Fresh from my scuba diving trip in Gozo, find out why it’s such a spectacular place to practice the sport and get tips to help plan your own underwater adventure in and around Malta.
Why go to Gozo for diving?
Open water, advanced or band new to scuba diving: in Gozo it really doesn’t matter. With some of the best dive sites in the world, there’s a dive spot for everybody here. Ever since I became a qualified diver two years ago, all I’ve ever heard about Gozo was how amazing the sites here are. This tiny island, nestled beside the popular holiday destination of mainland Malta, is home to hundreds of dive sites, each with their own unique topography, including caves, caverns and chimneys. If you’re hoping to find Nemo then Gozo isn’t the place for you – the fish aren’t tropical and the reefs aren’t as rainbow coloured as the ones you’ll find in the southern hemisphere. What most divers come here for are the shipwrecks. Gozo is one of the world’s best places for wreck diving, with many famous sunken ships, like the Rozi and Um El Faroud, scattered on the seabed not far from the shores of Gozo and nearby Camino Island. Having heard so much about it, and with James (the bf) newly certified, this summer seemed like the perfect time to enjoy a scuba diving holiday in Gozo. Aside from the diving, the weather in this part of the Med is pretty consistent – in June it’s around 25-30°C – and it’s a direct Ryanair flight from Edinburgh. Hot sunny weather, convenient cheap flights and underwater adventures: Gozo ticked every box!
When’s the best time to dive in Gozo?
Although the weather in Malta and Gozo is good all year round, for diving, the best time to go is May to October, when the waters start to warm. In June the water was around 20-22°C, so we dived in a full wetsuit with a shortie on top, but this was probably a bit too much and we could have got away with just one suit. The warmest time to dive here is August, when the ocean is a balmy 25°C. Go before May and you can still dive but you’ll be in a drysuit in waters that are more like 15°C – I’m definitely a fair-weather diver, no drysuits for me! Visibility is excellent here too, often reaching 20-30m, another reason why Malta and Gozo is so famous amongst divers.
How to pick a dive school
You’ve got to do your research. This may sound obvious, but think about what’s important to you; is it small dive groups, price or specialisms? Do you need multi-lingual instructors? Will you want to dive only wrecks? James and I have different levels of diving experience, so it was important that our chosen dive school lead only small groups and that they would take us to a range of sites, some easy to get us started and others that might be a little more challenging later on. After some online research we decided to go with Bubbles Dive Centre in Marsalforn.
We were impressed with their speedy response to our initial email inquiries about price and logistics – it seemed they would live up to the slogan on their website, “we care…” and we got a good vibe about them right from the start. When we arrived in Gozo we went down to the dive shop to arrange our dives and staff were super friendly and helpful. We settled on four dives across two days, and on both days we were given great equipment (Aqua Lung BCDs), our instructors were highly knowledgable about the marine life we saw and their passion for the sport was evident. We never dived in a group bigger than four, which meant we felt cared for and confident should anything have gone wrong while we were under. I also really liked the environmental ethos of Bubbles: every dive is a dive against debris, and if you spot any rubbish you’re encouraged to pick it up or let your instructor know so that they can retrieve it. Having seen first-hand the destruction of the reefs in some parts of Thailand, I love the fact that this company is being proactive about protecting Gozo’s marine life for future generations. There are many good dive schools in Gozo, however, at one of the dive sites we saw a dodgy looking instructor with a ramshackle pick-up truck who didn’t appear to belong to any particular school. He seemed uninterested in safety checks and chain-smoked through his entire brief, not exactly someone you’d want to trust with your life when you’re underwater! We would definitely go back and dive with Bubbles, but do your own research and don’t end up with this cowboy!
How much does it cost?
At Bubbles we paid €30 per shore dive – you get this rate if you do two or more dives, a single dive is €35. This includes all equipment and transport to and from the dive site. They also offer courses and specialist dives, like wreck diving and underwater photography, which range from €90-€185. If you want to get a boat to Camino for some wreck diving then this costs extra. These prices vary depending on the dive school you go with, but they are competitive and should be a good enough guide if you’re trying to stick to a budget.
What did we see?
As I said earlier, the marine life wasn’t spectacular, but that’s beside the point. It’s all about the small things: spying a conger eel snuggled in the back of a cave, spotting snails and fireworms hidden in the sea grass, swimming alongside grouper. The underwater landscape here is incredible. To give you a bit more detail, here are the sites we dived over two days:
Mgarr Ix Xini
This was our very first dive, and it’s an easy one, you can climb straight into the water from the steps hanging off the edge of the bay. We dived along the edge, around huge rocks and crossed over to the other side. It wasn’t the most interesting dive site, but it was the perfect choice considering that it was James’s first ever wetsuit dive and the first time I’d been breathing underwater for a year. The perfect way to ease ourselves into it and get comfortable with all of the equipment.
Image: wvllvam / flickr
Ras Il Hobz
Otherwise known as Middle Finger, this natural stone pillar rises out of the blue, imposing and impressive as you swim towards it from the shore. Once you reach the column you can circle it like we did, spotting various fish. On the shore side you can dive to 35m, but on the seaward side more advanced divers can go to 65m to see an anchor protruding from the Finger. This was fun, but apparently it’s best for diving at night.
Day two and things stepped up a gear. First up was the Inland Sea and tunnel towards the west of the island at Dwejra Point. A technically more challenging site, it was here that I started to understand what all the hype was about diving in Gozo. The bay itself is only 6m deep, but once you enter the tunnel it quickly drops off to 15m and further in to 25m. These sharp drops are very characteristic of many dive sites in Gozo. The sides of the tunnel overhang most of the way through and it’s here that you might spot something, a fish or an eel, hiding in the gloom. The best bit? The colour of the water as you swim through the tunnel and exit to the sea, the light making it the most unreal shade of turquoise, a splinter of ice-blue between the rock faces.
Blue Hole and the Azure Window
This is probably the most popular dive site in Gozo. When we arrived at the Azure Window I was a little disappointed, having seen it on Instagram and in all the blogs I’d read about Gozo. It’s very pretty, but it’s also swarming with tourists and backed by a car park that was full of hop-on-hop-off buses when we visited. Not really the peaceful picture I had in mind. Anyway, seeing the Azure Window from below was definitely the best way to appreciate this beautiful structure. We entered via the Blue Hole (no surprises what it looked like) and descended into a series of caves, out underneath the Azure Window and then back along the wall. At some point we took a shortcut back to the headland via a sloping chimney. This was by far the most challenging dive, but it was incredible. Swimming through tight tunnels to emerge in the middle of vast caverns, exploring between huge boulders and watching the colour of the water change constantly was thrilling and spectacular. Don’t let the tourists on the shore put you off, it is a real privilege to experience the Azure Window from this perspective!
Image: Malcom Browne / Flickr
After just two days of diving I can see that Gozo’s reputation for world-class diving is well-deserved, although I’ve still got so much more to explore, like the wrecks. You can see why the instructors at Bubbles keep coming back every season to dive here – with over 56 sites spread across Gozo and Camino (not to mention a whole load more in Malta) I think it’s going to take a few trips for me to do them all! What a shame…
Had any experience diving in Gozo or have any questions about it? Post away in the comments section below!