Sometimes the best way to see a country is to hop in a car and drive. Desperately wanting to see several cities on Spain’s Costa del Sol, we did just that.
There was an immediate feeling of freedom. This was a different kind of travel, one without confusing buses and tiring metro systems. The wind tangled our hair as we sang our favorite tunes and admired the tremendous and endless views of the bright sea.
Our first stop on our Costa del Sol checklist was the British territory, Gibraltar. About an hour and a half after leaving Malaga, we could see the giant rock on the horizon. Like a scene out of Lion King, the sun disappeared and clouds suddenly surrounded the monkey-infested rock. We parked on the Spanish side and walked across the border.
After passing through “border control” and walking across the long, long airstrip (how strange, right?) we were no longer in Spain. We wandered through the small controversial British territory and found our way to the cable cars.
After waiting in line for 20 minutes, we were quickly ascending up the rock in a crowded car.
The top of Gibraltar is a unique place because it’s home to Europe’s only wild monkeys. Although, once you meet them, these frisky little guys seem more like well-trained primates sent from neighboring Morocco.
They may look cute and innocent, but they pestered the tourists (who were usually provoking them) by grabbing at their pockets, jumping on their backs, and searching through their bags like little gypsy pickpocketers.
In order to keep the macaques in the vegetation at the top of the rock and away from the civilization below, city officials actually feed the monkeys daily.
Here the weather wasn’t as pleasant, so once we were completely windblown and shivering and satisfied with our monkey interactions, we trekked back down to civilization, crossed back into Spanish territory and jumped on the road again.
Our final destination for the day was the windiest place on Earth (according to, well, myself), Tarifa. The route to Tarifa was simply splendid. When the views weren’t of beaches, they were of the lush, green mountains decorated with white wind turbines. Sometimes we could see Morocco in the distance (on the horizon in this photo).
Typically I dislike being in the car for long periods of time, but I could have driven for hours without growing bored. About 40 minutes after leaving Gibraltar, we had arrived to our Airbnb in the old town.
Tarifa is the most southern point in continental Europe. This little town is known for three things, and three things only: whale watching, windsurfing and day trips to Morocco (which is extremely visible from Tarifa’s coast).
The water is a perfect mixture of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Here we explored the blustery beaches, gawked at fishermen reeling in octopuses, and observed the windsurfers crashing into and over waves. This tiny town lacked tourists and I may have loved that the most.
My highlight of Tarifa was sure to be the whale watching, as there is definiely not one activity that I love more. The unique mixture of the ocean and sea is home to pilot whales, sperm whales, killer whales, fin whales and many dolphin species… oh my heart! But unfortunately, due to the high winds the sea was too rough for any tour company to take groups out.
After choking back tears we drove a little further down the coast to Bolonia beach. Quite quickly after we arrived, I had forgotten about the whales because…
BABY BULLS ON THE BEACH!
This couldn’t be normal, but I didn’t care. This strange phenomenon was so thrilling to me, as any animals in the wild are.
Finally after two relaxing nights in Tarifa, it was time to venture back north toward Malaga. But we had one stop left: the luxurious Marbella.
Although this city has beaches and harbors, the highlight was the old quarter. Filled with juicy orange trees, inviting terraces, narrow cobblestone roads and picturesque buildings, Marbella’s old quarter is nothing short of fabulous.
We wandered the tapering roads, taking photos around every curve because, “Oh my gosh, this is just beautiful!” Or, “Ah, look at this!”
Every twist and every turn through the quarter was rousing. Simply stunning.
Because we couldn’t afford the pricey, B-list celebrity destination hotspot, we ate our own homemade sandwiches and later enjoyed a smoothie on a sun-lit terrace.
As the weekend came to a close, this little road trip quickly climbed its way up to the top of my favorite trip list.
My Costa del Sol travel & road trip suggestions
- Although border police hardly glance at it, a passport is necessary to enter Gibraltar.
- Buy your Gibraltar cable car tickets online in advance for €14.70 roundtrip.
- Don’t bring plastic bags to the top of Gibraltar. The monkeys associate these with food and will surely help themselves to see what you brought them. Food is also a bad idea.
- Try to be respectful of the animals at the top of the rock… the way tourists interacted with the macaques really disappointed me and deterred me from wanting to spend very long there.
- No more than half a day is necessary to see this British territory.
- Park on the Spanish side and avoid waiting hours in line to cross the border. Plenty of parking is available extremely close to the border.
- Things are expensive here, so keep that in mind when considering making purchases.
- We stayed in a centrally located, large and lovely Airbnb for €30 per night. This was a huge money saver for us. Check out the property here.
- Schedule your whale-watching trip in advance so you can be guaranteed a place on the boat and notified if your trip is cancelled.
- Although I think it’s impossible, don’t miss the windsurfers in action!
- Definitely check out Bolonia Beach and let me know if you find cows, too.
- Marbella is a great place for looking, but not touching. For us backpackers, things are very pricey, but it’s always free to wander around!
- Carve out an afternoon to wander through the old quarter.
- Swing by a market and make your own lunch to eat in the sunshine.
- The route to and from Malaga is extremely simple and a GPS wasn’t necessary for us. We took the A-7 the entire way (this is the route that avoids tolls).
- I was extremely nervous to rent a car, but don’t be! It was the best decision we made for this trip.
- If you want to rent a car, I highly suggest Malagacar.com, as they seemed to have the best rates. If you’re under 24, there is an extra fee for renting. For three days, we paid around €50 total, not including €40 for gas.
- Don’t be afraid to pull over and enjoy the view! The best thing about road trips is that you’re in control.
- Stock up at a market or grocery store along the way and this will save tons of money on food!
Have you ever gone on a road trip in a foreign country? Tell us about your experience below!
About the Author: Hola, I’m Erica. I’ve been suffering from a wicked case of wanderlust for quite some time now. Follow me on my never-ending search for the cure at theonewithwanderlust.com