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This review is about learning to dive in Gozo - the smaller sister island of Malta.
Have you heard of Gozo? Yes? ………Really? Do you actually know where it is or just think it's that place in India where all the hippies hang out?
Gozo is a tiny island in the Mediterranean - the smaller next door neighbour of Malta and typically visited by folk taking a break in Malta who fancy a day out. It lies between the heel of Italy and the Tunisian coast.
But what those people bouncing around the island in four by fours don't realise is that Gozo is also a great place to learn to dive. I'm not necessarily going to say it's a great place to dive - more of that later - but it's great for learning.
Background ********** I first got hooked on the idea of diving on a horrible package trip to Rhodes where I did a 'try dive' with a local operator. I was instantly hooked and excited and wanted to do it again. However, the evil red-haired boyfriend I had at the time had totally freaked in the water and was not up for learning which meant, effectively, I was barred. A couple of years passed, we split up, I chucked him out and immediately booked myself on a PADI open water course in Gozo.
I travelled with a company called Aquatours - a smallish independent operator. They fix up the flights, the helicopter connection (more later), hotel, training course, medical exam, accommodation etc. Frankly, if you want to save yourself the bother, a company like Aquatours is very easy to use. If you have the time (and in these internet days it's pretty easy) you could do the whole thing yourself.
I went in September 10 or 11 years ago and back again about 6 years later. On my first visit I travelled with a friend who already dived and wanted to do her advanced course. We filled up our bags with duty free hooch at the airport and headed off to Malta. On landing, you transfer to a helicopter flight over to Gozo - takes 15-20 mins and enables you to tick another method of transport off your 'been there, done it' list. The helicopters are ex-Russian military beasts - nothing pretty, nothing elegant but they do the job. If you are of a nervous disposition you could always take the ferry but it's time consuming.
Dive Operator ************ We booked our courses with Gozo Aqua Sports (GAS) in Marsalforn Bay. The company is run by a local Gozitan, Patrick Bugeja, and his English wife Gail. Patrick runs a tight ship - technically brilliant and totally in control of the equipment and operations. Gail is the emotional heart of the company - a warm, funny woman who dispenses tea, hugs and therapy.
As this was the first dive operator I'd experienced, I didn't realise at the time how lucky I was to have hit upon these people. Too many dive centres are production line operations - chuck em in, pull em up, give em a certificate, get some more dosh. (PADI - widely thought to stand for 'Put Another Dollar In'). The level of personal care that GAS give their clients is extraordinary - and ideal if you are at all nervous about diving.
Why is Gozo a good place to Learn? ***************************** Basically, regardless of which direction the wind is coming from, there's always somewhere on this tiny island where you can dive. Anyone who has booked a trip and missed half the week due to bad weather will appreciate the importance of this. The island is only a few miles across in any direction so within 15 minutes the instructor can get you to somewhere safe and calm to do your training dives. Also, there are many bays with very shallow water where you can do the first few dives that would typically take place in a swimming pool in some countries. Even a grey sludgy bay is better than a pool.
However, be aware that often the safe calm place is also a very boring place - a concrete jetty with a snack bar and nothing much to look at under the water. When you are learning, that's not really a problem. You'll be so busy thinking about what you are doing that any great wildlife would be wasted on you.
How about for experienced divers? **************************** There are thousands of divers who go back to Gozo year after year. I'm not one of them. I've been back just the once with my husband and I'm unlikely to go again.
Good things for experienced divers There are some very challenging dives here - stuff we called 'SAS diving' for the military level of stupidity and personal risk required just to get in the water. I'm considered fairly tough but some of this was just too scary for me You can hire a car and some tanks and just go off on your own and do your own thing - many people like the freedom of this approach and there aren't many places in the world where you can do it. Some excellent caves and underwater scenery A nice sunk-to-order wreck on the way to Malta Cheap food and drink and a very relaxed lifestyle
Not such good things Physically ridiculous approaches to dive sites - e.g. kit up on the top of a cliff then descend fully clothed in wetsuit in scorching sun with all your gear and weights down a steep cliff. Then swim half a mile out of a bay and around the corner to finally descend into a fabulous cavern. If you've got any energy left at this point, save it. In 40 mins you'll have to swim back and climb that cliff again - this time you'll be wet. (all of this should be avoidable if your dive operator has a boat and if the weather is good enough for him to get it out) Wildlife - really not much to see at all. Best to go to any Mediterranean dive resorts before you go somewhere better or you'll be spoiled for life The weather - yep, you can always find somewhere to dive for training but if you want to be getting some good dives in, you don't want to be in the same bay all week hiding from the wind. Relatively expensive for the distance travelled - we went to Tobago last year for a week for less than it would have cost to go to Gozo and got spectacular diving.
What else can you do in Gozo? ************************ In all honesty and from the perspective of a diver, I'm struggling here - there's not much that doesn't involve the sea. A little bit of sight-seeing (there's a glass works and the main town is good for an hour or so with some nice old churches), a tiny bit of shopping (if you like crochet and embroidery - somebody must as there's a lot of it about). It's probably a lovely place for families or retired people but it's not going to give you a lot of thrills.
Gozo attitude - two lovely examples. ****************************** 1. When asked if Gozitans drive on the left or the right I was told 'we drive in the shade' - and they do. 2. Two of the dive masters were stopped driving home after a heavy night drinking. The policeman tore a strip off the passenger for not driving because he was more sober than his friend.
Summing up ********** Great place to learn to dive - not such a great place for more experienced divers. But that's just MY opinion. Others will doubtless disagree.
Great review, Im a diver too, for the last 4 years now I think. I learned in Eygpt in Feb 2002. Have since been back to the Sharm area twice, dived the barrier reef off Cairnes area and did Kas in Turkey last year. The next big one will be our honeymoon in Belize in 7 weeks. I cannot wait! We both have to do a refrehser dive as its been a year since we last managed to, funny how saving for your big day cripples your hobbies life!