While exploring and diving in Malta, I couldn’t resist visiting its sister island, Gozo (Għawdex in Maltese). Only 14km by 7km, Gozo is a short ferry ride away on the north-west side of the Maltese Archipelago. I heard many times that it was a favourite among European scuba divers for a sunny scuba diving hideaway. I was mainly in Malta to pass my wreck diving specialty so I initially only planned one day trip to dive the famous Gozo Blue Hole. What I discovered was beyond expectation. Gozo is so much more scenic and authentic, with almost no high-rise concrete resorts and many beautiful places to explore. The dive sites, such as the Blue Hole and Cathedral Cave, all about impressive geological formations in clear water, are worth the trip.
How to go from Malta to Gozo?
From my base in Buggiba, Saint Paul’s Bay, I needed 25 minutes with a taxi or 1 hour with the bus to go to Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal in the north of Malta. As I needed to take the ferry of 7.30am to arrive on time at the scuba diving centre in Gozo before 8.30am, for 15€, I decided the taxi was a better option to get a bit more sleep. Once arrived at the ferry terminal, don’t be surprised if you don’t see any ticket desk: you only pay on the way back from Gozo! The return trip costs 9,45€. 20 minutes later of a beautiful boat ride with the sunrise, I arrived in Mgarr Ferry Terminal. I had previously arranged pick-up with St Andrew’s Divers Cove, so they were kindly waiting for me at the terminal. We arrived in Xlendi (pronounce “Shlendee”), a beautiful turquoise water creek where St Andrew’s Divers Cover scuba diving centre is located, around 8.20am, perfect!
My morning dive was at the world-famous natural wonder of Djewra: the Azure Window. We arrived at 9.00am. After a short briefing walk including a few pictures of the Azure window, we were ready to gear up 15 minutes later. We were back to Xlendi at 12.30pm. I enjoyed a 45-minute picnic on the scenic shores of Xlendi, thanks to the delicious pastizzi and arancini of the local bakery.
At 1.15pm, it was time to load the gear again. We headed north, in the direction of Zebbug, to dive an amazing marine cave, the Cathedral. After the dive, we took the opportunity to explore the beautiful Wwejni salt pans.
We were back to Xlendi around 4.30pm. After rinsing the equipment, I decided to go for a drink to enjoy one more time the beautiful turquoise creek of Xlendi. It was still warm and windy, so my gear dried up fast the time to enjoy a chilled pint of Cisk beer by the sea.
I finished the day in Victoria (Rabat in Maltese), thanks to the direct bus from Xlendi, to explore its Citadel just before sunset for great photo shooting. The evening was dedicated to taste Gozo specialities with local wine on the Independence Square (Pjazza I-Indipendenza). From there, it was easy to take a bus back to Mgarr ferry terminal. At 11.30pm, after such a day, the wine made me sleep right away on the ferry. I woke up in Cirkewwa without even noticing the boat had left Gozo! 15€ and 25 minutes later, I was back to my bed in Buggiba.
The Gozo Blue Hole: a world-class dive site
After dreaming about this place for so long, one of the earliest ones on my list of the best diving in Europe, and also because I’m huge Game of Throne fan, here I was, at the Azure Window of Djewra, and just down this great natural arch, the Blue Hole! Because of these two incredible sites next to each other, not long after our arrival, the parking started to fill. When we came back from our dive, it was so packed, I barely recognised were our pick-up was parked! The first piece of advice to dive the Gozo Blue Hole is “the earlier, the better” especially during summertime!
During our dive briefing, we had time for a few pictures in front of the Azure Window and a look at the inland sea. This is usually the second dive site people do when they are on a 2 tank dive trip. It links a seawater lake to the Azure Window through a tunnel. In my case, as I wanted to dive the Cathedral Cave in the north, I had enough time only for the Blue Hole.
As we geared up on the parking, the sun was already high and bright. The hardest part of the dive then started: there is a bit of walking in the heat to reach the Blue Hole. It’s 5-10 minutes walking, fully equipped, with stairs, walking on rocks and handling a slippery approach near the edge. Seriously, if you’re not in good shape, you may find it challenging. I saw a few people struggling to get there. You also need to think that you will to do it in the other direction after the dive, with, this time, the stairs to climb. Please consider your level of fitness wisely and in any case take your time not to lose your balance risking to fall on the rocks with all your equipment.
The view from the edge of the blue hole is breathtaking and by far the most beautiful view you can get onto the Azure Window. It was certainly one of the most majestic starts of dive I got to do. I finished gearing up there, putting my gloves and hood before jumping in the water where I finally put my fins.
Looking at the Blue Hole below me, in crystal clear water, I could see the place was already busy. However, I notice people were ascending which meant they would be out soon. The Gozo Blue Hole is small if you try to compare it with the Great Blue Hole of Belize, but at least you can see it all. It has a cave and a large “gate” at the bottom you have to go through to continue your dive below the Azure Window. Maximum depth is only 15m so this dive site is ok for Open Water divers.
After the first tour inside this amazing vertical tunnel, we continued towards giant rocks which collapsed from the cliff. We then followed a wall between schools of shiny sardines. While I was photographing a small grouper, my dive guide made the sign of an arch. We were just below the Azure Window! Through the clear water, we could see it, how cool! We made our way back through the Blue Hole again after an hour of a relaxing dive without any specific difficulty.
Update March 2017: Please note that following a big storm, the Azure Window arch, unfortunately, felt down. While the news made so many people sad, it seems the rocks from the arch formed an incredible new dive site according to recent reports.
Cathedral dive site and the salt pans of Xwejni: my favourite site of Gozo
If you think the Blue Hole is the only incredible dive site of Gozo, wait before you dive Cathedral! Cavern diving lovers will be amazed by the sights of this giant blue cave. To reach this dive site, we headed to the north coast of Gozo. Near Zebbug and the beautiful landscapes of Xwejni salt pans, we geared up one more time. This time, dive briefing was extensive about how to get into the sea and especially how to get out. According to my excellent dive guide of St Andrew’s Divers Cove, they “cannot take beginners here because of the challenging entry/exit point.” Indeed, after taking narrow stairs carved into the rock, fully equipped, fins in hand, you need to take a vertical ladder along a high cliff beaten by the waves. No vertigo allowed: The best is to keep your fins in hand, to not look down, take your time and when close to the water, jump and quickly put your fins on! The exit is even sportier because of the waves. You need a perfect control of your buoyancy as you will stay in very shallow water while holding a tiny piece of rock and removing your fins. Then waiting for a wave to push you to climb the ladder. That’s real adventure diving my friends!
Honestly, this sporty entry/exit could have been a highlight in itself but when after 20 minutes along a wall we arrived in the Cathedral Cave, I understood how incredible this site was. I dived many dive sites called Cathedral because they were a kind of interesting underwater cave. No, Gozo Cathedral Cave was perfectly named thanks to its size, mesmerizing blue light and incredible acoustics! As we were previously at a depth of more than 20 meters, we did a safety stop before surfacing inside the giant cave. For information, the cave can only be reached by scuba divers but has a hole allowing fresh air intake; it is hence safe to breathe inside. We waited for divers from another group to leave; this was when our amazing guide started to sing like an angel to prove the fantastic acoustic properties of this natural concert dome. Turn on the sound and watch the short video below:
On your way back to Xlendi, you can stop near another famous dive site, the Double Arch, to learn more about the traditional methods used to produce the sea salt flakes of Gozo. Thanks to the man carved salt pans in the rock, the salt is always pure as it never touches any dirt. Don’t hesitate to buy some directly to the producers as it will make a perfect gift for as cheap as 2€ and you will help maintain a local tradition.
History and gastronomy in Victoria
The perfect way to end a perfect day in Gozo has to be in its “capital”: Victoria (Rabat). Its 13th century Cittadella (Iċ-Ċittadella) has just been reopened after lengthy refurbishment works. The result is fantastic and would give you opportunities at the golden hour for a stunning 360° view as it is the highest point. The Citadel features the Assumption Cathedral of Gozo, the Old Prison, the Museum of Archeology and a high fortification wall. The back side of the Citadel is, unfortunately, only ruins which explain why only two families are still living in the citadel. Nevertheless, some fabulous architecture details remain such as an elegant triple arch pathway. One of the most interesting details was down the walls, where you can see old silos that were used to store food during in case of a siege.
Talking about food, after your visit to the citadel, it’s time to enjoy a relaxing evening in Gozo with some tasty food. Head down to Victoria’s Independence Square where several restaurants serve the best specialities of the island: home-made ravioli, grilled sea bream, Gozo fresh goat cheese in olive oil and peppers, without forgetting the excellent red, white and rosé wines! I chose Jubilee Café, which also has a premium grocery store perfect to bring back goodies, for its good value for money (I had the opportunity to try them in Valletta the week before).
Who to dive with in Gozo?
I cannot recommend enough St Andrew’s Divers Cove in Xlendi. The town of Xlendi with its beautiful turquoise creek, astonishing views on high limestone cliffs and its delicious restaurants is a must-see place in Gozo anyway. And if you wonder why “St Andrew” in the name of the scuba diving centre, it’s because it is the local saint of Xlendi!
When you arrive in Xlendi, the setting of their dive centre along Xlendi’s main street can be surprising. They were also so busy with many people everywhere that I felt overwhelmed at the beginning, but that was only for a very short moment. Once you show up at the office, after a bit of paperwork, your dive guide for the day is picking you up with a big smile and show you everything: where to take your tank, how to control it, where to take your gear, suits and weights, where to take a box for your equipment that will go onto the pick-up truck of your group. In a maximum of 15 minutes, you’re fully ready. St.Andrew’s Divers Cove employs 14 instructors and divemasters speaking a total 9 languages. Most of them are coming back every season. Hence they have an excellent knowledge of the dive sites in Gozo. The dive trips are only in small groups of maximum 6 divers. It makes every dive more enjoyable. On my dive trip to Cathedral Cave, we were only 3, our dive guide, my friend Laurent and I. Depending on the level of divers and the requirements for certain dive sites; you can benefit from this VIP treatment if you’re an advanced diver.
St. Simon Street, Xlendi Bay XLN 1302
Phone : +356 21 55 1301
Things I’ve learnt from my diving trip to Gozo
1 – A day before, thoroughly check the weather forecast to dive the Gozo Blue Hole: I was well warned by St Andrew’s Divers Cove that sometimes the winds make the Blue Hole undivable, at times for several days in a row. We thought it would be ok on my first attempt, but once we arrived, big waves were crashing on the Azure Window. So be ready to keep some flexibility in your schedule. So yes, I had to return a second time to Gozo to dive the Blue Hole during my week in Malta!
2 – All the best food and wine in Malta come from Gozo: With many fields and vineyards around, it means high-quality food! If you have the opportunity to visit the Citadel at lunchtime, the restaurant Ta’Rikardu (Triq il-Fosos, Cittadella, Victoria) is offering local food coming from the farm of the owner (which can be visited). Food lovers will be in heaven there, the specialty of the house is the homemade ravioli stuffed with the cheese from Rikardu’s farm! Regarding wine, I tried the red, white and rosé and they were all perfectly balanced wines. The reason we don’t see Gozo wine abroad is that the production is too small, so they keep it for the domestic market. Remember, I’m French, so wine quality matters to me!
3 – There is so much more to see in Gozo than the Azure Window: that was the frustrating point actually for me, Gozo may be small, but there is so much to see. Even in 2 days there, I think I just had a tiny glimpse of its treasures. I gave you the highlights of my visit but if you want to stay longer you can consider visiting these other extraordinary places: The Calypso Cave viewpoint over the most beautiful sandy beach of Gozo, Ramla Bay, Mgarr ix-Xini is long narrow creek perfect for free diving in small underwater caves, Ġgantija Megalithic Temple might be one of the oldest in the world, and from Ta’Kenuna Tower in Nadur you can have the best view of Comino and Malta for your collection of travel selfies. You just can’t get bored!
4 – Be careful you’re going to fall in love with Gozo: I knew many divers were going only to Gozo to dive, but I wasn’t sure why. Now I know: so charming and relaxing, with top scenic diving easily reachable from the shore, Gozo is the perfect place to go for slow and sunny scuba diving holidays. The farmhouse option available in Gozo for accommodation sounds like something I’d like to try. Do I really need another reason to stay a whole week in Gozo next time I plan to dive in Malta?
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