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As I settled in for the three hour flight that would bring me from the rainy UK to the sunny Mediterranean, I flipped through the Lonely Planet guide to Malta, hoping it might bring some insights into the island I was about to arrive on. Because frankly, I was clueless.

I’d booked the trip for one simple reason — Anders was there, working as a dive instructor. He accepted the job around the time I was planning my trip to Europe, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to see my favorite Dane while I was in the region. The bonus was, I’d have a new country to explore. The double bonus was I’d have, if not a local, at least a temporary local, to play tour guide.

Upon landing, I took a deep breathe, gathered my rental car, and prepared myself for navigating opposite-side-of-the-road driving to my base the other side of the island. I only knew who’d been to Malta, and when I told her I was staying in Buġibba, her response was, “Hmm. Don’t judge Malta by Buġibba.” She also warned me about the driving.

Half an hour later, as the coastal road curved to reveal St. Paul’s Bay, I laughed in memory of the comment — she was right. The town appeared to be a shrine to cell-block, 70’s style architecture in various shades of crumbling beige. But I didn’t mind a bit. I knew there was plenty of beauty awaiting me — and there will be many upcoming posts that prove it!

Don’t worry — I’m not the one driving!

July and August are peak season on the tiny island of Malta, when the population of just over 400,000 (the tiniest in the EU!) swells to accommodate a flood of tourists seeking blue waters and sunny skies. I arrived right in the middle of it, and Anders warned me that he might not get even a single day off work during my week long stay. No worries, I assured him — I’d work or explore solo during the day, and we’d take the island by storm in the evening.

And by “take the island by storm in the evening” I clearly mean dinner on the cheap at home and falling asleep by ten, for at least half the nights I was there. What can I say? While for many Malta is all about the nightlife, Anders was exhausted from work and I was detoxing from London, and we were happy to leave the foam parties and the nightclubs to the hoards of British merrymakers. But for my first night, we fought the call of the pillow and made our way to nearby St. Julian’s for a sunset dinner at the harbor.

St. Julian’s is not much more charming than St. Paul’s in terms of pure appearances, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in atmosphere. We ended up here often, meeting friends for dinner or a drink or strolling along the waterfront.

While my day trips around the island deserve posts of their own, on the days I wasn’t exploring, I was working. After one day spent  cooped up in Anders’ apartment, I knew I needed to find a better office for the next. So I grabbed my laptop and made my way to , where the 15 entrance fee (about $20) was well worth it for the view and the wifi. While tame during the day, the stylish pool turns into an upscale nightclub in the evenings. I happily worked the day away here, stopping occasionally for a delicious lunch or a swim.

While for me it was a blissed-out temporary office, I’d recommend an afternoon here to any traveler in Malta who needs a break from sightseeing. It is a diamond in the rough of St. Paul’s Bay.

My time in Malta was a bit different than I’d expect most travelers’ trips to be. Instead of spending my days on the beach I was often on my laptop, instead of spending my nights partying I spent them playing catch up with Anders, and instead of a hotel or hostel I bunked in with three busy dive instructors. Those parts might not seem so fun to the casual observer. But there are serious benefits to seeing Malta like a (semi) local.

One such example? Circumnavigating the island of Comino on the private speedboat of a Maltese friend. Small world story alert: Miles, one of Anders’ co-workers at his dive shop in Malta, was a fellow underwater videographer from my days in Koh Tao. Back in Thailand, Miles had fallen for Erica, who was doing her Divemaster training on the island. Eventually, he decided to follow her back home. I had met Erica and two of her Maltese friends briefly when I was back on Koh Tao last year — imagine my surprise when I rocked up on Malta and found a whole Koh Tao crew there! Erica and Miles were kind enough to take us out on her family boat one afternoon for a blissful day of swimming and snorkeling around Comino.

The country of Malta is actually made up of three islands — Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Comino is not much more than a small, barely inhabited slab of limestone wedged between Malta and Gozo. But it holds many beautiful surprises, from hidden caves to dramatic sea cliffs to one very famous Blue Lagoon. As we threw out the anchor on the east side of the island and swam from cave to cave, clamoring through the interconnecting tunnels and swimming through the cobalt channels, I cursed myself for forgetting my underwater camera.

Making our way to the other side of the island, we approached the Blue Lagoon, creator of thousands of postcard images of Malta. From everything I’d heard and read, while stunning, the bay was seriously overrun in the summer and not quite as idyllic as the postcards portrayed. As we approached, I was mesmerized by the turquoise waters. As we got closer, the pounding music from the other boats got louder, and we debated whether or not to drop anchor. The decision was made for us quite dramatically when, to our great horror/amusement, a human turd floated past. With peals of laughter, we peeled out of there and made our way to less poopy waters.

It’s not hard to find a beautiful place to drift for a while around Comino.

Of course, the best part of the day was the company. I loved catching up with Miles about all our mutual friends back on Koh Tao, chatting to Erica about growing up on Malta, and listening to the boys banter about work and island life.

I didn’t see Malta like a typical tourist — and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Stay tuned for plenty of posts about my road trips through Malta and Gozo, and my dives in the Mediterranean Sea!

3-devide-lines
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63 Comments...
  • Caity
    August 27 2014

    Meihoukai, what a great introduction to Malta. Since you first announced your plans to visit Malta I have been super psyched to see and read about your experiences as its been on my radar for some time. I’m sure the upcoming posts will cement it as a place I ‘must-visit-immediately’! I can hardly wait!

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Thanks Caity! Plenty more posts where this came from and I’m glad to hear you’re as excited as I am 🙂 Whoop whoop!

  • Ashley
    August 27 2014

    I can’t believe you spotted human poop in those waters- gross!!
    These photos are beautiful and I can’t wait to see more!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Ha yeah it was a bit shocking… and a sign of overcrowding if I’ve ever seen one!

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    August 27 2014

    I would like that pool to be my office… nice! I feel like since you’re a world adventurer you should have swam with the poo. You could have even written a post called, “that time I swam with a human turd” blog gold mine.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • MCVK
      August 27 2014

      Rachel – are you for real? Do you know how many disease can be caught from human feces?

      • Meihoukai
        August 31 2014

        Knowing Rachel, I think she was being a bit silly 🙂

        • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
          September 10 2014

          I guess I have to add “lol jk” for people to get me… *sigh
          Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

  • Adventurous Kate
    August 27 2014

    Who poops in the Blue Lagoon? I mean, seriously?

    😉

    I’m glad you had fun! I’ve never hung out in the St. Paul’s Bay region but that beach club looks really nice!
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      I’d definitely give Cafe del Mar a peek next time you’re around! And as for who poops in the Blue Lagoon…. crowd control?! 😉

  • Shaun's Cracked Compass
    August 27 2014

    Hey… when ya gotta go, ya gotta go!

    Malta has been on my list since I have a friend from there, yet now living in London, who could be my tour guide. Rumor has it you can’t see all of Malta unless you go out on a boat.
    Shaun’s Cracked Compass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      I’d agree with that! If at the least the ferry to and from Gozo 🙂

  • I adore exploring places with locals – its what makes each place that much more personal. I imagine you’ve left a piece of your heart in Malta and while it definitely will you make you miss it (and the person there), that’s how you know it’s left an impact! That sailing adventure looks just lovely.

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Yes! We simply had so many adventures through the week where I thought, I never would have experienced this coming as a pure tourist. Definitely got the bet of both worlds!

  • becky hutner
    August 27 2014

    I’ve been eagerly anticipating the Malta posts and now here they are — woohoo! Depending on my husband’s work situation, we might be hopping over here from Spain next month so I am taking notes.

    Dumb question — what do you do with your poolside laptop when you break for a swim?

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Not dumb question! In this case it was pretty swank and considering everyone had forked over a decent amount to be there I felt pretty safe tucking it in my bag and leaving it on my chair. If I was in a less secure situation I might ask someone trustworthy looking to keep an eye on it or even drop with a employee to watch.

  • Jimmy Dau
    August 27 2014

    It’s great when you don’t have to rely too much on a guide book and let others do the work so you can have a “day off”. Sounds like you had a great experience.

    Floating turd in the water ..lol :\
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      I definitely loved my Malta guidebook… but we definitely more let the spirit guide us, ha. It was the perfect balance!

  • Divelicious Chris
    August 27 2014

    Oh I also loved going out to eat in the Spinola Bay area!
    Only went to the Blue Lagoon on a kayak trip and was happy to see it without having to stay there for a full afternoon!
    Can’t wait to read the rest of your Malta posts! 🙂
    Divelicious Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      A kayak trip sounds like the PERFECT way to see the Blue Lagoon! Active, scenic… fun 🙂 So glad you had a good time!

  • I totally had to look Malta up on the map when you first mentioned awhile back that you were going there. For such a tiny and unknown country (at least to us Americans), it sure is beautiful! I can’t wait to read about your Greece trip though as I’m considering a sailing trip there in June 2015. Maybe I’ll head to Malta afterwards!:-)
    Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Yup, I had to look it up on a map at first as well 🙂 No shame there… it’s tiny! European geography is not my forte, but I’m getting better.

  • Malta looks gorgeous, Meihoukai! And meeting up with old friends, working with a fantastic view and relaxing in the sun sounds like the perfect way to enjoy a destination.
    Miriam of Adventurous Miriam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Indeed it was! And we had the perfect number of adventures to make me feel like I really had a good look at the country. Loved how bite-sized it all was!

  • Steve
    August 27 2014

    I’ve been told Malta was a impressive place to visit. Your photos have confirmed that. Good to see Anders looking so well.
    Steve recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Hopefully my upcoming photos will prove it even further! And yes, it was great to see Anders 🙂

  • Noooooo Malta isn’t even on my list yet but now I have to add it and it’s already over-expanded! But seriously, the turd story… (shudder).

    Looking forward to dive posts in Malta! Hope you didn’t forget your underwater camera on those days 😉
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Nope, underwater camera was very much put to work on diving days 🙂 I know how you feel with the ever expanding list!

  • Justine
    August 27 2014

    I’d say that having the chance to explore Malta like a “semi-local” is the way to go. I mean, come on, you get to cruise around those beautiful blue waters on a private boat? Plus you get to hang out with your old friends? It doesn’t really get better than that! It looks like you had a great time! And I can’t wait to see more photos 🙂
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      So many more to come, Justine 🙂 Thanks for following along!

  • I have definitely gotta get to Malta one day – there were always cheap package deals including flights from London and I always meant to go but somehow it didn’t end up happening. I’m hoping to head back to Europe in a couple of years so will make sure I finally visit then
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Yes, I’ve heard the cheap package deals from the UK are one of the reasons there are so many Brits there! I wouldn’t say my flights were super cheap but I got a decent deal and it was great to fly direct from London and then on to Brussels!

  • MCVK
    August 27 2014

    You go to great places! And you are so lucky to enjoy the sun! As someone with a very fair complexion – “glow in the dark skin” is what my niece calls it – I must avoid the sun at all costs, since skin cancer is an epidemic in my family, the “Irish flu,” as my mother called it. For anyone who avoids the sun like me, I’d like to recommend taking Vitamin D3, 5000 IUs daily. It made a huge difference in the growth/length of my fingernails as well as the thickness of my hair. Ask your doctor, if you’re like me – fair with translucent skin that shows all the veins. Also, I live 45º North, so winters are long and dark. Everyone needs Vit D3, but we don’t all get as much as we need. And winter is coming!

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      I take Vitamin D supplements whenever I am in New York in the winter as well. I think it helps my mood and keeps me a bit sane. I’m addicted to the sun!

  • Greg | Travel Blue Book
    August 28 2014

    “And by “take the island by storm in the evening” I clearly mean dinner on the cheap at home and falling asleep by ten, for at least half the nights I was there.”

    Ha! And, seriously…poop. Grody.

  • Dad
    August 28 2014

    Wow, what a pleasant surprise. I never knew anything about Malta or would have expected it to be so appealing. Thank you again for expanding my horizons.

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      You would have loved the history and the architecture. I think you’ll enjoy my posts on Mdina and Valleta!

  • yara coelho
    August 28 2014

    I might head down to Malta after the high season is over and the beaches are less crowded. As I’m taking an Apneia course, I might go for some snorkel and free diving there 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Nice! The waters were a tad cold for me but overall the diving was better than I expected. Great actually! Would be a great place to free dive.

  • Chris
    August 28 2014

    Wow, what a stunning spot that Camino (shame about the turd though)!

    Don’t think I can recall any travel tales where I can so quickly slip that in (or was it out)??
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Zing! (Laughing and cringing simultaneously… should have known that in a post where I mention poop once, it’s the most commented part of the story :))

    • Chris
      September 1 2014

      Always a risk run there when you let the juvenile in me come to the fore! 😛
      Chris recently posted..

  • Leah
    August 29 2014

    That pool IS amazing, I wouldn’t mind spending a day working with that view AT ALL. Is that an SLR selfie? My arms have always been too short for that, or I need a wider-angle lens. Also, those cliffs in Comino remind me soo much of those bird-poopy Ballestas islands off of Paracas! But more human-poopy, I guess. Haha
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Ha! Yes, they are similar topography now that you mention it. And no, that pool selfie is an iPhone variety! I was being a bit lazy for much of this trip, the dSLR didn’t come out all too often…

  • Phyllis
    August 30 2014

    that ocean blue… beautiful!!! looking forward to more posts on your day trips while there!

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      So many pretty posts to come 🙂 Thanks for coming along for the ride, Phyllis!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    August 31 2014

    I had a ticket to Malta in 2003 and canceled it for a boy (oh the horrors!), and ever since then I’ve been trying to find a way to that tiny, unknown isle. Thanks for satiating my curiosity, at least temporarily =)
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 31 2014

      Now that’s a story I need to hear someday over a drink! 🙂 And that reminds me, I owe you an email about a boy…

  • Carla Turun
    September 1 2014

    Yes!!!!! This is what i’ve been waiting for!!! Amanzing photos as always, look at the colour of that ocean!! even more excited to get over there – Thank you Meihoukai!! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      September 2 2014

      You are so welcome Carla! Enjoy your time in Malta!

  • Matthew Karsten
    September 2 2014

    I’ve been reading a lot about Malta lately. That water is beautiful!
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 3 2014

      The Mediterranean water always just blows my mind. Such a stunning region of the world!

  • Kait
    September 27 2014

    First off – love the new site design. You are one of my favourite travel writers but I am ashamed to say I haven’t been catching up on your blog as much as I would like. You were the first one I thought of when I was doing research for an upcoming trip to Malta in November with my mom. I was so pleased to happen apon your lovely new redesign.

    Enough with that.

    I very much enjoyed this post. My mom and I will be in Malta for about 5 days, and we have rented a flat and a car so we are hoping to be able to really take advantage of seeing more things around the island that “typical” tourists wouldn’t get to explore.

    Looking forward to reading your other posts about Malta and gaining some more insight into what we can expect.

    Really excited about this trip!
    Kait recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 27 2014

      Thank you so much on the new site kudos, Kait! I’m still so obsessed. You will have a great time in Malta! Five days is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of all it has to offer. Let me know if you have any questions!

  • tammy
    April 4 2015

    I’m soo in love with Malta…Valletta has got to be the most beautiful city in the world…I’m visiting in May..can’t wait 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2015

      I loved my week in Malta! I can see why you do too. Enjoy your upcoming trip!

  • Brytany
    July 7 2015

    keep the posts coming! I’m heading to Malta solo and would love a few more tips.

    • Meihoukai
      July 8 2015

      Hey Brytany! This trip was over a year ago so I’ve finished all my Malta coverage, but you can find my many posts here. Enjoy!

  • Tripper
    February 27 2016

    I was in Malta a couple of months ago. Great place, indeed. Not only the weather was favourable (Late October) for swimming but also the island boasts with numerous megalithic sites. You should check out the Hypogeum , although the tickes are in high demand!

    • Meihoukai
      March 3 2016

      I would love to go back someday. What a beautiful island and nation!

      • Edward
        January 13 2017

        Hi Meihoukai, great set of posts around that trip! If you decide to make your way to Malta on another occasion I’d be happy to help you prep your next round of discovery! (I’m a traveller-turned-local.)

        Also (and feel free to just edit this out), if there’s anything you wanted to cover about Malta that you didn’t get around to I’m happy to write a guest article for you.

        • Meihoukai
          January 14 2017

          Thanks for the offer Edward! I don’t really do guest posts around here (I’m so behind writing about my own trips as it is!) but I appreciate the offer!