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Isla de las Palomas: The island at the end of the world

Martín Serrano

@Fran Montes

The emblematic enclave of Tarifa, where all winds meet, two seas embrace and two continents all but touch, will soon belong a little bit more to all of us.

Photos: Fran Montes

The Isla de las Palomas (Island of the Pigeons) is surrounded by a perennial halo of mystery, an extreme scenery, where all the forces of nature seem to collide to occupy an unusual, almost mythical scenery.  This area, in the southernmost tip of Europe combines the highest levels of excellence in terms of its environmental wealth, heritage and geo-strategic position.

The Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve is the jewel in the crown of the Straits of Gibraltar Natural Park. Its marine wealth boasts unique species and it is visited all year round by scientists and students from all over the world. It is also a privileged vantage point from which to observe the passage of birds in their migration to and from the Old Continent.

The Island could well have been used as the atmospheric setting for an eerie film depicting the desolation of the ruins of the old barracks, the rocky, rugged shores, its strong tides and the screeching of the thousands of seagulls that regularly break the silence. This unique place crowds together many  historical vestiges: Phoenician tombs, the docks, an Arabic cistern, the ancient beacon, artillery stores, the barracks or the necropolis.  Throughout 2019, the Island’s assets will be displayed to visitors at a centre set up in the Lighthouse and the adjoining facilities, which belong to the Port Authority of Algeciras According to project managers, “Atlántida” the works will cost the Port Authority some €186,000.

The Lighthouse which was built in the second half of the eighteenth century, measures 33 metres in height and is located 48.3 metres above sea level. Until 1808 the Island and Tarifa were separated by the sea. In that year Antonio González Salmón the financier and politician responsible for the breakwater of San Felipe, built the dike that joins them to this day.

@Fran Montes

Slowly but surely the current mayor of Tarifa, Francisco Ruiz, wants to reclaim the Island for  the public use. Licenses are being put out to tender and are likely to be awarded to companies in the private sector which will be able to issue passes, schedules and guides for everyone to enjoy this unique place.

With careful planning and organisation this ‘island at the end of the world, could become one of the most visited areas in Andalusia.

The centre

Visitors will be shown all that the Island has to offer by way of history, cultural heritage and marine wealth in the Lighthouse and annex where there will also be a tourist information centre and halls for exhibitions, conferences and similar activities.


The ministry of the Interior runs a Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (Immigration Detention Centre) at one end of the Island, so organised visits will be restricted until the authorities find a more suitable location to attend to the immigrants. Requests for its closure are constant.

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