Gibraltar travel guide: What to see at the Rock

Danik the Explorer

One part of the United Kingdom I have always wanted to get to is Gibraltar. I wanted to know why my country has a little bit of land on the southern tip of Spain surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. I am not going to get to the politics of who has the rights to Gibraltar, that’s not my problem. If anyone wants to know this, research it, and it’s a bit long winded. And I thought the Falkland Islands and Argentina was a hot topic. However I wanted to come here to see the natural landscape, the wildlife and possibly met a local or two and see what life is like in this part of the world.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
The first view of The Rock when crossing the border from Spain in the car

The main place I wanted to see was the Rock of Gibraltar to which the locals call it The Rock. 426 meters in height (1,398 feet), the Rock can be seen for miles. There is another reason why I wanted to go to the top of the mountain and I explain it a bit. Olga & I came here in the height of the summer so we decided to get the cable car to the top and hike down as it was around late morning when we arrived.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
Parking up near the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and after queueing for a while, we were on our way to the top of the Rock. The cable car first started operating in 1966 and was built by friends from Switzerland (they get everywhere around the world with their cable cars). However this isn’t the first cable car to be built here, there is evidence of an earlier cable station that used to bring supplies up to the top of the rock via rope and these can still be seen today. The cable car stops midway at the Ape’s Den but we didn’t get off here, we carried up to the top of the Rock (like 99% of visitors also do). A journey time of six minutes stuffed in a packed car with thirty people was actually quite enjoyable. The views whilst going up took my mind off the sweaty other tourists. At the top station there is a restaurant, cafe, and toilet facilities.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
Cable Car – a view from the top with Spain to the north
Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
A view from the Top of the Rock

Whilst at the top, there are terraces which offer amazing views across the Strait of Gibraltar (and this is where I got my first ever views of Morocco and Africa as I have never been to the other side of the Mediterranean. Also the views along the east coast towards Marbella are truly stunning.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
My first views of Africa (in the far background) whilst at the top of the Rock.

It is here what was the main reason for our trip. To see the Barbary Macaques which are known as the Rock Apes. They originally came from the Atlas Mountains and Rif Mountains in Morocco and while they are decreasing in numbers in Northern Africa, the numbers here in Gibraltar are increasing. There are over three hundred Barbary Macaques on the Rock! History states that the Barbary Macaques were on the Rock long before Great Britain took over the island in 1704, findings have been found in historical records in the early 1600s. There is legend that as long as the Gibraltar Barbary Macaques exist in Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. Then shock horror occurred in 1942 (during the Second World War) that the population of the Barbary Macaques went down to seven. Winston Churchill who was the British prime minister at the time was shitting himself and ordered their numbers to be replenished straight away and grabbed some more monkeys from Morocco. Churchill really believed in this legend.

Check out my other British travel blog posts here

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

When visiting the Rock, if just to see the views, take a ride up the cable car, talk a walk in the underground tunnels, visitors are very likely to see the Barbary Macaques. Here is a few helpful tips:

Direct contact with the Barbary Macaques is strongly discouraged. Even though they are used to humans, picking them up and putting them on your shoulders is not a good thing to do. Even hugging them like a baby is not advised. They are still wild animals and if something frightens them, they will attack you.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

Keep items on you close and secure. I found out that the camera which was hanging around my neck was grabbed by a little Barbary Macaque and tried to run down the path with it. I am a fast runner so he had no chance. The mother of the baby was just looking on, thinking, god, my child is a twat. But I felt like a twat as well. 

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

Do not feed them. Let the authorities feed them the right foods. Do not hand feed them. They will lose their way if this carries on.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

Recognise their warning signals – when threatened, the Barbary Macaques  will give a warning which resembles a pouted mouth. Called the Round Mouth Threat (RMT) to which the macaque looks directly at the human who is being annoying with raised eyebrows. The gesture is usually silent but for the occasional ‘pant’ means ‘No’ or ‘Stop’. If a Barbary Macaque directs a RMT at the human, stop whatever annoying action it is that you are doing and step back calmly to give the macaque some space. This will reassure the macaque and it will stop displaying its threat gesture. Failure to do so would mean the macaque, having pre-warned you will need to resort to lunge or call for backup. Then a group of macaques will jump on the human, killing it and having you for lunch. So respect them! (Well, not sure if they will kill the human but you get the idea!).

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

Make sure you give them space. Don’t stress them out. Even if there is a mother and a baby in front of you, don’t get close. It’s a very stressful experience and the RMT as in point four kicks in. Get your ass away from them!.

And It is illegal to touch the Barbary Macaques. Enough said. 

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

I am not joking, we saw quite a lot of Barbary Macaques whilst at the top of the Rock. We did a few trails up here (underneath the trees to keep cool) before eventually taking a staircase all the way down to the town centre of Gibraltar (even then we were coming across the little rascals, it was like one of them didn’t want us to walk away and wanted a cuddle…no!).

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
After we did our self-guided walking tour of top of the Rock and saw the Barbary Macaques, we had a quick wander in the town. We met a local policeman who was born and bred in Gibraltar. He is known as a Gibraltarian. Speaks the local lingo (whatever Gibraltarian’s speak), Spanish and of course, the Queen’s English. Pleasant chap, told us to have tea and scones in a cafe down the road. Walking along the main street with all the shops, it was just horrible. It reminded me of towns back home with palm streets dotted about. It was a bit of a tourist trap here so to be honest, later on in the day, we got back in the car and drove back to our base near Malaga. One bit of advice when driving here, don’t stop in the middle of the airport runway (as the only road between Gibraltar and Spain goes across the runway). That’s when I got spoken to very harshly by another police lady. I sure learnt that lesson. Moments later, the runway/road was shut to traffic and a plane landed. All exciting.

Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes
Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory, United Kingdom, Hiking, Apes

To see what else you can do in Gibraltar, check out the official tourism website here.

Gibraltar travel guide: What to see at the Rock