So as a visitor to Malta, should you rent a car, or should you rely on the Maltese transport system?
This is sort of like asking whether you would prefer to be clattered over the head by a saucepan or a flowerpot. Neither option is wonderful.
However I think that most people would choose to avoid the infamous buses, especially during peak season when they are crowded to bursting, and when your journey may involve a lot of standing at bus stops waving feebly at packed buses as they zip past.
Driving has it’s own challenges however, and is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, visitors from continental Europe or the US must adapt to the right hand drive favoured in most ex-British colonies. After that, it’s a case of negotiating labyrinthine towns and villages, squeezing through narrow roads, and braving the succession of roundabouts where meek and cautious driving is not rewarded.
Having recently got my licence (I know, but better late than never) I decided to rent a car* for a weekend jaunt.
Driving around the patches of countryside on decent roads is good fun, although these are few and far between in Malta. More often you are chugging along in traffic, or else trying to deduce the one-way system of a sequence of identical back streets in some unpronounceable town. My downloaded Sat-Nav lady found roundabouts particularly confusing, telling me to ‘TAKE THE THIRD EXIT’ as we approached one, upon which I would carefully count off the exits and take the third one. The Sat-Nav lady would ponder silently for a moment or two before intoning: ‘RECALCULATING THE ROUTE’, causing me to blunder into a warren of tiny one way streets trying to get back to the roundabout again. Few expressions can become as wearying as ‘RECALCULATING THE ROUTE’ on a sweltering day driving in circles around Marfa.
We also managed to pick up a parking ticket (cost= €23.29) for putting the car into what looked like a perfectly acceptable place on a small road near Golden Bay. Lots of other cars were parked there too so I didn’t think twice about it, but we all got a little white ticket on our return. Parking in Malta can be an absolute nightmare by the way, I spent about an hour trying to find a space in the general vicinity of Bugibba on a Sunday, when the town gets packed with visitors. Likewise trying to park near a popular beach is not easy, so I reckon the traffic wardens treat that little road where me and the other fellows parked as a nice breezy way to write up a few tickets.
Despite these minor bothers, having a car really opens up the country to you, and allows you to explore a lot of places where going by bus just isn’t a realistic option. If you’re here as a tourist then I suggest that you rent a car for the week – it won’t be all that expensive (see below) – and you’ll always have the bus option as a back-up.
*We went to Agius Rentals, a rather scruffy looking place behind the main square in Bugibba. Appearances aside, they offered the best rates we found in the area (€20 per day or €18 per day for 3 days for a small car), and we tried about six or seven other places in Bugibba and Qawra. Most of the competition quoted €30+ per day, down to €25 per day if you booked for at least 3 days. Agius don’t seem to have a website, so don’t book a car in advance but just go there when you arrive. Apart from anything else it’s a family business and they are nice people, so check them out. And no, they don’t pay me anything for saying this, I’m not smart enough for that.