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How to travel Malta on a student budget

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The Maltese Islands have great weather, an abundance of history and crystal clear water in all directions. There is something for everyone, whether that is solo travellers, families, or groups of friends.

Those searching for a little bit of culture can enjoy a stroll around Valletta, one of the oldest planned cities in Europe, while those seeking some much-needed rest can choose from many swimming and sunbathing spots on Malta’s coast. Meanwhile, if you are looking for a little adventure, there is no shortage of places to snorkel or scuba dive.

Image credit: Rebecca Barnes

Yet, for all that Malta offers, there are some drawbacks. Overpriced tours, unforeseen add-ons and public transportation can all contribute to costs racking up, so how can you still explore the island on a student budget?

Location, Location, Location

For such a small island, it takes time to travel around Malta, and choosing the right location is key.

Sliema offers cheap accommodation in a central area with great transport links to Comino, Blue Grotto, Ghar Lapsi and St. Peter's Pool at prices cheaper than in areas like Zurrieq. There are plenty of hostels offering beds for £20 or less per night and Sliema is on the waterfront, meaning it is complete with rocky beaches and restaurants. 

Image credit: Rebecca Barnes

If you have the money to spare and you intend to spend a lot of time in the south of Malta, it might be worth looking for a hostel in Zurrieq.

For travellers interested in water sports, Bugibba has many scuba and snorkel centres offering PADI courses. Bugibba is a quieter location with secluded beaches and it is also situated close to Cirkewwa, from which you can catch the ferry to Comino. Cheaper hostels in the area generally charge between €14 and €32 per night.

A middle-ground is St Julian’s, situated between Sliema and Bugibba. It seems to be the place that has it all: beautiful bays, strong transport links, and great nightlife. Hostels are reasonably priced with highly-rated hostels going for between €16 and €27 per night.

Activities

There's plenty to do in Valetta that doesn't cost much, from walking through the historic streets, viewing the three cities from Valetta’s harbour-side (a return water-taxi costs just €2.80) to witnessing the saluting battery, which you can watch for free from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

A guide will cost more money, but free audio guides can often be found in the App Store.

However, Valletta has many tourist traps. The tour by train is overpriced and entrance to the St John Co-Cathedral (€10 for adults and €7.50 for students) should be avoided unless you are specifically interested in interior design and artwork.

Snorkelling can be done inexpensively if you purchase your own snorkelling gear. With crystal clear water and ample marine life, Ghar Lapsi has plenty of coral to explore. Other popular snorkelling spots include Bahar ic-Caghaq, the Blue Hole, St Peter’s Pool and Fomm it-Rih.

Spots in Gozo include Hondoq ir-Rummien and Dwerja Bay, and the Crystal Lagoon, arguably even more spectacular than Comino’s most alluring attraction, the Blue Lagoon, which can be overrun by tourists. 

Image credit: Rebecca Barnes

For less confident snorkellers, boat tours can be booked, but they are not always as cheap as they seem. The tour itself can cost less than €27, but they will push extra purchases such as gear hire and cave tours. Instead, bring your own snacks, drinks and snorkel gear.

Transport

The bus is a reliable form of public transport in Malta, so long as you plan ahead. Tickets can be purchased on the bus, costing €2 in the summer and €1.50 in the winter. The tickets last for two hours, meaning you should be able to get to your destination on the same ticket.

A seven-day Explore Card also offers unlimited travel day or night for seven days (€21). The ExplorePlus Card offers the same, with additional two trips via Valetta Ferry and a full day tour on the Malta hop-on, hop-off bus (€39).

Image credit: Rebecca Barnes

For those looking to explore Malta without limitations of public transportation, or off the beaten path, a hire car could be the solution. Depending upon availability and season, sample estimate prices for a small economy car suggest it could cost €12 per day in January, €17 per day between April and June, and €27 to €32 per day during the height of summer. 

Food and drink

Obviously food and drink are not optional, and budgeting for meals is key to an enjoyable experience. 

Since Malta can reach high temperatures in the summer, you'll find yourself spending money on bottled water, as the tap water is not drinkable. Purchase large bottles to keep at your hostel and use them to fill day bottles.

For food, it's worth asking people at your hostel or locals for cheap options. Pastizzi is a delicious and cheap snack. Filled with mushy peas or cheese, the flaky pastry can cost as little as 30c, and while it may look small, it is certainly mighty.

In Valetta, try the popular pastizzi sold by a street vendor outside the city’s entrance. Facing the stunning Tritons’ fountain, he sells a delicious range of snacks, including pastizzi and mini apple pies, offering a cheap and delectable lunch with a great view.

Cash is key

Tourists can be caught off guard since most places in Malta will not accept card. Stock up on cash in the UK to ensure the best exchange rate and avoid extra ATM charges.

Lead image credit: Rebecca Barnes




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