Gibraltar: Travel to Climb the Rock, Visit the Monkeys & Even See Africa!

An Easy Day Trip from the Spanish Coast

Gibraltar Monkey © Jackie DesForges

Jackie DesForges is a lifelong dedicated travel lover and a Rail Europe Travel Consultant from our Chicago office.  On her off time, Jackie goes on exciting travel adventures.  We were lucky to have Jackie approach us to write about using our products in exchange for passes and city cards.  We are thrilled to contribute to Jackie’s love of travel and to read about her experiences.  In this blog series, Jackie used the Global Pass, 15 days in 2 months flexi, Barcelona Card, Lisbon Card, Malaga Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing Tour and Sevilla Card.  If you happen to call our contact center and get Jackie, make sure to mention that you read her blog series!

During my first year working at Rail Europe, I received several questions about getting to Gibraltar, the tiny British settlement that lies at the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

At the time, I didn’t know much about this little town. I’d heard about a giant rock, and I knew that a Strait was involved. Aside from that, my knowledge of this strange little place didn’t extend too far beyond a brief excerpt from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.

But then I learned about the monkeys. And the strange half-English, half-Spanish language spoken amongst the few residents. And the fact that you not only have to walk through customs and across the border, but that this walk also involves a somewhat nerve-wracking stretch across the runway of the Gibraltarian airport. The monkeys were really all it took to convince me, honestly, and the rest was just a bonus.

Gibraltar is an easy day or weekend trip from the southern coast of Spain.  It is easily accessible from Madrid,  to Algeciras, which is approximately 5 hours via the Altaria train.  The Altaria train offers a modern high-tech comfortable environment with exceptional accommodations.  In 2nd-class, there are available audio-video sets, access to the buffet car and board games for children. In first-class, the passengers enjoy a welcome drink, a complimentary newspaper, an at-seat meal and lounge access and free parking at the station (except the Madrid Puerta de Atocha station).

You’ll need to make your way down to La Linea, which you can reach by bus from neighboring Spanish cities.  Once arriving at the station, you’ll need to walk down the street for about five minutes until you see the border crossing area for Gibraltar – buses do not cross over, so you’ll need to walk through. Once you’ve been let in, you will notice that you are about to walk directly across the runway of the airport, and you will probably feel slightly alarmed at the lack of anyone directing traffic. This is particularly terrifying if, like me, you decide to carry a massive backpack, thereby limiting your mobility should a plane suddenly need to take off or land while you are crossing.

After my backpack and I survived this dramatic entry, I only had about a seven-minute walk to my little boat hotel in the harbor. If you need a bus, and if you’re traveling in the off-season like I was, you’ll notice that there are only 6 bus lines, and most of them are totally free of charge! As if the monkeys and the harrowing airport crossing hadn’t won you over already.

Gibraltar Monkey © Jackie DesForges

I’ve mentioned the monkeys twice now, so I suppose I should elaborate: after you take the cable-car ride up to the very top of the Rock of Gibraltar, you’ll be greeted by a small group of free-roaming Barbary-Macaques. These monkeys have lived on the Rock for years, and they even have their own little portraits hanging on one of the walls of the enclosure for anyone who is curious about their names and personalities. Goldie was my personal favorite. There are signs everywhere warning you not to touch or feed the monkeys – in fact, you shouldn’t even bring food up with you, as the monkeys are apparently very fond of snatching afternoon snacks from unsuspecting tourists. I don’t blame them – I imagine that if I were a free-roaming monkey on the Rock of Gibraltar, I would probably consider that a hilarious prank, too.

Gibraltar Cable Car © Jackie DesForges

Atop the Rock you’ll have an incredible view of the little town and surrounding Spanish hillsides. If the weather is cooperating, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Africa a little less than 20 miles away. You can also take a stroll down one of the scenic paths to St. Michael’s Cave, the location of a gorgeous auditorium built around the cave’s natural acoustic properties. (Bonus fact: apparently the Miss Gibraltar Beauty Pageant is held here?)

After that, you might want to replenish your caffeine supply. I discovered a little coffee shop called Sacarellos, the self-proclaimed oldest coffee shop in Gibraltar, slightly hidden off the main street downtown in the Irish Quarter. You’ll recognize it from the slightly creepy statue of TinTin that stares out at you from the front window.

Sacarellos Coffee Shop © Jackie DesForges

And no trip to the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula would be complete without a stop at the lowest point on the European continent, Europa Point (allegedly! Some still claim that a part of the Spanish coast reaches further south than this part of Gibraltar).

From Europa Point it is about 16 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar to northern Africa. There are benches situated along this part of the coast so that you can remain comfortable while straining your eyes to see if you can actually make out any human figures standing on the end of the other continent. There’s a lighthouse, a mosque, a playground, a gift shop – like so many other well-known destinations in Europe, it appears that this locale has been structured so as to include something for everyone.

Europa Point © Jackie DesForges

The people who live in Gibraltar do not seem to adhere to any particular language. Some speak with a completely uninterrupted British accent – it’s as though Spain isn’t just a ten-minute walk away. Others would speak to me only in Spanish (at least until they realized I couldn’t understand a word they were saying), while a select few would simply switch between the two, a Spanish word for this and an English word for that. There didn’t really seem to be a particular pattern or rule for this, so I never really knew what I was going to get when I started speaking to someone. When in doubt, I just started shopping – did I mention yet that Gibraltar is VAT free?

Gibraltar is no doubt a very strange place, but there are so many things about it that make for a good story when you return home from your trip. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to climb up a giant rock, look across the ocean at Africa, and chat with a monkey named Goldie all at the same time?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 at 4:08 pm and is filed under Traveler Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  • Datie Rogers

    Wow, it looks beautiful, the pictures are gorgeous, and it seems like a very interesting place!!

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