The calm, non-tidal nature of the sea surrounding Malta and Gozo makes for excellent visibility (25m to 30m on average). The islands are particularly renowned for their wrecks but there is a fantastic range of interesting dive sites, including caves and reefs. These sites are also remarkably easy to reach, with many accessible from the shore. If you're here for a week you could potentially dive off all three islands.

The climate is pleasant and the water warm; the main season is April to November, but you can dive all year around – in winter the water temperature rarely drops below 13°C.

There are also a large number of dive schools with qualified, professional, multilingual instructors to choose from. The following organisations' websites offer information about diving and dive qualifications, plus details of accredited diving schools:

  • British Sub-Aqua Club (www.bsac.com)
  • Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (www.cmas.org)
  • Professional Association of Diving Instructors (www.padi.com)

Malta's Marine Life

Malta's marine life is richer than in many other parts of the Mediterranean, though it has suffered from the effects of boat traffic and over-fishing in recent years.

You're likely to see crabs, lobsters, octopuses, swordfish, sea bream, sea bass, grouper, red mullet, wrasse, dogfish and stingray.

Migratory shoals of sardine, sprat, bluefin tuna, bonito, mackerel and dolphin fish (lampuka) are common in late summer and autumn.

Many divers hope to see the maned seahorse; potential spots are the HMS Maori and Mġarr ix-Xini.

Ċirkewwa is a good place to spot barracuda, amberjack, tuna and squid, while Comino's Santa Marija Caves are good for seeing saddled bream and cow bream. San Dimitri Point off Gozo is noted for big schools of barracuda, plus dentex, grouper and rays.

The loggerhead turtle is occasionally sighted in Maltese waters. In 2012 a turtle laid eggs at Ġnejna Bay, the first time this had occurred for 100 years. Nature Trust Malta runs a turtle rescue program at the San Lucjan Aquaculture Research Centre.

The common dolphin (denfil in Malti) and the bottlenose dolphin are sometimes sighted on boat trips.

In April 1987 a great white shark caught by local fisherman Alfredo Cutajar off Filfla measured around 7m. Nowadays shark sightings in inshore waters are extremely unlikely.

Dive Schools

There are around 50 dive school operators in Malta, all of which are licensed by the Malta Tourism Authority. The majority are also members of the Professional Diving Schools Association (www.pdsa.org.mt), an organisation dedicated to promoting high standards of safety and professionalism.

All of the dive schools we recommend provide a similarly comprehensive menu of PADI-, BSAC- or CMAS-approved training and education courses, guided diving and the rental of scuba equipment to experienced divers. All are suitable for beginners, and most also offer technical diving.

If you're interested in wrecks, it's best to choose a centre in Malta rather than Gozo, as there's a much wider choice of wrecks here. If you're travelling with non-divers in the low season, you may also want to choose Malta, because there's more for them to do here while you're diving. If you just want to dive, Gozo is a good choice.

Nautic Team diving centre in Gozo specialises in diving for people with disabilities.

Sliema & St Julian's Area

Northern Malta

Gozo

Comino

Courses & Qualifications

Most schools offer a 'taster course' or 'beginner's dive' (around €50), which includes one or two hours of shore-based instruction, instruction in breathing underwater in a pool or shallow bay, and a 30-minute dive in the sea.

A two- or three-day resort-based scuba course (around €280) gives you shore-based instruction plus open-water dives accompanied by an instructor. Such a course would qualify you up to 12m, and with two days' more instruction you can upgrade it to an open-water diving qualification.

A course that will give you an entry-level diving qualification (CMAS One-Star Diver, PADI Open Water Diver, BSAC Ocean Diver) takes three to five days and costs from around €400.

For certified divers, guided dives usually cost around €40 for one dive (including all equipment), but multidive packages are better value, costing around €220 for six dives (price dependent on the amount of gear included). Transport to dive sites may be included in these packages, but if you're staying in Malta, boat trips to Gozo or Comino will often be an additional cost.

An unaccompanied six-day dive package that includes use of cylinder, weight belt and unlimited air fills costs from around €150.

Feature: Responsible Diving

The popularity of diving is placing immense pressure on many sites – more than 60,000 divers a year visit the Maltese Islands. If you dive responsibly you will help preserve the ecology and beauty of Malta's underwater world.

  • Avoid touching living marine organisms with your body or dragging equipment across rocks. Be conscious of your fins – even without contact the surge from heavy fin strokes can damage delicate organisms.
  • Never feed fish. You may disturb their normal eating habits, encourage aggressive behaviour or feed them something detrimental to their health.
  • Minimise your disturbance of marine animals; for example, never touch turtles.
  • Take great care in underwater caves. Spend as little time within them as possible because your air bubbles can be caught within the roof, leaving previously submerged organisms high and dry. Taking turns to inspect the interior of a small cave will lessen the chances of damaging contact.
  • Do not collect or buy shells or other remains of marine organisms. The same goes for marine archaeological sites (mainly shipwrecks). Respect their integrity; some sites are protected from looting by law.
  • Plastics in particular are a serious threat to marine life. Ensure that you take home all your rubbish and any litter you may find as well.

Requirements

Operators usually teach junior open-water diving from 10 years of age; those under 18 must have written parental consent. Most dive schools operate PADI 'Bubblemaker' programs designed to introduce kids aged eight and nine to breathing underwater.

If you have a medical condition that may restrict your diving practices, you will be requested to have a medical to determine your fitness. The medical can be organised by the dive school, usually at a cost of €20 to €25. You should also heed medical warnings and not fly within 24 hours of your last dive.

Qualified divers wishing to lead their own groups must do so through a licensed dive centre, and must be at least an advanced open-water diver, with certification.

Safety

Speedboat and ferry traffic can be heavy, especially in peak summer months and in the Gozo Channel area. For their own protection, divers are required to fly the code-A flag and always use a surface-marker buoy. Boats are required to keep a distance of over 100m from divers' buoys, but it's wise to remain vigilant.

Ensure that your travel insurance policy covers you for diving. Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', which can include scuba diving.

Malta's public general hospital is Mater Dei Hospital, southwest of Sliema; there is a decompression chamber here. Staff at the hospital can be contacted for any diving incidents requiring medical attention on 2545 5269. There is another decompression chamber at Gozo's General Hospital.

Snorkelling

You can sample the delights of a shallower underwater world by donning mask, snorkel and fins and exploring the rocks and bays around Malta's coastline. You can usually rent or buy the necessary equipment from hotels, lidos (recreational facilities with a swimming pool) and water-sports centres in all the tourist areas. Some dive centres offer snorkelling trips, and you can also take an organised trip at Park tal-Majjistral.

Top snorkelling spots are off Comino and Gozo. On Comino they include the Blue Lagoon, where you can rent equipment from the kiosk, and the crags and caves east of Santa Marija Bay. On Gozo, head for the cave-riddled coastline at Dwejra, the long, narrow inlet at Wied il-Għasri and San Dimitri Point, and along the salt-pan rocks west of Xwieni Bay near Marsalforn. Good spots off Malta include the natural rocky St Peter's Pool near Marsaxlokk and Għar Lapsi.

Top Diving & Snorkelling Spots

Northern Malta

Aħrax Point (average depth 7m, maximum depth 18m) Caverns and a tunnel opening up to a small inland grotto with good coral growth. Suitable for all levels. Shore dive; snorkellers can also view it.

Anchor Bay (average depth 6m, maximum depth 12m) Not much to see in the bay itself, but around the corner are good caves. Suitable for all levels. Shore dive.

Ċirkewwa Arch (average depth 10m, maximum depth 36m) Underwater walls and a magnificent arch, where divers can encounter a variety of fish and sometimes seahorses. Suitable for all levels.

Marfa Point (average depth 12m, maximum depth 18m) Large dive site with caves, reefs, promontories and tunnels. Can be accessed from the shore. Decent snorkelling opportunities.

P29 (average depth 30m, maximum depth 37m) Former minesweeper deliberately sunk in Paradise Bay in 2007, close to Tugboat Rozi. Can be accessed from the shore.

St Paul's Islands (multiple sites, average depths 6m to 12m, maximum depth 25m) Popular dive sites with a wreck between the shore and inner island, a reef on the eastern side of the northernmost island, and a valley between the two islands. Suitable for all levels. The wreck can be accessed from the shore.

Tugboat Rozi (average depth 30m, maximum depth 36m) A boat deliberately sunk in 1991 as an underwater diving attraction and now colonised by thousands of fish. Can be accessed from the shore.

Valletta & St Julian's Area

Bristol Beaufighter (average depth 33m, maximum depth 36m) A WWII aeroplane that crashed in 1941, near St Julian's; only the body, wings and undercarriage remain intact.

Carolita Barge (average depth 12m, maximum depth 22m) Possibly mistaken for a submarine, this barge was hit by a torpedo in 1942 and sank immediately. Well preserved and home to grouper and octopus. Popular training site for divers and, therefore, busy. Suitable for all levels. Shore dive.

Fortizza Reef & Coral Gardens (average depth 14m to 16m, maximum depth 18m) Close to Sliema, this reef is fantastic for beginners; profuse sea life including octopus, moray eels, damsel fish, lobsters and crabs.

Hellespont (average depth 35m, maximum depth 41m) A paddle steamer and former supply boat sunk in 1942, close to the Grand Harbour. An exposed site.

HMS Maori (average depth 13m, maximum depth 18m) Below Fort St Elmo is the wreck of the HMS Maori, sunk in 1942. Silted up, but home to fish and octopus. Suitable for all levels. Shore dive.

Tug no 2 (average depth 17m to 19m, maximum depth 21m) Scuttled at St Julian's, just off Exiles Reef, in 2013, this is the only wreck in this area, and great for beginners. Dentex and stingrays to spot. Shore dive.

Southern Malta

Blenheim Bomber (maximum depth 42m) Exploring the well-preserved wreck of this WWII bomber, with engine and wings intact, is an exciting dive. For experienced divers only.

Delimara Point (average depth 12m, maximum depth 25m) Usually excellent visibility for divers, with vertical cliffs and many caverns. Varied and colourful flora and fauna. Suitable for all levels of experience. Shore dive.

Għar Lapsi (average depth 6m, maximum depth 15m) Popular training site for divers; a safe, shallow cave that winds through the headland. Shore dive, reasonable snorkelling and suitable for all levels.

Wied iż-Żurrieq (average depth 9m, maximum depth 30m) Close to the Blue Grotto. Underwater valley and labyrinth of caves. Shore dive, reasonable snorkelling and suitable for all levels. Nearby, the 1995 wreck of the Um El Faroud, a Libyan freighter, can be accessed from the shore.

Western Gozo

Blue Hole & Chimney (average depth 20m, maximum depth 45m) The Blue Hole is a natural rock formation and includes a large cave plus a fissure in the near-vertical wall. Popular, busy site. Shore dive, excellent snorkelling and suitable for all levels. Nearby it's possible to see the underwater remains of the Azure Window.

Coral Cave (average depth 25m, maximum depth 30m) Huge semicircular opening with a sandy bottom, where divers can view varied and colourful flora and fauna. Shore dive.

Crocodile Rock (average depth 35m, maximum depth 45m) Rocky reef between the shore and crocodile-shaped rock off the west coast. Natural amphitheatre and deep fissures. Shore dive, decent snorkelling and suitable for all levels.

Fungus Rock (average depth 30m, maximum depth beyond 60m) Dramatic underwater scenery with vertical walls, fissures, caverns and gullies. Good site for underwater photography and suitable for all levels.

San Dimitri Point (average depth 25m, maximum depth beyond 60m) Lots of marine life and exceptional visibility (sometimes exceeding 50m). Good snorkelling and suitable for all levels.

Xlendi Cave & Reef (average depth 6m, maximum depth 25m) Easy cave dive in shallow water and popular with beginners. Brightly coloured cave walls. Rocky headland dips steeply to the sea. An abundance of flora and fauna. Shore dive; OK snorkelling.

Comino

Blue Lagoon (average depth 6m, maximum depth 12m) Easy site to the north of the sheltered lagoon, very popular with divers and snorkellers. Plenty of boat traffic. Shore dive. Suitable for all levels.

Lantern Point (average depth 30m, maximum depth 45m) Popular dive site. Dramatic dive down a vertical wall. Rich fauna and an abundance of colour. OK snorkelling.

Santa Marija Cave (average depth 7m, maximum depth 10m) Large cave and cavern system; one of the most popular sites for cave dives. An abundance of fish in the area. Very good snorkelling and suitable for all levels.

Northern Gozo

Billinghurst Cave (average depth 20m, maximum depth 35m) Long tunnel leading to a cave deep inside the rock, with a multitude of coloured sea sponges. There's very little natural light (torch required). Experienced divers only.

Double Arch Reef (average depth 30m, maximum depth 45m) Site characterised by a strange formation, with an arch dividing two large openings in the rock. Prolific marine life. For experienced divers.

Reqqa Point (average depth 25m, maximum depth beyond 70m) Near-vertical wall cut by fissures, caves and crevices. Large numbers of small fish, plus groups of amberfish and grouper if conditions are favourable. Shore dive and good snorkelling.

Wied il-Għasri (average depth in cave 12m, maximum depth 30m) A deep, winding cut in the headland makes for a long, gentle dive. Possible to view seahorses in the shallows. Cathedral Cave has a huge domed vault and walls covered in corals. Can be done as a shore dive; very good snorkelling; suitable for all levels.

Southern Gozo

Fessej Rock (average depth 30m, maximum depth 50m) A prominent column of rock. Vertical wall dive descending to 50m amid large shoals of fish. A popular deep-water dive.

Ta'Ċenċ (average depth 25m, maximum depth 35m) Sheltered bay – access is by 103 steps from the car park of a nearby hotel. Canyon with large boulders, plus cave. Good marine life, but visibility can occasionally be poor. Good spot for night dives. Shore dive; suitable for all levels.

Xatt l'Aħmar (average depth 9m, maximum depth 30m) Small bay, excellent for observing a large variety of fish including mullet, grouper, sea bream, octopus and cuttlefish. Shore dive; OK snorkelling; suitable for all levels. Two vessels were scuttled here in August 2006 to create an artificial dive site.

Feature: Best Diving Sites For...

Caves

  • Coral Cave, Western Gozo
  • Wied iż-Żurrieq, Southeast Malta
  • St Marija Caves, Comino

Wrecks

  • HMS Maori, Valletta
  • P29, Northwest Malta
  • Tugboat Rozi, Northwest Malta

Dramatic Scenery

  • Ċirkewwa Arch, Northwest Malta
  • Marfa Point, Northwest Malta
  • Delimara Point, Southeast Malta

Colourful Coral & Sea Life

  • Xatt l'Aħmar, Southern Gozo
  • Lantern Point, Comino
  • Reqqa Point, Northern Gozo

Seahorses

  • HMS Maori, Valletta
  • Wied il-Għasri, Northern Gozo
  • Mġarr ix-Xini, Southern Gozo