Ever since I started posting photos of my recent trip to Malta on my Instagram account, people have been popping up out of the woodwork to ask me how to plan a trip there. Well, what they really ask me is, “Where is Malta? I’ve never even heard of it.” But their next question after that is, “How can I go there too?” And if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s not easy. [The way I like to describe where Malta is: “If the ‘boot’ of Italy was kicking a soccer ball, the ball would be Malta. If you wanna get technical, it lies 50 miles south of Italy, 176 miles east of Tunisia, and 207 miles north of Libya.]
I think the reason Malta is a relatively unknown tourist destination is because it’s not exactly the easiest place to travel in, for a wide variety of reasons. I’m definitely not trying to discourage anyone from traveling to Malta, because honestly, it’s become one of favorite countries in the world, and one of a handful of countries that I can see myself returning to time and time again. But a large part of the reason I loved it so much is because my friends made my trip incredibly easy.
I met Aneka and Edwina while traveling by myself in Iceland last year. We met on Couchsurfing.com and did an impromptu road trip together. Not long after, they invited me to come visit Malta – and I’m not gonna lie, they styled me out. For the first 2 weeks of my visit (I ended up returning to Malta after Croatia for another week) they set me up with my own two bedroom flat in Bujibba, a semi-touristy town (read: convenient) about 20 minutes away from where they live. The timing could not have been more perfect, as Aneka had actually just quit her job and had all the time in the world to show me every little nook and cranny that the archipelago had to offer! I will be doing a ton of posts on what to do while you’re there, but I’ll focus now on all the nitty gritty that you’ll need to plan your adventure to this wonderful country!
Malta is small, but hella crowded. The entire country (which consists of 3 major islands and dozens of smaller unpopulated islands) is just 122 square miles with a population of around 450,000 – making it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. Honestly, it didn’t feel that crowded to me, except for whenever we tried to find a parking spot. You definitely felt the crowds then.
Malta is relatively new to the EU and even newer to the Eurozone. Malta joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its official currency in 2008. What this means for visitors is that the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet. The roads outside of the main areas of town are often in shoddy condition and there are limited accommodations available. A lot of the locals are starting to rent out flats on Air BnB and Holiday Lettings, but there aren’t very many major brand name hotels and very few hostels in Malta. And although the average wage in Malta is around 14,000 Euro / year (which tells you it’s not a wealthy country), the scarcity of accommodations means prices are competitive. Expect to pay around $50 to $75 a night for a flat and probably a lot more for a hotel room. Car rentals aren’t exactly cheap either (around $30 to $50 per day), but more on that later. On the plus side, nearly everything else is really, really cheap.
The beaches are To. Die. For. Now I live in Hawaii, and yes, we’ve got some great beaches. But mannnnnn the beaches in Malta. Ugh. The water is so crystal clear … clearer than both Tahiti and Fiji in my humble opinion. I mean, I don’t even think my words can do them justice so I’ll just drop some photos. [The one thing I will note is that there are a handful of sandy beaches, but by and large, most of the Maltese beaches are rocky].
I do NOT recommend driving. I think the single hardest part about traveling in Malta would be transportation. I was there for a little over 3 weeks total and I only drove once. And it was in an empty parking lot with no other cars around. I’m not exaggerating when I say Malta is the single worst place in the world (that I’ve been to) with regard to driving. And I’ve been to Thailand and Indo, and drove a full size stick shift RV on the other side of the road in New Zealand. During my brief stay in Malta, I witnessed more than 5 car accidents, countless near-death scenarios, and had one of my friends tell me that he intentionally ran his car into a pedestrian once because they wouldn’t get out of his way. It is bad. Oh, and they drive on the opposite side of the road from America, so there’s that in addition. It wouldn’t be too bad if they had a reliable public transportation system, but from what I could tell there isn’t. So if you’re going to go, I recommend getting all the car insurance available and crossing your fingers. I think you could possibly get away without a car if you’re willing to stay in the tourist areas and catch tours out to most of the sites, but I think you’d miss a great deal doing it that way.
The weather is phenomenal (most of the time). I spent most of the month of June in Malta and I thought it was the perfect time to go. Most of our days were hot, but not unbearably so. And the water was very, very brisk – which to me, felt amazing. My friends say that Maltese people won’t go in the water until late July or early August, after the water has heated up quite a bit, so most of the beaches we went to were near empty. Malta has no mountains at all, so they have no waterfalls and you can see most of the island from the center of it. But that means when the rainstorms build, they BUILD. And it sucks. It only got ugly once the entire time I was there, but it was enough to make me know that I didn’t want to get caught there during the rainy season. Plan accordingly!
Malta is the main island, but the neighbor islands of Gozo & Comino are where it’s at. Just as in Hawaii, the neighbor islands of Malta are a lot more rural, less crowded,and more scenic. The famous Blue Lagoon is located on Comino and Gozo is home to the Azure Window, where they filmed Game of Thrones’ Dothraki wedding!
Good food is hard to come by. Malta isn’t a wealthy country by any stretch of the imagination, and the Maltese keep their foods pretty simple. We often ate a traditional Maltese lunch of bread with tuna, olives, and beans. Sometimes with olives and tomatoes if we were being fancy. I’m sure there are a few good restaurants in the capital of Valletta, but I didn’t spend too much time there. One food worth mentioning is the ubiquitous “pastizzi,” which is a savory pastry filled with either ricotta, chicken, or some sort of veggie combo. They are cheap and delicious and you can find them everywhere (although Crystal Palace in Rabat is widely known to have the best pastizzis on the island). And they have a very interesting history, which my friend Aneka can tell you about in these funny videos. I was snapchatting my way around Malta, which only allows for 10 second videos, so that’s why the videos come in two parts: Pastizzi Part 1 and Pastizzi Part 2. Seriously, watch the vids, the story is quite funny.
After a while, I actually did start craving some really good food. Something that wasn’t fried or hand held. So I did a little research on Trip Advisor and found this cute spot, Wild Honey, which is owned by an Italian guy who imports all his ingredients fresh from Italy. It got rave reviews, but unfortunately for me, the TWO times that I tried to stop by, they were closed. I never got to try it, but everyone claims it’s really good, so if you’re in the area, hit it up!
Go now before it gets really crowded. The capital of Valletta was named the European Capital of Culture for 2018, which apparently is a big deal in Europe. And what that means for visitors is that in 2018, this city is going to be a hot spot and everywhere is going to be a lot more crowded. Go now before that happens. The entire city of Valletta, by the way, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although I didn’t spend much time in Valletta, I really did love it.
Malta is UNESCO gold. If you’re a reader of this blog, you already know I’m a huge fan of UNESCO sites. So much so that I have an entire post dedicated to all the UNESCO world heritage sites I’ve been to (minus Malta and Croatia as of this posting). Malta is so small and it is home to just three UNESCO sites, so you could very easily visit all 3 if you wanted to: The City of Valletta; Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum; and the megalithic temples. Oddly enough, I didn’t really want to see all 3, mainly because I wasn’t that interested in looking at rock formations. I will give myself credit for 1.5, because we did actually drive out to Hagar Qin, but we didn’t pay the fee to go inside and look at the rocks. I mean, can ya blame us?
I hope I haven’t discouraged you from wanting to visit Malta. Like I said, it truly is one of my favorite places in the world, and I would go back in a heartbeat. But then again, I’ve got a pair of really good friends there (and a couple new ones after that trip), which really helps ease the strain of traveling there. I definitely think if you have an adventurous spirit, you should check out Malta. It’s so picturesque and scenic that movies and TV shows have flocked to the remote island paradise [a TON of Brad Pitt movies have filmed there, as well as several Game of Thrones scenes, including the iconic Dothraki Wedding and King’s Landing scenes before they moved shooting to Croatia].
I just wanted to give you some practical advice since so many people have asked me about visiting. And now that that’s over, I can move on to posting all the scenic pics from my trip. That’s coming up soon, so stay tuned!