Exploring Comino in a Day
by Mr Yellow
A small, desolate piece of limestone wedged right between Malta and its sister island, Gozo, Comino is the smallest of the Maltese islands, yet it captures the very beauty of a remote and tranquil haven. Ringed by caves and sea cliffs and home to one of the most-visited natural attractions - the Blue Lagoon - nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking sight of the clearest turquoise water the Mediterranean sea has to offer. Every bit the definition of paradise, here we share everything you need to know about the island so you can make the most of your day trip.
A barren land rich in history
Who would have thought that a minuscule rock would have served many purposes to those who rule the Maltese islands over the centuries? From being a defensive outpost to a secret hideaway for corsairs and an agricultural base, Comino only rose to prominence with the arrival of the Knights who used it as the hunting base due to the abundance of wild boar and hares, while its geographical position meant that it was a good defence post against the Ottoman Turks. In fact, its rugged coastline made up of steep limestone cliffs and brimming with deep caves were highly popular with pirates who used them as trading posts for raids on boats which were unfortunate enough to be crossing between Malta and Gozo.
Despite being sparsely populated or abandoned entirely for long periods in its history, it is believed that the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times so much so that Santa Marija Bay is regarded as an archaeological site and possibly a burial ground. During the last 2,300 odd years or so, a handful of Knights, farmers, hermits, pirates, as well as prisoners of war have been either posted, imprisoned or made Comino their home. For instance, Knights who had committed small crimes were often sent to man the Santa Marija Tower, whereas the island served as a place of isolation for patients with deadly diseases. Eventually, Comino was lost in obscurity until tourists sought to explore its unspoilt beauty once again, bringing it back to the limelight.
Some quick facts about Comino
- Comino is just 2.5km by 1.5km.
- The island takes its name after the cumin seed that once flourished in abundance in the Maltese islands.
- With no tarmacked roads, you'll find only a handful of cars roaming around.
- The island is a protected nature reserve and a bird sanctuary.
- The Comino Hotel is a post-World War II structure dating back to the 1960s.
- It is the least densely populated island in the Republic of Malta with inhabitants amounting to just 3 individuals following the death of the fourth resident in 2017.
- A priest and a policeman commute from the nearby island of Gozo.
- A popular location for filmmakers, Comino appears in blockbuster films like Troy, the epic period war film starring Brad Pitt as Achilles and the romantic comedy Swept Away featuring Madonna. In addition, St. Mary's Tower doubled as the Chateau d'If in the film The Count of Monte Christo.
What to pack for your day trip
Thought that all you need is a towel and your sunscreen? Ensure that your trip to Comino is as enjoyable as possible by packing the following items:
- A beach towel
- That all-important sunscreen to avoid the dangers of summer heat and your favourite hat.
- A spare bathing suit. Wondering why this is necessary? Imagine you're blissfully devouring your ice cream as you're sitting on a rock gazing at the Blue Lagoon's beauty. As you reposition yourself to a comfier spot, your swimsuit gets torn exposing part of your behind. You'll be thankful for that extra bikini!
- A lilo, doughnut, flamingo, unicorn or whatever beach float strikes your fancy. Don't have one? Here are some beach goods stores you may want to visit.
- Unless you're planning to take a cooler with you, opt for food that can withstand the scorching heat. Fruit, some sort of a salad with pickled vegetables, crackers, granola bars or protein bites are all good. Alternatively, you may buy burgers, wraps and other street food from one of the many kiosks that crowd the Blue Lagoon's cliffs.
- A large bottle of water or two and if you run out, make sure you have some spare change handy to purchase some more.
- If you're planning to explore the island, a good pair of hiking shoes is a must. Visit these camping equipment stores where you'll find a wide range of shoes.
How to get there
Getting to Comino is a simple and straightforward affair. A bus or two from anywhere in Malta can take you to Cirkewwa where you can catch a ferry. A single journey bus ticket which is valid for two hours costs around €1.50 in winter and €2 in summer, unless you'd rather go for one of the travel cards. If you're locally based, you can just drive up to Cirkewwa and park your car there. There are regular trips organised, while ferries also operate from other parts of Malta, mainly Sliema and Bugibba, as well as Mgarr, Gozo. A round trip by ferry to Comino and back will typically be around €10 so make sure you keep those tickets safe and sound for your return to the main island. The boats leave every hour or so, with each trip lasting around 25 minutes on the way there and 35 minutes on your way back. And take note of when the last ferry leaves Comino unless you don't mind spending the night there.
The other option is to go for a boat cruise. There are a number of boat operators who can also take you back and forth to the island, however, they typically provide a tour around Comino, the Blue Lagoon and some caves.
Irrespective of the operator you will opt for, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Perhaps you should consider going with a tour that departs Malta earlier than others so you'll be able to dip into the crystal clear water before it becomes overcrowded.
- Find out whether operators will allow you to lounge on board and swim from the ship. This could be another option for avoiding the swarm of people, plus it can be fun diving or sliding right into the sea. In fact, some ships have taken their services up a notch by having a slide that dips right into the water.
Bonus tip: Are you a tourist visiting the island and would rather not use public transportation for your trip to Comino? For a small additional fee, some tour providers may be willing to pick you up from your accommodation so make sure you check whether this service is offered. Alternatively, get in touch with these car rental companies.
What to do
Beaching it - Beyond the Blue Lagoon
The island's main attraction, the Blue Lagoon, a sheltered cove between the western end of the island and the uninhabited islet of Cominotto (known as Kemmunet in Maltese), is without a doubt one of the most popular beaches across the Maltese islands and it isn't hard to see why. Featuring shimmering aquamarine water over white sand, colourful fish and several caves to explore, the lagoon has become the go-to swimming spot with day-trippers. It's also a relatively safe beach for young and old alike with lifeguards watching over bathers.
Yet, anyone who has visited the place in the height of summer knows that it can become quite busy as the little ferry boats dump bucket-loads of tourists and locals every hour or so. If you're looking to escape the crowds, Comino has other beaches where you can dip your toes in the sea without being squashed like sardines.
Santa Marija Bay
Just a 20-minute walk away from the Blue Lagoon, you'll find yourself in the small but quieter Santa Marija Bay. Adjacent to the island's tiny police station, this beach is mainly used by locals and campers who have been spending their nights in the camping site. Here you may enjoy a series of amenities, such as public bathrooms and showers while you can dine in the eatery found right by the beach.
Find the ideal spot to relax and swim in the crystal clear waters amongst a shoal of bream.
Bonus fact: Did you know that Comino's waters are known for offering a one of a kind diving experience? Sporting a number of coves and a rich marine ecosystem that also includes coral reefs, diving at the Santa Marija Caves is perfect for open water divers. The site is only accessible by sea, however, many diving centres across Malta and Gozo offer excursions to this locale. What's more, this setting and the entrances to the caves have been used as a backdrop to the movie The Count of Monte Cristo.
Is diving your thing? Then you may want to visit the Maltese patrol boat P31 wreck off the island's west coast. Alternatively, here are 10 best diving sites in Malta.
San Niklaw Bay
Another quiet bay ideal if you want to escape the hustle and bustle, San Niklaw Bay is relatively close to Santa Marija and it also serves as the boarding point for the nearby Hotel Comino's ferry. Made up of two small sandy beaches, these are mainly populated by the hotel's guests, but it offers a peaceful and serene setting, though the adventurous types can still enjoy watersports. From here, you can easily access the island's cliffs for a scenic stroll, preferably after the sun has set.
South-east of the Blue Lagoon (just over half a kilometre away from the iconic lagoon), you'll find Crystal Bay, boasting unbelievable clear water fit for its name. Fringed by steep cliffs, it is perfect for swimming, snorkelling and diving, however, it is accessible only by boat. This also means that there are no facilities available so make sure you're equipped with everything you need.
Heading to Comino and you only have sufficient time to visit two beaches at most? Have a look at our guide on how to pick your perfect beach in the Maltese Islands.
The island is typically associated with swimming, snorkelling and water-related activities, but there is more to Comino than meets the eye. From embarking on hiking trips to exploring historical buildings and churches atop imposing cliffs, if you're feeling adventurous enough, arm yourself with a pair of sturdy shoes and experience a slice of Maltese history by visiting the landmarks below.
St. Mary's Tower
With a history dating back to 1416 when the locals petitioned King Alfonso V of Aragon to erect a tower to serve as an early warning system of invasion, St. Mary's Tower, also known as the Comino Tower was eventually built in 1618 by Grand Master Wignacourt. One of the most visible structures on the island, this large bastioned watchtower has served many purposes amongst which included a prison, an isolation hospital, as well as a pen to house livestock. In 2004, it was restored to its former glory and nowadays it is open to the public. Standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Blue Lagoon, the imposing views are worth a visit even if you are not a history buff.
St. Mary's Battery
Just a stone's throw away, the 18th-century gun battery was erected to guard the Gozo Channel by the Knights of St. John, forming part of a series of coastal fortifications built around the Maltese islands. A semi-circular structure with a number of embrasures facing the sea, its remote location has helped it remain in a good state of preservation. Although it is somewhat harder to sport, it certainly makes for a great place of interest, while it also offers great views, especially during sunset.
Abandoned Isolation Hospital, the Bakery and the Police Station
An extension of a palace erected by Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, the hospital treated cholera and plague patients in isolation from the other inhabitants on Malta and Gozo. Later on, it was filled with World War I injured soldiers. On the other hand, the old bakery was crucial in preparing weekly treats for the island's limited inhabitants. Nowadays, you may visit it to marvel at the original equipment used at the time for baking. As for the small police station, this is manned by a few officers who patrol the island either by speed boat or by motorcycle.
Chapel of our Lady's Return from Egypt
If you've decided to spend the day swimming and exploring the seabed of Santa Marija Bay, a quick stop before you head back to Malta at this chapel is a must. Dedicated to the Assumption of St. Mary, it features a simple exterior but a jaw-dropping interior. Indeed, a far cry from its white, flat outer walls, inside the chapel features a neogothic style with pointed archways. In the past, when the sea was too rough for the Gozitan priest to make the crossing to celebrate Holy Mass, the few locals living on the island would gather on the rocks that looked opposite the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rocks in Hondoq ir-Rummien, Gozo, where Mass would be celebrated at that particular time. What's intriguing about this event is the fact that locals followed along with the progression of the Mass by means of a complex flag code.
How to get around
The various ideas outlined above may have urged you to plot your itinerary, yet you might be pondering on how you will get around and visit each landmark. With such a small area to cover, Comino can be easily explored on foot and it's impossible to get lost, while with no cars in sight it is safe to wander around. Having said that, there are some things you should keep in mind. Avoid hiking during the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest, so make the most of early mornings and late afternoons. Also, make sure you have the appropriate gear with you. Think, light clothes, a good pair of walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen and, of course, loads and loads of water. Perhaps it would be wise if you are in the company of someone and not alone in case of accidents or illness.
If you're the sporty type who also happens to be environmentally conscious, then you may cycle from place to place. Comino's unspoilt rocky tracks are ideal for mountain bikes and if you don't own one, you may hire a bike from the Comino Hotel's watersports centre. Would you rather not hike or sightsee but spend your day lounging from beach to beach? You're in luck! During the summer months, there is a tuk-tuk service that links the Blue Lagoon with Santa Marija Bay.
And remember that if you do happen to wander off and you are unsure as to your whereabouts, locate the Santa Maria Tower which is visible from anywhere and everywhere and use it as your guide.
Where to stay (if you've decided to spend the night)
You may have not considered spending the night in Comino, however, it might be worth it simply just to experience the pristine desert island sensation. Looking to enjoy total relaxation without doing much? Book a stay at the Comino Hotel equipped with swimming pools, tennis courts, a gym, a variety of water sports and a restaurant. On the other hand, you can retreat to the self-catering bungalows located at Santa Marija Bay.
If sleeping under the stars is your thing, the aforementioned bay offers a good designated camping area. The location is perfect for immersing yourself in total seclusion yet without having to sacrifice amenities like toilets and showers. Do take note that setting camp up in other areas is strictly prohibited so don't even think about it. But why would you want to venture elsewhere when you're offered a wide-open space scattered with trees which can offer perfect shelter from the sun come morning?
Admire Comino's natural and pristine beauty, unearth its history and make the most of your day trip with our tips. Get your tickets from these ferry services and if you have some time on your hands make sure you plan a summer trip to Gozo.
Keep on discovering local with Yellow!