School’s out, crowds are swollen, and busy restaurant tables flow into the street. Somewhere along Ghadira Bay, you’ll find a girl in Malta – me, trying to count all the boats that have taken up residence for the summer.
Meanwhile, in St Julian’s (Malta’s busiest party town), locals are at their wit’s end, tired of the late-night antics of party-goers.
Every summer (bar pandemic year) is pretty much the same. As soon as the mercury rises, the island heaves with sun-seekers. Many were lured here by the promise of salty hair and tan lines.
I am often asked when the best time to visit Malta is? Depending on your reasons for travel, the question can have many answers.
But if we are talking about value – authenticity, local culture, wholesome experiences, value for money and responsible travel. My answer is low season + shoulder months. Specifically, the months excluding July and August.
To help you plan your trip, let me explain why.
According to official figures: over 2 million tourists head to the tiny island of Malta. Increasing the population threefold. I get it. After all, I’m a native Londoner. I too longed for a guaranteed summer of at least a week.
So it’s unsurprising why the island become Europe’s answer to an idyllic beach holiday. But can you wait until the heat dies down and the crowds peter out? After all, Malta gets over 300 days of sunshine yearly, with a temperature rarely below 14°C.
Yes, summers are amazing, but you’ll get more than you bargained for visiting during the low season (or the shoulder months).
How Off Peak Travel Offers You Value For Money
Travel prices soar during the summer months. It’s how it has always been. For parents with school-age children and desperate for a holiday. Gap year students, (their teachers too) and anyone who can only travel during high season. A waiting travel industry rubs their hands together with glee. It’s textbook supply and demand.
Now though, you will have to factor in a pandemic. (which all but decimated the travel and hospitality industry )and lockdowns. Oh, and small business owners eager to recoup their losses. Travelling during the summer months will involve spending more. Possibly with less flexibility too on where you stay.
Even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the place you’ve had your heart set on. But, you don’t have to follow the crowd. There is an alternative… travelling off-season. Don’t get me wrong. Travel isn’t and shouldn’t solely be about saving money. There’s more to it than that, especially if getting the most value from a destination ranks highly in your choice.
But… since we are on the subject…
I have been able to enjoy staycations in gorgeous places. Some for up to half the price (compared to the prices during the high season).
Undistracted and Unique Experiences
Living on the island, I’ve seen firsthand that there’s so much more to Malta than its beaches. The island plays host to some great festivals. Catering to book lovers, music lovers, culture vultures, wine connoisseurs and everything in between. Much of these take place outside the busy summer months.
Even for a short break, Valletta, Malta’s capital, houses over 300 historical sites and is perfect for architecture and history lovers. Again, exploring during the off-season means you’ll avoid hordes of tourists that visit in summer.
This means shorter queues and more time to discover why Valletta was listed a UNESCO site. I’m not anti-crowd per sei, but seeing historical places undistracted is an experience in itself. For instance, the silence of Mdina, for me, is what makes it so bewitching.
Can you imagine having a whole beach all to yourself? It is not uncommon during the low season. Sea temperatures may be a tad cool for most at 16°C from January to April. But warms to 27°c during those balmy summer months and remains toasty enough for a dip for as long as… you can bear it.
For me (and friends that visited), that’s around November. (A thought that many of my Maltese friends and family shudder at!). Last year we splashed and sploshed in the turquoise-hued bay that rims Popeye Village. Maybe slightly delirious (and a teeny bit tipsy) from having it all to ourselves.
Off-Season Sea Temperatures
- May – 18.7°c
- Jun – 22.6°C
- Sep – 25.6°C
- Oct – 23. 4°C
- Nov – 21.2°C
- Dec – 18.1°C
Mass-Tourism: The Strain of High Season Travel
This brings me to a serious topic – mass tourism. Think about it: Fewer people = less strain on the environment and minimal disruption to locals. (i.e. increase on resources, traffic etc.). For instance, residents in St Julian’s, Malta’s busiest hubs, are “living through hell”. This is due to the antics and disruption caused by an uptick of late-night party-goers.
There’s also a raging construction industry, stepping up commercialisation to meet increased demand. For locals, this means consistently contending with: the constant noise of a pneumatic drill hammering away at traditional buildings and green spaces whilst cranes and new huge buildings rapidly replace the skyline.
Isn’t growth great for the local economy, you may ask. Yes. But not when it prices out locals, demolishing their dreams to buy a home or depleting much of what was. (a problem which isn’t limited to Malta)
Mass tourism is a one-way ticket to disenfranchisement and disillusionment. Lately, there have been stories of graffiti left on statues to defecation left on doorsteps. Granted, you could argue this amounts to travellers acting up. Still, these tales demonstrate a strain on local resources. (in this case, police).
You only have to read a handful of online comments to capture the rising resentment (albeit misplaced) from locals during high season.
A bit of a heavy topic, so let me wrap up by saying: To experience local traditions, discover historical places and learn about cultures (other than our own) is a privilege. After all, aren’t these some of the magical reasons why we travel?
Travel Slower and Soak Everything Up
What type of traveller are you? I am a slow traveller at heart, preferring traditions and places that speak to my intuition, inviting me to explore. But that wasn’t always the case. I used to flit around mindlessly from place to place, country-counting.
If you’re wondering, slow travel isn’t about moving around at a snail’s pace but instead with more intention. Think of it as doing less and seeing more – an approach that makes it easier to immerse yourself in the local culture and waves the flag for low-season travel.
As I said earlier, the population increases 3x as much with visitors during the high season. You can feel changes in the vibe of the island. Life speeds up a beat, and traditional culture becomes somewhat diluted.
But, all that changes again once the crowds disperse, bringing you closer to authenticity. And with that, there’s a good chance you’ll discover traditions, like carnivals, festival or a coffee in the village square soaking everything up.
As is often the case in life, when you slow down you get to see how interconnected we are. There have been countless anecdotes and thought-provoking moments collected on my travels. So who knows what little takeaways you will collect from others with more time to spare during low season?
By the way, is now a good time to tell you that my first ever visit to Malta was during low season? Look how that turned out! Even if a swim is off the cards, my advice is: just go with the flow, and you won’t be disappointed. Just know that there is always something beautiful to see. But, if you’re in need a prompt here’s a (detailed) list of things for you to do.
Travelling during the off-season will save you money. Still, the wholesome experiences you get are long lasting. More so, at least than any deep tan you’ll get during summer. Imagine heading back with those memories created, new experiences and extra feel-good vibes. You know, from being a mindful traveller.
Now aren’t these things of more value than following the crowd?
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