Scuba Diving Gozo
3rd July 2019
Scuba diving in Gozo, Malta may not be as spectacular as other places in the world, but it’s worth experiencing. I’ve been scuba diving for more than 20 years, and over that time I’m lucky enough to have experienced some seriously breath-taking diving in many parts of the world. Despite Malta and Gozo being touted as having some of the ‘best diving in the Mediterranean’, I knew there wouldn’t be the same richness and diversity of marine life that I’ve found in other places. But I’d heard the water was warm and clear, with enough of interest to make it worthwhile.
I did 12 dives over 5 days – 6 shore dives and 6 boat dives. Most of Gozo’s coastline is made up of high rocky limestone cliffs that have cracked and eroded into interesting coves and bays over time.
Many of these ‘valleys’ protect dive sites that are only accessible by boat, though most of the diving on Gozo is more or less accessible from shore. Having said that, I found an awful lot of the shore diving very difficult; not the diving itself, but many sites involve a 50m or longer walk down steep rocky paths, and some have a very difficult entry and exit. My previous experiences of shore diving have always been off soft, sandy beaches and I had no idea accessibility would prove so challenging.
Ras-il Hobz – one of the easier entries!
This was my first experience diving in the Mediterranean Sea. And, I have to admit that although it was interesting, I found it mostly underwhelming. Apparently, the Mediterranean Sea had a coral reef system millions of years ago, but no longer. Though today an array of corals both native and foreign live here, underwater Gozo is a distinctly different type of landscape and diving experience.
Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) is a species of seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, forming huge underwater meadows that are an important part of the ecosystem here. Found at depths from 1–35 metres (3.3–114.8 ft), its presence is a sign of a healthy marine environment. These seagrass meadows are important spawning and sheltering areas for a variety of marine life and are strictly protected by the EU.
I didn’t see a lot of fish amongst the sea grasses, though I did find some beautiful purple and orange nudibranch (none of which I managed to photograph) and an awful lot of bearded fireworms.
Elsewhere, there are wrasse and seabream…
…and loads of these tiny jellyfish.
But the real magic of diving in Gozo is its underwater topography.
There are all sorts of weird and wonderful rock formations with tunnels, holes, chimneys, caves and giant boulders. And some of it is completely magical.
Santa Maria Caves (Comino Caves)
There was one dive, though, that will remain forever as one of my all-time diving highlights. Though we did it as a boat dive, it was once accessible as a shore dive (albeit with an extremely difficult entry and exit); now the ladder down the cliff face has been eroded by the elements and is falling apart. Anchoring in Wied-il Ghasri (see first photo in the introduction, it’s worth visiting on foot – a steep narrow inlet cut into the cliff, and a secluded spot for swimming and snorkelling), the descent is to about 20 metres, through sardines and seagrass.
At roughly 25 minutes into the dive, you enter a cave and ascend in almost total darkness towards the light above…
…until you surface into the luminous blue waters of a cave that’s beyond words.
I literally gasped out loud when I surfaced. I’ve never seen such incandescent blues, shimmering off the rock walls and glowing in the pool in which we floated. It was quiet too, just the gentle lapping of the water against the rocks and our breathing.
It’s dark in the cave, with the only light coming from a small fissure in the cave wall which looks red in the photo above and reflecting from somewhere else below the pool. Unfortunately, all my photos came out a little blurry due to the poor light conditions (or more likely my poor skills in such conditions), but I just had to share these. Cathedral Cave is aptly named; it was a completely awe-inspiring experience.
Santa Maria Caves
Also called Comino Caves, the 10 caves known as the Santa Maria Caves on the north side of tiny Comino island was another real diving high point for me. There are some great swim-throughs and tunnels.
I saw my only octopus of the trip deep in one of the caves, along with nudibranch and a lot of bearded fireworms. The Banded Sea Bream here have gotten used to being fed by snorkellers so will follow and swarm around you at the shallower depths.
But it was the cave system here that really was the highlight for me. Though shallow – with most at a depth of around 10-12m – each of the caves have their own special beauty.
Malta as a whole has loads of historic shipwrecks. I’m not a huge fan of wreck diving so I did just two of them, but really enjoyed them both:
- MV Cominoland: One of 3 wrecks (along with MV Karwela and MV Xlendi) off Xatt l-Ahmar in southeast Gozo that were scuttled over a decade ago to create artificial reefs for divers. Originally a Royal Navy boat built in the 1940s, it was converted into a ferry boat in the 1960s then a day cruiser for tourists in the 1980s. Cominoland sits upright on a sandy seabed at a maximum depth of 40m (130 ft). It has two decks and is completely safe to penetrate because of the various openings cut into it before scuttling. Be warned though, she’s done as a shore dive and it’s a long walk down from the car park across a rocky plateau to the ladder into the sea.
- P31: The P31 is an ex-German minesweeper bought (unnamed and unarmed) by Malta for use as a patrol boat in the early 1990s. Decommissioned in 2004, she was eventually scuttled off Comino Island in 18 metres of water to create an artificial reef and diving site.
I really liked this wreck. There’s a lot of small fish feeding on the grasses that grow along the hull and I even saw a flatfish on the seabed. Interesting fact: depending upon the species, flatfish have eyes that lie on one side of the head, one or the other migrating through or around the head during development.
Inland Sea and Blue Hole
There are over 80 dive sites that can be reached by shore or boat on Gozo and Comino Island. I dove just 10 of them (I did 2 sites twice!). I’ve already highlighted the 2 wrecks and Cathedral Cave, and I’ve shown you photographs above from Double Arch and Santa Maria Caves, which were my 2 other outstanding dives.
But I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the Inland Sea and Blue Hole, which are considered iconic Gozo diving spots.
The Inland Sea at Dwejra is a seawater lagoon that’s linked to the Mediterranean Sea through a narrow natural arch.
The lagoon is very shallow and mostly pebbles. You walk into the water towards the left side of the tunnel (boats are supposed to stay on the right side) and descend through the tunnel to the open sea, where the floor drops away in a series of shelves to a depth of up to 35 metres on the outside. It’s a completely surreal experience.
Inland there’s a stony beach with several pretty fishermen’s huts.
It’s a popular attraction for non-divers as well as divers. If you’re not a diver, it’s worth a visit just for a wander around the lagoon itself. Or you can take a boat ride through the archway for a tour of the nearby cliffs.
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is an iconic Gozo attraction and one of the more popular dive sites. Located next to the Inland Sea, it’s quite a long walk from the car park down 2 sets of stairs and a rocky pathway to a fabulous 10m wide inland pool where you start the dive. It used to overlook the now-collapsed Azure Window.
As you descend from the pool, you see this natural rock arch with clear blue water beyond – your gateway to the open sea.
I found the rest of the dive only mildly interesting, but you weave through an underwater landscape of gigantic green boulders that seem like the ruins of some long-lost civilisation.
Bubbles Dive Centre
There are many, many dive centres throughout Gozo. I chose Bubbles Dive Centre because of the small group sizes – a maximum of 4 people, always. But the more I read about them the more I liked the sound of them. Despite the frivolous name, they are an outstanding dive operation and the experience didn’t disappoint. One thing to be aware of, though. I didn’t completely understand until I arrived that the boat-diving is an extra (and considerable) cost on top of the diving package. It’s still do-able, but it can add up quickly. Even so, I highly recommend Bubbles for diving Gozo.
The Mundane and the Magical
I admit that I’m slightly ambivalent about my Gozo diving experience, even though, overall, I really enjoyed myself. Yes, the visibility was amazing (easily 25-30 metres), I had some extraordinary dives and there was that one completely magical moment in that cave. But there just wasn’t all that much to see. I was disappointed at the lack of marine life and I just wasn’t mentally prepared for the water to be so cold (17C-19C/62F-66F). I had brought a 5mm wetsuit and thermal vest, then rented a 3mm shortie that I wore on top. But I still got very cold. I found after the first 2 days I just couldn’t do 3 dives a day and I dived only 5 days instead of the 6 days I’d originally planned.
However, please note: I was told that the water temperature was unusually cold for the time for year. It does get warmer as the season goes on, up to 28C (82F), which I would have far preferred.
Would I go back? To Gozo definitely. But for the scuba diving? Even with warmer water temperatures, probably not. For me, this was diving that was interesting once, but not for a repeat.
Check out the next post in my Gozo series: Day Trip to Comino Island
More diving photos are in my Diving Gozo Photo Album