Secrets of Tabarca

The smallest inhabited island of Spain is located a few kilometers from Santa Pola. It used to be a safe haven for pirates, but it is now a protected island with an abundance of fauna and flora. Fancy a day trip? Visit Tabarca!

What is Tabarca

Tabarca is a small, picturesque island that is located off the Spanish coast. It is a few kilometers from Santa Polo and is visible from several places on the Costa Blanca. The island belongs to the province of Alicante, is 0.3km² in size and has about 60 inhabitants.


Until the end of the 18th century, Tabarca was a base for pirates. That is why the island has the nickname “the pirate island”. King Carlos III wanted to put an end to this and decided to populate the island.

He lacked volunteers, but the Spanish monarch had a stroke of luck. Spain was already in possession of an island on the Tunisian coast. However, that island, called Tabarqah, fell back into the hands of the king of Tunisia. All the inhabitants of the island were captured.

Tabarca island
Secrets of Tabarca 4

Horrified by what had happened, the Spanish monarch bought back several hundreds of prisoners of war and placed them on the island near Santa Pola. An original name was also chosen, namely Nuevo Tabarca.

The military engineer, Fernando Méndez Ras, was appointed to make the island habitable. A defensive wall, a fortress, houses, a lighthouse, etc were built. The result? From then on, the island was pirate-free.

Island of Tabarca


At the end of the 19th century, Nuevo Tabarca had some 1,000 inhabitants. These were mainly active in fishing. The fish they caught were then taken to the fish market of Santa Pola.

Over the years the population has fallen sharply. Today, only about 60 permanent residents still live there. The main activity is no longer fishing but tourism. This, of course, knows its peak in the summer months, with thousands of visitors per day.

When you visit Tabarca, keep in mind that you are on an island, with a limited number of restaurants and bars. The prices are higher here than on the mainland. You could take a picnic and enjoy it in a cosy spot.

Activities in Tabarca

Although Tabarca is only a small island, it has a good supply of activities.

This includes exploring the ruins of the former defensive wall and of the fort. You can also visit the defensive tower during this exploration. This tower (Torre de San José) was a state prison during the 19th century. Escape was not recommended because you were staying on an island, but also because the tower was surrounded by a wall of cacti. There are also two entrance gates that remain intact, and which you can visit.

You can also take a walk to the lighthouse, where you can enjoy a phenomenal view and where you can spot rare birds that nestle along the rocky coastline.

The local church, built in Baroque style, is also worth a visit.

You can easily explore Tabarca. You can also easily find your way in the village. In addition to picturesque fishermen’s houses, there are also 2 hotels, one of which was the former residence of the governor.

Snorkeling and swimming are also to be recommended here. This island has its own nature reserve, with crystal-clear water where you can admire coral and fish.

You cannot shop here. However, you can eat delicious “Caldero” (fish stew) in one of the restaurants.

Tabarca restaurants

How to reach Tabarca

Boats and catamarans with a see-through bottom to the island depart from various seaside resorts on the Costa Blanca. These ferry services are clearly indicated in the marinas and are certainly not expensive.

You can also do something more adventurous, by planning an excursion using a jet ski or renting your own boat.