Digital Nomads’
As you can see there is a lot going on in Tarifa! I’m sure there is plenty more but this will do for now :-) If you have your own tips and recommendations then add them in the comments below.
We also have some similar kiteboarding travel guides for Cape Town and Cabarete, so check them out too.
And don’t forget any kiteboarding trip is a waste if you’re not learning a new trick or two – we’ve got you covered on that front whether you are a beginner or an expert.