It’s easy to assume that because Malta is small, you can rely on public transport and taxis to get around. We do in fact know of some instances of foreigners moving here and still relying on taxis two years down the line. But, they haven’t really got to see much of Malta in that time. OK, so they are not adding more cars to the road in a country which already ranks 5th worldwide for cars per 1,000 people (the UK ranks 24th). However, we do think that Malta can’t be experienced properly without having wheels of your own. So we’ve some quick tips on getting around:
1. Public transport is cheap, gets you to most towns and villages (via Valletta, in Malta and via Rabat, in Gozo) – but it’s slow, can get crowded and just fails to work after the witching hour or even before. By all means get on a bus for the experience – some people find the old bangers quaint. We think that your time here is too precious to waste on slow, smelly, hot bus journeys. Waiting on a hot bus-stop in scorching 35 degrees is no fun. And our bus drivers are a rule to themselves, despite various attempt at upgrading basic levels of customer care.
2. Taxis are expensive. And a few irresponsible individuals have given the whole trade a bit of a bad name on the island. You’ll find out from hearsay whether it’s best to use the ‘white’ or the ‘black’ cabs! But if you can avoid them, do so and save your pocket.
3. Hiring a car is still good value. Competition is fierce; all the major brands operate here as well as local companies that do go out of their way to provide you with the right car or motorcycle to give you the freedom to set out your own itineraries.
4. When hiring a car, do pay to get the extra full-cover for insurance. Malta is not blessed with brilliant drivers, and for many visitors, driving on the right side of the road can be bewildering. Do make sure that part of the deal is a full breakdown service.
5. Unless you have a large family, hire a small, economical car with air-conditioning. Parking bays in Malta are small, and you don’t want to get ruffled trying to park while a queue of irate drivers builds up behind you. Though, admittedly, you can get more street cred driving a Zodiac or a Zephyr (see photo above!).
6. Stay safe. If you’re uncertain about driving on the left-hand side of the road, just drive slowly. Do not be intimidated by aggressive drivers. Malta has its own share of local drivers who drive in the shade or crawl – join them until you have got your bearings. We’ve got some further tips in this feature.
7. Get out of your immediate ‘comfort’ zone. Sadly, a lot of visitors never get beyond the immediate environs of their hotels – that is, they get to see Paceville and Bugibba, which quite frankly, could be in any Med resort. Point your car towards the south of the island, and go in search of the traditional fishmarket at Marsaxlokk on Sunday, Birgu as the sun is setting, or Zurrieq for a late drink. Drive to places like Siggiewi, Mqabba and Qrendi. Go for pastizzi at the Crystal Palace, Rabat, in the early hours of the morning. Point your car north and go in search of an almost desertedbeach for an early morning swim, or go for a walk on Dingli Cliffs.
8. You will get lost, and that’s part of the experience. Signposting is still approximative in some more rural areas and even in towns. Roll down your window and ask a local. Nearly everyone speaks English and some Italian. Locals often stop mid road for a chat with a friend they’ve spotted so don’t be worried about holding up traffic!
9. Do watch out for speed cameras. They’re fairly well sign-posted, but can crop up in unexpected places and speed limits vary between 60 and 70 km per hour, sometimes in the same stretch of road. Maltese drivers have a terrible tendency to hit their brakes when approaching a speed camera – ‘front to rear’ collisions are frequent occurrences. So common are these shunts that we witnessed one the other day in which the driver causing the accident couldn’t even be bothered to get out to inspect the damage to his car, let alone worry about the one in front!
10. Speed humps can sometimes appear when you least expect them – in village cores usually. Over-enthusiastic councils, keen to make a buck rather than solely stem accidents, have placed them less than 50 metres apart from each other at times. Do as locals do and either crawl to a virtual halt or drive at speed over them and see how your car suspension takes the ride (at least it’s a hire car, not yours!).
11. If you get a ticket for a parking contravention, just let your car hire company know and pay up. The fines are not extortionate – but you don’t want nasty letters to arrive in your mailbox once you’re back home or find a lump sum off your credit card.
12. If you are involved in a traffic accident, call your car hire company immediately. It can avoid a lot of hassle. Just don’t get involved in any arguments with the other party – use common sense rules of courtesy. Traffic Accident Reporting: 2132 0202