Things we know about Gibraltar:
Gibraltar’s most famous feature is “The Rock,” easily recognizable because it’s also the logo for Prudential Financial, Inc.
You can ride to the top of the Rock on a gondola.
You will most likely see monkeys when you visit the Rock.
Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom.
We decide to make a quick visit to Gibraltar because we are in the neighborhood, so to speak, so why not? Maybe we’ll learn a few more things about this tiny British outpost. Our research suggests that the best option is to stay just across the border in La Línea de la Concepción, Spain, so we reserve a room in a hotel located (literally) steps from the border and convenient for executing a self-guided daytrip to Gibraltar.
But first, the drive from Tarifa to La Línea – short, with gorgeous views of both mountains and sea. After arriving in La Línea and checking into our hotel, we search for lunch (a common theme on travel days) and survey our surroundings.
We are staying close to the marina and experience a colorful sunset during dinner.
We are surprised to see that the Rock is lit up at night! Low hanging clouds add an air of mystery.
The next morning dawns cool and cloudy with a threat of rain, but since we have no flexibility in our schedule, today is Gibraltar day, rain or shine. Based on sound advice from other travelers, we buy gondola tickets for the Rock on the Spain side. After walking across the border and flashing our passports a couple of times, we catch a shuttle bus that takes us to the gondola. There’s no line, so we’re on our way to the top in a matter of minutes.
At the top, we encounter the famous monkeys immediately.
The monkeys – 150 or so in total – are Barbary macaques and represent the only wild monkey population in continental Europe. Native to Morocco, experts are uncertain how and when they arrived in Gibraltar. Visitors are advised to keep their distance, because they are prone to grabbing handbags and backpacks, looking for an easy snack. They can also bite if they feel threatened.
As I’m watching one monkey from a few feet away, another jumps onto my back, using it as an intermediate stopping point before bouncing to another landing place that doesn’t involve an unsuspecting human. Do I scream? Of course!
In my opinion, the most compelling reason to visit the Rock is the spectacular views, both of the Rock itself and the surrounding area. It is an imposing geological feature that seemingly rises up from nowhere and feels out of place in this otherwise flat coastal area.
After wandering around at the top, we start the trek back down on foot. Our Upper Rock Nature Reserve tickets include access to a number of featured sites along the way. Many are related to historical military activities that took place on the Rock, including multiple battery locations, networks of manmade tunnels, and the Military Heritage Center. We visit roughly half of the sites but miss out on the others, which I’m attributing to the poor map and sparse directional signage.
A stunning feature on the Rock is St. Michael’s Cave, a network of limestone caverns located at nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. Visitors have access to large rooms with stunning stalactites and stalagmites that are accentuated with colorful and dramatic lighting.
By far, the most jaw-dropping feature of St. Michael’s Cave is the massive chamber that has been converted to a concert hall with full functionality for live performances, including orchestra concerts, operas, and rock/pop groups. According to Wikipedia, the annual Miss Gibraltar pageant is held here annually.
We expect the views on the hike down to be magnificent, and they are, but we’re also pleasantly surprised to see that much of the Rock is in its natural state – mostly just vegetation (native plants, we think) and primitive hiking trails. We explore the mile-long Inglis Way footpath that is rich in flora and fauna biodiversity. The trail is more rugged than we anticipate, so we get a good workout on rough terrain. Good thing I brought my hiking boots! (Too bad they are sitting in my suitcase in the hotel room . . . .)
After reaching the bottom, we find lunch (fish ‘n chips, of course) and roam the downtown streets for a couple of hours before heading back to Spain. A few additional photos below:
And then, we return to Spain by walking across the runway at Gibraltar International Airport (it’s the only route into and out of Gibraltar by land) and successfully crossing through the border checkpoints. It’s been a fun day – very glad we included Gibraltar on the itinerary.
Time for a quick bite to eat, then packing for the next leg of our coastal tour of southern Spain. Thanks for making the trip with us!