It’s hard for me to explain exactly how challenging it was to travel the relatively short distance from Madrid to the tiny little British territory of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean coast. Thanks to a centuries-old territorial dispute, there are no flights at all from Spain. As a result, my best friend and I had to take several trains, several buses, and several taxis over the course of twelve hours just to reach the home of The Rock. It is a complicated process even for non-wheelchair users, especially since the main RENFE train line to that part of southern Spain has been destroyed by severe flooding. However, once you arrive in Gibraltar, you’ll realize the process of reaching it was worth every stressful minute.
The first thing that travelers wishing to visit Gibraltar from Spain must understand is that they are two separate countries (Gibraltar is a British overseas territory) and are divided by a hard border. That means there is a customs and immigration checkpoint, and cars, taxis, and buses cannot freely cross between the two. So if you hire a taxi in Gibraltar and want to go on a day trip in Spain, you have to get out of the taxi in Gibraltar, walk across the border on foot, and hire another taxi in Spain. More on this later.
When you are heading from Spain to Gibraltar, the primary goal is to get as close to the border with Gibraltar, also known as the Frontier or Frontera, as possible. By far the easiest way to do this is by car. Just as with any other land border, you have to wait in line and wait for customs and immigration to check your passport and possibly search your vehicle before heading into or out of Gibraltar. Certain times of day are busier than others, so please factor wait times into your travel plans.
Another way to do this is by train, although recently this has become much more difficult. The primary rail company in Spain is RENFE, and they have two stops near the Frontier: Algeciras and San Roque. The problem is that in early October 2018, huge storms swept through southern Spain and flooded large portions of the region. This caused entire track lines to be washed off their beds for miles. RENFE estimates it could take many months to repair these lines, and unfortunately the lines that had closest to Gibraltar were affected. What RENFE is currently doing is sending passengers to the Santa Ana station, having them disembark, then putting passengers on a transfer bus for a 2-hour drive to the Algeciras station.
Timewise, this only adds about an extra half-hour to the total trip. However, this has big implications for wheelchair users. My best friend and I were not able to get on this bus because the electric lift for wheelchairs on that particular bus was broken that day. We were instead switched to a high-speed train that went south to Málaga, where RENFE paid for a wheelchair accessible taxi to drive us 2 ½ hours to the Algeciras station.
Once you reach the train station in Algeciras (the only option until the rail lines are repaired), you can either take a bus or a private taxi to the Frontier, which technically is in the Spanish town of La Línea. The bus is run by COMES and is the M-120 route. There are several stops along the way, and without traffic you will reach La Línea in about 30 to 40 minutes. We had to wait for some time at the bus station in Algeciras (which is across the street from the train station) because two buses in a row had lifts that were broken. There are several regular taxis waiting in line in front of the train station, so this is an option for able-bodied travelers. If you are a wheelchair user, you can try to contact Eurotaxi for an accessible wheelchair van. However, since Algeciras is not a major city, you may have to wait for a considerable amount of time before a wheelchair taxi can come pick you up if you have not prearranged it.
If you take the bus, you will stop at the La Línea bus station, which is about 100 yards west of the Spanish side of the customs office. A taxi will drop you off in a parking lot just outside of the customs office at the Frontier. From here you must walk or roll through immigration and the customs office across the border into Gibraltar. If you proceed about 100 yards down the street, there will be a busy bus stop on the right side. Here, you can take the #5 line to Gibraltar’s City Centre only. At City Centre, you can transfer onto another bus line that will get you closer to your hotel or wherever you wish to go. All of Gibraltar’s buses lower and have deployable ramps. You can also contacted the Gibraltar Taxi Association and request a wheelchair taxi to meet you on the Gibraltar side of the customs office. I would strongly suggest pre-arranging a pickup if you need an accessible taxi because wait times can vary.
When it comes time to leave Gibraltar and head back to Spain, you will have to do all of this in reverse. We had a prearranged wheelchair taxi take us from our hotel to the Frontier, we rolled through customs and immigration across the border, then took a prearranged Eurotaxi on the Spanish side to the train station in Algeciras (we didn’t want to deal with the bus again). RENFE made sure they had a bus for us with a functioning lift, and we went on a 2-hour (and very scenic) bus ride to the Santa Ana train station. From there we boarded our train back to Madrid.
If you don’t have the luxury of a private or rental car to help you travel to Gibraltar from Spain, please understand that it will be a complicated process to reach Gibraltar by land. however, once you reach it and start enjoying all of its beauty and charm, you will understand why the extra effort was worth it..