Day Trip to Comino Island from Gozo
14th July 2019
The smallest of the inhabited islands in the Maltese archipelago, Comino Island is a tiny, barely populated jewel that’s easily explored as a day trip from Gozo. Sitting between Malta and Gozo, it’s just 3.5km2 (1.4 square miles). It has a permanent population of just 3 people and is car-free apart from those few used by the resident population and staff of the only (seasonal) hotel. Though the island’s main attraction is the Blue Lagoon – an iridescent cove of turquoise water over white sand, where luxury yachts anchor, and tour boats and day-trippers swarm the beaches – the island is a bird sanctuary and nature reserve with dramatic coastal scenery. It’s easily walkable and beyond the beaches is virtually deserted.
Blue Lagoon from the path
About Comino Island
Originally inhabited by farmers during Roman times, throughout much of its history Comino Island has been either sparsely populated or abandoned. During the Middle Ages its rugged coastline of sheer limestone cliffs hid caves and coves that were bases for the corsairs who raided shipping throughout the region.
Later, the island served as protected hunting grounds for the Knights of Malta, as a place of imprisonment or exile for wayward knights, and as a base for defending the Maltese Islands against the Ottomans. The Knights constructed St Mary’s Tower – the most visible structure on the island – in 1618 as part of a chain of defensive towers along the Maltese coastlines.
Briefly occupied by the French, Malta became a British protectorate in the early 19th century and Comino Island was part of the important British naval presence during both World Wars, when Malta served as headquarters to the Mediterranean Fleet.
Comino Island Walk
If you’re walking in summer, be sure to take enough water with you. Although a walk around Comino Island is only about 7km, besides the simple snack bars at the Blue Lagoon and the restaurant at the Comino Hotel, there are no other refreshment spots. It can get very hot in summer and there’s precious little shade across what’s mostly dried scrubland. When I was there in June it was 37C (99F)!
The main trail follows a rough pathway, but there are plenty of places where you’ll be tempted off the beaten track to explore, especially along the cliffs on the east side of the island. You can download a detailed description of the entire walk from Visit Gozo.
I visited the island with my dive buddy of the previous days, Sara. We walked the trail counter-clockwise from the Blue Lagoon, which is where the day boats arrive and depart, and where the vast majority of people stay to swim, snorkel and sunbathe. However, relatively few people venture beyond the main beaches. Once we moved along the cliffs and into the interior, there was virtually no one else and it felt like we were the only ones on the island.
Walking east from the Blue Lagoon
The path leads over stony ground to a rough path where you’ll find a profusion of delicate common caper…
… vibrant purple thistles…
…and other interesting vegetation.
As you wander along the high rugged cliffs, you’ll see St Mary’s Tower in the distance and there’s a stunning view here of the Crystal Lagoon, which is only accessible by boat. I think it’s even more gorgeous than the Blue Lagoon.
The path starts to rise as you head towards St Mary’s Tower. But before you get there you walk by the Isolation Hospital, a complex that was built by the British military in the late 1800s as a quarantine station for troops returning from the plague-filled ports of the eastern Mediterranean.
Today, these buildings are home to the residents of the island and there’s indications of habitation with the discordant sound of a radio playing somewhere and a few derelict vehicles in stone garages. But it looks completely and long deserted.
St Mary’s Tower
Also known as Santa Maria Tower and Comino Tower, St Mary’s Tower is the most prominent landmark on Comino Island. It’s easily seen from both Malta and Gozo, as well as from the ferry between the islands. Built in 1618 by the Knights of Malta for defence and communications, it’s one of four remaining large bastioned watchtowers on the islands. It’s supposed to be open to the public Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April through October – but only if the flag is flying! We were there on a Saturday and it wasn’t open; from what I’ve heard since, it’s actually pretty rare that it is.
But it’s worth walking out here nevertheless. The views are spectacular.
Blue Lagoon from the path up to St Mary’s Tower…Gozo is in the far distance
Across the Interior to Santa Maria Bay
As you walk down from the tower headland and into the interior of the island, you’ll see that the land is mostly abandoned. Dry stone walls criss-cross the landscape – evidence of past agricultural activity – but through neglect the soil is eroding. There are some unexpected spots of cultivation but many areas are slowly being taken over by wild landscape.
Midway along the path to Santa Maria Bay you’ll pass a small stone structure and reservoir that used to be a water pumping station. Today it houses Malta’s only bird ringing station and is run by volunteers from Birdlife Malta – Malta’s largest environmental NGO (non-governmental organisation) for the conservation of birds and their habitats – as part of an international research project.
The path narrows and descends into a comparatively dense valley, which soon widens and brings you to the Santa Maria Chapel (also known as Comino Chapel). Built in 1618, it’s a tiny Roman Catholic chapel dedicated to the Holy Family Upon its Return from Egypt. It’s an ancient site, with records of a chapel here as far back as the 12th century.
The chapel wasn’t open when we were there so I didn’t have a chance to see the inside. The exterior is very plain, with a simple wooden door. But the belfry is magnificent with the sunlight reflecting from underneath its arches.
The chapel is located above Santa Maria Bay and the path here becomes a road that leads directly to the bay – and a very welcome public toilet! The old police station is also located here, as well as a cluster of bungalows. These bungalows are part of the one hotel on the island – Comino Hotel, built in the 1960s – which is located a 10-minute walk away on St Niklaw Bay.
Santa Maria Bay
We’d been walking for hours by this time and it was very hot – 37C (99F) – so we crossed the headland instead of walking around the peninsula to St Niklaws Bay. It was about 2pm by the time we got back to the Blue Lagoon and, over the 5 hours we’d been walking, masses of people had arrived.
I took the photo above as we were leaving on the ferry boat. I highly recommend going early, as we did, on the very first boat.
How to get to Comino Island from Gozo
We took the 322 bus at 08.10 from Marsalforn to Mgarr harbour – €1.50 and about 30 minutes, so we arrived in time for the first boat at 9am.
Leaving Mgarr Harbour
The boat transfers are right across the street from the bus stop under a series of brightly-coloured blue and red umbrellas. I’d read online that there are dozens of boat transfers to Comino Island but as far as I could tell, they pretty much all work together and are priced the same at €10 for a return trip. On leaving Comino Island we just took the first boat that arrived at the jetty marked Gozo ferry.
On arrival back on Gozo we had to wait a while for the bus back to Marsalforn so we had a coffee in the main ferry terminal, where the bus arrives and departs.
Top tip: queue at the bus stop on both ends at least 10-15 minutes before the departure time so that you get a seat! The bus fills up quickly, particularly on the weekend.
Look out for my next post, coming soon: The ancient temples of Ggantija
And see more photos in my Comino Island Photo Album