The less visited Southeast part of Malta is home to some of the islands’ most extraordinary sites, which should definitely make it onto the ‘must-see’ list of any foreign visitor. One of these locations is none other than the magnificent Blue Grotto.
This popular site attracts over 100,000 visitors per year, with tourists flocking here to see the amazing grotto via local boat trips. It’s also an extremely popular diving and snorkelling spot, with very clear, clean and deep waters.
What is the Blue Grotto?
Not to be confused with the Blue Lagoon, which is located in the North West of the archipelago, in the island of Comino, the Blue Grotto is a complex of seven caves found along the southern coast of the island, right across from the little islet of Filfla, and less than a kilometre west of Wied iż-Żurrieq. The place actually got its name in the 1950s, when a British soldier visiting the area and compared it to Capri’s famous Grotta Azzura, which basically means ‘Blue Grotto’, because of its amazing clear, bright blue waters (particularly at a specific time of day – more on that later on).
This complex comprises of a massive (and very impressive) main arch, which is approximately 30m in height, as well as a system of 6 other caves, amongst which you will find the Honeymoon Cave, the Cat’s Cave and the beautiful Reflection Cave. The deep, open waters of the area are what in fact created the complex. Throughout the centuries, the persistent crashing of the waves against the hard cliff face resulted in the formation of the huge, arch like grotto, as well as several adjoining caves and nearby rock formations.
Even though the caves are a wonder within themselves, the true beauty of the place really shines through on clear, sunny days. This is when the magic happens; the blue sky reflects off the white sandy seabed under the caves, resulting in vibrant azure and cobalt coloured waters. Adding to this, the cave walls mirror the brilliant phosphorescent orange, purple and green colours of the underwater flora, resulting in a mesmerizing scene of light and colour.
When is the best time to visit?
As the grotto is located in the southeast area of the island, the best time to visit is from early morning to around midday during the summer months, especially on clear, sunny days. This allows for the best position of the sun in relation to the caves, providing the ideal light for the colours of the water to shine through.
Earlier visiting times would ensure less crowds and calmer seas, although if you want to take a boat tour of the area (a must), this would only be available after 9:00am. Even so, getting to the site a bit earlier would allow for some time to take in the coastal views from the viewing platform, beside the main road, just east of the turn-off to Wied iż-Żurrieq. You can admire the gigantic natural arch of the grotto easily from the spot, which is just the best place to take some great selfies, and photos of the surrounding landscape.
How do I get there?
You can get to the Blue Grotto via a boat tour, which departs from the tiny harbour of Wied iż-Żurrieq, set in a narrow inlet in the cliffs in the seaside village of Żurrieq. If you’re hiring a car, getting there is a fairly simple affair, even if you don’t have GPS. All you need to do is head towards Żurrieq, then follow the road signs towards the Blue Grotto.
If you aren’t driving on the islands and prefer to use public transport instead, catching a bus to the area is always a fairly easy option (albeit time consuming depending on where you’re staying). Below you’ll find the most popular bus routes to the site:
Valletta Terminus to Blue Grotto – Route 74
- Time duration 30 minutes
- Stop at Panorama bus stop
- 2 min walk, down the hill to Blue Grotto
From St. Julian’s, Paceville, Sliema and Gzira – Routes 13, 14, 15 and 16
- Route 13 – Every 10 minutes
- Route 14 – Every 20 minutes
- Route 15 – Every 30 minutes
- Route 16 – Every 20 minutes
- Stop at Valletta bus terminus then catch route 74
From Buġibba to Blue Grotto – Route 186
- Travel time: 30 minutes
- Stop in Rabat, bus stop Rabat 2
- Catch route 201 from bus stop Rabat 2 to Blue Grotto
From Ċirkewwa (Gozo ferry)/Mellieħa – Route X1 or Route 41, 42, 49 or 250
- Buses pass through Mellieħa pretty often, but this is the farthest from the Blue Grotto you can get on the island, so prepare for a long ride.
- Travel time: approx. 90 to 120 minutes
- If you’re getting the X1, this will take you to the Malta International Airport first. Stop there, then catch the bus 201 to the Blue Grotto.
- If you’re catching the Routes 41,42,49 or 250 you will arrive in Valletta first, then catch Route 74 to Blue Grotto.
Airport to Blue Grotto – Route 201
- Travel time: 60 minutes
- Stop at Grotto bus stop
Boat Trips to the Blue Grotto
If you are going to visit the Blue Grotto, a boat trip to the caves is the best way to experience the true beauty of the area. Boat trips are usually available daily (weather permitting) with the duration of each trip being around 20 minutes. The tours are performed by local captains in a traditional Maltese fishing boat, the operators being seasoned fishermen who know the location and the caves very well. Schedule and pricing for the boat rides can be found below:
Summer time: 09.00 to 17.00
Winter time: 09.00 to 15.30
Prices per ride: Adults €8.00 whilst children €4.00
Swimming, Diving and Snorkelling in the Blue Grotto
Snorkelling and diving within the actual Blue Grotto is not as easy as one would expect and this is because of two main reasons.
- The Blue Grotto itself is only accessible via boat ride, so unless you are planning on chartering a private yacht/cruiser for the day, you would not be able to reach the site by any other means of transport. The boat tours of the grotto do not allow time for swimming, snorkelling or diving, so a quick dip during the ride is not permitted.
- Because of the daily, and very regular boat tours, snorkelling the grotto (especially the caves) might be considered as a dangerous activity. Swimming around the area is usually allowed (off private boats), and most locals actually moor in the area for the day, as it truly is a beautiful place, but swimming into the more popular tour caves is risky, and would be best avoided.
Even so, swimming in Wied iz-Żurrieq, where the boat tours leave from, is a very popular alternative with visitors. The deep, clear, blue waters make for fantastic visibility, with some great snorkelling opportunities along the valley rock face.
Diving and group dives
Also, local diving operators organise group dives to the “Blue Grotto Dive Site” even though, as I already pointed out, the actual Blue Grotto is nearly a kilometre to the west of the inlet and can only be reached by the sea.
This dive usually includes one of the Mediterranean’s most famous dive sites, the Um El Faroud Wreck; a tanker wreck scuttled in 1998, three years after an explosion that killed nine dockworkers in Grand Harbour. It lies at approximately 35m; a 3,147 gross ton single screw tanker, filled to the brim with beautiful marine life which has now set up residence around and within. The wreck itself has been prepared for diving, with all its doors and windows removed, as well as entrances and exit holes cut out. It truly is a great dive, suitable for more experienced divers.
In addition to this site, there are two other dive locations; the East Reef of Wied iż-Żurrieq, a single line reef going 300-400m east of the entry point, and a great place to see shoals of fish, barracuda, cuttlefish, damselfish, red mullet, cardinal fish, moray eels and scorpion fish, amongst others species, and the West Reef, reached by the western side of the inlet and displaying a variety of different areas to explore with various drop offs, ledges and boulders, all surrounded by sea grass and sandy areas.