Gibraltar: A Little Piece of Britain in Spain

Adventure Travel, Cultural Travel, England, Spain, Wildlife & Animals — By on September 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm

For one of the most beautiful views in all of Spain, it turns out that you need to travel to…well, Britain. Yes, you read that right. Britain, complete with all the fish and chips, clipped accents and “God Save the Queen” you can possibly handle. Though Gibraltar and its famous rock are firmly attached to the Spanish mainland, they are British through and through. Gibraltar uses pounds, celebrates the Queen’s birthday and will gift you a stamp on your passport at border control.

Though it may seem strange to stumble upon a tiny piece of the Queen’s England clinging to the Spanish landmass, Gibraltar is officially a British dependency and has been since 1713. Presumably out of a great affection for fish and chips, the locals have loyally chosen to remain British on two different occasions; during the last vote, over 99 perccent of Gibraltar’s inhabitants vetoed assimilation into Spain.

This tiny peninsula, however, has a few things that the English Isle simply never will, such as the famously massive Rock of Gibraltar, the top of which offers breathtaking views of Africa, both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and the rooftops below. As if watching Africa peak out through the mist while two oceans meet in the middle isn’t cool enough on its own, legend has it that this rock, paired with the Djebel Musa across the strait in Morocco, was one of the Pillars of Hercules, believed in ancient times to be the boundary at the edge of the world. Epic…literally.

But Gibraltar also has something that the mainland is probably very happy to be without: monkeys. Ever since the Moors brought the “Gibraltar apes” to the Rock as exotic pets for their royalty’s gardens, hoards of them have made the place their permanent home. Don’t get me wrong, I think their tiny faces are adorable and, from a distance, I’ve made my peace with the vicious little claws that wrenched bananas from my hands during my four-month stay in India. But if an eager tour guide with a pocket full of monkey-luring pasta starts offering up an opportunity for monkey-on-the-shoulder pictures, be careful.  While the little ones are happy to sit quietly on your shoulder, accepting their crunchy reward and smiling for their close-up, the older, bigger Gibraltar apes have trouble containing their jealousy.  The battle that ensues will probably ensue on your head; my glasses were nearly ripped from my face as my cute, smiling friend was booted and a much bigger relative took his place. Facial-trauma aside, the monkeys are fun and memorable; whether you opt for the photo-op or are merely content to watch them play on the rock face, they’re worth the visit.

While the monkeys and the view are definitely the most exciting and worthwhile parts of the Gibraltar experience, two other sites are popular and worth seeing. St. Michael’s Cave, once believed by the ancients to be the gate of the underworld, Hades, is dark, wet and full impressive of rock formations. Even if it’s not the most impressive natural wonder you’ve ever stumbled upon, you will appreciate a break from the Spanish heat. The siege tunnels on the other side of the Rock are also worth visiting; they once housed soldiers and offered an advantageous vantage point during World War II.

There are three ways to reach the top of the Rock. The first, a taxi tour, costs roughly £20 per passenger and includes a trip to the top of the Rock, a visit to the favorite monkey hang-outs, a stop at St. Michael’s Cave and a stroll through the siege tunnels.

The second, the cable car ride, is £7.50 one-way and £9.50 round-trip; it doesn’t include a trip to the caves or to the siege tunnels. If you’re interested in seeing either site or if you’ve purchased a one-way cable car ticket and would prefer to walk back down to sea level, you’ll be forced to pay a £10 visitor ticket that includes admission to all of the sites. Tickets can’t be purchased for individual sites, and you won’t be allowed to walk down without paying. This fact is not well advertised, and you’ll run into plenty of tired, crabby backpackers grumbling at the ticket stands. For this reason, it’s important to know your exchange rates before deciding on one route or the other; with the current dollar-to-pound exchange, the taxi ride is the best bet for all four sites.

The last option requires a Gibraltar license plate; locals are sometimes allowed to drive their own vehicles to the top.

Photo credits: sincretic, David Stanley,  kjelljoran

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  • colonial says:

    Hope you enjoyed, I noticed you used the right preposition for your article. It is indeed a peculiarity “IN” Spain, it is in fact a part of Spain waiting to be recognized as such. In fact there are other places IN Spain with more foreign flavour. The only difference is that the foreigners brought their army this time.

  • Natho says:

    Actually, as the land does NOT belong to Spain it cannot be IN Spain. Although I do understand why some people may get jelous.

  • Laura says:

    Cute monkey, bad monkey 🙂 However, I think the Gibraltar monkeys are a nice touch.