Malta is by far the smallest country I have ever seen. You can actually see the entire nation from the plane on the flight in. It comprises a whopping total of 122 square miles and has a population of around 450,000, which makes it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries (10th smallest to be exact). The capital, Valletta, has an aged Mediterranean charm with faded stone and weathered wooden shutters lining many of the streets. In some areas you will find boxy, formidable structures reminiscent of an old-world naval fortress—and with good reason. The island’s location has caused it to be a military stronghold throughout history, with occupations by the Romans, Moors, Spanish, French, British, and more. Malta is a prime stomping ground for history buffs, boasting a collection of historical buildings and archaeological ruins that date as far back as 3500 BC (making them among the oldest free-standing man-made structures in the world). But it was not the history that attracted me to Malta…it was the water.
I have a fixation on turquoise waters. I just can’t get enough of those electrifying aquamarine tones that some oceans, lakes, and rivers magically possess. And in Malta I discovered the some of the most vividly azure waters I have seen to date. Let’s start with the Blue Grotto. This stretch of coastal caves in southern Malta is most famous for its monolithic arch that extends off the sea cliffs and plummets down into the vibrant blue water. Upon seeing this, one immediately feels the urge to explore every crevice of this amazing architecture. The good news is you can! Well, maybe not every crevice, but there are colorful tour boats guided by skilled skippers that will take you deep into the caves. Once inside the caverns, sunlight from outside saturates the ocean water, illuminating it to a color so beautiful it’s almost incomprehensible. And of course, the outing wouldn’t be complete without a cruise under the iconic arch.
Boat ride through the caves of the Blue Grotto
Surreal water within the caves
Next stop: Comino. Comino is a small island to the north that is completely undeveloped—no buildings, no cars, just another whopping dose of surreal water and bold cliff landscapes. The island is very accessible by boat and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a water taxi to take you over. The primary beach is the Blue Lagoon, which is where most of the day-trippers hang out. Despite the magnificent natural beauty here, it can get pretty packed with tourists. Luckily, many “shoobies” have something in common: they are not huge fans of trekking over rocky terrain. This works out perfectly because the relatively short hike between the main beach and the Crystal Lagoon is just rocky enough to keep most of the shoobies at bay (or maybe they just don’t know about it!). Normally I avoid designating favorites, but the Crystal Lagoon was one of the most captivating swimming locations I have ever experienced. It is not a sand beach—the coastline here is composed of steep cliffs and jagged edges, so if you want to bathe in the glorious blue liquid, you’re gonna have to jump in. There is a dock-like access point that makes entry/exit to and from the water pretty easy, and there’s a great jumping cliff right next to it that I would highly recommend.
The Blue Lagoon, Comino
The Crystal Lagoon, Comino
There were two moments in particular that really stand out from that day at the Crystal Lagoon. The first moment occurred in what I will call the “sparkling fish cave.” The Crystal Lagoon is crescent shaped, and after swimming across it to the opposite side I discovered a small, narrow cave with a sand floor. The water was only about 3-4 feet deep, so once I was inside I was able to stand up and calmly marvel at my surroundings. Similar to the Blue Grotto, the water in this cave was brilliantly illuminated by the sunlight outside, and it reflected beams of dancing light across the walls. The difference here was that I was alone in this cave—no tourists, no guides…just me. As I walked toward the back of the cave, I began to disconnect from the outside world and the cave became my own private sanctuary. When I reached the back of the cave I found an underwater rock that was perfectly shaped for sitting, and turned to face the mouth of the cave as I relaxed on it. It was at this point that my jaw dropped even lower. Not only was the water glowing with various shades of sapphire, it was also exceptionally clear—so much so that I could see every detail below the waterline. With this clarity I realized that the cave was filled with tiny fish, which began to swim all around me as soon as I became still. There aren’t many times that I can recall being as simultaneously relaxed and excited as I was in that moment.
The second unforgettable occurrence was in a much larger cave nearby. This cave was very different—it was a long, double-sided tubular passage with wide entrances on both ends. Swimming through this natural corridor required a lot more endurance than the first cave as the water was too deep to stand in and the walls were too sheer to grip. As I entered the cave I began to experience a very paradoxical sound. There was a sense of silence, but also a faint ambient bellow occurring at the same time, as if the silence had an echo. I turned over to swim on my back and admired the impressively bold rock structure as I slowly floated through it. It felt as if I was drifting through one of the earth’s arteries within a stream of its rich blue lifeblood. Eventually I emerged from the other side into slightly rougher, less sheltered waters. There were some small boats carrying groups of tourists, and I got a kick out of waving at them (delighted that I got to swim through the cave rather than view it from a boat).
It’s incredible how many things there are to do and see in such a small country. I only spent five days in Malta, and I unfortunately must admit that I left many “stones unturned” when it comes to exploring this tiny nation. But there is one thing I can say with certainty: Malta is incredibly rich with natural beauty and the sapphire waters are a treasure, which is why I dub Malta a gem of the Mediterranean.
Travel Tips for Malta
For hostel accommodation, I would recommend Boho Hostel. Boho is a small hostel with a bohemian charm and a very communal vibe (group dinners/nights out etc.) You will likely make some new friends here.
If you visit Malta you have to try rabbit at least once (it is considered a national delicacy). It is served in a variety of ways, including a popular stew called Fenkata. It can be somewhat expensive in some restaurants, but it’s very good…although I must admit it tastes like chicken.
Attractions In This Article:
Follow the links below for additional information on these attractions.