While Malta is certainly renowned for its fascinating history, vivid festas and prime Mediterranean coastline, the islands also harbour a wonderfully diverse array of wildlife. Many of its species—Gozo’s miniscule Sicilian shrew, the velvety spider orchid—are endemic to the archipelago. From the rare birds inhabiting the islands’ numerous nature reserves to reptiles found nowhere else on Earth, here are the prime places to discover Malta’s wildlife.
The ban on hunting in Għadira Nature Reserve and its immediate surrounds has seen an exponential growth in the number of bird species here. As Malta’s first national park, its seven acres of brackish wetland and saltmarsh teem with sandpipers scuttling across its spits, as well as graceful egrets and redshanks stalking the shallows. A hike through this tranquil terrain will take you through abundant crops of samphire, whose crisp, edible shoots are deliciously salty. Settle in one of the reserve’s two hides and enjoy a palpable sense of stillness, keeping watch for spoonbills and flamingos in the spring.
A similar terrain to Għadira Nature Reserve, Is-Simar’s leafy wetlands on the northeast coast are favoured by herons and egrets, as well as rare black-winged stilts. Follow a rustic track through the undergrowth to take in Is-Simar’s tranquil charms, listening for the call of the Cetti’s warbler that inhabits the area year-round. Keep an eye out for chameleons among the branches and electric green Maltese Wall Lizards darting across your path.
While there’s plenty to discover on land, Malta’s wildlife extends into the ocean and its aquatic landscapes are spectacularly rich. From the lurid anemones and colour-popping corals lining its reefs to the octopi, stingrays, shoals of exotic fish and moray eels that inhabit its shipwrecks, the archipelago offers prime scuba diving territory. Explore the reef and eerie sunken ferry near St Paul’s Island to witness vibrant schools of fluorescent parrotfish and prehistoric gurnard, while further afield, Comino’s Santa Marja Caves strobe with the silvery flash of bream.
If you’d rather stay dry, spot bottlenose dolphins off Malta’s coast. Rarer sightings include long-finned pilot whales and killer whales, while sperm whales have been known to frequent the waters near Ġnejna Bay. This scenic golden sweep on Malta’s western coast is occasionally favoured by turtles as a nesting beach. Their eggs hatch in August, heralding an unforgettable spectacle of hatchlings waddling down into the sea.
No tour of Malta’s wildlife would be complete without a nod to its wealth of indigenous plant species. Head to Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park in the northwest of the island to discover a vast range of more than 400 varieties of flowers, shrubs and trees. Here’s where you’ll find vivid sprays of Malta’s native sea lavender, aromatic scatterings of Maltese sea chamomile and the lurid cerise of its native pyramidal orchid. The reserve has its own wealth of birdlife, with herons and egrets as well as a number of birds of prey passing through in spring and summer. Take a guided stroll to discover the park’s rare endemic plants and native insects, or duck underwater for a guided snorkelling tour of the reef lining the park’s coast.