Those coming to the largest town in the Bay of Gibraltar by car will probably be initially disappointed by its blandness. Residential blocks from the 1950s and 1960s, an extensive road network and lots of concrete dominate the skyline. However, Algeciras looks so much more interesting from the water, although not necessarily more beautiful. On the nearly fifty shipping routes from North Africa to Algeciras giant tankers circumnavigate the Punta del Carnero. Meanwhile, in the hill ranges of Los Alcornocales bright prefabricated buildings are scattered like building blocks. There is a good reason why this bay is called Bahía de Algeciras in Spanish, because everything here seems to be part of the gigantic clockwork operation that is the largest trading centre on Spain's coast.
Algeciras is not even an hour by car from Marbella, but here you are in a completely different world. Not a hint of the glamour of the rich and famous is to be found here, but this port and industrial town is more genuine and down-to-earth. Everyone and everything here seems to be in motion, with more than 83 million tons of goods being moved between Europe and Africa here each year.
A taste of Morocco at the "Gateway to Africa"
The proximity of North Africa is unmistakably felt on every street corner here. Especially in the summer months there are many Moroccan migrant workers commuting home from France and on the streets you can hear a symphony of Spanish and Arabic. In the Moroccan district you can order imported mint tea from the Maghreb to go with sweet Arab delicacies and from the various cafes you can watch the hustle and bustle going on between the old and new buildings around you.
Algeciras: The colourful history of a city with character
In comparison to the housing style of the old towns of Granada and Málaga, the buildings of Algeciras appear relatively modern, even in the old town. On the orders of Mohammed V of Granada, Algeciras was once almost completely destroyed and only rebuilt in the early 18th century by war refugees from Gibraltar. An impressive memorial of this period of the War of Spanish Succession is the chapel at the Plaza Alta, which is now home to the carved wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which was washed away after the chapel in Gibraltar was destroyed in the Mediterranean floods of 1704. A fisherman in the Bay of Algeciras eventually fished the "Nuestra Señora de Europa" ("Our Lady of Europe") out of the sea and to this day it is revered, especially by the Catholic sailors of the region.
Not only for fresh air fanatics: hiking on the E4 long distance route
After this first impression the hiking and excursions options around Algeciras may turn out to be a particular surprise. To the west and north of the town extends Los Alcornocales Natural Park, the largest nature reserve in Andalusia, with one of the largest collections of cork oak trees in the world. It has a selection of hills which are ideal for light walks, but also for longer hikes through this unique Spanish range of hills. To the south in the Parque Natural del Estrecho near to the town of Tarifa, ends the European long distance E4 walking route. It is planned to connect the south-western tip of the European continent in Portugal with its most south-easterly point on the island of Cyprus.
Historic Route: Through Andalusia's mountains by rail
Those who want to see what is beyond Los Alcornocales should definitely find time for a train ride on the historic route between Algeciras and Ronda which dates from 1892. Over 100 kilometres of rail through idyllic whitewashed mountain villages and fields of wheat and sugarcane is certainly not something which is only for railway enthusiasts.
Your Algeciras: Discover the town and beaches on foot!
Here is a recommendation for your initial introduction to Algeciras based around local history. One of the most successful flamenco guitarists of the 20th century, Paco de Lucía, came from here. Since his death in 2014 the tourist centre offers a tour where you can follow a special map on your own to visit all the important locations of his life and work in the town and by doing so, get to know the many sides of Algeciras at your own pace.
Sooner or later than you'll discover that Algeciras is certainly one of the most down-to-earth destinations around the “Gateway to Africa“. Nowhere else will you blend in more than here in this bustling harbour town and the best part is that a beach holiday is also possible here. The Cala Arenas beach is a real insider tip for those who like the outdoors and you can reach the bay by a 20-minute walk through the nature reserve. Even in the city near the harbour, you can either relax or head into the water on the two-kilometre long Playa el Rinconcillo. Surrounded by industrial plants and container ships, the scene at Playa el Roncillo is nearly as rugged as Algeciras itself, a town that lives long in the memory.