I wasn’t supposed to go on summer holidays this year. Only a few long weekend escapes here and there in South Europe. But when one of my friends told me he found good deals on return flights for the end of July, whereas it is peak season, 1 hour and 200€ less on my bank account later, I had booked a 10-day summer holiday in Malta.
I’m usually lazy when it comes to going back to a country I already visited. Not like I’m trying to add as many as different countries on my counter, but I’m so eager to see everything the world has to offer, and there is always so little time available. I visited the Mediterranean island country in 1998 as a teenager with my family. I had sweet memories from this trip, between megalithic temples and finely decorated fishermen boats. I wasn’t a certified scuba diver at that time. With many shipwrecks all around Malta and the famous Gozo Blue Hole, it didn’t take long to convince me that it was worth going back.
The best historic shipwrecks to dive in Malta
The strategic position of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, only 90 km south of Sicily, and 300 km east of Tunisia and 340 km north of Libya, led to a heavy ship traffic since early ages. While Malta remained neutral during WWI, the island held a vital role in the second world war. Hence many of Malta’s historic shipwrecks are related to this period of modern history.
Amongst the 18 main wreck diving sites all around the island, 6 are historic shipwrecks and 2 of these are only accessible to technical divers due to the depth (below 60m). If wreck diving and history are your things, you will want to dive these incredible shipwrecks:
- the HMS Maori: British Destroyer of 115m from 1937, sunk in 1942, only half of the boat remains in St Elmo Bay, Valletta. I had the chance to dive there for the final dive of my wreck diving speciality training.
- the HMS Stubborn: British submarine of 66m from 1942, scuttled off Qawra Point in 1946, rediscovered by scuba divers in 1994!
- Le Polynésien: French passenger vessel of 115m from 1891, sunk in 1918 by a German U-boat 7 miles off Valletta. At a depth of 70m, the shipwreck can only be visited by tech divers.
- The Blenheim Bomber: British bomber aircraft from 1939, crashed in 1941 during an attack against Italian air force. The wreck is 42m deep, off the shore of Marsaxlokk.
The best artificial shipwrecks to dive in Malta
As the tourism authority of Malta had a strategy in mind to scuttle ships for scuba diving tourism as early as in the 1970’s, today, Malta is a wreck diving paradise in Europe that caters for all levels of divers including the beginners. With shipwrecks all around the island, it allows diving any day of the year as there is always one shore that is protected from the winds.
Amongst the shipwrecks sunk on purpose for dive tourism, some make exceptional dives. Here is my selection of dive sites not to be missed with incredible underwater photography opportunities:
- The UM El Faroud: Lybian tanker of 110m from 1969, after a dramatic explosion accident in 1995 in Valletta, scuttled in 1998 near Blue Grotto.
- The Rozi: British tugboat of 30m from 1958, scuttled in 1992 in Cirkewwa. This site is famous for its photogenic anchor.
- The P-29: German Patrol boat of 52m from the 1960s, scuttled in 2007 in Cirkewwa.
I had the chance to dive the UM El Faroud with Maltaqua while enjoying the incredible landscapes of the Blue Grotto and Filfla Island on the horizon. We left Saint Paul’s Bay at 8.30am. After a beautiful drive across the olive tree fields and the vineyards divided by low stone walls, passing by the medieval town of Mdina standing fiercely on its hill and a breathtaking arrival at Blue Grotto via a steep road, we were ready to gear up at 9 am.
There is a bit of swim to reach the UM El Faroud (about 10 minutes), so make sure to control your air consumption and fin kick efficiently, as this is a deep dive. The dive usually starts with a quick look at the giant propeller at the maximum depth of 34m. We then slowly ascended along the hull of the ship where you can see its nameplate. After a tour around the part where the ship broke into two after a massive storm in 2005, we did a bit of exploration inside. The ship is safe to penetrate with large pathways. Even decommissioned to be safe for scuba divers, there are still a few interesting mechanical and electric parts to see. We ascended along the enormous chimney where we could see clearly the logo of the company. It is worth planning several dives on the UM El Faroud due to its size and the many interesting areas to explore. Because of its depth, you need to be careful to allow sufficient surface interval between dives or return on different days. Nitrox is definitely a good idea on this dive site, to get a bit extra bottom time.
Scuba diving holidays in Malta: sun, sightseeing, scuba diving
With 7,000 years of history from the Phoenicians followed by the Romans, the Arabs, the Norman who established the Knights of St John’s Order, the French shortly before joining the British Empire to its independence in 1964 and its entrance into the European Union in 2004, expect to be blown away by the density of historic wealth of the Maltese Archipelago. Malta is the home of Megalithic temples as old as 3,800 BC and its capital city, Valletta, is preparing to be the European Capital of Culture in 2018.
One thing that I found fantastic in Malta was that every dive site could be associated with one of the historic or natural highlights of the country. In only 10 days, I could explore most of it while getting an excellent glimpse of the quality of diving around Malta, Gozo and Comino. If you add that Malta ranks amongst the countries with the best climate in the world, with more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, you have the perfect holiday setting for any scuba diving enthusiast.
Only in the island of Malta, here are my top sightseeing that you will be able to enjoy while going on a scuba diving tour:
- Valletta, the capital city: The capital city of Malta is rich of many treasures, so many that the first weekend I spent in Malta was entirely dedicated to this UNESCO World Heritage site. Valletta and Sliema are the home of many wreck diving sites such like the HMS Maori and the Tugboat 101. Read my article dedicated to my weekend in Valletta!
- Mdina, the silent city: The most charming town you can visit in Malta. Some major historic treasures here too, but the discovery of the ancient capital of Malta is all about getting lost in its quiet yellow limestone streets. Every colourful door, every street corner with bougainvillaea flowers and every delicately carved building are exquisite. The perfect way to end the discovery is with the fine cakes of the Palazzo de Piro while enjoying the 180° view all over Malta northeast coast. Mdina is on the way to the famous Blue Grotto and Malta’s biggest shipwreck, the UM El Faroud.
- Marsaxlokk, the fishermen village: If you are looking for the best place to see the colourful Maltese fishermen boats and the most lively fish market of the country, head to Marsaxlokk (pronounce “Marsashlock”). Looking to dive at the same time? It’s the place to go if you want to dive the Blenheim Bomber!
During my stay, I also spent 2 days in Gozo and 1 day in Comino. Have a look at the special blog post I wrote about my perfect day in Gozo including a dive at the famous Blue Hole!
When to go diving in Malta?
What I read about scuba diving in Malta before was the season was from March to November only. If it is true some dive centres close for the winter season, the main dive centres remain open all year. With an average temperature of 18°C, Malta can dive anytime, even in the winter thanks to its dive sites located all around the island, allowing to dive even when the winds are blowing on the opposite coast.
Looking for the warmest water and the best visibility while enjoying cheaper prices? September to November, especially the latter, is the best period to go diving in Malta. Water has heated up all summer and you can dive away from the crowds.
Who to go wreck diving in Malta with?
If you are interested in learning about Malta’s history while going scuba diving, which dive centre can be better than one of the oldest ones in Malta? Maltaqua has been in business since 1975 and is owned by a Maltese family. Their instructors have a long experience of diving in Malta. My dive guide for the day, David, a British instructor, had been living in Malta for 10 years. I was amazed at all the stories he told me about Malta’s history on our way to Blue Grotto. I think he showed me details no other visitor would notice.
Maltaqua has a large dive shop with the fanciest compressor room I’ve ever seen on all my trips! They can cater for recreational divers and technical divers as they can prepare your Nitrox tank on demand. Something that also caught my attention was their independent diver package. Once you know your way around, both on the road and underwater, they offer tanks with unlimited refills so you can dive as much as you want all around Malta with your own rental car. On top of this, they are just sweethearts: I got a very serious issue with my camera before my dives with them and they did all they could to help me. Big thumbs up!
Mosta Road, St Paul’s Bay SPB3114
Phone: +356 2157 1111
Where to stay in Malta?
Malta’s main island is only 27 km by 14.5 km, as the dive sites are mostly shore diving, your dive centre will always take you with a minibus to the dive site. As a result, you can virtually stay anywhere in Malta. Nevertheless, I found that during my stay in July, traffic could be quite heavy, so it was a good idea to be at a strategic location based on my program.
My plan was to go for a day trip to Gozo including diving in the morning. To do so, it means taking the ferry in Cirkewwa at 7.30am. I also wanted to board a boat to Comino’s Blue Lagoon quickly. Everything pointed out Saint Paul’s Bay as the perfect place, geographically speaking, to do everything I wanted to do without spending hours in traffic.
This is how I took a holiday rental flat in Buggiba. For once, I’m not going to tell you it was unbelievable and charming. No, I think I can say Buggiba was pretty ugly. What I didn’t understand at first is that Saint Paul’s Bay area is made of 3 continuous towns: Saint Paul’s Bay Village, Buggiba and Qwara. Each one is very different. Buggiba is the typical concrete building holiday town that was built in the 1960’s. When I saw that the main square facing the sea included a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut, I understood that Buggiba wouldn’t be my favourite place in the world. But, but, but… I got a fully equipped 1 bedroom apartment, at the last floor with sea view, and airport transfers included for 25€ per night per person. That was really a good deal considering it was peak season! As I didn’t fancy the restaurants of the area, I made good use of the kitchen and local Maltese products bought at the supermarket and the vegetable truck which was there every evening down the street, to prepare delicious and healthy meals. Total food budget per person for one week: 73€ or less than 10€ per day!
On the east side of Buggiba, you will find Qawra, a posh area with many deluxe rental flats and 4-star hotels. I didn’t go very often on this side, except for the fantastic Sicilian pastry shop EatEtna (Triq it-Turisti, Qawra) and their mouth-watering homemade gelato ice-cream. My favourite side was definitely Saint Paul’s Bay and its fishermen harbour. I wish I had stayed there. Not as charming as Vittoriosa, Mdina or Marsaxlokk, but so much more authentic. Many local food shops, bakeries, fishmongers, I even found a delicious smoothie café, Pash Café (Mosta Road, Saint Paul’s Bay) almost next door of Maltaqua’s dive shop.
Don’t hesitate to contact your dive centre. They usually have very good packages of diving plus accommodation. For example, Maltaqua offers accommodation in a very nice air-conditioned fully equipped apartment in Saint Paul’s Bay with prices starting at 250€ per person including airport transfer, accommodation for 4 nights and 6 dives.
Beyond its excellent wreck diving experience, I would like to highlight that Malta is an excellent scuba diving holiday destination if you are still a beginner or if you are considering passing your Open Water certification.
Let me know in the comments if there is anything else you would like to know about scuba diving in Malta!
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