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  • jcwiza

Gibraltar: Mischievous Monkeys and Views to Africa

Updated: Feb 25

As we traveled toward Portugal on our way from Spain, there was a unique place beckoning us and we just had to see it. There was no way we were going to be way down at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and not visit the Rock of Gibraltar!

At the tip of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain lies the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. We drove along the southern coast of Spain for a couple of hours before arriving at the border control station. This was unusual for us as we had been traveling largely within Europe's Schengen zone with no border controls between countries. Our hour and a half wait at the border was a surprise, but it was worth it. This is a tiny place, only seven square kilometers in size, with a population of 35,000 (excluding the monkeys, more on this later), and it's the most densely populated territory in Europe.

Gibraltar is most well-known for its eponymous rock, and we couldn't wait to climb it. As you approach Gibraltar from Spain, the imposing Rock of Gibraltar suddenly appears before your eyes. We drove up a narrow, steep one-way street in the center of the city to the lovely Eliott Hotel. This decidedly British hotel is in a perfect location with wonderful staff, cute pub, and friendly service.

The next day, we headed out to go to the top of the rock. You can hike the whole way up, or there's a convenient Gondola that will take you to the top. We opted for the gondola so we could enjoy the expansive view on the way up.

The rock is a giant hunk of limestone that stands guard over the strait of Gibraltar and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Great Britain took Gibraltar from Spain in 1713 during the War of the Spanish Succession. For over two centuries it held particular importance in protecting trade routes and the unique location proved invaluable during WWII.

From the drop off point of the Gondola, we hiked upward and across, taking in the incredible views from every direction. To the north is Spain's Iberian Peninsula, and to the south, across the strait and only 13km away is Morocco and the continent of Africa!

The views were incredibly awe inspiring and it was quite an experience to stand at the gateway to two continents. We were soon distracted from all this natural beauty by the local population that started to appear everywhere as we went upward.

The Barbary Macaques of Gibraltar are a species of tailless monkeys that originated in Africa. No one knows exactly when or how they got here, but it's suspected that they were brought over by boat from Africa many hundreds of years ago.

The population is thriving with over 300 of these cute primates calling Gibraltar home. Well, let's make that at least 320 because we just happened to be there during the birthing season. That's right, there were at least twenty infant and newborn macaques being cared for by their mothers. We actually happened upon a live birth which was quite serendipitous and amazing to see!!

Feeding the monkeys is illegal and you are not supposed to touch them. But they are super friendly and are known to hop onto humans for some primate interaction, which we experienced first-hand. Be careful not to scare them because they can bite when feeling afraid. We witnessed one of them yank a necklace off of another tourist's neck, which was a nice warning for Jennifer to hide her necklace away before she got too close!

The rock has numerous defunct military installations including massive cannons dating from WWII, aimed out into the strait, guarding the area from approaching enemy vessels.

There is also an incredible limestone cavern deep inside the rock, replete with giant stalagmites and stalactites and lit up ominously with colored lights. There is actually a light show that you can see inside the caves and it was worth waiting for, so we were glad we didn't leave too soon.

The caves are also a nice way to get out of the heat!

A wood and cable suspension bridge hangs precariously across one of the trails that took us down from the top. Don't look down if you don't like heights! What a great spot for a photo!

Beyond exploring the rock, there is more natural beauty to enjoy, including beaches. The sea surrounds this peninsula, so it was begging us to enjoy a bottle of Spanish tempranillo at sundown. The sun sets across the strait with views to Africa in the background. As the sun set lower, we were met by another group of local inhabitants. A large pod of playful dolphins made an appearance at just the right time, jumping and spinning out of the water as if saying good night to us as the sun sank below the horizon.

At the southern tip of Gibraltar lies the

Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque. This majestic structure, completed in 1997, was a gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. It is the southernmost Mosque in continental Europe and the largest mosque in a non-Muslim country.

Surrounding the rock, there are several tourist beaches tucked into coves and surrounded by limestone cliffs. No beach time for us, but they were very popular spots for visitors and locals alike!

The Rock is clearly the primary attraction of this charming little place. But what else does the town have to offer? Well, it is a cute British enclave at the tip of Spain, a little odd! It has many British residents and visitors (with very red sunburns), and you will find a bevy of English pubs, kabob shops, and cafes. Football matches (soccer) can be found on the pub TVs. A proper pint of Guinness or English cask ale can readily be found. If you like fish and chips, there is certainly no shortage here, though international flavors can also be found in the melting pot of restaurants here. In short, it is an eclectic little slice of Great Britain, with influences from continental Europe and northern Africa with a wonderful mediterranean climate.

You don't need a long stay here, a few days is just perfect. Our stay was brief but well worth the visit. It was a perfect stop to take in unique sights and rub elbows with friendly locals as we transitioned from Spain and on to our next destination - Portugal.

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Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.


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