After Visiting Gibraltar, I concluded that, “I’m just not into you!” Let me share with you why Gibraltar didn’t rock my socks (pun intended). I know that a day is not a long time to discover a place, but the reality for many people, particularly cruise passengers as we were, is that a place only has one day to prove itself. The question I kept asking myself was “Is Gibraltar worth visiting?”
How we came to be in Gibraltar
- 1 How we came to be in Gibraltar
- 2 About Living in Gibraltar
- 3 Did you know this about Gibraltar?
- 4 Our First View of Gibraltar
- 5 Size of Gibraltar
- 6 Crowds, crowds and more crowds when Visiting Gibraltar
- 7 Duty-Free Gibraltar?
- 8 Brief History of Gibraltar
- 9 Unique Location of Gibraltar
- 10 . Gibraltar is a “low-tax regime,” not a tax haven
- 11 Don’t mention Brexit to the people of Gibraltar
- 12 So How do Explore the Rock of Gibraltar
- 13 Explore, if you can, St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar
- 14 See the Barbary Apes of Gibraltar
- 15 What is the The Rock of Gibraltar really like?
- 16 The Underground Tunnels when visiting Gibraltar
- 17 Downtown Gibraltar
- 18 The Best Thing about Gibraltar is the Airport
- 19 Don’t Forget Your Passport
- 20 Would I recommend Visiting Gibraltar? Take a guess.
We sailed into Gibraltar from the incredible Cartagena in Spain, where we unfortunately only had one day. I say unfortunately because Cartagena was amazing, and if I had known more about Gibraltar, I probably would have stayed the extra day in Cartagena and caught up to the ship in Cadiz, another kick ass Spanish town.
So, I guess you can gather that I was less than impressed with the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, or Gib to the people who live and work there.
About Living in Gibraltar
The territory is home to 29,752 people, but they have 12 million visitors each year. Locals are called Gibraltarians. Many work in the gaming industries, which I will explain later, and others in finance and IT.
Many people don’t live in Gibraltar because it is so damn expensive. Instead, they stay in Spain, but probably not in the closest town of La Línea which has a very high unemployment rate and are suffering from the economic downturn. San Roque, Alcaidesa, and Santa Margarita are popular choices. Around 9,000 people cross the border each day to go to work. Source
Despite living in the cheaper Spain and taking this advantage, they ironically use the derogatory nickname for the Spanish people, calling them “Sloppies.” How very imperialistic.
Did you know this about Gibraltar?
I don’t care that John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married in Gibraltar on March 1969, spent 10 minutes at the registry office and then nicked off to wonderful Amsterdam for a real bed and a real honeymoon; even if they were accompanied by the world’s press, as they called for world peace. Sean Connery has been married in Gibraltar (twice). Gibraltar appears to be an expedient type of place to visit, and to leave. Curious.
Our First View of Gibraltar
I will explain why Gibraltar certainly does not rock my socks, and that is probably where it started. Having the vantage point from the ship, we were all excitedly looking for the Rock of Gibraltar as we sailed in, and that is when we realized the power of photoshopping and the power of having a drone, which made the rock look more impressive than what it is. But that was ok, maybe when we went up the rock, we would see that yes it was amazing. Spoiler alert: it was, and it wasn’t.
I do have a couple of positive things to say about Gibraltar, but I will leave them till later.
Size of Gibraltar
Gibraltar is small as in 6.8 km² small. The Vatican is the world’s smallest country, but Gibraltar is not a country. It is a British Overseas Territory. For comparison sake, the Vatican is the smallest country at 0.44 km², and nearby Monaco is the 2nd smallest at 2 km², then comes Nauru at 21 km², so if Gibraltar were a country, it would be the third smallest in the world. It ain’t big.
Why do you need to know this? It will help to explain how very crowded it gets here with the limited land area. For a start, there is a massive chunk of limestone rock in the middle that measures 426 m or 1,398 ft high. This is about the same size as the asteroid that passed Earth in April 2017. There is also an international airport and runway in the middle of the territory, so you can understand that when the tourists flock here, it is going to be crowded, as in very crowded.
Crowds, crowds and more crowds when Visiting Gibraltar
When a couple of thousand people get off a cruise ship, not to mention the people who arrive by car and coach and want to get to the Top of the Rock, via one road, then yes it is going to be very busy. We experienced a long, slow snaking line of minivans trying to get everyone to the top, and it was frenetic.
I am astounded by the number of people who ‘choose’ to visit Gibraltar. Check out these numbers:
We visited in the low season, but here are the stats of the visitors in 2016. There were 115 cruise ships which berthed in Gibraltar. There were 7,288,600 visitors by the land frontier. There were 2 million by car and 3,700 coaches coming into Gibraltar, and all of the others. It appears I might well be in the minority of my opinion of this British Overseas Territory since so many people choose to visit the territory. Source
Gibraltar may be popular because it is a sort of duty-free area.
I say sort of because while there are many shops selling duty-free cigarettes and alcohol, there are limits on what you can buy. There is also the added markup because for goodness sake, you are a tourist, and you deserve to pay more. Watch the Main Street for this.
Tobacco smuggling is rife, “Last year, Gibraltar imported 134 million packets of cigarettes, a staggering 115 million of them alleged to have made it over the border illegally”. Read about it here
Brief History of Gibraltar
Let’s step back a bit and discover more about Gibraltar and its peculiarities and why it is/was significant. Gibraltar has a very strategic location, at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea and thus access to the ports of the Mediterranean countries.The other entrance is the Suez Canal, at the other end. In 1869, the Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas was opened.
Britain’s possession of Gibraltar goes back to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which gave Gibraltar to them forever. The British do control this access point to the Mediterranean, hence the importance of Gibraltar as a strategic enclave. It was obviously a very important military base in the 2nd World War and a great place for ships to stop for a refuel.
Unique Location of Gibraltar
You can see Spain and Morocco from Gibraltar, and thus two continents, Europe and Africa, especially from the top of the Upper Rock. A short ferry crossing will take you to Morocco, and you literally just need to cross the road to get into Spain – though, it can take 8 hours to get through immigration control. That’s the worst case scenario but a chance for the Spanish to piss off the British, because the Spanish don’t like the British controlling Gibralta., and they probably don’t appreciate being called Sloppies. The Spanish probably think that this area of land on their own Iberian Peninsula should be a part of Spain, but in the referendum of 2002, the people of Gibraltar voted to stay with Britain. However, in July, 2017 Spain’s King Felipe told the UK Parliament he wants talks on the future of Gibraltar to come to “arrangements” that are “acceptable to all involved”.
Gibraltar is a “low-tax regime,” not a tax haven
Monaco is a tax haven, but Gibraltar is a “low-tax regime.” Buggered if I know the difference, but online gambling companies LOVE Gibraltar, because of the low tax rates and other incentives. Gibraltar has tax sharing agreements with almost every developed country .. well except Spain who refuses to recognize this advantage and multinational corporations love Gibraltar because of the low corporate tax and the knowledge that they aren’t “hiding in a tax haven.”
Don’t mention Brexit to the people of Gibraltar
Gibraltar voted 96% pro-EU because they are screwed if Brexit goes ahead. Spain plans to end Gibraltar’s ‘privileged’ existence as a ‘tax haven’ in Brexit negotiations. Source
So How do Explore the Rock of Gibraltar
There are several ways to see the Nature Reserve of The Rock of Gibraltar which includes St Michaels Cave, the Apes of Gibraltar, the Upper Rock itself and the World War 2 Tunnels. One way is to take the cable car up and explore at your leisure, assuming you know how to avoid the relentless traffic that snakes up and down the rock, with total disregard for pedestrians ..because they are on a schedule to get as many people up and down in a day as possible.
Another way is to climb The Mediterranean Steps, which are a long set of stairs first carved out of the face of the cliffs in 1789. You need to be very fit to do this, and you need to set aside at least 90 minutes each way, plus your time at the top. For people in Gibraltar for a day, you will be hard pressed to do it, unless you climbed the steps, and then took the cable car back, and you could avoid the cavalcade of taxis and mini vans.
The other way is to take a minibus who spruik their wares at the cable car where the lines stretch forever. We chose the minivan tour because we would have been waiting far too long to reach the top via the cable car.
Explore, if you can, St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar
The system is that each minivan is allotted a time slot at each stop. Our minivan, overheated as it was, stopped at the St Michael’s Cave for our first visit. Because we were in a queue, the driver parked down the hill as we made our way in with the queue of people, to join the queues of people going through the caves. Because we were in long queues, and we only had 10 minutes in the cave, we marched forward, and through, so we wouldn’t miss our allotted time slot to proceed to our next port of call and another queue.
What we saw was impressive, but when you are in a snaking line, it is hard to appreciate what would be undoubtedly amazing. The main hall of the cave is enormous, and is now an auditorium for performances with a capacity of about 400 people. I think seeing and experiencing a concert in here would be good. But would I race out of my way to visit Gibraltar for this – well no, I wouldn’t.
See the Barbary Apes of Gibraltar
We got back onto our minibus, and when it was our turn, we were moved to the next photographic opportunity spot. One of the minivans had not left at their allotted time and had caused everyone to be in another long queue. This was a highlight of the day as the drivers swore at one another, in Spanish, and gesticulated wildly to the bad boy. Bloody Sloppies!
Here we could see the apes of Gibraltar, which are macaque monkeys. They are Europe’s only monkeys, not found in a zoo.
They climbed up and over the minivans, looking for the open window opportunity to join the passengers in the overheated vans. As a side note, we seem to be following these macaques around the world. We have seen the snow monkeys in Japan which are macaques; the black macaques at Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve in Manado, Sulawesi in Indonesia, and the Balinese long-tailed macaque monkeys in Ubud in Bali, so maybe there is something in this for all of us. Nothing really, we just follow monkeys apparently.
What is the The Rock of Gibraltar really like?
The mountain is not large, but it is very steep. So we did get to our stop, and we were afforded 10 minutes to see the monkeys, photograph as best we could the Rock of Gibraltar or Upper Rock, and then get back into the snaking traffic that would take us to the next photo op position, to look at the airport.
The Underground Tunnels when visiting Gibraltar
There are 32 miles of underground tunnels and allegedly a secret natural tunnel from Gibraltar to Morocco. We didn’t have the time to see the tunnels because of the long queues, but the Rock of Gibraltar was excavated between 1939 and 1944 to create a special fortress because British military leaders believed that the territory was facing imminent attack.
Gibraltar is an obvious British territory with red post boxes, red phone boxes, Marks and Spencer, and pubs serving fish and chips. It is pleasant enough, and we needed a cold (sorry it’s Britain so a warm) beer, which was appreciated after being stuck in the traffic jam. We even had a British piping band come down the streets to do something or rather.
The Best Thing about Gibraltar is the Airport
Gibraltar has the World’s only airport runway intersecting a road. The airport’s runway is built out over water, but the main street, Winston Churchill Avenue, intersects the runway which needs to be closed when a plane lands. There are traffic barriers to tell the cars to stop so that the aircraft can land. Many people play chicken with this. This and the winds of the Strait of Gibraltar have earned Gibraltar International Airport, #5 on the Top 10 Most Dangerous Airports in the World.
It was the best part of the day to watch the plane land and the traffic bank up on either side of the road. The runway is not long either, and there was some pretty good screeching of the tires as the plane hit the tarmac.
Don’t Forget Your Passport
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.
You can read about all the places we visited on our cruise, and what we thought of our very first cruise here.