The Monkeys on top of the Rock of Gibraltar
I like to plan our travel routes in detail and outline what could be interesting to visit and where to stop, but still like to be flexible enough to make an unexpectant detour or interesting stop. We were driving from the southernmost tip of Spain (Tarifa) up the coast to Valencia. Our only planned stop was eating Malaga ice cream in Malaga. Shortly after driving through Algeciras ,we were looking at the map and decided it would be fun to make a small detour and stop in Gibraltar. It was very exciting for the kids because they wanted to see the famous wild monkeys. It is also the location of the opening scene of a James Bond Movie and we love to visit movie locations. And as a bonus, we also got to visit another country. Even though we were in Southern Spain, Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and we had to pass through a border and show our passports. To get to the city, we had to cross an airport runway. Everything felt very exciting…
Because our time was limited, we drove straight up through tiny and narrow streets towards the rock of Gibraltar. We did not know where we had to go to and just drove until we got to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. We parked our car close to the Moorish Castle and bought tickets to go inside. I like to be adventurous and it seemed totally possible to hike up the 426 m (1,398 ft) rock of Gibraltar with the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa as a backdrop. Looking back and researching a little, there are much better hiking paths up, but we did not know that at the time and just followed the map. (I would like to see the cave and Mediterranean Steps the next time) . We mainly kept on the paved road at the beginning, which worked out well with the stroller for the little princess who liked to be always barefoot at the time. The boys preferred a more difficult path and climbed the rocks next to the street.
It was a beautiful hot summer day and the views were spectacular. The birds were chirping and the mood was fabulous. Our first stop was the Princess Caroline’s Battery located at the northern end of the Upper Rock Nature preserve. We took pictures and saw the first monkey. Oh, what a happy moment. This little monkey made my day.
We were heading towards the Apes Den, when we discovered the cable car for the first time. All of the sudden the boys long faces could touch the floor. They were not happy to hike up any further, but it was too late to turn around and we kept going. After some complaining, the excitement for seeing more monkeys at the Apes Den returned.
The view from Apes Den is fantastic, and seeing the monkeys in their natural habitat is something really special. Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops live in the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though they make occasional visits into the town. There was a cute monkey sitting on the side of the wall and posing for the perfect pictures. He did eye our stroller and backpacks, but did not move.
The Charles V Wall Stairs and upper wall were up next on our adventure to the top. The stairs are bigger than they look and it was a great challenge. The sun was shining pretty hot, so we had to rest a couple times on the way. There are 4 sections with tables and benches in between, so resting is not a problem. The view gets better and better going up. Its so spectacular and can’t even be described properly. There are about 660 steps which Olivia decided to do barefoot. I think Giorgio had the most fun, because he kept on running up the stairs and kept waiting for us. We encountered several more monkeys, but were determined to get to the top. Chris was the least excited to climb up the stairs, because he also carried the backpack and stroller. Looking back, the stairs were my favorite part and I would prefer them over taking the cable car. It such a great achievement reaching the top, but the little things on the way make it really worth it. Take your time and soak up everything around you.
We were so excited when we reached the top of the stairs and the monkey feeding station. Even though it is called the feeding station, visitors are not allowed to feed the monkeys. They are managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society and the monkeys medical and nutritional care is provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC). Each day the macaques receive a supply of fresh water, are given vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to the natural food resources that they forage, and are regularly caught and checked to assure their good health.
There was a group of tourists that showed us what not to do with the monkeys. One girl had a pretty deep wound on her back because a monkey had bitten her in the shoulder when she stopped feeding him. They were debating if she should go to a doctor, when we arrived. There was no greater learning experience for my kids. They learned right away that we could not get too close and that these cute little monkeys were wild animals that may react violently. We continued to walk to the Skywalk area which is a little platform with views spanning three countries and two continents. The floor and balustrade panels are made up of 4 layers of laminated glass and makes this experience even more awesome. Of course there were more monkeys.
I felt the monkeys on the top were a little more confrontational. They really wanted to see what we brought and tried to get into our backpack and stroller. I would avoid taking bags when going specifically to see them, otherwise just try to keep a distance. One monkey was specifically interested in Luca and followed him for a short while. At first he was too terrified to go on the platform, because the monkey got pretty close to us. We made it up in the end and were not attacked by any monkeys.
All in all, a visit to Gibraltar would certainly not be complete without having seen the Gibraltar monkeys up close and be a little terrified of them. It’s an experience of a lifetime and definitely not one that should be missed!