The legendary explorer and marine conservationist Jacques Cousteau bought Calypso, the boat he used for his scientific voyages, in Malta in 1950, and promptly fell in love with a number of dive sites—spectacular reefs and caves among them—in this intoxicating Mediterranean island nation. Of the three islands (Malta, Gozo, and tiny Comino, home to only a handful of year-round residents), quiet Gozo is the place to stay if you’re fixing to be near great dive spots, but if you’d rather be closer to more action with a choice of restaurants, museums, and other attractions, stay on Malta and make day trips over to Gozo.
Malta has some of the cleanest water in the Mediterranean, with underwater visibility of nearly 100 feet, and remnants of the country’s history lie buried in shallow waters waiting to be explored. In 2007, researchers found remains of a Phoenician shipwreck dating to the 7th century B.C.E.; there are a host of WWII shipwrecks in the area as well. It’s easy to see why readers of Diver magazine recently ranked Malta the top dive destination in Europe and second in the world two years in a row. Use this guide as a starting point but rest assured, wherever you go, you’re going to see an abundance of colors and marine life.
In this collapsed underwater limestone cave in Gozo, divers will encounter octopus, groupers, amberjacks, barracuda, and tuna feeding among massive rocks. The Blue Hole was also once paired with the dramatic Azure Window, a massive limestone arch made famous as a Game of Thrones backdrop, though it sadly collapsed after heavy storms in 2017. Still, this remains one of the most popular Maltese dive spots, so arrive early, preferably before 10 a.m. during the high season from June through August. The water is clear and the site is suitable for all abilities but probably not for young children. The dive starts in a lovely, wide inland sea pool that leads into a large crevice and through to the open sea. You’ll swim past some ancient rock formations and may encounter parrot fish, schools of bream, moray eels, and lobsters. The adjacent Azure Window Restaurant has delicious pan-fried octopus and tables with sea views, so plan on enjoying a leisurely lunch here after your dive.
Located a few miles inland, just east of the Blue Hole on Gozo, the Inland Sea is a shallow lagoon connected to the Mediterranean Sea by a spectacular 262-foot-long, light-filled tunnel through a massive rock. As you pass through the tunnel, you’ll be immersed in some of the bluest waters you’ve ever seen, so have your camera at the ready. After exiting the tunnel, explore the reef and boulders. Keep an eye out for Old Man’s Cave on the left and Whale Cave on the right, plus schools of barracuda and amberjacks along the way. Divers can then return to the Inland Sea via the tunnel or continue their dive all the way south to the Azure Reef and exit through the Blue Hole.
Saint Paul’s Islands
The apostle Paul brought Christianity to Malta nearly 2,000 years ago, around 60 C.E., when he was shipwrecked on these rocky islands while on his way to stand trial in Rome for being a political rebel. Today, the uninhabited rock formations—reachable only by boat—are surrounded by some superb dive sites, including the remains of an old destroyer and a small ferry that sank in 1984. When diving here, look for the underwater Christ of the Sailors statue. To honor Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Malta in 1990, a group of local divers commissioned Maltese sculptor Alfred Camilleri Cauchi to create the piece, then placed it near where Saint Paul was shipwrecked. In 2000, because of decreased visibility in the water, the statue was moved to Qawra Point in northeastern Malta, next to a wreck close to Qawra Reef at a depth of 114 feet.
Um El Faroud
If you’re an experienced diver with a wreck fetish, this is a great dive just off Malta’s southwest coast near the fishing village of Wied iz-Zurrieq. The Um El Faroud was a 10,000-ton tanker that was scuttled after a massive gas explosion killed nine Maltese dockworkers. The wreck is broken into two chunks, and there’s a brass plaque as a memorial to the dead. It’s a lengthy swim from the shore, so single cylinder divers have only about 10 to 15 minutes to explore the ship, depending on currents. Thanks to superb visibility, you can expect to see large schools of sea breams, parrotfish, and silversides, along with scorpion fish, barracuda, and tuna.
For brilliant colors and a fascinating cave system that’s easily accessible, head to the fishing hamlet of Ghar Lapsi and its secluded rocky beach. Right off the shore, you’ll find a lovely cove that serves as a natural swimming pool with clear, blue-green water that’s perfect for snorkeling. To experience the caves, you’ll dive down through a chimney-like tunnel, which leads into a 131-foot cave system with sunlight filtering through cracks in the rock. There’s also a sandy reef to explore near the cave. Refuel after your dive at the adjacent Carmen’s Bar and Restaurant, where you can enjoy fresh lampuki, lobster, and seafood pasta with a million-euro view.
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