A trip to Malta is hardly complete without a visit to her sister islands, Comino and Gozo, to see the world famous Azure Window and Blue Lagoon. These natural treasures attract ferry after ferry of sun-soaked visitors each day, so be prepared to be sharing their beauty with plenty of other tourists.
The most popular- and certainly easiest- way to visit these islands within a day is to take one of the many day cruises that leaves from Sliema harbor every morning. I did a fair amount of research on this topic -which cruise is the best deal, the most interesting, maximizes your time- but in the end we defaulted to one of the hotel’s suggestions, Captain Morgan’s cruises. We opted for the “Best of Gozo and Comino” cruise that seemed to give us a fair glimpse at all of the islands’ highlights and departed the harbor around 1030 am and returned around 6pm, just in time for dinner.
Oh, did I mention that it was only 35 eu each, and included an open bar?
Now, part of this traveling experience is that sometimes we do things right, and sometimes we just learn a lot. While I would not say that this cruise is a bad option, I would say that there may be a better way to see the highlights at a more enjoyable pace. As it turned out, Gozo had a lot more to offer than I had anticipated- a fortress in a quaint town, crafts markets and harbor restaurants perched high on a cliff, as well as the famed Azure Window.
Were we to return to Malta, we would want to spend more time exploring that oft-forgotten island of Gozo. Like the rest of Malta, we found it to be rich in both history and extraordinarily friendly people. Unlike the main island, it is not frequented by hoards of tourists or stag partiers, and has a much more down to earth feel.
Ok, then, if not the day cruise, how else would you do it? You ask.
Well for starters, I would not write off the day cruise entirely. Captain Morgan- as well as every other company- offers cruises that do not make port in Gozo and rather spend the day sailing from bay to sparkling blue bay, hitting the popular Blue Lagoon as well as lesser known swimming holes. These cruises also include a full lunch spread along with the promised open bar (beer, water and soft drinks only). I think that this would be a fantastic, easy and affordable way to spend a day on the water, enjoying Malta’s most beautiful feature: the water. They offer many different boat varieties for their different cruises, from large Catamarans to wooden masted “pirate ships” so you can truly pick your pleasure, depending on what type of adventure you are in for.
Of course, thre are a large number of companies that facilitate private cruises around the islands, each offering competing open bars and lunch spreads. I would highly recommend Yachting Malta, who took us on our sunset cruise on our first evening, as they also offer 8-hour day cruises as well. They were completely fabulous!
Then you can designate a separate day to exploring the island of Gozo at your own leisurely pace. A large (and fast) commuter ferry travels between Malta and Gozo with regularity every day, dropping you right into a harbor that is ever prepared with hop-on hop-off buses and eager taxi drivers. The island is so small that the drive from the main harbor in Mgarr to the farthest point of interest would take less than 20 minutes.
And with the way most Maltese drive, it may be a whole lot quicker. Yikes!
All of that said, if you are short on time and want to see all of the highlights in one day cruise, these are the way to go. Jimmy and I did have an excellent time, regardless of the slightly rushed schedule at each destination. In the end, we sailed the open blue waters, witnessed natural wonders, accepted the challenge of an open bar and chatted with some outgoing locals, all for less than a dinner in Helsinki. I call that a big win.
Our Captain Morgan cruise was staffed by very friendly local Maltese, with clean facilities and tons of deck space. We felt like they piled us all on until no more could fit, but I have an idea that this wasn’t the busiest these boats get. We made sure to arrive early to claim our spot at the head of the queue (like good, organized Finns) and, therefore, had our pick of spots on the boat. Be prepared to defend your space- the “move your meat, lose your seat” rule applies here! If you want a shaded spot, certainly be there early, as the covered cabin is only a small portion of the boat.
After casting off from the main island of Malta, we arrived in Mgarr in Gozo after an hour and a half long cruise along the island’s golden coast. We were then shuttled on to buses for our island tour.
Most of our shipmates were hustled onto larger, tour style buses (ugh, gag!) but we noticed a man looking to fill the last 2 seats in his smaller van (also affiliated with the boats, not some random guy…we think), so we went with him and were given the jump seats next to the driver, which afforded us not only the best views of the swerving, crazy drivers , but also gave us the opportunity to chat with the friendly, informative and opinionated driver! He told us everything about the little island, which had been his home his entire life, from the weather (no rain for 16 months!) to the average wage and cost of living, to the history of the fortress and lands. You could tell that he was completely in love with his little island and knew every bus and taxi driver as we passed-and which cars were rentals, so he could honk at them!
Our first stop after a roller coaster-of a drive, ripping down winding roads and narrow streets was the world famous Azure Window. We were allotted just enough time to “oooh” and “aahhh” with all of the other tourists who had come to admire the rocky archway and swirling waters. You are free to clamber about on to rocks and most people completely ignore the sign forbidding climbing on the actual arch- which to me seems like about the silliest thing in the world to do. Aside from the fact that the coast and arch are consistently subject to high winds and that climbing on the rock leads to its further degredation, the archway IS the attraction. But, hey, I guess I just don’t like to dabble with death on my vacations.
I had figured that I would be disappointed in the Azure Window- I mean, it sort of just looks like Arches National Park stuck in the water, right? But aside from standing in the location of Daenerys and Drogo’s nuptials (for all you Game of Thrones geeks) the sight is quite breathtaking. The waters are the brightest royal blue and the odd, rocky lands are so unique. It is absolutely worth the trip to see.
This is also home to the Blue Hole, a world famous scuba diving site that drops daring divers into sea tunnels and caves along the coast line. If diving is your thing, I am not the right person to ask, as any denizen of the deep send me into a panic, but there is a wealth of information on the topic readily available on the world wide web.
Continuing on from the Azure window, the bus made an obligatory stop at a tourist gift shop before dropping us in the capitol of Victoria. We spent our time here walking through the fortress, high on the hill, that gave a 360 degree view of the island and its surrounding waters. We grabbed a sandwich and a beer from a local artisanal store (they had SO many amaaazing looking olive oils and barrels of wine, I could hardly leave!) before heading back down the hill into the harbor to catch out boat, headed for the Blue Lagoon on neighboring Comino.
Once docked just across the bay at the famous Blue Lagoon, Jimmy and I boarded a jet boat in order to go explore nearby caves (the tickets for which we had purchased on our boat from Malta). This quick 20 minute jaunt was a mere 15 euros, so we figured, eh why not? It turned out to be exceptionally fun, as we ripped and bounced through the sparkling waters and briefly backed into some shallow caves along Comino’s coast line. The boat was full of giggles and applause!
Returning to the lagoon, we had just enough time to dunk into the famous lagoon and take a brief swim away from the hoards of people at the shore. There are a few stations where you can pay for a locker while you swim and, if you are lucky, you may snag one of the adorable umbrellas on the narrow strip of sand. Snorkeling gear is also readily available for rent, but due to the popularity of the location I think you will mostly be viewing the tiny southern-European swimsuits under the water. And I am not just talking about the women.
Sun soaked and soggy, we blissfully lolled with the waves on the trip back to Sliema harbor on the main island of Malta. The open bar quenched our thirst and we gazed at the evening sun on the sharp edges of the north part of the island. We were almost too exhausted to chew our final meals that night- though we managed to, in the end!
So who is planning a trip to Malta? If these pictures don’t do it, I don’t know what will!
(Seriously…tell me about your travel plans!)