Surrounded by the deep blue Mediterranean sea, halfway between Sicily and the North African coast, Malta and sister island Gozo are steeped in rich and turbulent history, breathtaking landscapes and, most importantly, limestone crags and sea cliffs with hundreds of routes full of character and charm. Fishermen have soloed these immense sea cliffs for centuries on routes that some local climbers claim encroach on the stiff end of the fifth grade. This courage is a defining characteristic of the Maltese people who have seen off invaders from the Moors to the Axis.
Sport Climbing has seen an impressive growth in the last decade both with the local descendants of the barefoot fishermen and European visitors searching for a year-round climbing destination. With routes going up at an astonishing rate Malta and Gozo offer around 600 lines (550 in the latest guidebook, published in 2013) from nursery grade 3s to high 8s with rumour of 9s hiding in the tufa covered caves and on imposing sea cliffs. The wide range of grades is complemented by routes at all angles - blank friction slabs, pocketed vertical walls, steep overhangs and 3D climbing in roofs are all to be found on these 300km-squared islands. Unlike other Mediterranean limestone climbing destinations Malta hasn't seen a great influx of climbers caressing its rock, meaning sheen and polish are almost unheard of.
Infamous mutant Stevie Haston and local knee bar master Jeffrey Camilleri have both created routes of local and international fame, with Haston's super roof King of Kings 8b+ going through territory only the finest forearms in the game can hope to wrestle with.
At only 3 hours from most UK airports, the Maltese archipelago offers a broad range of routes. Sea cliff venues like Red Wall offer amazing snorkelling and classic multipitch lines such as Greek Odyssey 6b+ with gorgeous sunset views and gratifying exposure and amazingly only 10 minutes from the airport. On the other side of the island Mellieħa Cave (Il-Latnija in the local lingo) with its tufas and unique hole in the ground setting holds a broad range of grades including local pump of passage Crazy Monkey 7a/+ and test piece Shaman 8a.
Any trip to Malta is pointless without without taking the 20 minute ferry ride to sister island Gozo or Għawdex as it is known in Maltese. Gozo is an island of tremendous beauty and rustic Mediterranean charm with climbs of unique and inspiring character. Again Stevie's ceaseless work and Peter Pan like enthusiasm have gifted the local community with both classic lines at amenable grades but also crags that will attract climbers looking for something a bit "special".
The Underworld has been categorized as one of the longest roof climbing venues in the world with 55 meters of roof leading into 60 meters of headwall! If you're ready for it Ryanair flights are cheap, however the Dutch courage on board isn't…
So what are you waiting for? Pack your boots, a 60m rope and 15 clips, you're going to love our climbing, cold beer and breathtaking nature, as we say in Malta ċaw for now!
Thaiwand Wall, Malta - a hidden gem of a cave set in the side of a cliff, approached by a 28m abseil into the void, escaped by following the centuries old path beaten by fishermen on chipped holds.
Red Wall, Malta - excellent introduction to sea cliff climbing with a large comfortable ledge at the bottom and a pleasant 5c escape route (or flag down a tourist boat!)
Ghar Lapsi, Malta - scenic seaside climbing location with a wide range of grades and routes at all angles, from gentle slabs to gravity defying roof climbs
Mosta Valley, Malta - green area hidden away in an urban setting. The Maltese name, Wied il-Għasel, means the Valley of Honey. Routes at all angles and to satisfy all levels of climbers. Before working on your project, stop to say a prayer at the chapel of the hermit / wizard, whom the locals chased away fearing his magic spells. He floated on his cloak all the way to Sicily!
Il-Latnija (Mellieha Cave), Malta - not for the faint of heart, this sink hole will test your forearms to the limit. Locals head here when the heavens (rarely) open up.
Mġarr ix-Xini, Gozo - an all day crag on the island of Gozo with a wide range of routes and beautiful canyon setting. Chase the shade in the warmer months, bask in the sun in winter.
Wied Il-Mielah, Gozo - nearly 40 routes, grades ranging from 3+ to hard 8s, a seaside venue, and several routes on a natural rock arch. Ropes optional on quite a few routes around the rock arch (if you're leaving ropes at home, bring a good head for heights!).
The Underworld, Gozo – Stamina obligatory! The Underworld is a must for anyone wanting a committing sea cliff experience.
When to Go
Optimum conditions are early October through December, January and February are rainy season, however good breaks in the weather are frequent, climbing can be enjoyable all year but during the summer months climbing is limited to certain shady crags that receive sea winds. Smoothie's cave has become popular throughout the summer months offering ample shade and a nice wind from the sea.
How to Get There
Cheap flights can be found from most major UK airports to Gudja, - just outside Valetta - with Ryanair. Once you've landed a car or scooter are essential to get around as climbing areas tend to be under-serviced by public transport (which is also notoriously slow). Driving is just like in the UK, however attitudes tend to be on the aggressive side. A sixth sense is necessary as indicators are there purely for decoration and overtaking on the inside lane is commonplace!
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Being an island that sees plenty of tourists all year round, accommodation is available to suit all tastes and budgets. Wild camping is technically against the law, however discreet campers will go unnoticed. There are several affordable and laid back hostels on Malta. The Buġibba and Qawra area are also a popular choice with cheap and cheerful hotels in a location that is equidistant from most crags on Malta and with offers throughout autumn and winter (peak climbing season). There is also the option of renting a local farmhouse or a small villa, this is particularly popular on Gozo.
No trip to the Mediterranean region is complete without sampling some of the local cuisine. As with all other aspects of life on the island, gastronomy is influenced by Malta's chequered past; local dishes being a blend of Mediterranean flavours with a British influence; and a taste of North Africa to boot. For a traditional Maltese meal visit the village of Mġarr for lunch or dinner - plenty of restaurants in the picturesque village square serve typical Maltese fare, including rabbit stew, snails and tripe.
Daytime snacks include pastizzi, diamond shaped filopastry parcels stuffed with ricotta or curried mushy peas. Crystal Palace (known by the family nickname Tas-Serkin to the locals) in Rabat, close to the Roman Villa, reputedly serves the best pastizzi on the island.
Gear and Supplies
A handful of shops have a full range of equipment, generally at around UK prices or slightly lower. Anything you forget at home can easily be sourced locally.
You'll need a 60m rope, 12-15 quickdraws for most routes. A few slings and carabiners for setting up top ropes and abseils will also come in handy for routes equipped with bolt belays rather than lower off chains. A 70m rope, while not essential, will make access to some crags easier.
For a post-climbing snack visit one of the village band club bars or boċċi clubs (bowling) to sample the local beers (Cisk, Hopleaf, Blue Label and Shandy) and feast on tasty Maltese Ħobża (local crusty bread with smothered in tomato paste and topped with olives, pickled onions and tuna fish). These bars often serve free appetizers with a round of drinks.
For self catering there are plenty of supermarkets in big towns and every town, city and village has a handful of mini markets for daily needs. The best place to get fresh fruit and vegetables is from the roving vegetable trucks which you'll find parked on street corners. Bakers do the rounds in white vans with a red stripe over the rear wheel (and make their presence known by loudly blaring their horn). Fresh fish is best sourced from the seaside market of Marsaxlokk on a Sunday morning.
Sport Climbing in Malta & Gozo (2013) lists over 550 climbing routes in most locations. Get in touch with Malta Climbing Association and the Malta Climbing Club or find the group on Facebook to find out about the latest developments, new routes are constantly being added and new crags discovered.
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Being islands, there are lots of water-based activities such as diving, snorkelling and swimming, or you can take a boat over to the island of Comino and visit the famous Blue Lagoon. On the cultural side there is plenty to do in capital cities Valetta and Victoria, such as museums, galleries and shopping. Occasionally you may see local village 'festas' or street parades too!