Ok so hopefully you have read my ‘Cultural Malta’ post, which talks about Mdina and Valletta, which are key places to visit in Malta if you are heading to the island. This post will be focused on our experience of staying at the Marco Polo hostel in St Julian’s bay. If you are thinking of staying here, they have a couple of videos on their Youtube about the day trips and the rooftop hostel parties which are worth a watch, they are only a minute or so long each!
Marco Polo Hostel
We arrived at Marco Polo mid afternoon on a Wednesday, the reception desk is on the 4th floor but fortunately there is a lift! The lobby is painted in crazy UV decorations which is pretty awesome and what you will see all over instagram if you search for Marco Polo hostel on there. I couldn’t resist a picture myself either.
We got checked in, and you have to pay once you get there, but there is a charge for paying on card and it is pretty steep so they recommend paying cash, which we weren’t expecting. They have a cash machine there so you can get money, but it costs to withdraw, so bit of a catch 22 there, best to plan ahead and bring the cash with you.
We chose to get a private room, Craig had never stayed in a hostel so we took the easing in gently approach! We did have shared bathroom facilities, but we had the ‘Captain’s Cabin’ which certainly sounded fancy, with each floor named deck with cabins and bunks. It was pretty basic as you’d expect, table, wardrobe, sink and bed, with a balcony that was shared with another room. But perfectly comfortable. The aircon came on automatically in the evenings but if you wanted it in the day you had to pay a 10 euro deposit for a remote.
We decided to pop out for a walk, as there weren’t many people on the terrace at this point. We wandered around and passed the main bar street and walked to the bay, but it was so swelteringly hot that we thought it best to buy some beers and go sit in the shade on the terrace until the evening drinking began. We chatted to some of the staff from the hostel and had some drinks, before popping out for some food, I went for a wrap from Mr Juice; good old backpacker cheaper eating had definitely begun! We also had a game of pool which I am dreadful at but Craig actually did manage to improve me by the end which I hope will come in handy in future!
At 6 the hostel bar opens and you can’t drink outside drinks anymore, but they do 3 beers for 5 euro so thats pretty cheap anyway! We soon had people coming and joining our table, including a diver called Dan from the UK, a Canadian guy called Braydon, Americans Becca and Taylor, Australians Mitch and Harrison and a Swedish girl named Sanna. We ended up spending the rest of our time at the hostel mainly with these guys and they were all awesome and I am super jealous that lots of them were continuing on through Europe whilst we were heading home at the end of the week.
The first night involved fun drinking games and a lot of beers, before we eventually headed out with the hostel around 12am. We were meant to go to a bar called footloose, where there was to be free booze for us. However, someone threw up in the doorway in the queue, no idea if they were one of the hostel party or not, but they stopped letting people in to clean and the street outside was pretty busy so a few of us decided to check out next door instead.
The next bar along the strip was called Havana so naturally I was excited, having recently been to Havana, even though it wasn’t really that Cuban feeling but that might have just been how drunk I was so who knows. They gave us all buy one get one free flyers on the way in to the club, and we kept going out and getting more since it seemed to work! A lot of drinks were consumed, one guy from the hostel Ahmed had his birthday so there were birthday shots and all sorts. Craig and I headed off around 3, knowing we were up at 8 to join the trip to Gozo at 8.30 the next morning.
The next morning was a struggle. I found myself rather hungover and quite hungry, having to grab some mini croissants from the hostel vending machine. We got on a bus to take us to the ferry to Gozo, a prospect I was not looking forward to. It took about 40 minutes and I tried to nap but it was quite bumpy. We sat outside on the ferry and I bought more snacks and water but the salty popcorn still didn’t save me. What an error.
We survived the ferry, thankfully it wasn’t that long, and got on another bus in Gozo. This took us to the blue window, an unusual rock feature on the coastline that does indeed look like a window, which attracts cool wildlife, and is very popular with divers. One of the hostel staff chose to cliff dive in, it was so high up I thought he was mad, and only one person in the group decided to copy. Crazy.
We went down to a small tunnel rock formation, which we swam out to and had a little explore of. Note that boats go around and through the cave and they do not all pay proper attention to swimmers so you have to watch out – our guide was nearly knocked out by a speeding tourist boat! It was great to get in the water though and cool off, certainly helped a little.
Then it was on to a local sandwich shop for lunch, where I tried a goat cheese wrap that was pretty good, and a smoothie because I seriously needed those vitamins. After that we wandered up to the citadel to have a look round. Whilst it was pretty cool to hear about it, the hostel guide knew loads, there was absolutely no shade and and it was 1pm and the sun was so strong and I was dying, so my capacity to absorb information wasn’t at its best… The views were good but I felt too rough to even pose for a picture!
From here we were headed down to the beach, Ramla Bay, for a few hours. It was pretty busy even though it was later in the afternoon that we arrived. As a super pale person I paid for an umbrella so I could have a nice shady nap and try to banish the hangover. Craig went to explore a cave, and it looked really awesome but there was no way I was making it up there! So if you go, don’t be hungover and go find the cave!
When he came back we went for a walk through the surf and then went for a swim with a few others which was nice, although the sea floor is super rocky so prepare to bash your feet and knees a lot! It was slightly wavy so it was fun to splash around a bit, before getting on the bus and heading back to the hostel. This time we got a speed boat back, which was really cool, especially since I hadn’t been on a small speedboat like that before that I can recall, so that was a nice bonus. Then our bus on the way back had no air con and had its doors open for ventilation…
We made it back and we had to have an hour of nap time, although with our room being right next to the stairwell to the roof there was a lot of coming and going and it wasn’t so easy to nap at that time around 6pm. We managed to drag ourselves up in time for the rooftop BBQ, which was nice as everyone was there but a little pricey for what you got – 13 euro for either a burger or a chicken wrap and 2 salads and either a sausage or a chicken wing.
The posters make it sound like you get everything, but that isn’t actually the case. The food was good, but not a lot for the price. You did get two sangrias included though so that was good, especially to help me overcome the very strong tequila sunrise that I had foolishly ordered, which isn’t the first thing you want to drink on a hangover, especially when tequila shots were part of the cause of that! Rookie mistake! They also did an hour at 10pm where it was 10 euro for an open bar on things like beers, spirit and mixer and shots. Given how cheap it was anyway, 2 euro a beer 2.50 for spirits, we didn’t think it was worth it, although if you are planning to hammer the jaegerbombs it probably would make sense.
After this it was neon night, and we all got our faces painted in cool UV patterns which was good fun, whilst another round of Kings cup / ring of fire depending on where you come from and that classic drinking game never have I ever and person most likely to, always an interesting one with people you just met! A few of us decided to skip the UV night out when everyone left the hostel, as we were again up at 8 for the blue lagoon trip and didn’t want a second day of feeling rough.
This proved to be a good decision. To be fair to the ones who went out in our group they soldiered on and came anyway. We went straight to the speedboat port this time, where we stopped for snacks and then hopped into our boat. We thought ahead earlier that morning and picked up some cans of beer and huge bottles of water to take with us to the blue lagoon.
Our first stop was the crystal lagoon, a much less crowded lagoon with the opportunity to do some cliff jumping of our own. This was pretty scary, it was probably 8/9 metres high, but most of the group headed up and were jumping in before I had made it to the top thanks to some speedy suncream application. I was pretty terrified and hadn’t wanted to take the GoPro as I wanted to focus on actually doing the jump. Craig jumped and I knew I couldn’t chicken out (I am a total sucker for peer pressure it is a flaw), so with rather wobbly legs I jumped. It was still terrifying but the adrenaline rush was definitely there and I didn’t lose my bikini and nor did I get water in my ear, which is a bonus for me because it happens to me so often (the ear thing, not the bikini thing)! We swam around the lagoon for a bit, with Craig and I swimming over to a little cave that you could stand in which was fun and looking for fishes. We then got out for a snack break, then headed back in to swim through the large arch in the rock. It was actually a pretty long swim and then treading water for ages everyone got tired so we swam back.
It was then time to walk over to the blue lagoon, which was only a few minutes away along the cliff ridge. We got there and it was pretty stunning. The bluest water I have ever seen thanks to the sandy bank and the water being mostly quite shallow. We left our stuff on the rocks, where a few people who didn’t want to swim had stayed, and went straight to get a cocktail in a pineapple, because why wouldn’t you want that. Craig and I shared a very strong pina colada! They are 10 euro then refills are less. After I was done taking pictures with my pineapple pal we scaled the cliff side bare foot, with both drinks and the GoPro in hand, which let me tell you was pretty difficult and very painful, but 100% worth it for making it down into that gorgeous water.
We found our friends and chilled with our drinks, then threw the cans in the bin and decided to swim across to the other side of the lagoon where there was a small cave. Mitch, Sanna and I stayed hanging out in the water and Craig and Harrison went to explore. They came back pretty swiftly however, as Harrison had been attacked by a jellyfish and swam back over to go see the lifeguards, who gave him some magic spray to help. There are lots of jellyfish in Malta so you do have to be careful when swimming but it is mostly fine – but maybe don’t swim in that cave!
We had almost 4 hours here, which was quite a lot and there was no shade at all. We got out and dried off for a bit before making our way to the dock to find our boat. It was pretty busy at the lagoon but more so on the land around it than in the water, which was nice since we spent our time in the water. Definitely expected it to be very crowded but it wasn’t so bad, and I imagine come high season it will be much busier.
That evening we went out for some dinner with our new friends to a place around the corner from the hostel, which was not too pricey and quite tasty. Then it was nap time for all before another night of drinking. Friday night was the pub crawl night, and we got outside to an already quite busy bar. We spoke to a few people and most of them weren’t actually staying in the hostel or its sister hostel, Hostel Malti, who we did all the day trips with. It was also quite a young crowd. We decided to give that a miss and just drink until the bar closed and maybe head out after, but after the exhausting day of swimming and climbing and being in the sun we wanted a more chilled out evening. There was talk of a hostel boat party the next day, but at this point it seemed it wasn’t happening so that was a shame, would have been cool.
The next day, since there was no boat party, we decided to go for a walk around the bay and find some lunch. It was very hot out, and we wandered about back towards Sliema direction and found somewhere there called Peppe’s bistro which had a nice balcony with some tables in the shade. We shared the best cheesy garlic bread whilst Craig had a pizza and I had a smoked salmon salad. I was super jealous of the pizza but I had been craving smoked salmon for days and I thought it wouldn’t hurt after the week of beer drinking! We then decided to get a jug of cocktail as we were happy there and got some Mango sangria since we hadn’t had that before, or even heard of it to be honest, but it was pretty good. If you want to read more about food in Malta, check out this post: Places to eat in Malta
We walked back to the other side of the bay, and thought we would see if the fancy hotel resort Casino had an outside bar, as it looked like it did. We walked over there and found it but alas, the bar was closed at that time, but we had a cool view as it was right at the tip of the bay. We walked back through the main street area inland and decided to stop for a drink, finding a two for one cocktail offer and taking advantage of that. As we were so hot, we thought we should go get our swim gear on and go back down to the beach part of the bay and have one last swim, which was good and the crowds had eased off a little as it was late afternoon.
Then it was back to the roof terrace for our final night on the island with our new friends. We had a great fun night with lots of card games played including F*** the dealer, in which I kept being screwed over, and ride the bus, as well as ring of fire which no night was complete without. The Australians had also got new tattoos that day and we were a bit jealous, especially as we kept joking about getting drunk tattoos together. We headed out to grab some pizza slices for dinner from a bakery, which were excellent and really cheap, before getting back to some final games before heading out.
It escalated… My first tattoo abroad
We finally made it to footloose for the free alcohol, and boy was there a lot of shots and jugs of vodka red bull. They played some cracking tunes and we had a really fantastic time. At 2.30ish we thought it would be a good idea to call it and go home since we had to get up for the airport at 8. However, the night didn’t end there, as we saw an open tattoo parlour and all that alcohol and caffeine made us make the spontaneous decision to go and get tattoos. And so with very little discussion it was agreed everyone (us and the Aussies) would get a four and a card suit. I think that now makes us backpacker lads for life to be honest, and I am quite fond of my little 4 of clubs already, as it reminds me of some awesome people and a really great trip.
Thankfully we had packed our stuff away before beginning the drinking so we were ready to get up and go to the bus. We headed to the stop early as we were ready and good thing too, as it arrived and left 10 mins earlier than scheduled, and there is only 1 per hour on a Sunday so you do not want to miss it! The journey back took an hour, and I was not feeling my best, but we made it and had time for a final pizza slice, running into the Americans and some other Brits we had met in the hostel at the cafe in the airport. The plane was obviously delayed half an hour, because Ryanair, but we made it back flying into Luton. Fortunately the Thameslink train stops near both our places, so when travelling at a reasonable hour Luton actually isn’t too bad for us.
But there you have it, our Malta backpacking adventure. I would happily recommend it to backpackers, solo travellers and couples looking for a getaway. The hostel, Marco Polo hostel, was a fantastic place to stay and a perfect first hostel experience for Craig and I hope we have made friends for life from our stay.