The tiny British Territory of Gibraltar, located on the southern tip of Spain near Morocco, is often overlooked by backpackers. Too often, tourists skip from Lisbon to Málaga, Granada, or further. I'm not writing today to convince you to visit Gibraltar (if you really need convincing, simply do a Google Image search of 'Gibraltar' - I promise, you'll want to change your itinerary immediately). No, I'm thinking that if you're reading a post about the Do's and Don’ts, you've already decided to visit, and good for you. You'll be glad you did.
Here are some tips regarding what you should and shouldn't do while there.
The Mediterranean Steps are a long set of stairs first carved out of the face of the cliffs in 1789. It descends quite steeply, and isn't for the faint of heart or legs. If you think you can manage it though, expect to spend about an hour and a half on the trail (climbing top-to-bottom, as we did, or bottom-to-top). You might be able to complete the hike faster, but I promise you won't want to - instead, stop to admire the way the cliffs tower over the sea, and give your body a breather.
One of Gibraltar's biggest draws is the population of wild monkeys that live there. It is said that as long as the monkeys live there, the territory will remain under British rule. You can buy a ticket to the monkey sanctuary just up the hill from town, but you're just as likely to see them outside the sanctuary, so I recommend saving your money and looking for them in a more natural habitat. We found them at the top of the cable car, and across much of the top of the rock (though less so as we got towards the tip of the territory).
Gibraltar, being a territory of the UK, is such a change of scenery from southern Spain. First, nearly everyone speaks English, and probably as their first language. Second, the local currency is the Pound. Third, the street architecture is similar to what you'd find in London, only without all the rain. Briefly escape nature and enjoy a stroll through the sunniest part of the UK, taking in the sight of bright red phone booths and dark pubs as you go.
Did I mention that Gibraltar is part of the UK? When you arrive, you'll be crossing an international border, so be sure to have your passport with you. Otherwise you can't get in, simple as that.
Watching the monkeys? Yes. Take pictures of them? Of course, how else will you prove to your Facebook friends that you went to Gibraltar? But don't pet the monkeys. You'll only be inviting them to steal your belongings and bite you, plus you'll incur the disdain of any locals who catch you in the act. You've been warned.
Things are expensive when you pay for them in Pounds, and that includes accommodation. Hostels are almost non-existent, and hotels can be pricey. Besides, there is no real reason to spend the night in Gibraltar; if you plan ahead and get there in the morning, you can experience everything Gibraltar has to offer in just one day. And between Málaga (just a two- or three-hour bus ride away) and the numerous beach towns that dot southern Spain, you've got many options for sleeping elsewhere.
Seriously, just don't. Feeding the monkeys emboldens them, not just during your stay, but when others visit as well. There are countless stories of Gibraltar's monkeys stealing food and jewelry from tourists, and the blame for this can be placed squarely on people who thought it'd be fun to do more than just watch them from a distance. Don't be those people, please!
Gibraltar makes for a great day trip destination from any city or town a short drive away. Bring your passport, some good hiking shoes, and respect for the wild monkeys and you'll leave with some brilliant photographs and memories of some of the most spectacular scenery you'll find in Europe.
Brian is an American who escaped his desk job to live in sunny Freiburg, Germany. He runs a tour business that occasionally has actual customers and writes about his expat life and travels at www.thewildlyordinarylife.com or on Twitter & Instagram @brianwbeard.
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