Passing by the Rock of Gibraltar always brings people to their balconies or ship vantage points to take photos and see what all the fuss is about. The very narrow Straight of Gibraltar separates the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is a desirable, strategic location. Sitting in the straight is the iconic Rock of Gibraltar. Despite my interest in the "Rock", it took me years to finally take a cruise that actually stopped there and allow me to see the sights.
This October we headed to Gibraltar with great anticipation and very little advance planning. I had looked at various shore excursions on offer, spoke with a number of cruising friends and ultimately decided that I would not pre-book a tour at this stop. Dan and I would exit the ship and just wing it.
We arrived on a sunny, day with the sky an amazing blue and the waters calm and inviting. Perfect weather. Exiting the ship we made our way to the tourist information desk that was located in the cruise ship terminal and spoke with a representative who advised us on how best to travel to the places we had already earmarked as must see attractions. Following discussion, we selected the share a ride option which meant we exited the cruise terminal and found a group taxi tour bus. That was very easy as the drivers simply wait just outside the cruise ship terminal and ask people if they would like to join in a small group. It cost us 30 pounds per person which was lower than costs we had been quoted by private tour operators but a little pricier than some of the large group tours that would involve numbers of 45 or more persons. That 30 pound cost included the admission to all the attractions which, when I added up entrance ticket costs, came to a total of 18 pounds. So in reality, the taxi tour bus cost us 12 per person and we felt that price was quite reasonable to get to where we wanted to go and back. We had heard the odd horror stories of long walks and waits for those who chose to take the cable car and although that method got people to the top of the mountain at a significantly cheaper price, they still faced walks to see all the attractions.
The driver would not leave without a minimum of 6 people but there were two ladies already waiting so we only needed to wait for two more people to join us. With the addition of a single woman and then one other couple, we were soon ready to go. The bus comfortably fit the 7 of us and we set off. Luckily for us it was a great group. People were friendly and the driver was a wealth of knowledge with respect to the area attractions and Gibraltar history. He kept up a running commentary of useful and interesting facts.
Our first stop was at the monument called the Pillars of Hercules. It is located at a very scenic point on the mountain. Overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, one can take panoramic photos from that vantage point and see Morocco and Spain depending on the direction in which you look. As for the monument, it was large sized, with two pillars and a coin shaped plaque showing the ancient world. It stated;
To the ancient world, Gibraltar was known as Mons Calpe. One of the legendary pillars created by Hercules as a religious shrine and as an entrance to Hades to many. It signified "The Nonplus Ultra" the end of the known world.
Stop two was St. Michael’s cave which is a giant cavity in the mountain and once reported to be a bottomless cave. It is currently a tourist attraction and 600 person auditorium. I found it visually interesting but I was torn between liking the coloured lighting and finding the colours detracted from the natural beauty. If you like stalagmites, stalactites and other geological wonders, than you will enjoy this cave. There is a story that there is a subterranean passage from Gibraltar to the continent of Africa but if such a passage once existed, it is long gone.
Next up were the Gibraltar Apes who hang out at the scenic lookout points. These apes are actually tailless Barbary Macaques and there were plenty of them to see. They are fed by the state and should not be fed by tourists. Specifically, they should not be given food that is bad for them (such as chocolate), which is reported to make them more aggressive. I have seen what monkeys can do when we were in India and encountered some aggressive little monkey thieves. I deliberately did not have earrings, necklace(s), plastic bags etc. adorning my person. I did not walk near, or close to, the apes and avoided passing underneath them. Nevertheless, while I was taking a video of a few apes, another jumped on my shoulder/head and decided to give me a good grooming.
Startled at having something jump on me, I remained calm but I did not enjoy the experience. I was not worried about the ape biting me but I was a little worried about lice or fleas becoming unwanted visitors on my person. My unwelcome guest was quite content to groom me until people tried to shoo him away and then he grabbed onto my hair as that was the best way to retain his position. It was only when our taxi driver waved a fake rubber snake in his face, that he abandoned his perch in favour of easier prey. I made note to carry a fake rubber snake with me whenever I enter an area heavily inhabited by monkeys or apes.
My close encounter with the Gibraltar Ape was all well and good but I was quite happy to get back into the taxi bus and head to the Great Siege Tunnels. These tunnels were originally built in 1780 and were hand cut into the rock as a defensive system. The siege ended in 1783 with the defeat of the French and Spanish troops. There are mannequins in historical costumes placed throughout the cave along with information boards. It is easy to navigate the caves and read about its fascinating history. There are also some amazing views from various windows.
Once we finished up at the tunnels, our driver took us to several other points of interest before dropping us all off at our preferred locations. The two ladies opted to return with him to the ship, our single traveler was dropped off at the historic Rock Hotel while we were let out at the pedestrian mall so we could do a little more touring and some shopping. There are some interesting buildings and some fun street names. We eventually made our way to the main square (at the end of the pedestrian mall), where we paid 2 pounds to catch a shuttle bus to the cruise port.
I thought since Gibraltar comes under British rule that British stamps could be used to mail postcards. Since I had a book of stamps from England, I mailed a number of post cards. It ended up that I needed more stamps. Finding a place that sold stamps, I discovered that Gibraltar does not use stamps from England. Luckily for me, the mailed postcards with the stamps I bought in England did arrive at their intended destinations but I recommend buying stamps from Gibraltar if you want to mail anything from that location.
If you have any questions about Gibraltar as a port stop or comments about this article, please feel free to contact me.