I kept my promise. It took me 7 years, but I promised to return to Gozo and stay much longer. The last time, I thought it was fine to be halfway to everything on Malta’s main island. It included the Cirkewwa ferry terminal for day trips to Gozo. While possible, the two times I did it, it was both exhausting and frustrating. Why? Because it might be Malta’s best secret regarding food, wine, nature and, of course, diving. In a nutshell, Gozo has more flavours and adventures on offer!
This time, motivated to complete all the adventures I had missed in 2016, I moved to Malta for two months. It gave me the time to dive deeper into each island, so I dedicate this blog post to diving in Gozo after writing about diving in Malta and Comino. For 3 weeks in May, I went diving around the island to photograph all the best recreational dive sites. As I explored some of them up to 3 times, here is an overview of the diving scene in Gozo, which 100% shore diving.
Diving in Gozo at a glance
How good diving in Gozo is?
My five favourite dive sites in Gozo
This time, I logged 14 dives all around Gozo (i.e. way more than in Malta). Here are three main diving areas in Gozo:
- Djwera, on the west coast
- Mgarr, in the south
- Xwejni, in the north
Among my top 5 diving spots in Gozo, please note some locations are suitable for beginners, and others are for advanced divers due to depth. All the dive sites mentioned in this article are shore dives. The island of Gozo being relatively small, any dive centre can visit any dive site daily, weather permitting, so it doesn’t matter where you stay.
Here is a video summary of my dives in Gozo:
Gozo is also a paradise for tech and even rebreather divers, especially with the newly inaugurated Xlendi archaeological park below 100 m deep. For information, this remarkable site can only be visited with accredited dive centres. Through them, you pay a fee to Heritage Malta, the governmental organisation conserving historical sites.
1 – The Blue Hole, Dwejra
My dive parameters:
- Dive #1 : max depth 26 m – dive time 46 min – water temperature 17°C
- Dive #2 : max depth 17 m – dive time 53 min – water temperature 17°C
While I’m the first to recognise that calling a dive site Blue Hole is excellent marketing, it’s impossible not to love diving in Gozo Blue Hole. For good and bad reasons, this sinkhole of Gozo’s west coast, is a hell of a dive site! The good news? It is a diverse and exciting cavern dive that even beginner divers can fully enjoy. The bad news? You better be in good shape to approach the edge of the Blue Hole.
First, no matter where you start in Gozo, prepare your scuba gear efficiently so the van of your dive centre can leave early. Efficient divers get the best parking spots in Dwejra and save up a few extra efforts. Once fully equipped, with a tank on your back, there is a bit of walking, going up and down stairs, stepping from one rock to another, for about 5 minutes. When you think you’ve done the hardest, you’ll need to walk over what I call “the ice rink” to reach the edge of the Blue Hole. It’s a shallow rocky bottom where thin algae grow. You now get the idea: it’s slippery. Even the smallest waves can worsen things as you won’t see through the surface where you put your booty. Count 5 extra minutes to do this safely.
These conditions haven’t changed in 7 years. But in the meantime, the Azure Window, the elegant arch that used to be in the background of the Blue Hole, collapsed. It used to be the number one attraction of Gozo Island. Guess what happens with the crowds remaining the same in Dwejra: everyone wants to see the Blue Hole now. It was my biggest shock because people used to not even give a da** about it, to the point I even wondered if they knew it was there. Now, you’ll have to trek with 30 kg of gear on your back while slaloming between tourists who have no clue how dangerous it is for us if we fall. So, be extra careful; it’s not a race, and dive instructors are often happy to help. Keep thinking, “baby steps”.
Now, about the diving itself. Once you’re on the edge of the Blue Hole, you’ll feel relief as the best way is to inflate your BCD, keep your fins in your hand, turn 180° and let you fall in the water (make sure nobody’s behind). Floating comfortably at the surface, you can finish putting your fins, mask, hood and gloves on, aming the bubbles of the divers on their way back. The entry and exit point is indeed the same.
At only 7 m deep, the Blue Hole offers its first surprise: a long underwater arch covered in orange sponges and anemones. Once your eyes get used to the lower light, you can realise the arch is a giant window allowing access to the outer reef. Only 15 m deep, the Blue Hole is only one part of the dive. On a sunny day, this first shallow part can be mesmerising with the rays of sun penetrating the surface and a blue halo coming from this window.
The second part of the dive was a total rediscovery for me. In 2016, the Azure Window was still standing. It used to be a relaxed wall dive, which point was only to get a glimpse of the Azure Window from underneath. I often heard how exciting the dive site was after the Azure Window collapsed: indeed, it is!
The arch broke into giant, pyramid-shaped blocks, forming an exciting maze of straight-lined caverns. In less than a decade, the surface of these blocks on the outside is now covered in seaweed. Diving in the Blue Hole with a macro lens on your camera is a thing now since it is now a nudibranch paradise. Be careful, the overlapping of the blocks can make you lose your orientation and quickly find yourself at depths you don’t want to go.
My favourite part remains when you return inside the Blue Hole. Before ascending to the surface, you can explore the tunnel hiding in the dark, at the bottom of the chimney. The tunnel isn’t so special, but once you make a u-turn, you get a breath-taking vertical overview of the Blue Hole. On a sunny day, the safety stop in the “eye” of the Blue Hole is beautiful too, especially with mauve stingers (jellyfish), floating around in spring.
It would be a shame to miss diving the Blue Hole. Make sure you stay on Gozo for a few days. When the winds blow from the west, it’s impossible (dangerous) to access the Blue Hole as the waves crash on the cliffs of Dwejra. It’s unfortunately hard to predict more than 24 to 48 hours before. And this is precisely what happened to me the very first time I went to Gozo. So in 2016, I had to organise a day trip. Lesson learnt: I stayed enough time to dive it twice this time!
2 – Cathedral Cave, Xwejni
My dive parameters: max depth 21 m – dive time 76 min – water temperature 17°C
It was already my second favourite dive site the first time I went diving in Gozo. And while the access is completely different than what I experienced, it is now safer and maybe even more beautiful. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but dive sites apparently get better over the years in Gozo.
Vans and pick-up trucks of dive centres are now parking on the top of Wied il-Ghasri, a dramatic gorge zigzagging to the sea over 300 m. The 26 m high cliff overlooks a narrow cove with a tiny pebble beach where the water entry point is. Once more, your fitness level is vital to enjoy this dive comfortably. This time, though, it’s only on the way back: you have to climb up about 100 steps fully equipped with the tank on your back.
As you’ll see on my dive parameters, we went for an hour and 20 minutes of diving. Why? Because on the way to the cave, it was a nudibranch festival (cf. pictures of “what to see underwater?”) with some of the most exciting species and perfectly positioned every time. So, I had to get my macro lens out of my pocket every time! We reached the entrance of Cathedral Cave only 30 minutes after getting in the water (it should take about 10 minutes).
Only an experienced guide will find the cave entrance because it doesn’t look like much at the beginning. There is no clue about the natural phenomenon you’re about to witness. Surfacing inside the cave is possible as a hole constantly brings fresh air. The echo of the cavern and the blue light coming from underneath is just incredible. I explored many dive sites around the world named “Cathedral”, but none gave the feeling of being truly in a church.
3 – Double Arch, Xwejni
My dive parameters:
- Dive #1 : max depth 36 m – dive time 51 min – water temperature 17°C
- Dive #2 : max depth 32 m – dive time 51 min – water temperature 17°C
Sometimes, the best way to explain a dive site that requires top-notch planning and orientation skills is to fail. Indeed, we just couldn’t find it on my first tentative of diving at Double Arch. To be fair, we got a decent swell and low visibility that day. But at least I understood what we did wrong the first time.
The views of Xwejni Bay while you prepare your tank are stunning. The northern coast of Gozo is the most scenic of the island, with its saltpans looking like lace carved in golden rocks. The access to the water is only a short walk, but careful not to slip on the slipway covered in seaweed. BCD fully inflated, you can finish adjusting your fins floating at the surface, but don’t put on your mask yet as you’re in for quite a surface swim.
Swimming on your back is the best option; while not necessarily the most efficient, it’s the only way to keep an eye on your bearing points, especially the red door above the salt pans. It takes about 15 minutes of swimming. There used to be an easier way by walking across the salt pans, but it’s now forbidden. The process is safer using a compass, but natural orientation also helps. Perfectly aligned with the red door, you should be at the ideal point to descend over a 10 m deep seagrass meadow.
Then, you take the opposite direction of the shore until you find the edge of the wall. The trick is to watch your depth. If the edge is at 14 m, the double arch is on your right; if you’re already at 17 m, it’s on your left. The double arch is, on average, 30 m deep. If you go any deeper than 35 m, you missed it. This is what happened to my buddy team on our first attempt.
The second time, it was exhilarating to finally find it. This time, it was only the instructor and I, and we got the entire site to ourselves. The most surprising was seeing you can only distinguish the arches once you’re meters away. No wonder it’s tricky to find. But once there, it’s really a one-of-a-kind geological formation. I had never seen anything like it before. The arches are pretty wide, so it’s more like a cavern on top of another one. The upper one is covered in seagrass, while the lower one is above a sandy bottom about 34 m deep (I didn’t go there to keep some non-deco time for my pictures).
I stayed in the space between the two arches. With a deep blue halo in the background, shining my dive light at the ceiling, I could reveal an orange patchwork of sponges and anemones. A sizable red scorpionfish was quietly lying on the lower arch, taking the pose for my camera. Watching the non-deco time on my dive computer flying by, I had to make choices photo-wise. It was a bit frustrating; I’m sure there were many natural treasures to find. For sure, this is a dive site you can explore repeatedly and it will never be twice the same dive.
Important to know: in the event of a swell, the waves that form to the right of Xwejni Bay are potentially dangerous (it’s a surfing hotspot), so it’s also essential to manage your navigation correctly on the way back; otherwise, you’ll find yourself battling to return to shore.
4 – Inland Sea, Dwejra
My dive parameters: max depth 29 m – dive time 65 min – water temperature 17°C
If you are diving at the Blue Hole, this is the usual combo for the day’s second dive. If you’re at least an Advanced Open Water diver and plan on going deep, you usually do it before the Blue Hole. The wall after the tunnel drops to approximately 60 m deep.
If you wonder why such a name, it’s because the dive starts in a seawater lake on the inland side of the cliff. A narrow tunnel makes the water communicate with the open sea. To be fair, it is more a pond than a lake. From there, the boat tours leave to see Dwejra cliffs and the Blue Hole from the sea. This detail is substantial as it means you should expect boat traffic at the tunnel’s surface, meaning extreme care of not being too shallow (minimum 5 m deep) to avoid an accident.
It only takes a minute to enter the tunnel, and I quickly understood why it’s a favourite among divers in Gozo. Again, a spectacular blue halo mesmerise us. But this time, due to the length and height (about 15 m) of the tunnel, a narrow strip of blue light forms in the dark. Bringing a dive light is highly recommended !
The rest of the dive is a wall dive, left or right shoulder. Depending on divers’ wishes, several routes can be taken to visit a series of caverns and canyons boasting marine life. I plead guilty that I couldn’t got far because I took too many pictures. What I saw was so pretty that I have zero regrets. These tiny caverns covered in bright red false coral were so photogenic with the deep blue background. I guess this is another dive you can do over and over again without getting bored; possibilities seem to be quite endless there.
5 – Xlendi Tunnel
My dive parameters:
- Dive #1 : max depth 11 m – dive time 61 min – water temperature 17°C
- Dive #2 : max depth 10 m – dive time 65 min – water temperature 17°C
This is another proof that shallow dive sites have nothing to be ashamed of. I missed it on my first time in Gozo, and since I was staying in Xlendi, literally meters away from the water entry, I took the opportunity to do it twice. This site is used for divers on training but also as a backup plan when the weather is a bit difficult since Xlendi Bay is a long, sheltered cove.
From the dive centre, there is a bit of walking across the terraces of the restaurants along the water (I just loved the look of the clients seeing us passing by fully equipped), but this is to avoid a long underwater swim and save on air. The small stairs carved into the rocks lead to the entry point almost in front of the tunnel entrance.
It’s an easy descent, and as you cross the cove underwater, look for the flying gurnards on the sand patches among the seagrass. The tunnel’s entrance is pretty shallow, around 5 m deep, covered in this purple seaweed that looks like lilac (red sea plume). You have to know where it is, but it wasn’t an issue to find it myself the second time we went there.
The first part of the tunnel is a rather dark cavern, so a dive light is necessary. The second part is where the magic happens: the tunnel’s ceiling is above the water, and if you dive there before noon, the light will flood the tunnel with mesmerising reflections under the water’s surface.
Last but not least, the rocky reef outside the tunnel is a nudibranch festival. With an eagle-eye dive instructor in love with nudibranchs, too, this is where we found some of the most exciting species in Malta. And this is why I returned a second time, just to inspect every piece of seaweed I could! Best find : Hope’s elysia & Pico’s Okenia.
Other sites worth a dive
Now you know my favourite spots, I wanted to give you more information about the other sites I had the opportunity to explore while diving in Gozo. Due to a capricious weather, I couldn’t do two famous dive sites of Gozo, Billinhurst Cave and the MV Cominoland shipwreck. Note a new wreck has joined the shores of Gozo, the Hephaestus. A reason to come back to Gozo one more time? I guess!
- Ras-Il-Hobz (Middle Finger), Mgarr – 30 m deep
It is an easy shore dive site with some underwater swimming (about 10 minutes). The goal is to swim around the rocky pinnacles between 25 and 10 m deep. There is a bit of everything for everyone here. Going to the furthest point, between 15 and 20 m deep, you will likely see the dentex hunting in the blue. If you stick to the wall, you’ll probably find many macro critters such as nudibranchs, flatforms or blennies. It’s a great dive site to train in underwater photography, but I’m not such a fan of equipping in the salty mud of this old saltpan.
- MV Karwela shipwreck, Mgarr – 42 m deep
The staircase of the Karwela is what made this shipwreck famous in Gozo, and let’s even say in the entire Maltese archipelago. But it’s smaller than it seems (blame it on wide-angle lenses). I really liked this shipwreck, but due to the swimming time and the depth, once on the wreck, it’s a race against the clock if you don’t want to end up with 10 minutes of decompression. I did it twice to have all the pictures I wanted: the staircase, the engine room (34 m deep) and the propellers (42m deep).
- MV Xlendi shipwreck, Mgarr – 40 m deep
Neighbour to the Karwela, this shipwreck has the same constraints of swimming time and depth. Interestingly, the ship is upside down since things didn’t go well when it was scuttled. But in the end, seeing its large propeller on top makes it an exciting sight. But gosh, it was a long swim (and facing current) along its hull with barely anything to see until I found the propeller – the ship is 80 m long. One dive is more than enough, except if you have deep diving training goals.
- Ix-Xini, Mgarr – 15 m deep
The number one beginner site in Gozo. This shallow cove has a little bit of everything: sandy bottom, seagrass meadow and two small caverns. It’s not the most exciting dive, but it’s perfect for a check dive with flying gurnards, flounders and cuttlefish. However, if you know where to look, this is the seahorse hotspot of Gozo. No luck for me, unfortunately.
What to see underwater in Gozo?
Gozo belongs to the southmost country of Europe between Sicily and Tunisia, Malta. Its Mediterranean marine life is representative of what can be seen in Spain, France and Italy, and not like Greece or Turkey, as one might think. However, there is no underwater forest of red and yellow gorgonians or large groupers in Gozo but a wealth of caverns and nudibranchs.
I summed up below the most common fish species I saw in the waters of the Maltese Islands, from the most common to the one-time encounters. I included those I saw while diving in Gozo but also Malta, and Comino, as you will likely see them all around the archipelago.
- Mediterranean rainbow wrasse
- Two banded bream
- Painted comber
- Mediterranean damselfish
- Peacock wrasse
- Mediterranean moray eel
- Red Scorpionfish
- Flying gurnards
- Cardinal fish
- Sole fish
- Swallowtail seaperch
- Madeira rockfish
- Yellow black-faced blenny
- Brown meagre
- Mediterranean Parrot Fish
- Dusky grouper
- John Dory
From a nudibranch point of view, Gozo is surprisingly a paradise for underwater macro photographers. They seem to love both caverns and shipwrecks. Spots the seaweeds and hydroids moving with the currents, and you’ll find them.
- Pilgrim hervia
- Pink flabellina
- Polyclad flatworm
- Salt-and-pepper slug
- Pico’s okenia
- Green elysia
- Timid elysia
- Giant doris
- Tricolor doris
- Four-striped polycera
Other notable marine species while diving in the Maltese islands:
- Mauve stingers
- Peacock fan worms
- Common cuttlefish
- Blue spiny starfish
- Hermit crabs
- Common octopus
Important note about the fireworms: they’re pretty with their bright orange and red colours, but make sure you never touch those! Their name is the warning. Their sting doesn’t hurt, it burns! There is an incredible amount of them on every dive site. Besides, these little sneaky b******s tend to fall from walls or shipwrecks on your hands or neck, so always carefully approach any surface underwater.
Which scuba diving centre to choose in Gozo?
It took me 3 trips to Malta, but I got it right this time! I now have the perfect place to stay in Gozo, and on top of this, one of the best dive centres on the island was just down my flat: I’m talking about Xlendi, only 10 minutes by bus from Victoria, the main town of the island, going west.
Saint Andrew’s Divers Cove has been an institution on Gozo Island for over 30 years. I dived with them on my first trip to Gozo, and this is naturally with them I went back diving in Gozo as I knew it meant being part of a big international scuba diving family. Mark, the Maltese owner, and his wife Nathalie, French, welcome an international crowd of scuba divers from all over the world thanks to their team of English and French instructors and others coming for the season from all over Europe each year.
Scuba divers come in the morning usually at 8.30 am to prepare their gear they place in their assigned box. Then, depending on the scuba divers’ levels and wishes, they are spread in different pick-up trucks and vans to go to different corners of the island, weather permitting. You are generally done after 2 dives at 2 pm, shower included.
The village of Xlendi is a former fishermen’s village nestled in a cove with a high cliff on one side and ancient saltpans on the other. Known for its seafood restaurants, besides scuba diving, it’s the perfect point to go on different hiking trails. I stayed in Xlendi for more than 2 weeks and loved how easy it was to enjoy the island’s natural side or go to town by bus for cultural events and shopping.
Is Gozo a good place for beginners or to learn scuba diving?
Yes, it is! If you consider passing your Open Water certification to become a scuba diver, go for it. Thanks to a great choice of accessible shore diving sites and the range of depth available, it is less stressful to learn basic skills.
The best locations for beginners are Ix-Xini in Mgarr and Xlendi Bay. Located in sheltered coves, these dive sites are shallow enough for beginners. The advantage of shore diving is that you won’t risk seasickness, have more space to prepare your gear, and can remain as shallow as you feel comfortable. Note some shore dive sites in Gozo sometimes require a sporty approach, on land or swimming, but this is not the case for the dive sites above.
For Open Water divers looking to expand their dive skills, Gozo is a great place to experience deep diving, wreck diving or cavern diving with dive sites with increasing difficulty. After a check-dive in Mgarr Ix-Xini, you can go to Xlendi Tunnel and Ras-il-Hobz (Middle Finger), and if you feel comfortable, you can plan for the Blue Hole and Inland Sea.
When is the best time to go scuba diving in Gozo?
The scuba diving season in Gozo and Malta is usually from March to November, but several dive centres remain open all year long. With an average water temperature of 18°C, you can dive in Gozo in a wetsuit anytime. Even in the winter, with stronger winds, thanks to its numerous shore dive sites around the island, scuba divers can find a sheltered spot every day.
From the end of April to the second half of May, I saw the temperature increase by almost 1°C every week. Sometimes, the wind could bring back colder water, but I went from 16°C to 19°C in 3 weeks. Regarding water temperatures, bringing a semi-dry suit was an excellent choice for this temperature level.
The first time I dived in the Maltese Islands was at the end of July. That year, the water temperature was colder than usual, around 20°C. I wore a 5 mm full wetsuit with a hood, gloves and booties with a warm undersuit below, and I still felt a bit cold. Usually, in the summertime, water temperatures are 24 to 25°C.
September is the best time to go diving in Gozo if you want warm water and the best visibility while enjoying a shoulder season. Water has heated up all summer, and you can dive without the crowds and with lower accommodation prices.
How to go to Gozo?
Once you’re in Europe, getting to Malta couldn’t be easier. There are direct flights from virtually every main city in Europe. I flew from Paris and flew back to Marseille! Plenty of options from the UK, with flights from all London airports, but also Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and many more. You’ll find something similar for Germany, Spain, Italy, and many other European countries. To find at which dates you can find the best prices on flights, you can easily compare prices on trip.com.
If you don’t feel like flying, there is a possibility of going there by ferry from Palermo or Pozzallo in Sicily, Italy. To get there, note there is a night train going from Rome to Palermo, Sicily (including an incredible cross-over of the Messina Strait of the train on a ferry, yes, you read correctly). As you can see, I looked into the details, but unfortunately, I couldn’t make it this time
Once in Malta, you have the choice between the fast ferry from Valletta or the slow ferry from Cirkewwa to go diving in Gozo. If you’re renting a car in Malta (the best prices are from Luqa airport), then the only option is to drive all the way up north to Cirkewwa and take the slow ferry (only 20 minutes, but you might not be able to hop on the first one due to traffic). Don’t be surprised if you go directly without paying anything; the fare is paid on the way back (4,65 € as of 2023).
If you’re not renting a car, I discovered a new option on my way back from Gozo to Malta: the fast ferry linking Valletta directly to Gozo in 45 minutes only. I found the fare quite reasonable (7 € as of 2023). Since I took the slow ferry on my way to Gozo and returned with the fast ferry, I only paid 7 €.
Note for the budget travellers, you can also reach Cirkewwa by bus. It takes 1h30 with line 41/42 from Valletta bus terminal (2 € ticket when bought directly in the bus, but you can also buy a 7-day unlimited bus pass for 21 € which can also be used in Gozo). Malta Public Transport offers many different packages, including the fast ferry to Gozo, so have a look as it might be cheaper and you could save a lot of time too.
Where to stay in Gozo?
I tried 3 different types of accommodation in Gozo: a 4-star hotel in Xlendi and a farmhouse B&B in Nadur at the beginning and the end of my stay on the island. In between, I stayed at one of the studio apartments above the dive centre (gotta love the compressor as the alarm clock!).
St Patrick’s Hotel, Xlendi
Ideally located in the centre of Xlendi Bay, the St Patrick’s Hotel offers simple but comfortable rooms with balconies with either views of the village (beautiful sunrise in the morning) or sea view (but no direct sunset). Even if your room is on the village side, don’t hesitate to have a drink on their rooftop garden to enjoy the best view in Xlendi (except maybe for the adventurous ones who manage to reach the top of Xlendi cliff).
This family-run hotel is not necessarily the idea you might have of what a 4-star hotel should be, but I loved the location and the breakfast on their terrace by the sea in the morning with pastizzi (Maltese puff pastries). Obviously, having the dive centre just across the street was a big plus, on the days you are diving in Gozo. Note: I stayed in the hotel right before they started refurbishment work. So please, if you stay there and have pictures, send them my way; I’d love to see what they have done with the place.
Sunny Villa, Nadur
I wanted to experience it after my first visit to Gozo. Back in 2016, renting an entire farm house with a swimming pool was possible for an affordable price. This is not the case anymore. So, even by sharing with my buddy, it was over our budget. We were so happy to find Sunny Villa in Nadur, a charming farmhouse rented by the room. It was so tastefully decorated. We had a giant private terrace, a shared kitchen where the owner served breakfast in the morning, and a swimming pool in the backyard. Bonus point: it was located next to the best bakery in Gozo, Mekren’s Bakery, where you can order a delicious veggie Gozitan ftira for 9 € (ftira is the Gozitan take on pizza).
It was my best experience accommodation-wise in Gozo. However, you’ll need a car to stay there if you are diving in Gozo at the same time (even if going by bus is feasible, you’ll have to stop in Victoria to change buses; it would be a pretty long ride before the morning meet-up time). In my case, I rented a car but also stayed in Nadur once I was done diving to explore the rest of the island, like the Tal-Mixta cave, only 10 minutes away from Sunny Villa.
Is something still missing from this article? Do you have any questions?
Please let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help!
This article was written in partnership with Malta Tourism Authority. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
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