Gibraltar (Part 1): Exploring Gibraltar from top to bottom

Getting settled and Climbing “The Rock”

The View coming into the “The Rock”

The fun, but tricky thing about having “crew on board” is you make basic plans for a sailing trip: you know who, when, where.  You make this plan sometimes months in advance. Then you execute said plan and well, mother nature has other plans she didn’t discuss with you.  So needless to say, all onboard with said plan have to be VERY flexible with the their time off and travel schedules! We had originally planned to spend about 48 hours in Gibraltar and get on to our Atlantic Crossing.  Well, mother nature was like “NOPE.” Best laid plans! For the next few days a super unexpected out of position Azores High was allowing deep lows to persist west of Portugal creating SW headwinds along our track down the African coast and so…We fell into a weather waiting game. A series of low pressure systems has kept a number of boats hiding in Gibraltar waiting for a good departure window; We actually were getting concerned about keeping our slip reservation.  Other boats were booked for our slip and here we are asking for additional days. We thought about sailing straight across the strait, no pun intended? To North Africa for a change of scenery, but all the marinas across the way were all still full with boats in the same holding pattern we were stuck in. No room at the inn. There are worse places to be stuck, I’m sure!

So what to do when you are stuck…Explore!

So what do we do with ourselves while we wait besides the necessary provisioning and fixing broken boat things…and, in this case, constantly clicking refresh on our Predict Wind models. We go see what this port has to offer. How do I describe Gibraltar?  It’s a truly unique city. Ceded reluctantly by Spain in 1713, it is a British Overseas Territory which sits at the very strategic southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, on the Bay of Gibraltar just shy of the exit of the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s tiny! Coming in at right around 2.6 square miles and completely surrounded by Spain. To compare, that is just over 10x the size of the National Mall in DC. It’s geography is dominated by “The Rock”, a monolithic limestone mountain that peaks at 426 m (1,398 ft). 

Fun fact: The Romans referred to it as the end of the known world, believing that civilization ended beyond its cliffs. It certainly feels that way as we approached it from the East. At it’s foot is s a densely populated town area which a just over 32K people call home. 

Once we were docked, checked in (a surprisingly easy process) and settled, we went out to stretch our feet and check out the surrounding area.  It didn’t take long to get to the main street which was lined full of pubs, higher class stores and electronic shops selling their duty free wares intertwined with small shop venders selling all manner of touristy trinkets.  We could have been in England honestly.  Though the “British feel” was off just a bit. This British city is surrounded by random palm trees, European architecture and people who represent just about every nationality on the planet. Like I said, very unique! We stopped into a local watering hole, the Trafalger Sports Bar, just around the corner from the marina once we did our initial scouting of the area. One of our crew was a huge Liverpool fan and a game was on so it was a not a question that we would set up shop for a bit to watch the latest game. and while we don’t have US sports, Erin was quite content with a trusty WIFI connection so she could stream the NCLS leading Phillies. 

Enjoying some downtime exploring the city, rooting for our home teams and enjoying a pint

We were tired from our first long multi-day sailing trip so after a short trip towards down, we opted to stay close to the marina for dinner and celebratory beverages. This was easy as Queensway Quay Marina surrounded by a quiet backdrop of Mediterranean-styled residential complexes and a peaceful waterfront walkway overlooking the boats lined with a choice of elegant restaurants and bars. We settled ourselves down at the one that looked the least expensive. 

Which way do we go? We go up…

Waking up to a sunny day in Gibraltar and when you think you are only going to be somewhere new for a 2-3 days you do your top tourist attraction. So, in Gibraltar, what do you do? You go UP! To the Top of the Rock! (Sorry Sean Connery/Nick Cage fans…deffe rock.)

There are two ways to get up there. The easy way…Purchase a ticket to take the cable car which rises at a steep angle almost 1400 feet above sea level to the top of the rock in about six minutes. I’m sure the views are incredible. 

The way we chose was to walk!  With 17 attractions, lots of wildlife and trails, we figured we’d be entrained as we hoofed it. On the way up, a 1000’ elevation gain, we walked about 2.5 miles zig-zagging our way up from the southern end of Main Street, through the residential areas at it’s base through the gate of the Gibraltar Upper Rock Nature Reserve (established in 1993) where we paid for entry, dodging monkeys and stopping at various attractions. The way down was a neater 1.8 miles. 

I suppose you could also drive up…not recommended, the roads at the attractions were often clogged with sightseeing vans. 

The Easy Way
The Hard Way (which also includes living obstacles)

Some of the stops we made on our way up included:

  • Toured the Devil’s Gap Battery constructed in 1902 and was armed with two 155mm guns.
  • Walked across the Windsor Suspension Bridge, a rickety 71 meter long bridge hanging over a 50 gorge between two military batteries.
  • St. Michaels Cave, a highlight of the more than 1000 feet of tunnels carved out of the limestone to provide a defensive network that began in the 1700s. The cave has had many uses through history serving as a hideout during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, an ammunition store and emergency hospital during WWII, and as a place to host parties and picnics during the Victorian Era. Nowadays, they run tours though it with an impressive colorful light show that highlights the stalagmites, stalactites and the amazing formations along the cave walk. It ends with a short show at the 400-person capacity amphitheater built into the cave system that hosts a number of shows and concerts. The highlight of our walk (besides the view from the top of course). Much like a Disney ride, it drops you out at the cafe/shop. We stopped for a refreshment and snack. Why not!
  • We topped out at the Gibraltar Skywalk a glass structure you can walk out on that makes you feel like you are floating about the Mediterranean Sea, built on an old WWII base structure. Fun Fact: The Sky walk is built to withstand wind speeds of over 90 miles per hour and can carry the weight of 5 Asian elephants (or apparently 340 people which is a less entertaining comparison).  Good to know, cause it was windy! Standing at just under 1200 feet above sea level, we were greeted with a spectacular breath-taking view spanning three countries (Gibraltar, Spain, and Morocco), two continents (Europe and Africa) and where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet (where we hope to cross shortly!) Truly a one-of-kind view! We also stopped in at the Cafe at the top of Gibraltar for a respite and a snack.
  • On the way down we hit the famous Ape’s Den. Which isn’t really a den or inhabited by Ape’s! Gibraltar is very well known for their population of VERY friendly Barbary Macaque (pronounced “muh-kak”) monkeys who call this area their home. Their origins are still up for debate. The monkeys were either brought over by Muslim migrants from North Africa or Roman traders or European migrants who moved through the area for various reasons. Either way, they have a rich history of their own through the centuries and continue to flourish and enjoy their protected status. While these monkey’s are everywhere on the Rock, the Ape’s den is home to a group called the Queen’s Gate group who are particularly inquisitive and opportunistic. We checked them out and moved on. Though on our way down there was very narrow walk way that was a popular lounging area for these guys.  It was quite unnerving walking by these little thieving gate-keepers! 

That night, tired from our long day in the sun and walking, we opted for some pizza and beers at the lovely Mamma Mia Pizzera & Pasta House. The food and atmosphere is great, the outlook for a weather window for up coming sail…not so much…

To see more of our first few days, check out our YouTube Video (no idea why it’s still spelled wrong on the thumbnail! I fixed it!):

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