Weather: Cold and Windy
Accommodation: 300-500 Euros
Internet: Not stable, 10Mbps max
Activities: Kitesurfing, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Whale Watching, Tangiers
Tarifa is a small town on the southern most tip of Spain
I spent January to March of 2016 in Tarifa, Spain. Wanting to escape the cold of London, but with a requirement to be just a few hours away from the UK, Tarifa, a small town in the very south of Spain, seemed to suit. It kept coming up in searches as a great nomad spot, the hottest place to be in Europe at that time, and a place with wonderful scenery and beaches. What could possibly go wrong?
When to visit Tarifa
December to March: I was there from start of January to the start of March. I was coming from the UK, and was expecting sun. I was glad I had packed jumpers and jeans with me as I wore them everyday. The shorts and t-shirts I brought with me were completely unused, and I wished I had a scarf and gloves several times. The temperature is reported as between 10-18C but with wind chill, shade, and cold old buildings with no heating or insulation, it feels much much colder. A lot of shops, bars and accommodation are closed from late November until Easter time, and others that are still open closed for renovations. If you want long term accommodation, it is good to go now as many places are for rent, and they quickly disappear.
June to September: People say the summer is mental busy, and I can believe it. Rents go up (expect to be paying 6x more for a weeks rent). Even with no-one around in January, driving around town can take forever due to non-stop pedestrian crossings, slow drivers and cars randomly stopping in the middle of the road to talk to their mates. Don’t forget speed bumps just to add to the slowness, so the summer must take this to the next level! Heard stories of buses not coming in to town, the old town not letting in cars, car parks over flowing, etc etc.
April to May, September to November: This seems to be the best time to be there, and the only times you should consider going if you want good weather without thousands of tourists and without paying excess rent prices.
Where to stay in Tarifa
I’ve quickly broken down Tarifa in to five areas of where you could stay.
Old Town (1) is lovely to look at and explore but the buildings are, funnily enough, old! The place I stayed in was freezing cold, so I imagine boiling hot in summer (and there was no AC). I saw very few places with AC installed. Broadband internet is pretty bad in Old Town – for speed and reliability – as they are restricted on what they can install in the old buildings. There is very little parking, restricted access and entry points, and some of it on a steep incline. There are a lot of bars, restaurants and clubs which can be pretty noisy, so I can see that you could be unlucky with the wrong apartment/hotel and be up all night. The Old Town is where most of the action is happening though, so expect to spend your evenings here.
Beachfront apartments (2) stretch along the beach, are generally newer build places, and are some of the best places to live – purely as a lot of it is new, and there are lots of them. Facilities can be more modern, broadband is faster, and most places have car parking. A lot of places are literally on the beach, so perfect if you kite surf. The area around Café Del Mar Beach/Surla is popular and is a bit of a hub as they are also the decent hangout/working/coffee/food spots. But in summer, I imagine being too close to that area could be a bad thing at night!
The main road out of town towards Malaga (and Lidl) skirts a large estate (3) that offers a few more options, but its near nothing, a bit too far away from the centre and the beach for me, and doesn’t have many great looking places. For this reason, you can get bargains there, especially in high season.
There is a small area north west of the Church (4) that doesn’t have many clubs or bars (near La Cocotera coworking space) which could be a good spot to focus on for a place to live – its kind of near everything. I think the next best area to stay is around the southern section of Calle Batalla del Salado (5) as you are in a new build area, close to old town, and close to the beach. Depends what you are after.
Where to find an apartment to rent
My best advice if you are staying longer than a month is to book somewhere for a few days, and then look for an apartment when you are in town. Bargains are to be found if you are in town, people will help you out, connect you with others and you can commit instantly.
My favourite website for finding decent apartments at good rates in Tarifa is milanuncios.com – its like a CraigsList or Gumtree-style listings site, but is predominantly in Spanish. With some Google Translate help and some WhatsApp messaging, you can normally get across you want to rent a place and set a time to meet them.
Other places to look:
- Facebook Group – Tarifa Rooms & Apartments Facebook Group
- Pisos – mostly designed for holiday makers, but Spanish orientated
- AirBNB – has some options for longer term rent, but you need to message the owners to get best rate
- HomeAway – mostly designed for short-term holiday makers, so again, haggle
- Wimdu – the Spanish version of HomeAway, but normally a few more options
- IPG Tarifa – Occasional deals, but mostly daily expensive rates
What to expect to pay for an apartment
Euros per month= What you get
€200-300 – Room in shared apartment
€400-600 – 1 bedroom apartment
€600-800 – 2 bedroom apartment or house
€800+ – Larger house / luxury apartmen
In the summer season, these rates will be 5x or 6x higher (yes, €2500 euros per month for a 1 bed apartment!)
- All the places I stayed at had issues with damp and mould due to not getting enough air, being too cold and not being insulated properly. This was more prevalent in Old Town than in some of the beach front places, but then one place I stayed at was really smelly and mouldy. If you have asthma, allergies or that stuff bothers you, I would definitely check a place out before committing to it, or ask about it. After being aired in summer, I doubt its an issue, but it was an issue for me and a lot of people I knew.
- Watch out for noisy bars and clubs near your place – this will be a problem if staying in Old Town, and maybe around some of the beach bars if the noise travels.
- If you want to kite surf, get a place on the beach. It will save you oodles of time and effort plus being able to look out and judge the conditions will make spontaneous surfs the best. There are webcams, but these only tell you so much.
Short term options and recommendations
For short term (a few nights), I didn’t find there was a great deal of decent places to stay. A lot of hostels, and run down hotels. Here is my pick of the best:
- Hostel Sulok – Very central place with a boutique feel, great people who work there, but they only have dorms
- Hostel Aristoy – Private rooms in this fantastic looking boutique hotel
- La Cocotera Hostel – Private rooms with shared showers, note: use of the coworking space isn’t included
- AirBNB – lots of options
- HostelWorld – lots of hostels, decide how much sleep you want before booking!
Cars and parking
Parking in the Old Town is a nightmare, as you can’t easily drive in to it, and even if you do, you need to be a pretty good driver to get around some of the alleys and corners safely. There is a “car park” (aka old field) at the bottom of a hill – Calle Calzadilla de Téllez – which is free to use off-season, it may have a charge in peak season. It was busy off-season, so I would say that peak season in Old Town Tarifa is not a good a time to have a car.
Parking around the beach front is slightly better as there are lots of car parking spaces next to villas and car parks on the sea front – but this also where people park their vans and cars during surfing, so in the summer I imagine these spaces will be non-existent.
Where to work in Tarifa
While I was there, I worked from home, from cafes and from the only coworking space in the town, La Cocotera. La Cocotera is a low price hostel (compared with others in Tarifa) and they have re-purposed some of the shared spaces for coworking. The team of girls who run it are really lovely, the building is beautiful, and the roof terrace is a really nice place that gets sun all day. They are just getting started with the coworking concept, learning as they go and getting some help from Johannes, kite surfer, digital nomad and Nomad Cruise founder.
La Cocotera coworking space review
La Cocotera is a coworking space in the Old Town of Tarifa. The coworking space is made up of a ground floor section with desks and a small kitchen with eating space, a 1st floor small den room, and the 2nd/top floor with small kitchen and terrace space. The ground and 1st floor has hostel rooms on them.
Space – The ground floor can fit around 15 people. The desks are fairly cheap, the chairs are mostly OK but starting to show their age already. There are no standing desks or boxes available, but they do have some ergonomic style laptop risers. A few people fashioned standing desks out of spare chairs and furniture.
When I was there, the downstairs was cold. Like, can’t feel my fingers or toes cold. They had one oil heater to try and heat the place, which wasn’t very effective. There was a breeze, and I imagine it would be nice in summer, just not when I was there!
The den on 1st floor has room for 2 people, I never really used it but I guess good for a Skype call. The top floor kitchen has 2 mini desks and then a large kitchen counter which I guess could be used to work from if hostel guests are not using it.
Terrace – The outside terrace area is nice and spacious, with two small desks, a lounger and sofa. With 5 people up there, it seemed pretty busy, not sure how more would work unless you like being on top of another person. There is no shade or coverage there (the canopy in their promo pictures is gone and not coming back as far as I know) so be prepared to squint, turn up your brightness and basically roast – not great for getting stuff done. Apart from the sofa, nothing has cushions, which is pretty uncomfortable to sit on after an hour or so…
Internet – there are two routers, one for lower floors, one for upper, so Wi-Fi is generally OK. An internet speed test generally gave around 10Mb down/1Mb up. They have 2 internet lines (I think), one line with GibTelecom and the other with Vodafone, but neither is fibre, so this is about as good as its going to get. There was occasional downtime with no internet access for <1 hour.
Facilities – There are 2 Nespresso coffee machines. But pods are not included and nowhere nearby sells them, so I wasn’t given the opportunity to test these out. Then main coffee making device is a bizarre teapot used as a coffee pot type setup for filter coffee. They also have the worlds cheapest slowest kettle, so combining these two things, making a cup of coffee takes 20 minutes.
I asked if they could just buy a normal coffee machine, or cafetiere, or Aeropress. They reminded me La Cocotera wasn’t a coffee shop(!), but said that if people wanted coffee, they would make it for you, which was nice to find out after working from there for 3 weeks. Only one small hitch, there is rarely anyone there to ask for coffee.
Out of a normal(?) working day from 10am until 7pm, I would say there were staff available for about a third of that. Not being there is a common theme myself and others experienced, from not being on time to open, to just disappearing for hours, to not being able to get back in after lunch, to the doorbell not working. One visitor had to have a Skype call with his boss sitting on the step outside. This isn’t the kind of thing you want when you are trying to get shit done.
Who uses it – While I was there, only one local person was actively using the space. Only one expat long termer was using the space. No-one else who had previously stayed there continued to use it while they stayed in town – “too cold, too expensive, internet too unreliable”. I think this speaks volumes, but hopefully they can improve with time. The space no longer hosts events for the digital nomad community, so there are no networking opportunities at the space. While I was there, we organised our own events.
Cafes and places to work in Tarifa
While I was in Tarifa, it was off season, so this basically means a lot of things are shut, or randomly shut, or being refurbished. There were a few cafes to work from in Tarifa, but not an abundance. A lot of them are small, unsuited to working (the traditional 1 power plug per room is super common in Spain) and the owners very often don’t want you sitting there for hours. There is not a single cafe in Tarifa with the Wi-Fi password visibly written anywhere, you have to ask every single time, so that tells you something.
There are a few places that are a cut above the rest – Surya, Cafe Del Mar and Stoked all spring to mind (they are also all next to each other – 10 minutes out of old town, right on the beach) but again, they are all fairly small, have open kitchens (2 hours in Stoked and you stink of stir fry), and have very few proper chairs and tables. I’ll have a large side portion of bad posture with my coffee please.
If you need consistently quality internet – for uploading large files, doing regular Skype calls or streaming in anyway, you will struggle to get the speeds and reliability you need in Tarifa.
I put together a Google Doc of places to work from – Tarifa Wi-Fi and Coffee – check it out and feel free to update it with more information as you discover places. I also added the places to a Foursquare list.
What to do in Tarifa
- Kite Surfing – The number one reason to go to Tarifa is for kite surfing. While I was there, I mentioned I wasn’t kite surfing and their reply was “Why the hell would you come here then?!” There are tons of places to buy or hire equipment, and boards and wet suits litter the gardens of villas all along the beach.
- Surfing – You can definitely surf in Tarifa, although the waves are best in winter where they can be 2-3m high
- Hiking – Tarifa is surrounded by beautiful coastline and hills to explore
- Mountain biking – Those same hills make it perfect for mountain biking. You can hire a bike from a few places around the town for around 20 EUR a day – yikes!
- Beaches – Regardless of the time of year, the beach is a main focal point for Tarifa – either sunbathing, walking, or exercising
- Fiestas – Seems to be a fiesta for everything, a great way to get out and immerse yourself in culture
- Day trip to Tangiers – Costs around €36 and takes 2 hours, meaning a day trip to Africa is more than possible
- Whale Watching – I really wanted to do this while I was there, but it doesn’t run in off-season.
- Yoga – Check out the Tarifa ECO Center for yoga classes
- Gym – New Concept offers cross fit style workouts
- Bossa Bar – Weekly Language Exchange Meetups every Friday at Bossa Bar
- Explore Andalucia – Day trips to Seville, Malaga, Gibraltar, Algeciras etc
For more ideas, check out Lets Do Something Facebook Group
Getting a Sim Card
Make sure you grab a SIM card as many places don’t have Wi-Fi. There are several mobile phone shops on the main Avenue Andalucia near the Puerta de Jerez (“gate”). Due to some of the phone packages needing Spanish ID, you are restricted a little on which package you can get.
I went with Vodafone MegaYuser – 2GB of data and some text and calls for 20 Euros. They were doing a promo when if you then top up another 20 EUR, you get double data the next month, so a nice tip if staying longer than a month. To top up, just go back to the Vodafone shop.
Getting to Tarifa
Getting to Tarifa is relatively simple, but a bit of a trek from any airport. A hire car is recommended, but may give you some hassle in peak season.
Flights to the region
The nearest airports are Malaga, Seville, Gibraltar, or Jerez de la Frontera – which means there is always a cheap ticket to be had. Flights from the UK to Malaga are frequent, and you can pick up a rental car easily from there. Gibraltar is a little more difficult to get a hire car from as far as I know, and crossing borders may invalidate your insurance.
I booked my flights with Kiwi.com as I find their website is super flexible at finding best deals in a large radius – they have one-way flights on there (as of October 2016) for just £22!
Getting to Tarifa from Malaga Airport
Driving from Malaga airport to Tarifa is super easy – I did it several times. The first time I did it I used the AP7 toll road – which costs around €10 each way. I soon found out that the A7 old road runs parallel to it, and takes just as long, without any cost. The drive takes around 75 minutes, but maybe the first time you do it will be slower as driving over the mountains near Tarifa is a little hair raising the first time you drive over them!
Alternative travel options:
- Bus – there is a direct bus from Malaga to Tarifa
- Bla Bla Car – Ride sharing – there are always people doing this route, so you can find someone to pick up you for around €10
- Taxi – Around €80 each way
- Or hire a car!
Hiring a car for 28 euros in Malaga
Malaga apparently has some crazy stat that there is a hire car available for every 2 tourist visitors to the region. Which means that outside the peak summer season, there is a massive excess of hire cars, and you can rent a car for a very cheap price.
I hired two cars while in Spain, one cost €70 for a month, the other cost just €28 for a month. Yes, €28 for an entire month of car rental. Crazy! So shop around and see if you can get a bargain.
I recommend the following websites which is where I found my deals:
Do You Spain
Its also worth using an aggregator to double check these are the cheapest places – I like Travel Supermarket for that. It seems 28 or 30 days are the best amount of days to select to get the best price deals.
Very often the car company will be RecordGo or Gold Car budget hire rental companies. Yes the queue might be long to collect the car, but for 30-60 minutes waiting, you are saving maybe €100. Not bad. Plus, you’re in Spain where everything takes time.
These cheap hire car companies want to get more money out of you – for anything and everything. So as long as you drive safe, don’t crash and return it within their conditions, it should be fine. You might need a credit card to pay for a deposit (€1,000) and you often need to buy fuel upfront (which is fine, as you are driving all the way to Tarifa).
To cover me for any crazy insurance excess demands they may make, I have a yearly excess insurance package with Insurance4CarHire. They then cover any excess insurance charges they may try to charge you (and means you don’t need their Super Excess insurance which is often €4-6 per day). This costs £39.99 per year.
Cost of living; what are the prices like?
My expenses when in Tarifa:
Apartment – €500 p/m
Coworking – €180 p/m
Sim Card – €20 p/m
Gym Membership – €30-50 p/m
Coffee – €1-€2 per cup (small)
Tapas – €1.50-3 per dish
Set Menu – €10 (3 courses)
Burgers – €8
Car Hire – €1-5 per day
Beer – €1-4 per glass
Wine – €2-4 per glass
1Kg fresh prawns – €6
3 french sticks – €1
If you budget around €15 per day for food and drink, then you are probably looking at spending around €1,400 per month (£1,200 GBP) to live comfortably in Tarifa (without too many big nights out). You can do this considerably cheaper if you want to share an apartment, cook at home with basic food and not go out much.
I had a couple of interesting in months in Tarifa, and this was the first time I had properly worked in a Spanish tourist town. I found it fairly challenging to get in to a work vibe and get stuff done (biggest challenge: unstable slow internet + non-consistent work spaces) and the weather wasn’t what I was hoping for (its definitely hotter up the coast near Malaga in January to March).
I didn’t find it was the friendliest of places – the English/Spanish relationship is always interesting, and you’re close enough to Gibraltar to have some older locals get quite angry about that still. I felt that friends who spoke Spanish got lots more out of the place than I did.
I can definitely see the appeal of Tarifa, and I think in those just-off-peak months the place would be great. The beach is amazing, the sunsets are amazing, if you are in to kitesurfing its one of the best spots, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous, and because of some of the locals trying to make this in to a nomads spot, there is a growing community, which means it offers a hell of a lot more than a lot of other spots.