After two years of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and uncertainty, I am ready to get my travel gear packed and enjoy some deep blue salt water recovery!
The Maltese Islands, with 300 sunny days annually, is an accessible European destination that offers fantastic dives in the cleanest Mediterranean waters, with equally enticing topside culture, history, and unique places to explore.
The Maltese Archipelago consists of several relatively small, low-lying islands in the Mediterranean Sea, less than 100 km south of the Italian island of Sicily. Malta, Gozo, and Comino are the three inhabited islands of the archipelago, and each offers diving experiences you won't soon forget.
As enjoyable as Malta's clear waters, wrecks, and marine life are, you will be fascinated by the history. Between dives, you can visit fortresses, buildings, and ruins left by the varied succession of rulers of the small, strategically placed islands, including the Romans, French and British.
Over One Hundred Great Dive Sites - How Do You Choose?
Diving the Maltese Islands is like playing 'choose your adventure.' Depending on the day, you can opt for wrecks of boats and airplanes, caves and arches, and beautifully laid-back swims through a crystalline blue lagoon. Depending on your choice, you can hop a boat to your dive site or don your gear on the beach and forego travel time altogether! Gozo, the smallest of the three islands, has several amazing options, almost all of which are shore dives. Caveat emptor, the majority of Gozo’s dives require traversing rocky descents to the shore with gear - not for the faint of heart or a less than fit diver.
Top Three Dive Sites
Um El Faroud
The Libyan tanker Um El Faroud was damaged in a catastrophic gas explosion while dry-docked at the harbor in Malta. Three years after the explosion, in 1998, the decision was made to scuttle the tanker and sink it to create an artificial reef and scuba attraction.
The 110-meter wreck broke into two pieces during a heavy winter storm in 2006, leaving the heavier stern section in deeper water at 36 meters. Before the sinking, windows and doors were removed, and entry and exit holes were cut for divers.
Um El Faroud is a fascinating dive, suitable for novice and more experienced wreck divers alike (you can certify with one of the several dive operations on the island, SSI and PADI). There are plenty of opportunities for penetration and exploration for the more skilled and adventurous diver.
Bring your camera because Um El Faroud is home to a marvelously enchanting array of scorpion fish, groupers, barracudas, moray eels, and the occasional triggerfish. The incredible visibility and light make for great photography.
Blue Hole and Azure Reef
The Blue Hole is one of the most beautiful dives in the Maltese Islands and is not to be missed. It offers shore access and is best suited to experienced divers.
Blue Hole is a sheltered pool protected by rocks. It was formed by a sinkhole about 10 meters wide in the limestone. The site lies about 15 meters deep and offers a stunning archway at about nine meters - a beautiful window affording divers access to the open sea.
The walls of Blue Hole are covered in colorful sponges, sea worms, and all the marine life you'd expect from a vibrant reef, including grouper and moray eels.
The entrance to Azure Reef is the Blue Hole window. As you swim through, you'll notice a change in scenery. The Azure Reef was for many years the iconic Azure Window, a landmark for the island. A heavy winter storm in 2017 saw the collapse of the window and the development of an interesting dive site.
The sunken limestone boulders are barren with sharp edges and little coral growth, which makes for an atmospheric, otherworldly dive environment. Experienced divers will enjoy exploring swim-throughs and crevices between the rocks in sight of unhurried schools of fish passing by.
Ghar Lapsi Cave and Finger Reef
Ghar Lapsi cave offers up a length of 40 meters of shallow cave diving, well lit with dappled sunlight from the cave's many cracks and openings in the ceiling. The abundance of light creates an underwater paradise for photography enthusiasts.
The underwater cave system has an abundance of outlets to the open sea, one of which leads you to Finger Reef. While Ghar Lapsi is not an especially technical dive, it is suited to experienced divers with superb buoyancy control. It is also worth noting that there can be strong sea surges in the cave, and the dive should be called during rough weather.
Finger Reef offers a pleasant finish to a Ghar Lapsi Cave dive with a small colorful wall of coral, sponges and reef fish: grouper, nudibranch, moray eels and the occasional curious barracuda.
Finish your Finger Reef dive by swimming through a small cave with a hole in the ceiling to the open water. The shallow depth of the dive means you can max out your bottom time, a worthy reward after so many months of travel restrictions.