During our Easter trip to Spain and Portugal, we also visited Gibraltar. Did you know that Gibraltar shares its border with Spain? I did not know that geographical fact prior to this trip! I thought visiting two countries in one trip was already a big deal, so adding on a trip to Gibraltar was a nice bonus! And what do you go see when you go to Gibraltar?
As I alluded to above, I'm not very good at world geography. Suffice it to say, I was surprised to learn that a) Gibraltar is part of Britain, b) it is right next to Spain, and c) it is very easy to get to from where we were staying in Marbella! I got a geography lesson while on vacation!
Let's take a look at Google Maps:
Gibraltar is about a 45 minute drive from where we stayed in Marbella, Spain. We decided we wanted to go hike up Gibraltar (I know! I didn't know you could either!) and it was crazy not to go, considering how close we were.
Miles from the border, you can see The Rock of Gibraltar from Spain. You can also see it from the Marbella coast! Needless to say, it's BIG, and it isn't iconic and famous for nothing. So while you are still driving on the highway in Spain towards Gibraltar, you can see the goal in sight.
We parked in La Linea De La Concepcion, the Spanish town that borders Gibraltar, then walked about 15 minutes to the border. Yes, you walk across! You can drive, too, but walking across seemed like the simplest thing to do, and the process is fairly uneventful.
After a Gibraltar border guard looks at your passport (no stamps, unfortunately!), you're through and and officially in Britain! How weird is that?
Is this not a quintessential symbol of Britain?
Toto, I don't think we're in Spain anymore.
We stopped in a grocery store a short walk from the border to get some snacks for our hike. Another sign that we're clearly not in Spain any more? Everyone is speaking English and prices are in British Pounds (and Euros, too, since there are so many people visiting from Spain).
From there starts the rather long walk to get to the starting point to hike up The Rock. The walk is not without its interesting points, though, considering the first thing you have to do is walk across an active airstrip!
Keep in mind that if there is a plane landing, security stops cross traffic from both directions well in advance so that there are no incidents. That being said, when you are walking across the airstrip, you do not mill around. This is not the time to take a leisurely stroll or to stop and take a hundred photos of your surroundings. (I took the photos above while walking...although I might have paused for a second to make sure my horizon line was straight!) Obviously, you are not simply getting to the other side of the street...you need to get to the other side of the landing strip! So you keep moving along, no dilly-dallying.
After that interesting adventure, now it's time to make your way to the old town of Gibraltar. Remember I mentioned in A Day Out In Marbella, Spain and A Day Out In The Algarve, Portugal that many towns have an "old town" section? Gibraltar is no exception. However, you have to walk through the "regular" looking part of before you get there. Once you do, you are transported to a pedestrian-only area with brick lanes, outdoor cafes, and old town European charm.
The old town European charm also incorporates today's conveniences and amenities. I didn't expect to see a Marks & Spencer!
We went to Gibraltar on a Sunday, which unfortunately meant that most shops and restaurants were closed. Shocking, I know...there are still places where people do not work on Sundays! What a crazy thought! Most businesses being closed meant that there weren't as many people around and it wasn't as lively. The weather being cloudy and a bit dreary also didn't help. So if we ever return, I would prefer to go on a nicer day, and not on a Sunday. While walking around the old town is still nice, it is more enjoyable when there are more people and an energy and life to it.
Let me pause for a moment to say that if you haven't got a map telling you how to get to Jews' Gate to hike up Gibraltar, now would probably be a good time to get one. Alternatively, get a taxi to Jews' Gate, or stop into a shop and ask a merchant for the way to get there because it is not obvious. You will run across tour guides, offering to take you on a tour up Gibraltar. But really, if you're able, the best way to enjoy it is to hike it. Nothing compares with getting out on your own two feet and experiencing this natural wonder yourself. Keep in mind that you can only reach the peak by foot.
If hiking isn't your thing, however, you can also take a cable car up and down The Rock. You just need to get to the cable car starting point in town. I'm sure the views from the cable car are spectacular and it is definitely less strenuous than hiking. I would choose the cable car over sitting in a van with a bunch of other tourists.
As I mentioned, there's a bit of walking, just to get to the main gate... (Are we there yet??)
Luckily, there are some lovely sights along the way, like these very pretty flowers growing out of the stone wall.
And you know you're on the right path when you see this sign!
We're almost there!!
So once you make it through town...and go for a long walk...up a long hill...and get to Jews' Gate...where you then have to pay a small fee...you've made it!
By the way, before you start your hike, you may want to make use of the facilities once you've paid your fee at the gate. There aren't any restrooms along the hike up The Rock!
Look for the sign for the Mediterranean Steps and your adventure begins!
The first bit of the path isn't too bad..some steps, some dirt path, nothing too bad at all. However, because we happened to be there on a cloudy windy day, making our way around some of the exposed cliffs were a bit daunting. The winds were so strong that I felt unstable just taking a single step, in fear I'd be blown off balance! But alas, it was all fine. The path, itself, is not difficult at all, and on a sunny non-windy day, there would be no issue. But lucky us...
Watch your step as you walk, but also make sure you take moments to look up! Otherwise, you might miss beautiful views like this...
...or funny sights like this!
There were many steps...
Gazing upwards at the cliff side, the magnitude of its size is amazing.
The last switchbacks getting you up to the peak!
And what a view! It was beautiful and bright on one side...
...and cloudy and a bit gloomy on the other!
It was a trek up, but so worth it once we reached the top! Unfortunately, because the weather wasn't the greatest, we didn't stay long. We started working our way down once I got the obligatory photos, proving we were there. Proceeding along the trail on the way down, that's when we stumbled upon some inhabitants of The Rock.
The Barbary macaque monkeys are the only wild free-living monkeys in Europe and they all live on the Rock of Gibraltar. There are many of them, and they are very interested in you as you walk by. If you're in a vehicle, like the one in this photo, they have no hesitation to climb on board.
Of course, the driver/tour guide is encouraging them, and perhaps the monkeys even know the drivers! You see adults and baby monkeys, running amok, hoping for (or stealing) food. Signs clearly state to not feed the monkeys, but we saw the drivers of these vehicles scattering peanuts. Maybe the peanuts are okay, but it's probably not wise to be offering your sandwich or potato chips to the monkeys.
That being said...
...the macaque monkeys are apparently notorious thieves.
This monkey was quite enthusiastic about his find. It looks like Salt & Vinegar chips are a hit no matter where you go! We also saw monkeys running into a nearby cafe that had people dining in it. Timid, these monkeys are not.
It makes sense that the monkeys are gathered around this area of The Rock since this is where the majority of tourists are. More tourists, more food opportunities. And why are there so many tourists here?
This view might have something to do with it.
These spectacular views of Gibraltar are nothing short of amazing. I found it neat how there seemed to be a divide in the weather...dark looming clouds on one side, bright lighting on the other. The photos almost don't seem real!
After appreciating the stunning views (and entertaining monkeys), it's time to head back down. There are a few different options. You can hike back the way you came, all the way back to Jews' Gate.
Or you can also take the cable car, which will take you back down to the town.
Alternatively, you can go down a series of steep steps, all the way back down. There are a few of these long, steep staircases that lead you down, but it is, perhaps, one of the quickest ways to go by foot. Luckily, there are guide ropes that you can hang onto. And if you pause occasionally to look around, you get some amazing perspectives of the sea below.
Watch your step...
Looking back up one of the series of steps we just came down...
You can actually hike up Gibraltar by coming up all these steps from town. We saw a few people doing that, but I imagine it might be more exhausting since the ascent to the top is quicker than going the way we went from Jews' Gate.
Eventually, after you make it down all the steps, and work your way down some roads, you stumble across this indication that you're going in the right direction.
Keep following the road and before you know it, you are back in the Old Town.
The whole hike, from start to finish takes about 3-4 hours, depending on how quickly you move and how long you stop to enjoy the views. Either way, if you are physically able to do the hike, it is well worth the excursion. The path is a combination of varying heights of stone steps and dirt paths, and there are railings in several sections.
So if you visit Gibraltar, make a point of visiting The Rock. It's a great way of working in a visit to nature into your trip, you will see some beautiful scenery, and you can tell everyone that you hiked it!