This post may contain affiliate links. It means I may earn a commission if you book or purchase something. This is at no cost to you and support this website. Learn more here.
Malta might be the smallest country in the European Union, but the southern Mediterranean archipelago has earned the title of the scuba diving capital of Europe. And it was by building up its dive map since the 1970s. Besides clear blue waters all year, the Maltese islands offer one of Europe’s largest densities of shipwrecks and scenic cavern systems. Until recently, I would have agreed with European divers saying you don’t go diving in Malta for its marine life. However, my last trip surprised me with incredible encounters. It even included one I had been expecting for ages.
On my second trip to Malta in 2016, I discovered what the archipelago had to offer underwater while doing my wreck diving specialty, with 5 dives in Malta and 3 in Gozo. This time, motivated to complete all the adventures I had missed, I moved to Malta for two months. It gave me the time to dive deeper into each island of the archipelago. I dedicate this blog post to only my dives in Malta and Comino, and I will do a separate blog post about Gozo. Between the end of April and the beginning of May, I went diving around the island to photograph all the best recreational dive sites (within a maximum depth of 40 m). As a bonus, I also had the opportunity to go boat diving in Comino Island, whereas diving in Malta is mostly shore diving.
Diving in Malta at a glance
How good diving in Malta is?
My five favourite dive sites in Malta
This time, I logged 7 dives around Malta and 2 in Comino Island. There are three main diving areas around the main island:
- the northwest, in Cirkewwa
- the south, in Zurieq
- the north, in Sliema
Among my top 5 diving spots in Malta, please note some locations are suitable for beginners, and others are for advanced divers due to depth. Malta is also a paradise for tech and even rebreather divers, with some shipwrecks well below 100 m deep. For information, these historical wrecks can only be visited with accredited dive centres. Through them, you pay a fee to Heritage Malta, the governmental organisation conserving them.
Here is a video summary of my dives in Malta:
1 – The UM El Faroud shipwreck, Zurieq
My dive parameters:
- Dive #1 : The Stern – max depth 35 m – dive time 53 min – water temperature 17°C
- Dive #2 : The Bow – max depth 29 m – dive time 51 min – water temperature 17°C
- Dive #3 : The Engine Room – max depth 31 m – dive time 57 min – water temperature 17°C
The 1969 Libyan tanker wreck is undoubtedly the queen of shipwrecks in Malta, at least among the ones accessible to recreational divers. I already loved it the first time I dived there in 2016. This time I got to appreciate its finest details with 3 long dives: the stern, the bow, and the engine room.
Like many famous shore dive sites in Malta, the divers who prepare their gear efficiently will get the best parking spot. Why does it matter, you may ask? Shore diving in Malta often involves going up and down stairs and rocks. With about 30 kg of scuba diving gear on your back, the early birds can save a few extra efforts. In Zurieq, on the south coast of Malta’s main island, visitors flock daily to board one of the traditional “luzzu” boats to visit the Blue Grotto. The Scuba divers water entry point is at the same spot down steep stairs with a plundging view of Filfla Island, an unhabited nature reserve.
Even if scuba diving instructors will do their best to assist, don’t underestimate the fitness level you’ll need to comfortably climb back those stairs after 1 hour of diving. Whoever says scuba diving isn’t a sport never shore dived in Malta! Once down the stairs, there are about 10 to 12 minutes of swimming to reach the nearest part of the shipwreck. Due to the traffic of the boats going to the Blue Grotto, the swim is done between 5 and 10 m underwater. It’s easier than battling waves at the surface fully equipped, but remember, you’ll do it twice.
For the first dive, I focused on the closest part of the shipwreck but also the deepest: the stern and the propeller. As I went down to 35 m deep to take pictures of the giant propeller on the white sandy bottom, it meant not enough non-deco bottom time to penetrate the rooms above the stern. Remember, you have a total 20-minute swim time, and at 36 m, you have a maximum of 11 minutes before hitting decompression. So, if you are spending a bit of time on pictures like me, better to slowly ascend along the hull and finish by going around the giant chimney at about 20 m.
At the end of every dive on the UM El Faroud, the exit procedure is to take a left turn from the stern to reach the wall of the shore. This way, you swim between 15 and 12 m for the first half and around 7 m towards the end. All this while looking for cool marine critters such as octopus, cuttlefish, flying gurnards or moray eels. Once back in the cove for the safety stop, open your eyes between the ropes of the boats. This spring, we got an impressive mauve stinger bloom (jellyfish), but my favourite moment was when I finally got to see a john dory, a fish I’ve been searching for more than 10 years!
For the second dive, I went all the way to the bow. There are at least 15 minutes of swimming, as you must go over the 110 m shipwreck. Halfway, you’ll notice the split where the ship broke into two parts due to a storm in Zurieq and not the initial explosion in 1995 in Valletta. At this point, exploring what is hiding inside the shipwreck is tempting. But because of the long swim and if you want to enjoy the view of the bow from the sandy bottom at 29 m, there is no time for this. The UM El Faroud is all about choices and clear objectives.
I returned another day to finally explore the wreck’s most fascinating rooms: the kitchen and the engine room. The first one is easily accessible at 26 m; it’s the first door you’ll see on the starboard of the stern. A (bit rusted) mixer by the side of the sink makes an amusing picture with a diver in the frame.
My favourite, though, was definitely the engine room. Make sure to follow your guide. The engine is at 31 m deep, and there is a bit of penetration down some stairs to get there. Another point you want to be sure of is to know how to properly frog-kick with your fins, or you might ruin the view for everyone else to see the impressive 12-cylinder engine. The jumble of pipes and valve wheels around it will delight the most demanding rust lovers.
Given the depths of the different points of the shipwreck, even the “shallowest” (25m), sorry, but this wreck dive is only for advanced scuba divers.
2 – The P29 shipwreck, Cirkewwa
My dive parameters: max depth 36 m – dive time 46 min – water temperature 17°C
I can barely believe I missed diving in Cirkewwa the first I went scuba diving in Malta. I loved it so much that the only reason the P29 shipwreck is coming second after the UM El Faroud is primarily due to the impressive size of the latter. The dive site environment of Cirkewwa, at the northwest tip of Malta Island, is beautiful, with a great variety of rock pools, walls, seagrass meadows, caverns, sandy bottoms and many potential marine species encounters.
The P29 is a former patroller boat which used to belong to the army in Malta, but it originally belonged to the German Navy before being sold in 1997. She served until 2005, when the Malta Tourism Authority bought to make it an artificial reef. The shipwreck stands perfectly right on a sandy bottom at 36 m deep, so it’s a fantastic recreational wreck dive for advanced divers.
An advantage Cirkewwa has over Zurieq is how much easier is the water entry: far fewer steps from the parking lot and about half the swimming distance. I was promised 5 minutes of swimming, but I feel it was more like 7 or 8 minutes. Since you can’t see the shipwreck from the shore, carefully taking the correct bearings or following your guide is essential.
Being a relatively deep dive, I’d recommend going directly at the bow, the furthest and deepest point (36 m). The ship is 52 m long, so it takes about 3 minutes to swim from one end to the other. The view of the bow from the sandy bottom is incredibly photogenic. No wonder this is where I took the cover picture of this article! Then, you can explore the rest of the shipwreck level by level. Check the upper deck with its fake machine gun (made of car parts), then the cabin and finish with the mast. A bell has recently been added, so you can use it to celebrate any scuba milestone with your buddy or your instructor.
By diving in spring, besides Susie’s Pool (the entry point) being filled with mauve stingers, I couldn’t help but notice an impressive number of long white pouches hanging on different parts of the shipwreck. These were squid eggs! Depending on the larvae’s maturity, you might see the baby squids inside by shining a dive light at the egg.
Watch your dive computer throughout this dive and anticipate how your non-deco time will drop or recover to optimise your bottom time. As for the UM El Faroud, there is still the return swim to make.
3 – The Rozi shipwreck, Cirkewwa
My dive parameters: max depth 33 m – dive time 44 min – water temperature 17°C
This British tugboat from 1958 was scuttled in Cirkewwa in 1992. She is 40 m long, and like its neighbour, the P29 shipwreck, she is standing straight on the sandy bottom. While its engine and propeller were removed before the scuttling, its anchor, about 30 m away, made this shipwreck one of the most iconic in Malta, more than the ship itself sometimes (I have to say the bulky style of the bow doesn’t help).
I found many squid eggs again, especially on the anchor! Be careful about the additional swimming time to the anchor, another 2 to 3 minutes, considering that the anchor is still pretty deep, at 32 m. While swimming from the bow of the Rozi to the anchor, scan the sandy bottom because you might find some interesting marine critters. That’s how I spotted a sizable white monkfish! The joke goes that I was pretty sure I had seen a stargazer. The reason was mostly because I had never seen a white monkfish; they were pretty dark brown in Catalonia! Obviously, from 30 m, there is always the doubt of some level of narcosis messing with your fish ID skills. At least I had the picture on my camera to confirm.
4 – The P31 shipwreck, Comino
My dive parameters: max depth 19 m – dive time 57 min – water temperature 18°C
Since I went boat diving in Comino from Malta, I thought it was fair to put it here. Beginners/Open Water divers will be pleased to hear that I’m finally adding a dive site they can explore to this list. Not only the maximum depth of 18 m is easy to respect, but as you have to do it from a boat, there is no sporty approach or a long swim. Here everything is easy, including excellent visibility of 20-30 m (The P31 shipwreck is the neighbour of the famous Comino Blue Lagoon). So, if you’ve never done wreck diving before, this is the place to gain more experience.
Now, does it mean it’s a boring dive for experienced divers? Quite far from it! Thanks to its shallower depths and no swim time, you can spend an entire hour exploring all the details of the twin ship of the P29 without worrying about your non-deco time or your air consumption. In my case, I took the opportunity of this long relaxing dive to bring my macro lens and spent a third of the dive on close-up shots of the pilgrim hervias and pink flabellinas roaming along the shipwreck hull.
5 – The Tugboat II, Sliema
My dive parameters: max depth 20 m – dive time 66 min – water temperature 17°C
I am the first surprised that this training shipwreck in the urban area of Sliema, next to Malta’s capital city, Valletta, made it to my top 5 dive sites list. But as I compared my pictures and notes, I couldn’t reach another conclusion: This is a great dive site!
Directly accessible from the rocky beach of Sliema, next to Dive Systems Malta dive centre, the shipwreck is on the outskirt of Exile Bay. There is a fair bit of swimming, about 12 minutes. Still, it’s such a beautiful and peaceful reef with a Posidonia seagrass meadow where Mediterranean damselfish swirl all around, and apparently, many octopus hide (well, apparently, extremely well).
Because it’s an easy dive, it is often used for scuba diving courses. Indeed, I did one of my wreck specialty dives there in 2016, and I used it again this year as a check dive with my buddy who had never dived in Malta before. With a maximum depth of 18 m, it’s a perfect dive site for beginners and Open Water divers.
Once you arrive at the end of Exile Reef, where it takes a right turn, you should see the shape of the wreck appears. The shipwreck is not that big, 30 m long, so it only takes 2 minutes to go from the bow to the stern. So, with a pretty shallow depth, you have enough time to go 3 times around it. The most important is to remember to return to the reef at half tank because of the long swim.
The first time I dived this shipwreck, it had been recently scuttled, so the hull was pretty clean. 7 years later, the seaweed covers it, but if you know where to look, you can still see a beautiful Maltese cross embossed below the cabin on the stern side. This is a great dive for underwater photographers to adjust their settings at the beginning of any dive trip in Malta.
Other sites worth a dive
Now you know my five favourite spots, I wanted to give you more information about the other dive sites I had the opportunity to explore and liked. I couldn’t do two famous dive sites of Malta, two famous plane wrecks, the Blenheim Bomber and the Beaufighter. These two require booking a boat dive, and as these are not as often requested as the shore dive sites, I didn’t have the chance to go. A reason to come back to Malta one more time?
- HMS Maori, Valletta – 16 m deep
The only WWII shipwreck accessible to recreational divers in Malta. The former British destroyer is so shallow that even beginner divers can explore it down the fortified walls of Valletta facing Sliema (it initially sank on this other side and was towed there). It was the final dive of my wreck diving specialty, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much left of the ship. I think the most exciting was diving right next to the capital city of Malta.
- Santa Maria Caves, Comino – 11 m deep
Was it because of the waves or because of a boat propeller? Anyway, 2 or the 3 caves located on the north shore of Comino had a milky water with a high density of white sand in suspension. Exploring them was impossible since the two first caves communicate with an underwater arch. The last one was clear, but there wasn’t much to see except for a few nudibranchs and fan worms. I think my favourite part was navigating along the dramatic cliffs of Comino. It’s a great dive for beginner divers who have never experienced cavern diving. Experienced divers won’t be much impressed.
- Ghar Lapsi, Siggiewi – 12 m deep
The dive site is 5-10 minutes driving a bit further away down the south coast after the Blue Grotto, in Siggiewi, near the Xaqqa Cliffs. A bit of a slope to access the pretty entrance pool. As we penetrated the cavern system, I was first excited by the tight entrance and beautiful rays of sunshine (note there was always an easy exit to the surface at any point). But in like 5 minutes, we were outside. I thought, “There must be another part”; no, that was it. We finished the dive above seagrass meadows, where we saw nothing special.
What to see underwater in Malta?
Malta is the southmost island of Europe between Sicily and Tunisia. Its Mediterranean marine life is representative of what can be seen in Spain, France and Italy, and not like Greece or Turkey, like one might think. However, no underwater forest of red and yellow gorgonians or large groupers in Malta but a wealth of shipwrecks and caverns. This being said, a john dory, a splendid fish I had been looking for everywhere from Scotland to Spain finally showed up at the safety stop of my final dive at the UM El Faroud; for sure, one of my most memorable underwater encounters.
I summed up below the most common fish species I saw in the waters of Malta, from the most common to the one-time encounters. I included those I saw in Comino and Gozo, 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 gurnard
- 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, Malta is a surprising 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
- Pink flatworm
- Salt-and-pepper slug
- Pico’s okenia
- Hope’s elysia
- 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 colours (cf. top picture of this section), 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 Malta?
It took me 3 trips to Malta, but I got it right this time! I now have the perfect place to stay in Malta, and on top of this, one of the best dive centres on the island was just down the road from where I stayed: I’m talking about Sliema.
In only 10 minutes, I could walk to Dive Systems Malta at the end of Exile Bay. Their dive centre includes a large dive shop (if you need to buy or replace any piece of gear, they have everything) on the top floor with a classroom for people in training. The floor below is the locker room, with all the rental gear and compressor room. For people like me coming with their own scuba gear, there is plenty of space to store all your equipment for the time of your stay. Each diver is assigned a box with a number and a rack for the wetsuit with the same number. So, plenty of room to change, lockers to keep your valuables safe and warm showers, what else to ask?
As most of the diving is shore diving in Malta, we usually prepared our boxes at the meet-up time, generally 8.30 am. Then everyone with their instructors loaded the tanks and the equipment boxes on one of the trucks or vans of the dive centre. Every day you might visit a different corner of the island for the price of your dive. If you’re going boat diving to Comino, you’ll join their sister dive centre, Starfish diving, in St Julians which has its own quay.
Note to all tech divers that Dive Systems Malta caters to advanced gas mixes, DPV and CCR diving and is one of the approved dive centres to explore the deep historical shipwrecks around the island. Their boat is licensed with Heritage Malta.
Is Malta 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 located in Sliema (Tugboat II) and Marsaskala (Tugboat 10, St Michael tugboats). 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 Malta 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, Malta is a great place to experience deep diving, wreck diving or cavern diving. I did this on my first dive trip there; I passed my wreck diving specialty.
When is the best time to go scuba diving in Malta?
The scuba diving season in Malta is usually from March to November, but several dive centres remain open all year long. With an average water temperature of 20°C, you can dive in Malta 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.
This time, I scuba dived in spring when the water is nearly at its coldest. 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. Bringing a semi-dry suit was an excellent choice for this level of temperatures.
The first time I dived in Malta was at the end of July. That year water temperature was colder than usual, with a temperature 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.
If you are looking for the warmest water and the best visibility while enjoying a shoulder season, then September is the best time to dive in Malta. Water has heated up all summer with a maximum water temperature around 26°C, and you can dive without the crowds and with lower accommodation prices.
How to go to Malta?
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.
Where to stay in Malta?
No hesitation this time, stay away from Saint Paul’s Bay and stay in Sliema. It’s central, next to Valletta, with plenty of yummy and reasonably priced restaurants, direct access to a lovely long seafront promenade, and all the best dive centres are a short walk away. Since I was working remotely in Malta for an extended period of time, I rented an apartment for a month. However, for 2 nights before and after, I tried two different types of accommodation: a hostel and a luxury resort. This way, you can pick what fits your budget!
All adventurers deserve a treat! After a 2-week marathon of conferences and an intense week of wreck diving, when I gave back the keys of my flat in Sliema, I couldn’t dream of a better place to stay than the AX Palace in the heart of Sliema. If you can, pay the extra to get a room on the upper floors because the views of Valletta from the balcony are incredible at sunrise and sunset. My room was incredibly tastefully decorated, and the bed was a dream.
The outdoor rooftop pool was the perfect spot for a refreshing swim and a cocktail. In the evening, the indoor pool, with its sauna and hammam, was the cherry on top of my relaxing stopover before moving to Gozo. While I wasn’t too impressed with the breakfast, book a table one night at their Asian restaurant on the rooftop next to the pool. Whether you like eating Thai, Indian, Japanese, or a mix of everything, they have it all, and it tastes as it should, and the service is top-notch. Top tip, when booking the table, ask for a table near the windows with views of Valletta.
Waiting for my flat to be available, I booked 2 nights in a hostel in St Julian’s near Sliema. I thought it was the best way to start my stay in Malta as hostels are usually fantastic places to meet with other travellers and gather valuable tips.
And this is precisely how it went at Malti hostel. I must admit, I picked this one because they also offered private rooms at a great price (40€ a night in April), it was close to Balluta Bay, and they have a jacuzzi on their rooftop. Well, I discovered later the water of the jacuzzi was pretty cold, and in the chilly temperatures of April, I couldn’t stay longer than 5 min! Anyway, I love the cosy living room and kitchen that worked perfectly to socialise with the other guests, even if my room was in another building, but literally next door.
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.
PIN IT FOR LATER