Algeciras is a Spanish port city in the southern region of Andalusia on the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Algeciras is one of the closest Spanish cities to the African continent, Morocco being the closest Continental African country.
It is worth making a note that though in English we say Algeciras, many locals and non-Andalusia Spaniards will more than likely pronounce it, AL-KA-THEE-RAS. If you pronounce it the English way, AL-JE-CEE-RAS, some many look at you blankly and will not know what you are talking about.
The town of Algeciras is actually a medium-sized city as Algeciras has a population of just over 115,000 and is a part of a metro area of approximately 260,000 people. of its’ location in Southern Spain there is a large North African and Middle Eastern population.
HISTORY OF ALGECIRAS
Like the Rock of Gibraltar, about 4 miles due east, there is evidence of human settlement in Algeciras before Roman or even prehistoric times. However, the actual founding of the city was most likely by the Romans themselves.
The city of Algeciras, due to its’ strategic placement, has been a site of conflicts over the centuries. Since its’ first resettlement, after Roman rule in the year 711 by the Moors invading present-day Spain, Algeciras has been invaded, captured and destroyed more than once.
During the Crusades Algeciras was captured by Castile, now a part of modern-day Spain with the help of other Christian forces from Europe in 1344, after numerous and lengthy sieges, which started in 1278. However, in 1368 the Moors retook the city and destroyed it completely. After the Moors destroyed Algeciras the area was thus abandoned for more than 330 years until it was finally resettled in 1704 by refugees from Gibraltar. Though it was not until the 1760’s did the Spanish make it into a city, the same plan was used which resembles much of what we see today.
The economy of Algeciras is based mostly on industry as it is a major seaport. However, like many areas of Spain, Algeciras has taken a hit due to the financial crisis that is plaguing Europe, particularly Spain itself. Even in spite of the financial crisis the Port of Algeciras still ranks as the 16th busiest port in the world. There are many different types of industry in the city such as fishing, exporting/importing, plus numerous agricultural products coming from outlying village farms, that includes cereals, tobacco and farm animals.
Algeciras is not a wealthy city and this is somewhat evident as it is not the most well-kept of all Spanish cities, though it is not trashy. Given the situation of the poor economy nationwide, the people still seem to show great pride in their city. The people of Algeciras are actually very industrious and some have small shops in the city selling anything from tourist souvenirs to fruits and vegetables.
In the recent years Algeciras has become a tourist destination as the transportation makes it easy to get to Algeciras. One can get to/from Algeciras in a manner such as Madrid by train or car, La Linea/Gibraltar by bus or car and Morocco by ferry.
There is no airport serving Algeciras, though there is a heliport with scheduled flights across the strait to Cueta, a Spanish city on the African Continent. The closest airport to Algeciras is actually in the British controlled territory of Gibraltar. However, due to politics, you can only get direct flights to and from England from Gibraltar. The closest international airport on the Spanish mainland is Jerez Airport about 63 miles to the west of Algeciras.
As with many other European cities there are well-connected bus and brain systems in Algeciras. If you arrive via-train and plan on taking a bus at anytime during your stay, or if you arrive via bus and plan to take a train, try to go to the respective stations before going to your place of lodging. The bus and train stations are right across the street from one another. By going early you can buy your train tickets in advance thus you will avoid a ‘no seats available’ situation. You will also have ample time to ask any questions you may have, as well as learn which buses are direct or require changes. Also, as departure and arrival times are subject to change, you can confirm the times and dates of your next ride. If you arrive late in the evening, keep in mind that you should get to your hotel before night falls. If you feel night is approaching too quickly, do keep in mind that you should make plans to go back the stations in the morning. By the way, the Algeciras bus station seems to have the cleanest public bathrooms in the city!
If one was to fly into Madrid, en-route to Algeciras, it would be easiest and fastest to take a high-speed train to Algeciras; about a 5 hour ride for about $55 USD per-person. There are usually two train departures to Algeciras per-day from Madrid: one in the morning, around 8:30 am and one in the afternoon, about 3:15 pm. All trains leave from Madrid’s Central Station.
It is important to keep in mind that train times and frequencies are subject to change at anytime. If you know the day you wish to depart for Algeciras try to book your travel before you leave the Madrid International Airport. A train ticketing office, not a station, is located in the Airport after the clearing of customs. It may seem easier to book online or even over the phone, but one should beware, not all sites have honest representatives and may be more inclined to increase sale amounts. However, it is advised to check online for time tables so you will know have a general idea what to expect upon arrival. Again, it is strongly advised to make a stop at the train ticketing office at the airport upon your arrival into Madrid.
It is also important to know that when you purchase a direct train ticket to Algeciras there will be stops, though a change of train will not be necessary. Algeciras will be the very last stop on the route so knowing when to get off will not be difficult.
If you wish to go to Malaga, Spain from Algeciras it is most advisable to use a bus. As mentioned in the paragraph above, not all online train representatives are honest as they may try to sell you an unnecessary, extended route ticket. A good example of this: there is no direct train route from Algeciras to Malaga, however, there is train service. One can take a train from Algeciras to Cordoba, change trains and go from Cordoba to Malaga. The trip takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes. Also one can take a train from Algeciras to Bobadilla, change trains and go from Bobadilla to Malaga. This trip takes about 5 hours. Either of these journey’s will take you through some breathtaking views through the mountains as well as Spain country side. Either of these trips are not the cheapest nor best use of time unless you have the extra money and time and want to see this additional excursion.
Without question the ‘auto-bus’ is the fastest and cheapest mode of public transportation from Algeciras to Malaga. Also the approximately one and a half hour bus ride to Malaga has some breathtaking views as you will travel along a coastal highway over looking the Mediterranean Sea.
Renting and car and driving from Madrid to Algeciras is a viable option. However, it must be keep in mind that car rentals can be very expensive. Gas prices in Spain range from about $5.50 to $6.50 USD equivalent, at the time of this writing, in mid 2012. The trip is approximately 425 miles long and will take about 7-1/2 hours without stopping.
Ferry is the easiest way to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Algeciras heading to Morocco. There are two destinations available via ferry from Algeciras, Tangier, Morocco and Cueta, Spain. As mentioned above, a helicopter to Cueta is available. However, if Morocco is the only reason for heading across the strait then a ferry ride would be the easiest way to go. The travel time varies as there are different types of ferries used. A high-speed ferry takes about 30 minutes while a slower ferry may take up to 2-1/2 hours. Prices will vary based on a number of factors, such as one way or round trip, high-speed or normal speed and the company used although most will be competitive in their fares. Because of the high demand use of this route there are many arrivals and departures per-day. Doing research on different ferry company timetables, some available online, is the wisest thing to do. It is worth mentioning that security should be taken into consideration when traveling to Morocco.
GETTING TO GIBRALTAR FROM ALGECIRAS
Getting to Gibraltar from Algeciras is achieved easiest by taking a bus. From the Algeciras Bus Station, at the ticket desks you are not able to purchase a ticket, only advised the number of the bus that you need to get on and its departure time. Payment is collected upon boarding the bus.
Because Gibraltar is a foreign territory, a disputed one at that, buses cannot cross the border. The bus going to Gibraltar actually goes to the closest Spanish city, La Linea. The bus may make many stops on the way, though you should not need to change buses. However, before boarding the bus do ask the driver if it is a direct bus. Most drivers will understand and speak some English; enough to understand your question and give an answer.
Upon arrival at the La Linea Bus Station, take the main exit/entrance, the local people will use a short-cut: the one for the buses instead of going inside through the station. Once you exit the station you will be at a round-about. Look to your left and you will see the Rock of Gibraltar. You must walk down the road that looks as though it goes straight to the Rock. You will come to a main road, cross it and then turn left. Keep walking on this road until you see a line of cars turning right past what looks like toll booths, that is the border. Make sure you stay on the right side of the road as that is the pedestrian entrance/border crossing. Customs is really just a walk through, but make sure your passport is in hand to show; it will most likely not be stamped.
Once across the border you will notice that cars do not drive on the left, like in England, rather on the right, just as they do in Spain.
About a hundred yards before you reach the airport runway you will see a bus stop. You can either join everyone and simply walk across the runway to Gibraltar about 5 blocks ahead or wait for a bus (which runs about every 15 minutes) and purchase a one day riding pass for only €2 per-person for unlimited bus travel until 9 pm local time. You are now on your way to having a great day in Gibraltar and saving a ton of money!
PLACES TO SEE
There are many interesting places to see in Algeciras. Being such an old city, historic buildings are in abundance. The majority of the city streets are still made of old cobble stone as the city is still very old world. Due to uneven surfaces and semi-steep inclines of the city, not all areas of Algeciras are recommended for people with walking disabilities.
Plaza Alta, or High Plaza in English, is a very popular spot for tourists to visit and take pictures. Locals love to sit and feed the birds. The beautifully fascinating square is in one of the main historic areas of Algeciras, surrounded by restaurants bars and shops. If you are walking from the south side of the city you may wish to use the elevator instead of walking up the fairly steep hill. The elevator is very easy to find and identifiable, located on the main road that separates the city from the port area.
The center attraction of Plaza Alta is the tiled fountain surrounded by beautiful palm trees. The railing and benches surrounding this picturesque fountain are all made of individual hand painted mosaic tiles, all with different scenes, telling a unique historical fact or story. Though there has been a fountain and market area in what is now called Plaza Alta since the 1780’s it was not until it was remodeled and «urbanized» in 1807 did it resemble what we see today.
THE CHURCHES ON PLAZA ALTA
On Plaza Alta stands two churches of great historical significance and value to the city of Algeciras, both of which are actually older than Plaza Alta itself. The newest and largest of the two churches located on the plaza is Church of Our Lady of Palma constructed in the 1730’s in baroque style.
The second church on Plaza Alta is a very tiny also baroque styled church, very easy to pass by and miss as it is so small and narrow from side to the other. This quaint little church is called Church of Our Lady of the Europe and was originally constructed in 1690 once approval was guaranteed by the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta.
Though, by the cityscape surrounding the church today, one would never know that it was originally constructed on a farm. The whole plaza used to be farmland, owned by a very wealthy family. However, the church as we see it today, is not the original church dedicated to St. Barnard. The original church had to be torn down and re-built in 1769 after sustaining extensive damage from the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. The re-built church is what we see today.
SECOND PLAZA IN ALGECIRAS
There is a another plaza in Algeciras called Plaza Nuestra Senora de la Palma. This plaza has no churches or cathedrals nor any government buildings but it is still easily recognizable. What makes this Plaza unique is that in its’ center it contains a large white domed structure that is known as the Algeciras Food Market.
The dome was originally constructed in 1935 by a Spanish-born architect, Manuel Sanchez Arcas. Upon the dome’s completion it became the largest dome in history, staying that way for more than 30 years until it was surpassed by the Astro Dome in Houston, Texas, USA.
Every week day during the summer the whole plaza turns into a market packed offering all sorts of goods for sale, starting at 8 am and continuing until 2 pm, when it closes for the day. Many shops will close at this 2 o’clock hour as well because it begins the traditional siesta time until 5 pm. After siesta the permanent shops will open again, however, the food market will not open again until the next morning.
The Punta Carnero Lighthouse, also called Algeciras Lighthouse, was built about 4 miles south of the city center of Algeciras at the mouth of the Bay of Algeciras. The lighthouse was built to serve the Port of Algeciras as Gibraltar, on the other side of the bay’s mouth, had already constructed its’ own lighthouse about 20 years earlier. Construction of the Punta Carnero Lighthouse was started in 1864 and was completed 10 years later.
Like most lighthouses the tower is cylindrical in shape, though it is unpainted and one can see the yellow sandstone used to construct it. The Punta Carnero Lighthouse is 72 feet tall. However, due to the construction location, it is a total of 134 feet above the sea below, giving a light range of 20 miles.
Another attraction in Algeciras is Bahia Park. Bahia Park is a popular and fun family friendly destination. Though it is not of much historical value compared to other places in Algeciras, it is good place to take a break and get out of the summer sun.
The rates for admission into Bahia Park are as follows. €17.00 for adults, €13.00 for child under 1.5m (approx. 4’10») or senior citizens 65+ years of age and free for children under 0.95m (approx. 3’1″). Opening and closing times for the park do change and is usually available online for those who have access to the internet. However, for those arriving after 3:30 pm will usually be granted a discount to the entrance fees shown above.
La Linea is a small town in Spain, with its first dwellings dating back to the 18th century. These dwellings were part of the municipality of San Roque until 1870, when it became divided. La Linea is in the province of Cadiz in Andalucia. This quaint, beautiful little town originally got its name from the boundary, or, in Spanish, linea, that separates the country of Spain from Gibraltar as well as from the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In Spanish these people are called «lineses.»
La Linea lies on the eastern isthmus of the Bay of Gibraltar on the border of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, with which it has close economic and social links. It is situated on the sandy isthmus which unites the Rock of Gibraltar with the coast in the eastern flank of the Bay of Gibraltar, between Sierra Carbonera and the Rock of Gibraltar. As far back as the 18th century when Gibraltar was a flourishing naval port La Linea residents have traditionally derived the majority of their livelihood by working in Gibraltar. This means of employment afforded the Spanish stopped total closure of the border during an ongoing dispute, between 1969 and 1982. Finally, in 1985 the border was fully reopened.
Today La Linea is a major supplier to Gibraltar of vegetables, fruit, liquor, fish, paste as well as being the manufacturer of cork.
La Linea bus station is only 5 minutes walk to the Spain – Gibraltar border. This rather small station is an important point for travelers between Cadiz and Malaga provinces. There are two bus companies: the Comes and the Portillo. The Comes bus company operates within Cadiz. The Portillo bus company operates along the Costa Del Sol from La Linea to Malaga.
The Gibraltar airport is also over the Gibraltar border making it a very central location for visitors to Gibraltar, Algeciras, La Linea, the Costa Del Sol and the Costa de la Luz.
Another part of Spanish culture, is Bullfighting and Flamenco Dancing. Almost all major cities in Spain will have both of these activities available for tourists to see and enjoy.
Many want to experience Spain and true Spanish culture however many people are opposed to the idea of going to see a bullfight. Despite the differences in the two they can actually work well together. You can see one without seeing the other and still say you experienced something truly Spanish.
Flamenco Dancing is truly a cultural show the whole family can enjoy. Flamenco dancers tend to dress fairly conservative thus making for a more family friendly environment. However it is important to remember some Flamenco Dancing shows are held in tapas bars. There are other locations where families can enjoy Flamenco dancers. Each city location and times differ. The best place to get these locations and times are at the local Tourist Information office. Overall Spain has done a very good job of building and staffing great Tourist Information Centers in not just the large, major cities but in smaller ones as well. Bus and train station attendants also do an excellent job of answering such questions for travelers. Remember: locals generally know and if they do not, they will graciously direct you to someone who does!
LODGING AND PLACES TO STAY
For those who like hostels Algeciras has no shortage of them. Many actually have very good review ratings. Just as with any other type of lodging prices may change during peak season, which would be summer time in Spain.
Mentioned below are few lodging options with high ratings, based on third-party reviews. All options shown are within reasonable walking distance from the Train and Bus stations, no more than 15-20 minutes of walking.
#1. Hostel la Palma, mostly a hostel in name only. Located in the same square as the Food Market, mentioned above. This hostel has many private rooms with baths and a friendly, helpful staff.
#2. Hostel Lisboa, one of the highest rated hostel in Algeciras. Not in a famous square so it may be difficult to find.
#3. Hostel Versailles, of the hostels listed this one is closest to the bus and train stations. However, it is somewhat tucked away on a side street.
There are also some upscale hotels in Algeciras with the same criteria as those mentioned above.
#1. Globales Reina Cristina, a historic hotel that originally opened in 1901. It Almost burned down in 1928, but is now one of the most luxurious of all hotels in Algeciras.
#2. Hotel Al Mar, another up scale hotel, located on one of Algeciras’ main roads. The road separates the city from the port; though there is water, there is no beach.
#3. Hotel Octavio, is directly above the bus station which makes this hotel very convenient for transportation purposes. Despite what some may think about a hotel above the town’s main bus station this hotel is actually rated 4 stars.
SHOPPING IN ALGECIRAS
As mentioned above there are numerous place to satisfy your shopping cravings in Algeciras such as the Plaza Alta area and the Food Market, which sometimes does have non-food items, such as leather goods and fashion jewelery.
If you like shopping in stores and boutiques you will find them in different areas around the city. Look for signs that say «Rebajas,» rebates in English.
Buying name brand clothing in Spain or Europe is not recommended, especially if you are from the USA. Brand names are almost ALWAYS cheaper in the States and unless you are in a high-end store there is no guarantee you are getting the real thing. However, there are lots of clothes and summer outfits that you can buy at good prices.
The British controlled area of Gibraltar is also a great place for shopping. Gibraltar is a VAT, tax-free area and you can get really good deals there. Also if you decide to head to Morocco for the day you might be able to pick up something more exotic, though it is not VAT free.
It is good to keep in mind how to get what you brought back home and make sure it will not cause problems with customs when trying to get back into Spain or the even the USA. Most restrictions pertain to food such as fruits and vegetables or dairy products. However other things such as candy alcohol and seeds may cause a hindrance. Although alcohol, candy and other foods mentioned are not always outright banned, laws at the federal and state level or your failure to claim or pay taxes might cause the items to be seized and you may face legal issues if they are in any violation.
RESTAURANTS IN ALGECIRAS
Finding a safe place to eat is going to be of no issue in Algeciras. Though the American style sit down restaurants are less common than cafeteria like restaurants you will still find some good places.
The North African and Middle Eastern food variety restaurants are scattered around the city along with Spanish ones as well. The chance to try some ethnic food should not be missed. Middle Eastern eateries are usually very inexpensive and the portions are usually of good size.
Due to the number of different restaurants in Algeciras it would not do much justice or fairness to name some and not others. Even online many restaurants go unrated as many people do not stay in the area long enough to eat at a variety of places.
You are encouraged to seek out places in Algeciras that may be of interest to you. The workers at restaurants are friendly and there is usually at least one English-speaking person per restaurant, though that is not an absolute rule.
Make sure that you keep watch as to where locals eat. If locals are not eating or gathered at certain place, there is probably a reason, assuming it is eating time. Yes, there may be lines at places frequented by locals, but eating where they do means you are more likely to eat at a well-regarded establishment and will be less likely to eat at a place where food poisoning may be an issue.
In the Spanish culture, people eat dinner at later times than Americans do. Sometimes, 9 pm will be dinner time. After the daily 2 pm to 5 pm «Siesta» the Spanish will come alive and may eat small meals at different places all in one night.
WEATHER AND SEASONS IN ALGECIRAS
The weather in Algeciras is wonderful almost all year, though the seasons do have some effect from time to time. The weather of not just Algeciras but the Andalusian region as a whole is what has made the area popular for northern Europeans to buy second winter and summer homes.
Summer time in Southern Spain is almost always sunny with little clouds and almost never any rain. The best all day and even nighttime short-sleeve weather is from June to September. During summer time temperature will be about 95F in the day and will only drop to around 59F in the nighttime.
Naturally, like all most areas in the northern hemisphere, winter temperatures are cooler than summer. Day time temperatures will stay at around 68F with nights at about 50F when there will also be more cloudy and overcast skies. However, once September comes the rains will start, which can sometimes be heavy although they never last long.
The next time you schedule a trip to Europe don’t forget Spain and while there don’t miss the quaint, old city of Algeciras. You will be glad you did!
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