Zen & the Art of Gibraltar Border Queuing

How to make the waiting Rock!

Gibraltar border queue

There are worse places to get stuck than the Gibraltar border queue

Don’t get me wrong. It will never catch on as a tourist attraction.

No one’s going to get themselves trapped in a traffic jam for 6 hours 20 minutes and 14 seconds just to visit Gibraltar’s equivalent of the Elgin Marbles or touch a lucky lump of limestone shaped like a woman’s boob.

After all, you could drive the 569 kilometres to Madrid in that time and see better in The Prado Museum.

But if you have to get stuck somewhere, there are worse places than the Gibraltar border queue.

The East Side of town isn’t on the main tourist drag but it has its attractions (Titty Rock and the marvellous marble mausoleums at North Front Cemetery are just two of them).

As my partner Dave discovered when he and 9,999 other motorists (Source figures: Daily Mail) were caught in what’s become known as The Great Queue by those who patiently waited in it (and by millions of others who didn’t, as Gibraltar hasn’t been out of the headlines since).

In years to come, people’s kids could be asking them “What did you do in the Great Queue Daddy?” The answers may surprise you!

The date – Saturday July 27th 2013 – is already written into the annals of Gibraltar’s history for producing one of the longest waits on record. Six hours, officially, in 30 Sizzling Degrees of Centigrade. But Dave fired up his engine at 15.30 and passed through Checkpoint Carlos at 21.50.14. Do the math!

Postcards from the Gibraltar Border Queue

(Double-click each photo, then double-click again, to enlarge)

Dave’s among the one in six residents of the Campo de Gibraltar (Spain) who commute to a different country (Gibraltar) every weekday. Not everyone can walk in, although it’s the sensible option in these troubled times. But Dave’s in the construction industry and you just try carrying ladders, drills and paint pots on foot through customs and immigration and across an airport runway to the other side of town. Thus, he’s been stuck in as many queues as the police on both sides of the border have had burnt dinners (when Madrid decides to tighten the screws, everyone gets home late). And he’s a patient man.

But not that patient. When he finally tottered through the door six hours, 20 minutes and 14 seconds behind schedule I wasn’t expecting him to be a picture of Zen-like calm. Me? I’d be pouring out a large Larios & Tonic along with a stream of vitriol containing the words Treaty of Utrecht and Cordoba Agreement. Dave was exhibiting a cool that would put cucumbers to shame.

Here’s why. He got out of his van and went walkabout. (You can do that if you’re at the back of the queue in what’s quaintly called the East Side Holding Area, as you’re generally guaranteed a two-hour wait – and sometimes more – allowing plenty of time for sight-seeing and stocking up on survival provisions!)

Gibraltar Border Queue

East Side Holding Area – Anyone for tennis?

Everyone else got out too and, the way Dave describes the scene that day, it sounded like an American tailgate party.

Gibraltar Border Queue

Marble-ous mausoleum

Gibraltar Border Queue

I wish I’d brought my ‘mono’-kini

People were sharing paper cups and hanging out around the GibAqua tanker, laid on by the government to dispense free water, like it was their local bar.

Some people picnicked on their Morrisons shopping, laid out like a smorgasbord in their car boots (Q-Tip: a bag of frozen peas makes a great cold compress).

Others nipped off to the beach for a quick dip; or photographed the monkeys that colonise the East Side and like to cavort on the sand themselves.

A few sporty types played tennis in a neighbouring car park! Dave discovered Titty Rock and some other interesting sights that helped to pass the time quite pleasantly.

In short, people gave up tooting their horns and raining down curses on El Presidente Rajoy and all his government and a spirit of camaraderie prevailed.

Weren’t you surprised to notice there were no incidents of road rage that day, and no arrests?

Of course, Dave forgot his camera so we couldn’t sell his story to the nationals. But then I heard about Dr Queue, aka Professor Richard Larson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to his exhaustive 30-year study on queue psychology, Theory of Waiting Lines, “People in a queue find the time flies by much quicker when they’re destracted or engaged. You can actually change a queuing experience into a very positive experience.”

Every queue is a business opportunity, he says, in this interesting video on the psychology of waiting in line.

It’s already working at Epcot in Florida, where the Guinness World Record-breaking queues were causing riots until they installed cameras and interactive screens outside the gates to entertain visitors.

If it works there, why not in Gibraltar? It’s not rocket science.

So check out our map of Things To Do in the Gibraltar Queue. If it helps you to keep your cool when others around you are losing theirs, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Enjoy!

Map of the Queue

Gibraltar Border Queue

Things To Do in the Gibraltar Border Queue

1. Go Italian in Little Genoa This cute fishing village is as Italian in flavour as its crescent of Neapolitan ice cream-coloured houses. That’s because there have been Genoese settlers here since the 16th century. There’s a boardwalk fringed with seafood and pizza restaurants and washing lines behind, reminiscent of the back streets of Naples. Just one cornetto and you’ll be singing the song.

2. Cool off in Caleta Bay This secluded cove is a favourite with sun-worshipping Gibraltarians. Or for spectacular views of Africa, climb up vertiginous steps for a beer at the 4-star Caleta Hotel. You may even have time for a slap-up meal at its chic Italian restaurant, Nunos, under the giant white umbrella.

3. Touch Titty Rock for luck (Mamela Rock in Genoese). All the fishermen do (on the pretext of tradition)! This boob-shaped boulder fell from the east face of Gibraltar in the 18th century and landed tit up in the sand. You can see the scroll relating to its history at nearby La Mamela restaurant where the seafood’s yum.

4. Meet the East Side Monkey Troupe The Barbary macaques around here are way too cool to go rock climbing. They prefer to monkey around on the beach. I wonder if they go ‘mono’-skiing?

5. Photograph the Gruyere Cheese Gibraltar may be only 2.6 square miles but it’s riddled with 55km of tunnels like a Gruyere Cheese. Look up to your left to see the gun emplacement openings in the rock that lead to the Great Siege and World War II Tunnels.

6. Stroll around North Front Cemetery  Cemeteries can be depressing but not this one! The magnificent marble mausoleums owned by some of Gibraltar’s wealthiest families make the Elgin Marbles look tame. More than 750 Commonwealth soldiers from two World Wars are also buried here and you can get great shots of planes taking off from the airport runway, just over the wall.

7. Freshen up at the airport It’s air-conditioned, there’s a cafeteria, loos and a scenic viewing terrace upstairs. The staff are very helpful (let’s face it, with only a handful of flights arriving at this super-swish airport they’ve got nothing much else to do). You can often find free local English papers in the Sky Shop.

8. Reward yourself with a 99 at the border The Mr Whippy-style ice cream van stationed in the airport car park has doubled its takings since the border shenanigans began.

Gibraltar Border Queue

A brief history of Titty Rock – double-click to enlarge


Stay informed with these indispensable online and on-air services .

Frontier Queue Live  Check out the state of play at the border as it happens via live webcam. Count the number of cars in front of you in the Gibraltar Airport Car Park Holding Area.
@RG Police The Twitter account of the Royal Gibraltar Police gives regular motoring updates of queue sizes and wait times both into and out of Gibraltar.
Key2Gib A guide-book, map and talking policeman rolled into one handy little app you can download free. Read about all the sights you can’t see because you’re stuck in the queue, or use the downtime to learn Llanito, the local patois that’s a Liquorice Allsorts of English, Andalus Spanish and other languages spoken in this multicultural melting pot.
Gibraltar Radio Get traffic reports and chilled music on 91.3FM , 92.6FM , 100.5FM & 1458AM. Ring up the live studio and ask them to play you a request. Tel: (+350) 200 66 200. Might I suggest Borderline by Madonna or The Wild Frontier by Bruce Hornsby and the Range?


Gibraltar Border Queue

Scenes like this at Gibraltar Airport (empty concourse, queues of cars outside) could be a thing of the past from Thursday when the new Frontier Complaints Help Desk opens.

As from Thursday, 22nd August, everyone who has been caught up in a border queue and wishes to complain is being encouraged by the Gibraltar Government to do so, using a brand new complaints procedure.

And, there are four ways to do it: by email, via a complaints form or by phoning or visiting a newly designated Frontier Complaints Help Desk in the airport. At last, this underused facility will come into its own (and maybe the staff there will finally have something to do)!

The new complaints form includes the following wording: ‘I have been deprived of the acquired and recognised right of free movement which I should enjoy as an EU citizen approved under the EU Treaties.’

The form also asks people to state what documents they were asked to produce and what type of search they were subjected to by Spanish officials.

The information ‘will allow the Government to provide more accurate statistics to the European Commission and, if necessary, to prepare a court case’, says a statement issued by the Government Press Office. ‘This procedure is open to people of any nationality who have suffered from the delays’.

A good idea or another red rag to the Spanish bull? I’m apolitical, me, just here to report the facts.

Complainants, who must be willing to provide their name, address, nationality and ID card or passport number, have the following options:

  • Email short details of their queue experience to frontiercomplaints@gibraltar.gov.gi.
  • Visit or telephone the Frontier Complaints Help Desk situated at Gibraltar International Airport (located by the car hire desks), Tel: 20011777. The Help Desk will be open from 8:30am – 2pm from Monday to Friday during summer hours and, during winter hours from 9:00am to 1:00pm and 2:30pm – 5:00pm.
  • Download a form from the Government website and send or take it to the Frontier Complaints Help Desk.


  • Sue Sharpe (@suesharpe1) August 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm Reply

    Brilliant, Belinda!
    A post about the situation that made me laugh (as opposed to the majority of the others that are infesting the internet, which are mainly laughable!)
    Some very useful and practical advice.

    • Belinda August 19, 2013 at 10:50 am Reply

      There’s always a bright side to life, Sue! I prefer to look at it that way and leave others to spout their politics.

  • Chris Gamble August 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm Reply

    I have to admit, I did feel a right tit in that queue for six hours.

    • Belinda August 19, 2013 at 10:51 am Reply

      Haha, nice one Chris!

  • Mike Souter August 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm Reply

    A nice spin on this sorry saga. Deserves a MUCH wider audience.

    • Belinda August 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm Reply

      Thanks Mike, for helping me to get it out there!

  • Amy August 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm Reply

    Great post – Belinda! I’m a researcher with the ape’s team and I’m in charge of those GPS collars that the macaque is wearing – do you mind if I use that lovely photo in some of my scientific presentations and credit you with it? I don’t have a single good photo of that particular monkey and that one is so wonderful!

    • Belinda August 19, 2013 at 2:58 pm Reply

      What a lucky coincidence and absolutely, Amy! I love the monkeys so am delighted to do my bit towards their welfare and your research.

  • David Marsh August 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm Reply

    Makes you wonder why some folks just sit in their cars. Brilliant piece and very informative. In fact…I might just plan a day in the queue and meet some lovely people. It’s just got to be done. This should go viral.

    • Belinda August 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

      Thanks David. I’d never walked around Little Genoa before the queue and it’s so Italian, you could easily imagine you were in Sorrento, not Gibraltar!

  • Shaun August 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm Reply

    Haha only you, Belinda, could put a positive spin on six and a half hours of border queueing!

    You should be working for David Cameron!

    Great article.

    • Belinda August 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Perhaps he’ll see your comment and give me a job – thanks, Shaun!

  • Jeremy August 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Great article. I wish I had Dave’s patience.

  • Norman Reeley August 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm Reply

    Great article Belinda! I know you are freelance, but do you contribute to any newspapers?
    We have just toured Northern Ireland and Scotland promoting my thriller Malevolent Karma, and researching for the follow-up novel. I am putting together several travel articles for a local Spanish weekly in Javea, and on-line magazines. Got very interesting stuff on the NI situation, but the Belfast part is frankly depressing… I need some of your humour for this part!
    I think Rajoy/Margallo are going to have a bit of egg on their faces over Gib… but do you think they give a damn?

  • Josh August 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm Reply

    Sounds like great fun! And I queuedn’t have put it better myself!

    • Belinda August 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm Reply

      Gosh Josh, Well-punned!

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