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Views of Gozo before docking (November 2018).

Malta might be an island-nation, but it’s not restricted just to a single island. In fact, it’s made up of three– Malta, Comino, and Gozo– all of which contribute to the country’s politics, economy and, of course, its tourism industry. Visiting Malta without visiting its neighboring islands (especially Gozo) wouldn’t be quite considered the “complete” Maltese experience.

Prior to visiting the country, I’d given myself two, separate days to explore Comino and Gozo. On my second full day in Malta, I took the bus from Sliema to Cirkewwa Ferry, where I would board a ferry to the island of Comino. I would be spending about half a day there exploring what the small island had to offer.

Sandwiched between the islands of Gozo and Malta, Comino is the smallest island of the Maltese archipelago, measuring at a mere 3.5 square kilometers (1.4 square miles). It’s so small that one could walk around the entire island in a couple of hours! Aside from being a bird sanctuary and natural reserve, it’s also home to the famous Blue Lagoon (not to be confused with a million others in Europe, like in Iceland or Croatia) near where tourists can swim and sunbathe in the crystal-blue waters.

Especially if you choose to stay closer to Valletta for accommodation, getting to Cirkewwa Ferry will take some time– I opted to stay in Sliema, and taking the bus to the very northern tip of Malta was over an hour’s journey. That said, in order to maximize my time, I had to wake up early to catch the 7:10 bus to Cirkewwa, passing through dozens of smaller towns and villages on the way over.

I arrived to the port around 8:15, and just across the street was the docking point for Comino. I purchased my round-trip ticket at the booth, which was 10 euros. After waiting for a bit, I climbed aboard the jet-boat with the other passengers to be zipped to the small island. The waves were choppy, similar to the boat tour I’d done in Hvar back in May, but nevertheless, we got to Comino in about 10 minutes. Along the way, we got to get a glimpse of several caves along its coast, and the jet boat stopped for a bit to allow us to take photos of them.

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Cave of Comino.

We reached the shores of Comino before 10:00, and from there, we were free to explore the island, swim and sunbathe at the Blue Lagoon, or both. Personally, I’m not the type to relax on a beach (nor did I bring a swimsuit), so I opted to go hiking around the island.

I was surprised to see just how lush the vegetation was, with plenty of low, green shrubbery all over the terrain. Interestingly, there aren’t so many tall trees on the island, which makes it nearly impossible to get lost anywhere. There are also very few paved roads, as most of them were roughly-delineated trails for pedestrians– that meant almost no cars on the island.

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Views while hiking.

Adjacent to the Blue Lagoon was the Crystal Lagoon: it was much smaller, with a part of the rock jutted out and containing a bird’s eye hole in the middle of it. I climbed down to get a closer look at the lagoon itself, which wasn’t as impressive as Blue Lagoon’s.

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Crystal Lagoon.
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Rock formation at Crystal Lagoon.

Eventually, I climbed back up to the hiking trail to continue to St. Mary’s Tower, a 15th-century watchtower that can be seen from anywhere in Comino. It was originally used to watch over Malta, as well as to give an early warning to the Maltese should one detect invaders– today, it has been abandoned, but it’s open to the public to enter and climb to the top for panoramic views of the entire island, along with Gozo and Malta in the distance.

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St. Mary’s Tower.

I wrapped around the southern coast of Comino, reaching St. Mary’s Battery before cutting north to Santa Marija’s Bay, where visitors could swim and sunbathe on its shores. Nearby was the tripled-arched Chapel of the Return from Egypt, which at first glance appears plain, but in fact is in a distinctive, neo-Gothic style. From there, I returned to the Blue Lagoon, where I grabbed a small snack at one of the food stands near the beach before taking the next ferry back to Malta.

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Chapel of the Return from Egypt.
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Random stone carving on the roadside.
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Blue Lagoon.

For me, Comino was different from Malta and Gozo. The main aspect was its natural landscape, which has been minimally-urbanized compared with its two neighboring islands. If anything, it’s a place to really get away from the city, to relax on the beach or enjoy a slow-paced hike through the lush wilderness. Might not be as exciting as the rest of Malta, but it’s certainly the most peaceful.

On my last full day in Malta, I chose to visit Gozo. You can say that Gozo is the larger, natural reserve sibling of Comino, as it also contains a sizable amount of nature, most notably its countless rolling hills. The island does contain a few cities, including Victoria, the most populous, and I’m told people go for a couple of days to really immerse themselves in the sights, as well as to party.

I only had a single full day in Gozo, so likewise with Comino, I woke up early to catch the bus to Cirkewwa Ferry once more. I boarded the massive ferry (even contained a cafe on-board) for a 20-minute ride over. We landed around 9:00, and then I caught the bus outside the port to the Ggantija temples, my first stop of the day.

The Ggantija is a megalithic temple located in southeast Gozo. It’s one of the most-visited sites on the island, as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s said to be over 5500 years old, which makes it the second-oldest religious man-made structure that’s still standing. Ggantija is reputed to be the place of fertile rituals, but still, much of its history remains shrouded in mystery today.

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Ggantija temple.
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Replica of a fertility statue inside the museum.

Although I’m not the most-keen on visiting such sites, I gave Ggantija a go. It was primarily because another megalithic temple, the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni on Malta, was all-booked out for visiting: I didn’t know that it would be so popular, as I couldn’t get any tickets in advance for it. That’s why the Ggantija was a solid alternative, as it didn’t require reservations and it had less visitors on-site.

Personally, the reason why megalithic sites and other similar structures don’t interest me is that, at the end of the day, they are merely ruins. True, it’s the history that makes such places significant, but I have a hard time envisioning what things used to be– all the same, my visit to Ggantija didn’t necessarily leave a notable impression, but I suppose I can appreciate its ancient history…and the fact it’s still standing today!

The admission ticket to Ggantija also covered the Ta’ Kola windmill just a block away, so I visited the 18th-century structure briefly before I took the bus northeast of Gozo to Marsalforn, where I took a stroll along the coast to check out its notable salt pans. I saw the ones in Qbajjar and Xlendi, both absolutely stunning– I hadn’t seen salt pans before, and I found the blend of agriculture and nature both unique and beautiful.

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Qbajjar salt pans.
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Xlendi salt pans.

I took the bus to Victoria, the largest city on Gozo. It’s also more-urbanized, with plenty of touristy shops and restaurants to browse through. After grabbing a couple of pastizzi for a small lunch, I wandered the narrow, historic streets in the center, along with visiting the citadel. It was incredibly windy that day, especially on top of the fortifications– nevertheless, I got great views of Victoria from above, as well as the sprawling hills all over the island. I also bought homemade Maltese lace, which is local to Gozo, at a souvenir shop inside the citadel before I called it a day and took the bus back to the ferry port.

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St. George Plaza.
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Wandering the streets.
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Panorama of the citadel.

Comino and Gozo were small islands that didn’t offer quite as much to do than Malta, but I was glad to have visited them. Overall-speaking, my week-long jaunt in the island-nation was enjoyable, although looking back, I did find it to be somewhat underwhelming.

Perhaps it’s because I had too-high of an expectation of things to see and do, which ended up paling in comparison to the mega-cities of Rome or Paris. This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything to do in Malta– in fact, there are plenty of things to keep one occupy for weeks, but I guess it depends on what interests you. I’m also not the one for relaxing on the beach, so that already reduced my itinerary by a bit. However, I’m glad that I got to see what Malta was all about– it is certainly a beautiful country with incredible history and architecture, and it’s worth seeing at least once in one’s lifetime.

Thanks for reading! More adventures to come soon.

 

— Rebecca

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