My Tarifa Experiment – A little braindump for digital nomads

Tarifa is the most southern town of mainland Europe. This quaint little village lies in the middle of a gigantic national park – the Parque Natural del Estrecho. Because it sits on the Strait of Gibraltar it gets a lot of wind. This has transformed Tarifa into a mekka for kite surfing enthusiasts from all around the world. Beginners and professionals alike enjoy Poniente and Levante. If you learn to kite surf there you can do it anywhere. My adventure led me to Tarifa for different reasons. Originally born out of the kite surfing community Tarifa has become a hub also for the digital nomad movement. A new generation of information workers, entrepreneurs and travel enthusiasts that do not align with classic corporate careers and choose to travel while working at the same time. Location independent jobs is the magic keyword and in recent years a number of them have been coming to Tarifa in spring and autumn to enjoy warm weather, catch-up with their nomad tribe and enjoy the various activities around the area.

Tarifa2

My adventure started at the end of February. I packed my bags, drove to Tarifa with a friend and spent the next three months there (with some exceptions). My lack of interest in kite surfing definitely raised some eye brows. Why would anyone suffer through some of the strongest winds in Europe if not for the joy of slicing through the waves with a kite and board. But over time I realized I was part of a minority but not that unusual. Sure, there are more wind days than calm days, but only on one or two days did I have the feeling I was being sandblasted while taking my lunch stroll.

Tarifa

Nevertheless I am very thankful that I’m able to work remotely and so enjoy small things like a walk on the beach at lunch, putting my feet in the ocean and enjoying amazing sunsets whenever I feel like it. In this post I will try to summarize my experience, the mistakes I made and any recommendations for someone who is thinking about going to Tarifa (or working remotely in general).

The Tarifa Seasons

July and August are high season in Tarifa. The population in town increases by 5-10 times and locals and nomads alike don’t enjoy it and try to stay clear. For nomads March-June and September-November are the recommended months. Most of the cafes, bars and restaurants will be open then but the town will not lose it’s small and cosy feeling. Also the concentration of nomads it highest then, so you will be welcomed into the tribe in no time.

Tarifa3

Accomodation

Another reason why nomads avoid high season is the prices of accomodation. There are a lot of appartments and rooms for rent in Tarifa and the owners know they can charge pretty much whataever they want in summer. For the other seasons you can get good deals from around 250-300 EUR per month for a room in a flat share or 600-700 EUR for a small appartment. Sadly some of the rentals cannot be bothered to reduce their prices enough in off-seasons since they make enough in summer. If you’re coming to town for more than a month you might be able to negotiate a special deal, so write messages to some of the owner on platforms like AirBnB, join the appropriate Facebook Groups (see below) and keep your eyes open after arriving (remember you can always rent something off AirBnB for a week or two and continue your search on the ground – short notice availability in off-season is not an issue at all).

Tarifa4

Travelling

Two main airports serve Tarifa: Malaga and Gibraltar. Depending on where you are departing and how early you book you should be able to find return deals around 100-150 EUR. Renting a car is not a necessity since everything in Tarifa is about 5 minutes away, but having one is convenient (especially if you do kitesurf). In off-season you can get cars dirt cheap (15 EUR, yes fifteen, for a month was the cheapest I got). Use the website http://www.doyouspain.com/ and check just a few days before, because that’s when they reduce the prices for the upcoming weeks.

The only exception are tourist weeks such as Semana Santa (Easter) where you will probably bring the car back before that and get a new one after that or else you’ll be paying more for that one week than for the three months of car rental combined. Just a note on insurance: the company I went with FireFly tries to upgrade you to full insurance which will be a lot more expensive than what I have described above but you can get excess insurance (e.g. mine is from http://www.insurance4carhire.com/) to cover the costs in that case.

SantaSemanaTarifa1 (1)
Santa Semana in Tarifa is the busiest week in March and the village becomes crowded. A preview of summer population numbers.

Three things you need to be aware of are

  1. you must bring back the car and swap it after a certain KM amount or number of days (check your contract)
  2. the break-down service they provide will usually be quite expensive, a local one would be better, but you do have to get the car back to them somehow and finally
  3.  if you’re caught speeding not only do you have to pay the fine but you also have to pay a 40 EUR processing fee.

(Side note: these cars are often delivered free/empty which means you can bring the car back empty if you want to, but not only do they charge higher prices than at the petrol station, you will also pay 25 EUR for filling up the car. If you bring it back full you get a full refund for the prepaid petrol and no extra charge). I recommend FireFly because they are in the airport parking lot, the prices are fantastic and even though check-in takes about 30 minute on average, bringing back the car is done in no time.

Driving to Tarifa is easy, follow signs to Algeciras and then Tarifa and in about 2.5 hours you arrive. Beware there are toll roads, which are easy to navigate and cost about 10 EUR in total, and toll-free roads which are not that much more difficult but you will be driving through many roundabouts on your way.

If you don’t want to rent a car there is a good bus connection from Malaga to Tarifa. If you arrive at the airport, take the bus or the train to Malage central bus station and from there you can find a couple of direct bus connections to Tarifa which will take you to Tarifa’s bus station which is close to the center. One-way is about 17 EUR. There are no trains to Tarifa as of May 2016.

Food and other supplies

There are three supermarkets in town. By increasing size: Supersol, Lidl and Mercadonna. (There’s also dia, but it’s really small). Spread out across all three they generally have everything you could want. The two things I couldn’t find were cider (Supersol briefly had some but I bought it all and they didn’t restock it) and asian cooking supplies.

There are a number of asian bazars/chinese shops in town which are your first destination for any non-food items. You might be searching for a while, but they usually have it. Again with the exception of food items.

There are many kite/surf shops in town for anything related to that, but for general sports clothing and equipment Dekathlon in Algeciras is your best choice.

My culinary highlights

As a nomad you can’t really go out everynight, so cooking was a must, but I did venture out now and again.

  • Los melli – packed almost every night, but you must try the (slightly) grilled tuna on toast.
  • Bar El Frances – don’t try without a reservation unless you’re really early. Everything is great.
  • Chilimosa – best vegetarian restaurant, try the indian mixed dish and/or couscous (with raisins).

Activities

In Tarifa I have two recommendations. A walk around the castle will take you an hour and give you some amazing views over the old town. Once a month roughly there is free admission, but even on other days it only costs about 4 EUR including the guide. Secondly you can go visit the island. The area is a military zone so you can only get in with a guide. Mundo Posibilidades is a local company providing tours (in Spanish though).

In spring dolphins and whales swim through the Strait of Gibraltar. That’s why there are two companies in Tarifa that offer whale watching. We went with Turmares on a boat with about 130 people and saw dolphins, pilot whales and the fins of sperm whales.

Whale1Whale2

Also there is a free walking tour which I didn’t do (yet) but has been recommended too.

Tangiers is just around the corner by 35-minute ferry. You can get guided tours from most places that sell tickets, but I will pass on someone that was recommended to me: Moghit with whom we had a great tour of Tangers. One soft sales pitch in a herbal shop but other than that more than 6 hours of guided tours around the Hercules cave, parks and old towns of Tangiers. Added bonus the bazar folk didn’t bother you when he was around.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory about an hour away. It’s essentially a rock that has been the center of many disputes. It was owned by many nations but ended up in the hands of the British. UK residents might not find it so appealing, since it’s basically a slice of home, but as a British citizen living abroad that little slice mixed in with Spanish mentality was exciting. Also there’s monkeys on the top of the rock. Who doesn’t like monkeys?

The national park around Tarifa has great hikes and views. Beware of some cows on your path, but other than that they are great walks for all ages and types.

A day trip away by car are Ronda, Cadiz and Sevilla. All worth a visit but drive slowly or you’ll have a friendly 100 EUR souvenir from the Spanish police.

Ronda is divided in two by a canyon and a bridge that is worthy of Game of Thrones. The hike to the bottom of the canyon only takes about half an hour and is worth it.

Taking the motorway to Sevilla (or Seville in English) about a half an hour away you will notice a change. It’s a subtle change away from Andalucian calmness to a powerful warm Seville feeling. Definitely worth a visit, but in summer it get’s scorching hot. You’ll be hoping from one shady spot (and the water sprinklers assembled there) to the next to get through the old town without melting.

If you decide to spend more than a day in Sevilla and have a nerdy bend like me, you might want to visit the old expo area. A largely abandoned but well preserved site. Parts were converted into a research hub and a leisure park but walking through the streets you can get an impression of what went on there 1992.

But probably my favorite spot was Bolonia. There are three highlights almost on one spot. First and most known is the roman archaeological site which is very well retained and a well preserved site. Secondly the beach and bars are definitely worth a sundowner if you can find someone to drive you (or hike from Punta Paloma which takes about 2 hours, but you still have to get there as well).

Last but definitely not least go visit the dune just off the beach in Bolonia. Go to the top and then down into the forest. You will see signs and trees that have been partly swallowed by the dune as it slowly progresses inwards.

BoloniaDune1BoloniaDune2

Nomad mistakes

A couple of my decisions were probably suboptimal, so just in case you’re reading this and considering doing something similar, here’s my 2 cents:

  1. I was sure I was going to need a bike in Tarifa, so within the first two weeks I bought a second hand one from a guy in town for about 70 EUR. Even though at first I thought it would do, but even the small hill in Tarifa was too much for me with that bike. I then drove to Algeciras and bought a bike there for 300 EUR. Great bike and I did do one serious mountain biking adventure with it, but apart from that I got out of town 2-3 times in all the time I was there. Renting a bike in Tarifa costs about 20 EUR a day, so financially both bikes (or even one bike) was a bad decision. I did manage to sell both on my second to last day for about 120 less than I spent, but I probably wouldn’t do it again. The small bit of flexibility you gain by having the bike and being able to take it out for an afternoon doesn’t offset the costs. Of course if you are serious about mountain biking it might be worth it (I’m more of a long distance going straight cyclist).
  2. I like working with a big computer screen, so I ordered one of Amazon to be delivered straight to Tarifa. Cost including shipping was about 225 EUR. I didn’t manage to sell it before I left (mostly because the same one was being offered at a local shop for 200 EUR) and decided to ship it home. That costs 65 EUR (the cheapest being 2 EUR less but without insurance) with the Spanish post office. If it arrives in one piece then it’s not necessarily a bad choice, but depending on which airline you choose taking it with you yourself might be a cheaper alternative.

Nomad tips

  1. Attend the nomad meetups if you get the chance. Usually there’s one a week and it’s the fastest way to get to know amazing interesting people and expand your social circle.
  2. In Tarifa there’s only one coworking space (La Cocotera), but if you go cheap on your accommodation and work from Cocotera that’s a great combo. They do have a hostel and apartments as well. The hosts are lovely, co-workers are up for a chat but will leave you alone to work aswell. There’s an inside are with tables, a sunnier area and a sun terrace. Probably the only thing they are constantly fighting with is a stable internet connection. When it works the line is great, but for some reason it just goes down every now and again which makes Skype calls problematic. You can buy a prepaid internet from the local Vodafone shop and use that for important calls and just rely on Cocotera for the rest. Just beware you need a VPN to use VOIP over Vodafone.
  3. Do things and organize things. I literally waited for most of my trip to be over to actually enjoy more than just Tarifa. Sure the town itself has a lot to offer and I did some hiking but there are great things to do and see around Tarifa. Organize a trip to Tanger, Ronda or Bolonia and get to know your fellow nomads better.
  4. Learn Spanish. You can get great private lessons for 10-15 EUR (my recommendation is Sofia). Not only is it appropriate to learn some Spanish while in Spain, but you’ll have a much more integrated experience. You don’t need to learn Spanish to survive in Tarifa, but it sure helps.

Some additional ideas on your way in and out of the country

Since leaving Tarifa by plane often means going to Malaga, you may decide to spend a night there in order to have a stress free departure (especially if the flight is early morning). There are great AirBnBs in Malaga, but twice I chose a different path. Torremelinos is right next to Malaga airport and the camping place there has affordable little huts you can stay in (together if you’re not travelling solo).

Torremelinos1

My favorite one though is where I’m currently writing this. Hidden Valley Camping was my first encounter with Glamping – Glamour Camping. What it means is that you get the experience of outdoor camping, but with some extra comfort (the major one in my opinion being the tent is already standing when you arrive and it’s a super comfy large one). The hosts are great, breakfast is included, dinner optional and each tent has it’s own private area (even with a private toilet). The most astounding thing though is the surrounding the camping area is situated in. You can literally open your tent and look out onto a vast valley. Turn around and you have a beautiful mountain which is worth a hike. Sure, it’s still camping, but I would recommend it to anyone and will be returning and for more than one night next time.

What’s on my list for next time

Further links:

 

Saying goodbye to Tarifa is hard, but I will be back…

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