- Travel and Places
The Apes of Gibraltar
The Barbary Apes on The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar is the home of the "Barbary Ape", a kind of macaque monkey, but without a tail. It is a highly controversial place and has been a British territory since 1704 much to Spain annoyance, as it has a rather strategic location at the only entrance to the Mediterranean. The Rock itself also acts as a impenetrable fortress. It is connected to Spain and the only way in or out, by land is now over the airport runway. But is it a good place to visit?
If you want to go somewhere different for a long weekend, in Europe, what could be more different than Gibraltar? This unusual peninsular with it's mountainous rock jutting out into the Mediterranean towards Africa is quite stunning but also has an interesting and quite violent history, and a rather obscure mixture of British, Spanish and Moroccan culture and cuisine and of course those monkeys.
For travel tips, advice and hotel recommendations (and photographs) please read on.
Getting To Gibraltar
If you are in the U.K. getting to Gibraltar is easy, flying BA from London Gatwick direct into Gibraltar's small military airport. There is a morning flight and an evening flight each day. From Spain it is also very easy to get to, by road.
My recent flight to Gibraltar was quite exciting, circling the rock, then making an attempt to land then pulling up at the last minute due to heavy cross-winds, doing another lap of the rock and finally landing rather heavily on the tarmac. Usually you won't have any such excitement, but the view on approach is quite memorable.
Map of Gibraltar - Where is The Rock of Gibraltar?
Gibraltar is small enough for a keen walker to never need a taxi, but there were plenty available at the airport, and on arrival I took one to the hotel to help me get my bearings. There are other taxi ranks around the town too. There are also minibuses that can be hired for tours of the island from hotels or from the town and a cable-car from the base of the rock, at Europa Road, at the end of the main road through the town, near the botanical gardens. This is the recommended way of getting to the top of the rock.
Accommodation in Gibraltar
We stayed at the imaginatively named Rock Hotel on Europa Road (it cost about Â£130 a night for a double en-suit room with balcony). A clean white Art Deco hotel on the side of the rock, overlooking the botanical gardens and cable-car terminal to the front with fantastic views of the Mediterranean and North Africa from the terrace and our small balcony. On arrival at 11am the room wasn't ready, but the friendly receptionist thrust a glass of port into my hand showed me to a comfortable chair in the pleasant little bar. The bedroom had two small free carafes of complimentary sherry and whisky with which to enjoy the sunset. The restaurant was very pleasant and quite old fashioned with a good selection of British or European dishes, although rather expensive for what you get. I would certainly recommend this hotel and restaurant if staying in Gibraltar. It's location is ideal for exploring and it has fantastic views.
Things to do in Gibraltar
The town which sits between the rock and the airport (and Spain beyond) is like stepping back in time (although not very far) to England a few decades ago, with a strange mix of a slight Spanish and Moroccan influence. The food similarly was from a different era, pretty variable and most of what I tried was not very good, with the exception of The Rock Hotel restaurant which was surprisingly good, although fairly expensive (about Â£50 a head for a two course dinner with wine). There are a few English style pubs on the main road through the town which serve good English beer and food such as fish and chips, but the biggest selection of cafes and bars is in Casemates, the main historical square where there are plenty of tables outside.
The Gibraltar Museum is well worth a visit, with a 15 minute film about the history of Gibraltar and a lot of interesting artifacts it gives a good introduction to the place before exploring some of the sights.
The Botanical Gardens opposite the Rock Hotel are pleasant and worth a brief visit. There is also a "Wildlife Park" which is just a small zoo with a lot of empty cages and a few mangy animals, although it was apparently being renovated, so maybe most of the animals were somewhere else.
The Rock is where most of the tourist attractions are. A mini-bus from the cable-car terminal took us to each of the main attractions for about Â£10 each (shared with two other tourists) making it a bit cheaper than the cable car and we didn't need to walk between the points of interest (i.e. we were lazy and I'm trying to think of excuses) Wonderful views of Africa, the siege tunnels where the English fought off the Spanish and a large cave with huge stalagmites and stalactites etc. and of course, those monkeys everywhere (Barbary macaques or "Apes" as they are often called) Great fun to watch, but a young one jumped on my head and got a bit overexcited (all over my camera. So beware)
Dolphin watching is also possible from boats chartered from the mariana near Casemates. We managed to get a large boat for just Â£20 each shared with just one other person, but in high season I would imagine the boat would have 20 or 30 people on it for the same price each. This is very enjoyable. The dolphins seem to love it as much as the humans and play in front of the boat. The trip took about 90 minutes.
I would certainly recommend visiting Gibraltar if you are in that part of Europe and have a day or two spare and even as a destination for a long weekend it was worth doing. Any longer than that and I think you would run out of things to do. From a culinary point of view it is not very good, but it is however quite unique.