How Taking a Guided Tour Can Provide You With the Best Photo Opportunities

(Contributed post from Samantha Dunn – Sam is a freelance writer who loves food and traveling. She has been a digital nomad exploring different countries for over a decade. She particularly loves the beach and enjoys trying new cuisines from each place she has visited.)

Traveling is exciting, but it can also be pretty daunting. Organising transport, accommodation and activities can be a huge task and may sometimes create so much stress that our holiday ends up being less than relaxing. For many people, booking a resort holiday at a popular destination is the easiest way to enjoy a well-deserved break.

But what if you want to venture off the beaten path? If you are an avid photographer, you may be a little bored of the same old beach photos. For those looking for unforgettable, rare experiences and amazingly unique photo opportunities, escorted tours are the perfect way to travel. Here’s why:

Local Knowledge

Traveling to distant lands and new horizons requires a lot of trial and error to find those breathtaking places. But with a local tour guide leading the way, you’ll find yourself seeing the very best your destination has to offer. As someone who knows all the hidden beauty spots, incredible viewpoints and the perfect time of day to witness spectacular scenes, tour guides are invaluable when it comes to getting those perfect travel photos.

You’re also likely to see more of the area, as your guide will be able to save you time and money with your travel arrangements already organised. Often, tours get discounted entry to popular attractions and you could even find yourself having a better seat (meaning better views) simply because you’re traveling with a tour guide.

Photo by Tamar on Unsplash

Exclusive Access

There are some incredibly exclusive locations in the world where you are only allowed to venture with an escorted tour. For places like Antarctica, these regulations ensure the safety of the intrepid explorers due to the dangerous landscape and severe conditions. Visitors to the frozen wonderland can get some amazing photographs of penguins, whales and even polar bears.

Sometimes, access is restricted to preserve delicate environments and historical artifacts, as with tours to the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves in Belize. Trekking through lush jungle and wading through subterranean rivers, you’ll reach the famous archeological site filled with amazing Mayan relics. With a camera at the ready, joining a guided tour to one of these unique locations can give you access to some incredibly rare shots.

Extra Pair of Hands

Solo travelling can become pretty lonely, and one of the best benefits of a guided tour is that you are sure to meet like-minded people. This can come in handy for your photography, as sometimes, you may need a little help to get the shot you’re after.

Plus, if you would like to feature in a few of your travel photographs, it’s understandable to be hesitant about asking a stranger to take your precious camera and photograph you. But with your new friends from your tour group close by, you’ll always have an assistant photographer to lend a hand.

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Do Your Research

Wherever you plan to visit with a tour, be sure to still thoroughly research both the tour company and the destination, to ensure it’s the perfect match for you. Check government legislation and be sure you meet the criteria of the tour to avoid any disappointment or setbacks once you arrive. For example, if you book a hiking tour, be sure to invest in some good quality walking boots and have a reasonable level of fitness.

Whenever you choose to explore with your tour guide, you’re sure to have fun, make new friends and find some incredible photo opportunities along the way.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Staying Healthy and Safe When Traveling for Business

In this post our frequent guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides travel tips for those traveling on business. Check out the links included, they contain useful resources. Jesse’s bio sketch is below. 

There are a few reasons why traveling for work can be bad for your health. One of them is the stress that comes with it. Then, when you’re constantly on the go, it’s hard to find time to take care of yourself or get enough sleep or exercise. That’s why The Independent Tourist has assembled some tips and resources to help you stay healthy and safe when you travel.

Eating Healthier

Eating healthy on the road is not easy. When you are traveling for work, you are most likely eating out for every meal. This can be really expensive and can take a toll on your health.

The first thing to do is pack snacks that will be easy to eat while traveling, like whole-grain pretzels, crackers, bread sticks, trail mix, and protein-high snack bars.

Use your smartphone’s apps to help you find a restaurant with healthy food on the go or healthy options at convenience drive-thru restaurants.

Dehydration can also be a huge problem for those who travel for work. If possible, bring your own insulated water bottle, one that can close tightly and keep your water cool – this especially helpful on long airplane trips. And stay away from alcohol, as it also causes dehydration.

Getting Enough Sleep

Traveling for work can cause some major disruptions in your sleep schedule. A lot of people find themselves staying up late or waking up early to catch a flight, and then they feel tired when they arrive at their destination.

The best way to combat jet lag is to try to maintain your normal sleep schedule as much as possible. This means going to bed at the same time every night, even if it’s not the normal bedtime in the new time zone.

There are a lot of apps to help you both fall asleep and wake up, like The Sleep Genius app for Android or travel-size room humidifiers that add moisture to dry hotel room air.

Getting Enough Exercise

When traveling for work, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day. As you’re meeting with clients, attending meetings, and staying up late to finish that report, it’s hard to find time to exercise or take care of yourself. Do some research before booking a hotel so that you will have access to a gym or pool, and make sure it’s something that appeals to you. It’s also a good idea to bring your workout clothes with you as well as any equipment you’ll need.

If you don’t have access to a gym, you can always get your exercise the old-fashioned way. Depending on your hotel’s proximity to restaurants and stores, you could walk instead of driving to run errands. That’ll help you fit in a little exercise and stay active on your trip.

Traveling With Your Dog

Traveling with your dog is great for companionship and safety when walking and jogging, as well as saving you money on boarding facilities. If it’s possible to bring your dog with you when you travel, bring a dog first aid kit and an extra leash, and ensure ID tags and their microchip are up-to-date. A GPS dog collar is a wise investment since it’s too easy for your dog to become lost in a strange place with no way to get back home. Find one that utilizes real-time mapping, allowing you to track your dog from a handheld device or your smartphone. This means you can keep up with your dog’s location as they move.

Hotel Safety

  • Lock your door or room when you are inside, never let anyone else in without your permission, and keep your door locked when you are out of the room as well. When inside, engage the deadbolt and privacy latch or chain.
  • If you have any valuables, keep them with you at all times or lock them up in the hotel safe. Or, place money and valuables in the safe deposit box at the hotel’s front desk. At a minimum, get a small lock for your suitcase and be sure to lock it up while you’re out of your room.
  • Ask where the nearest fire stairwell is located. Make a mental note of which direction you must turn and approximately how many steps there are to the closest fire stairwell.
  • Sensitive documents should be placed in the safe but always back them up with digitized copies. Adding pages to PDFs you can keep everything together. Try using this free tool in order to combine PDF files and stay organized.

Be Your Own Boss

Another way to take some of the stress out of traveling for business is to simply become your own boss! You can do this by starting your own company. Of course, you’ll need to settle on a business structure. An LLC is a popular choice because of the legal protections and tax benefits, as well as the reduced paperwork. You can set it up yourself, or better yet, work with an online formation service.

With some smart planning, from things like packing healthy snacks and knowing how to keep yourself safe in your hotel to organizing documents for travel and keeping your pet secure, you can make any business trip safe, healthy, and productive.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through

The Independent Tourist has all the travel tips you’ll ever need! To get in touch, please email

Note: Image courtesy of Pexels.

Fortaleza de la Mota – A Fun Stop Between Granada and Córdoba

Fortaleza de La Mota sits on a hilltop dominating the little town of Alcalá la Real, Spain. This interesting fortress-citadel is less than 60 km (37 miles) northwest of Granada, right on the way to Córdoba. It was one of those fun, unplanned discoveries. The night before we left Granada, I was just browsing the internet to see what interesting sights we might find on our way to Córdoba, and came across this gem! Its origins date back to the 8th century although what remains is largely 13th – 14th centuries and later. Originally a Moorish stronghold, it was the last defensive bastion standing in the way of the reconquest of Granada by the Christians in the 15th century.

Unfortunately the weather on the day of my visit was super windy, rainy and cold. So, I grabbed my umbrella and rain jacket and checked out the fortress on my own while my family stayed warm in the car. I am so glad I made the effort! The entrance to the citadel is not hard to find, just drive uphill by car from the modern town center. There is a little parking area, restrooms and visitors booth where you purchase your ticket before taking steep path up to the fortress.

A display in the church showing what Fortelaza de la Mota may have looked like in its earlier days.

Once you reach the citadel, there are several things to check out:

Tower of Homage

I welcomed a visit to this tower, which gave me a few minutes respite from the cold wind and rain.

A view of the Tower of Homage in a wind and rain storm!

Mayor Abbey Church

While no longer a functioning church, this structure is quite interesting with several displays and large screens in the nave, where the history of the citadel is explained in a short film.

The Mayor Abbey Church.

Citadel Ruins

On the plateau outside the tower and church are numerous ruins of the once prosperous citadel. Sign posts help explain the layout and various activities that occurred there. Around the 18th century, the townspeople left the citadel and began to populate the area below it, which was much better suited to agricultural pursuits and population growth.

On my way back to the car park, I noticed other extensive ruins cascading down the hillside as the weather cleared a bit. However, I don’t think they are open for the tourist.

For a little history on Fortaleza de la Mota check out Wikipedia. If you take the drive between Granada and Córdoba, don’t miss this interesting sight! During my visit, I saw two other tourists – I pretty much had the whole site to myself – of course, the weather probably had something to do with that!

Traveling With Kids? Here’s How to Have a Stress-Free and Enjoyable Vacation

In this post our frequent guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides travel tips for those traveling with children. Check out the links included, they contain useful resources. Jesse’s bio sketch is below. 

Traveling is often an exciting activity as it allows you to visit new places, have novel experiences, and create cherished memories. But, when traveling with kids, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. This is because kids will have needs that should be prioritized, which can influence where, how, and when you can travel. For families planning to travel in the near future, The Independent Tourist will explore useful steps that will help you plan, execute and enjoy your vacation to the fullest!

Create a Sound Itinerary

Creating an itinerary is one of the most important steps when traveling with kids, as it helps you stay organized and be mindful of what to expect next each day, as reported by Families Love Travel. Additionally, as a rule of thumb, try to keep at least two hours of free time each day, whether in the morning or evening, to ensure that everyone (especially kids) has some time to rest, rather than traveling from one place to another.

Ideally, your itinerary should be made at least a couple of weeks to a month prior to leaving. This will provide ample time to make reservations for a hotel, transport, tickets for tourist attractions, and more.

Determine Your Budget

More often than not, travelers tend to overspend when on vacation. This can be an accumulation of costs, including food, shopping, traveling, and souvenirs. While going a bit beyond budget is not alarming, having no control over spending can lead to your wallet being significantly empty once you’re back home. Here’s how to avoid this predicament:

●      Pay in Advance: Hotels and plane/train tickets should always be paid for in advance. This is because you’re bound to find offers and discounts online compared to paying in person. Additionally, you can always include accommodation requests such as an extra bed for kids or an aisle seat to ensure your travel experience is smooth.

●      Determine a Cutoff: Depending on the location and duration of your stay, determine a sensible cutoff – i.e., the highest amount you are willing to spend. This will prevent you from impulse shopping, as reported by Real Simple.

Pack Well in Advance

When traveling with kids, packing will play a key role in how smoothly the trip will go. This is because if you forget to carry important documents or required clothing while packing at the last minute, it will have a domino effect for the rest of the trip. Hence, it’s best to start packing at least 10 days before you travel. This provides ample time for you to take stock of items and even order clothing and equipment needed for the trip. For instance, if you’re looking for a comfortable new nursing bra, you can try this listing.

Prioritize Your Kid’s Needs

Regardless of whether you are traveling short or long distances, it’s important to keep your child’s needs above your own. This is because they are less likely to be adaptable to flight delays, weather changes at new locations, and interactions with strangers. Here are a few ways to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable trip:

●      Pack all required medicines

●      Carry a separate bag with their favorite toys, coloring books, etc., that’ll keep them occupied while traveling

●      Healthy snacks such as granola bars, trail mix, etc.

Additionally, when it comes to accommodations, look for hotels or resorts that cater specifically to families. These will often offer child-friendly activities such as swimming pools, game rooms, playgrounds, and more. Additionally, research the area and look for hotels located close to outdoor places such as a beach, national park, gardens, etc., to ensure that you always have somewhere nice to go to, whether it is during the day or night.

By following the above-mentioned steps of creating a sound itinerary and a good budget, traveling with kids will be easy and enjoyable for the whole family. Additionally, packing early will provide ample time to order clothing and other items you’ll need during the trip.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through

Note: featured images from Pexels.

Traveling Through the Empty Nest: Embracing Adventure in This New Chapter of Life

In this post our frequent guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides travel tips for those who are in a new phase of life. As I prepare to retire soon, and with our children now living on their own, this is a topic that I think about often. Check out the links included, they contain useful resources. Jesse’s bio sketch is below. 

Empty nesters are parents whose children have grown and are now facing an empty home. While this can be a challenging time, it can also be an opportunity to go on new adventures and experiences that were not possible before. One of the best ways to embrace this new phase of your life is through travel. Here are some tips on enjoying your newfound freedom from The Independent Tourist.

Take Weekend Road Trips

Weekend road trips are a great way to explore nearby destinations without taking too much time off work or spending too much money. Depending on where you live, there may be plenty of options within a few hours’ drive. Consider renting an RV or booking a cabin in the woods for a unique experience. Renting an RV for a few days can be a great way to learn if that lifestyle suits you.

Go on an Overseas Adventure

If you’ve always dreamed of traveling overseas, now is the perfect time to do so. With no kids to worry about, you can plan more adventurous trips without worrying about schedules or school breaks. “Shoulder seasons” are a perfect time to travel – the weather is still good but most families have headed back home for the school year. Whether you want to explore Europe’s historic cities or relax on a tropical beach in Southeast Asia, the possibilities are endless.

Visit Friends and Family

Now that your children have left the house, you may find that you have more time and energy to visit friends and family members who live far away. If driving, you can explore interesting places along the way. You can also use this time to meet new people and make connections in different parts of the world.

Explore New Cities You’ve Never Seen

There are probably plenty of cities and states in your own country that you’ve never had the chance to explore. Take the opportunity to do some research and choose a few destinations that you’d like to check out. Make sure to plan ahead so you get the most out of your trip and have plenty of time for sightseeing and other activities. Take advantage of this new phase of life by planning trips to places like New York City or San Francisco or even national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite. You can even head out to one of the many Disney parks scattered throughout the country. Check out Mouse Life Today to learn all about the Disney Vacation Club.

Escape to Somewhere Peaceful

If you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation experience, consider escaping somewhere peaceful like a spa resort or secluded beach town. These are perfect for recharging your batteries and reconnecting with yourself. Make sure to plan some time for meditation, yoga, and other activities that will help you relax and unwind. No matter where you choose to go on your empty nest adventures, make sure that it’s something that feels right for you.

Pack Light

When traveling as an empty nester, it’s essential (and easier) to pack light and stay organized. Avoid overpacking by making a list beforehand and sticking only with essentials. Packing cubes can keep everything organized in your luggage.

Organize Travel Documents

It’s important to keep your travel documents organized digitally for easy access during your trip. Storing travel information and medical records as PDFs make them easy to access. Additionally, you can split a large file into several smaller ones using this free tool, so you can securely store and access them from any device, making them a convenient solution for traveling empty nesters.

In conclusion, becoming empty nesters does not mean that life has come to an end — it’s just the beginning of another chapter full of opportunities for adventure and exploration through travel. Whether it’s taking weekend road trips, going on overseas adventures, or escaping to somewhere peaceful, there is a place out there waiting for you to enjoy.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through

Note: Featured images from Pexels.

Granada, Spain Part 2 – The Alhambra

The primary reason tourists visit Granada is to see the Alhambra (in Arabic, the word means “red castle”), considered one of the top sites in Europe, let alone Spain. This magnificent fortress/palace is a symbol of the power and wealth of the Moors in Spain during a period of about 700 years, although most of what we see now is from the 13th century onwards. Granada was the last bastion of the Moors before the “Reconquista” finally drove them from Spain at the end of the 15th century. In this post, I will not attempt to provide a historical narrative, just some images of this incredible historic site. At the end of the post I share some practical tips for your visit.

The Alhambra encompasses about 26 acres including a mile of fortified walls. Its setting is spectacular, overlooking the city of Granada in one direction and the Sierra Nevada mountains providing a backdrop from the other direction.

The Alcazaba (Fortress)

The oldest part of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba, which is the ‘castle’ part of the Alhambra. It was used to house guards of the palace and their families. The first records of the Alcazaba date to the 9th century, but most of what we see today was constructed from 1238 onwards. To get to the Alcazaba, walk to the far end (from the entrance) of the complex. With your ticket, you are allowed one visit to the Alcazaba either before or after visiting the Nasrid Palaces, so plan your visit based on the weather and time of day since you will be outdoors in this portion of the Alhambra.

The Nasrid Palaces

The Moorish Nasrid Dynasty began in 1238 and this era marked the beginning of the construction of what we call the Nasrid Palaces, the most ornate structures in the Alhambra and some of the best preserved Moorish-era buildings anywhere. The images below are roughly in order of our visit through the palaces. Most rooms in the palaces are signposted with information and corresponding audioguide numbers if you choose to use the guide. Your ticket will likely have a specific entry time for the Nasrid Palaces, be sure to get in line at the appropriate time for entry.

Charles V Palace

After visiting the Nasrid Palaces, there is a one more site to visit, the Palace of Charles V. Charles V was King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor of Europe in the 16th century and wanted to stake his claim. Construction started on this Palace in 1527, but it was never finished. After the Nasrid Palaces this part of the Alhambra is a bit of a letdown. There really isn’t much to see here, lots of empty and closed rooms, with a few exhibits in several rooms. The whole purpose of this Palace was to convey the message “we won” by the Christian monarchs after the Reconquista. To make room for this huge palace, part of the original Nasrid Palaces had to be demolished. One kingdom conquering another – the history of our world!

A few practicalities for visiting the Alhambra: It is essential to get your tickets ahead of time, a few tickets on a daily basis might be available for “walk ups” but don’t plan on it. You can go online to reserve your tickets here. We visited in March, and the crowds were small, partly because things were just reopening from COVID and due to the time of year. There is a bus stop right outside the entrance, and it is a very convenient bus ride from central Granada. The palace and grounds are extensive, so be prepared to do a lot of walking. Allow 3 hours for a visit. Although guides and tours are available, I just followed a travel book outline (Rick Steve’s) for a basic explanation. As shown above, photos are allowed just about everywhere. Most people concentrate on the Nasrid Palaces, but be sure to allow time to visit the Alcazaba for great views of central Granada and the surrounding countryside.

Granada, Spain – Beyond the Alhambra

(Granada is best known as the home of the stunning Alhambra Fortress, but in this post we’re going to focus on some other sights in this amazing city and leave the Alhambra to the next post).

From Gibraltar, we drove northeast towards Granada along the Costa del Sol of Spain – which was quite beautiful. Since were were visiting in March, it really wasn’t beach or swim weather, but we stopped in a couple of beautiful towns to get a feel for the coast. There are lots of vacation homes, resorts and golf courses along the coast. I’d love to go back and spend more time in this area. Gibraltar to Granada is about 284 km or 176 miles via the route we took.

It’s a scenic drive from Gibraltar to Granada. We stopped briefly in Estepona, a wealthy small town on the coast and then in Nerja, a resort town with a pretty setting on the Costa del Sol. We didn’t have the time to stop in Marbella or Malaga, even though those cities would be definitely worth visiting.

Costa del Sol

Leaving Gibraltar in the distance…until next time!


Granada is one of the main tourist destinations in southern Spain, known primarily for its 13th century Alhambra palace/fortress, one of Europe’s best known treasures. While the Alhambra is outstanding, Granada is fun place to visit for many other reasons as well (my next post will focus on the Alhambra specifically).

We arrived in Granada in mid-afternoon and found our way to our apartment, located in the historic (and hilly) Albaicín (also Albayzín) district, just across a large ravine from the Alhambra. Luckily our apartment had a designated space in a parking garage just a couple blocks away. Parking space is at a premium in this old, charming district.

Our apartment was in a great location – within walking distance of downtown Granada (if you don’t mind lots of stairways winding down to the main city) and just a bus ride from the Alhambra. Be prepared to get your exercise walking in Granada (up and down many small hills and stairways) or learn to use the bus system. There was a bus stop just a block from our apartment.

A view of the Alhambra and the mountains beyond Granada from the Albaicín district.

One of the things the Albaicín area of Granada is known for are the flamenco dance shows, many of which are performed in little hillside caves that are part of the restaurants and bars in this areas of town, just across the ravine from the Alhambra. The flamenco art form, in which the dancer creates their own interpretation, is indigenous to southern Spain.

We made reservations online about 24 hours in advance for a flamenco show which was within walking distance of our apartment. The show lasts about 1 hour, with several dancers performing with live musicians.
Evening view of the Alhambra from the Albaicín district, near where we saw the flamenco show.

Central Granada

There’s a lot to explore in Granada. We noticed a strong north African/Arabic influence in the city, both as an important part of its long history and currently – with many internatioinal students, since Granada is home to one of Spain’s largest universities. We found many Arabic restaurants, shops, and historical sights in addition to traditional Gothic European architecture.

Cathedral and Royal Chapel

Granada’s 16th century cathedral is located in the heart of downtown Granada. One of its key treasures (located in the Royal Chapel) are the ornate tombs of the 15th century Spanish monarchs – King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella; they requested that their remains be brought to rest in Granada, the city they considered as their crowning achievement of the Reconquista. Their roles in the Reconquista of Spain and commissioning of Columbus’ exploration of the Western Hemisphere changed the course of Western history. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the Royal Chapel. The figures on the tombs of the King and Queen are quite interesting and definitely worth a thorough look. Their actual remains are in simpler coffins in the crypt below the tombs, you can view these as well.

We’ll cover the magnificent Alhambra in my next post, it is the primary reason why tourists come to Granada, but I recommend you take a little additional time to see more of this marvelous historical city.

Gibraltar – Making the Most of a One-Day Visit

Visiting Gibraltar during our auto tour of Southern Spain was a fascinating experience. We had a great tour of Gibraltar that also allowed us some time to wander in the afternoon. From the town of Ronda in Andalucia, we drove south about 112 km (70 miles) to La Linea, through very hilly countryside that was quite beautiful. La Linea is the Spanish port city that borders the autonomous British territory of Gibraltar.

Location of Gibraltar relative to Morocco and Spain.

Our plan was to spend the day visiting Gibraltar and then return back to La Linea for the night, before continuing on our journey northeast along the Costa del Sol and then inland towards Granada. This plan worked out well!

A view of the city of Gibraltar, looking northwest. Many of the residents live in the high rise buildings in the foreground. Since La Linea is a port city of Spain, many oil tankers and other freighters occupy the harbor. The city in the distance is La Linea, Spain.

Once we parked our car, we walked to the border crossing. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since COVID was still a thing as of March 2022 and I couldn’t find much information online ahead of time as to any COVID restrictions. The crossing turned out to be very simple as tourists. We showed our passport once and went right through the whole border control process in a matter of a few minutes.

The border crossing into Gibraltar – hard to miss!

As a tourist in Gibraltar, there is a standard itinerary most tourists/tours follow (see our main stops below). My only question beforehand had been whether to arrange a tour prior to our visit or try to do everything on our own. As it turned out, right after walking through the border, there was a tour agency desk and they offered tours that covered everything we wanted to see in a few hours! The tour was less than €30/person (also payable in Gibraltar Pounds Sterling – same value as Bank of England notes) and worked out great. Our group of four happened to be the only tourists coming through the border at that particular time, so it ended up being a private tour! Our itinerary is shown below.

The red telephone booth – a sure sign you are in the U.K!

At the end of this post, I share some logistical information about visiting Gibraltar.

Mons Calpe

In addition to being the name of the local football (soccer) club, Mons Calpe is the ancient name of the Rock of Gibraltar and is one of “the pillars of Hercules”. After quick drive through part of the town, we stopped at this lookout point and could see the African continent (specifically Morocco and a small outpost of Spain, Ceuta) in the distance, about 9 miles away at the closest point.

St. Michael’s Cave

The Rock of Gibraltar is full of caves and tunnels. St. Michael’s Cave is the most famous and was fun to visit, with its spectacular lighting effects and our little Gibraltar ape friends showing the way. At the end of the visit, you gather in the huge natural amphitheater for a short show before leaving the cave.

Drive Up to the Rock’s Ridgeline

There is one little narrow road leading to the knife-edge ridge of Gibraltar. It is VERY narrow. You can also hike up here via a very steep stairway or take a tram up as well. There is no place to park, other than in the road, and hence only tours drive up here. This spot allows for magnificent views in all directions.

The Barbary Macaques (Apes or Monkeys?)

These little guys are considered apes locally since they do not have tails, but are part of the monkey family. They originated from Morocco, and arrived sometime before 1704, although no one seems to know exactly when or how they arrived, probably brought by the Moors as pets. They are monitored closely by the government of Gibraltar and are fed every day. Our tour guide said there are about 300 monkeys divided into 5 groups living on Gibraltar (each with their own territory). There is a saying that as long as the monkeys live on Gibraltar, the British will have control of the Rock, so they receive great care. Do NOT feed or touch the monkeys, there are some serious fines if you do. You also have to watch your backpacks carefully – they can run off with them!

Wartime Tunnels

There are about 34 miles of tunnels in the Rock. They were built over a 200 year period from the 18th to the 20th centuries, for protection against bombardment and to facilitate the movement of supplies and quick access to defensive positions (gun emplacements) in strategic spots along the length of the Rock. The battles and political struggles (mainly between Spain, France and Britain) over this Rock could fill volumes. As part of our tour, we visited “The Great Siege” Tunnels at the northern end of Gibraltar, which were constructed during the siege of Gibraltar by Spain and France around the time of the American Revolutionary War. What a lot of work it must have taken to blast and dig these tunnels! The tunnels in some cases are multiple levels deep, and you can explore them for hours. There are many exhibits along points in the tunnels explaining the history and showing the living quarters, storage areas and cannon emplacements.

Other Sights

The Moorish Castle in Gibraltar, dates from the 8th century. This tiny territory has been defended for centuries! We did not take the time to visit the Castle, but it would be worthing seeing if you can.

Casemates Square

At the completion of our tour, we were dropped off at Casemates Square, the center of Gibraltar’s restaurant and pub scene. Pedestrian streets extend south from here providing access to all kinds of shopping, other services, quaint churches and alleyways extending into residential neighborhoods. After a late lunch, we spent some time wandering the streets and checking out the various shops. I was hoping to find a good quality “Gibraltar” sweatshirt, but didn’t have any luck – there’s lots of the typical tourist items available and many shops with high-end brands as well.


We decided there was no sense in taking our rental car into Gibraltar–the territory is tiny, and walking over the border saves the hassle of crossing with a vehicle, finding parking, etc. We were able to find a car park within walking distance of the border (there are several). While La Linea is a pretty good-sized city, the traffic was light and we found our way from the main highway south to the border crossing area quite easily. Our hotel (an AC Hotel/Marriott in La Linea) was just a couple kilometers away, making the logistics of our visit very easy.

Making Your Way Across the Border

While we had a tour van take us into Gibraltar, we walked back over to Spain at the end of the day, which was a fun experience.

The Gibraltar Airport runway is in the middle of the photo. Beyond the runway is the border with Spain. (Photo taken from the Great Siege Tunnels referenced above).
If you’re walking from Spain to Gibraltar or vice-versa, you patiently wait to cross between arriving and departing planes and then walk across the runway when allowed! Many Spaniards work in Gibraltar and this is part of their commute. Cars and trucks crossing the border use the same access point.

A few other comments about Gibraltar: The whole territory (2.6 square miles) is mainly just a huge rock mountain, with precious little arable land. It’s really interesting to see this unique geologic feature – while the surrounding land is hilly, this huge granite rock at the end of a small peninsula really stands out.

This image, taken from the coast just east of Gibraltar gives an idea how much the Rock stands out as part of the landscape.

Although tiny in terms of geography, its strategic importance cannot be overstated and throughout the centuries, there have been countless battles over this Rock, with evidence of those struggles still remaining today. In fact, Britain and Spain continue to argue over the sovereignty of Gibraltar and its citizens have voted recently to continue remaining part of the UK.

Spain’s Andalucían Hill Towns of Zahara de la Sierra and Ronda

From Seville, we traveled southeast through Andalucía, known for its beautiful countryside and white hill towns. Our time was somewhat limited, so we just visited two towns, Zahara de la Sierra and Ronda. We spent the night in Ronda, which is about 133 km (83 miles) from Seville. There are at least a half-dozen quaint towns in this area and it would be easy to spend several days or even a week exploring this popular region of Spain.

Map showing our route traveling from Seville to Zahara de la Sierra and Ronda in southern Spain.

Zahara de la Sierra

This little town is a spectacular sight, nestled against a rocky outcrop below a 15th century castle keep, with rolling green hills and a large reservoir nearby.

A view of Zahara de la Sierra from the drive into town.

We took the steep hike up to the Castle from a small car park (opposite the side of the town). The Castle is open to visitors and from the top you get a commanding view of the town, valley and countryside (we visited in March and weather was pretty dry and warm).

After visiting the castle, we hiked down into the town’s main square. Shops and restaurants were just setting up for the day as the sun rose over the rock outcropping and began to warm the streets and plazas.


Ronda may be the busiest of the Andalucían hill towns, as evidenced by the number of people on the streets. It has a stunning setting also, situated dramatically on a high cliff divided into two parts by a deep gorge (El Tajo). The gorge separates the “new” town (15th century) from its older, quieter counterpart, the original old city center which dates back to Moorish times. The two parts of the city are connected by the majestic Puente Nuevo, a tall (over 300 feet) 18th century bridge that is the postcard image of Ronda.

The newer part of Ronda is on the left ridge and the older city is on the right ridge. It is a fairly steep (but short) hike down to this photo spot from the town, so be prepared.
Another view of Puente Nuevo.
A busy plaza in the ‘newer’ part of Ronda.

Ronda Old Town

I was a bit surprised how quiet the old center of Ronda was. It really felt like a completely separate town and almost deserted. Perhaps we were there on a particularly quiet day. We enjoyed wandering the streets and exploring this part of the city.

Plaza de Toros

Ronda is also renown for its 18th century Plaza de Toros, one of the first constructed entirely of stone and the largest bull ring in Spain. It is considered a highly prestigious place to fight – all bullfighters aspire to showcase their skills here.

Ronda’s Plaza de Toros.

We stayed in an apartment just a few blocks from the Plaza de Toros and within walking distance of the Puente Nuevo. It had a secure parking space and was very convenient. From Ronda, it was on to Gibraltar! Be on the lookout for our next post.

Exploring Seville, Spain – Part 3

Beyond the old quarter of Seville, there is a lot to explore in this great city. A major event occurred in Seville in 1929 which altered the city’s legacy and architecture and still adds interest and beauty nearly 100 years later. The event was the Ibero-American Exposition, a year-long world’s fair focusing on the ties between the Iberian peninsula and the Americas which left many landmarks in Seville. In addition, there are other interesting sections of the city that are a bit off the tourist path.

Plaza de España

One of the most beautiful parts of Seville, this Plaza is just a short distance south of the Gothic Cathedral and is part of the massive Maria Luisa Park. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 to showcase Spain’s industrial and technology exhibits, the half-circle plaza, adjacent building, ponds, fountains and tile works extending around the entire plaza are quite stunning.

A view of the Plaza de España which is a huge half-circle. In this building numerous documents and artifacts relating to Columbus’ voyages were on display during the Exhibition. Today, various government offices and university programs occupy most of the building.
The beautiful tile work extends around the perimeter railings of the Plaza.
All along the Plaza are alcoves representing the regions of Spain with their unique characteristics and historical events expressed in colorful tile.
Another example of one of the alcoves at the Plaza de España.
Many of the countries participating in the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 built fabulous pavilions along the Guadalquivir River, some of which serve as embassies today.

Other Views of Seville

We took a “hop on, hop off” bus tour of Seville one afternoon and we were glad we did, this allowed us to get a glimpse of the city beyond the main tourist areas we’ve shared in previous posts. The tour had several different routes and a nighttime tour (at no additional cost) available as well.

The 17th century San Telmo Palace, formerly a university for navigators (Universidad de Mareantes), it also served as a royal residence and is now home to the regional government. It is adjacent to the Maria Luisa Park (which were considered the gardens of the palace).

After a great time in Seville, we next headed further south into the hill towns of Andalucia. Posts on our visit to this area will be coming shortly.