The island of Comino is Malta and Gozo’s pint-sized little sister. For hundreds of years, this barren rock was a secret hideout for wayward pirates. The island also proved a useful base for the Knights and the British.

Today, droves of day trippers flock to Comino’s unspoiled shores to experience one thing: the Blue Lagoon. There’s no denying the spellbinding allure of this bay’s shimmering azure waters. But with every inch of the beach decked with kiosks, sunbeds and umbrellas, the atmosphere can all too often prove stifling.

For those willing to venture further ashore however, there’s plenty more to discover here. From secluded caves and sunken ships to centuries old buildings, our handy guide will get you acquainted with Comino’s many hidden treasures.

Bask in Beach Bliss

It may not boast the eye-popping glamour of the ever-popular Blue Lagoon, but Santa Marija Bay is the perfect antidote to the former’s agoraphobia-inducing crowds. Spend a peaceful afternoon swimming in its crystal clear shallow waters and bake yourself the perfect shade of sun-kissed on soft sands fringed by shady trees. With bar, showers and bathroom facilities on hand, you’re all set for a leisurely day of true beach bliss.

Conquer The Fort

Perched on the island’s highest point, the imposing Santa Marija watchtower looms over all of Comino. This 17th-century fort was built by the Knights to ward off barbaric raiders and act as a fire-signal post that linked Gozo’s Cittadella with the old city of Mdina in Malta. The tower even enjoyed a taste of Hollywood glory when it doubled up as the prison fortress of Château d’If in the 2002 swashbuckler film The Count of Monte Cristo. Should you see the white-cross flag flying from the turret, then take it as read you can enter inside. Head up the steep staircase to reach the tower top where you can take in stunning views of the Maltese archipelago. Sunsets here are especially breathtaking.

The Pilgrim’s Stop

This charming little chapel dedicated to the Return of the Holy Family from Egypt dates back some 500 years. However, according to map evidence it stands on the site of a much older church which was likely ransacked by smugglers. The simple whitewashed façade, with its cute bell-gable arches, makes for a pretty evocative photo opportunity. Inside is Neo-Gothic splendour that’s all swooping corners, pointed archways and a Byzantine-style iconostasis which separates the nave from the altar.

Under Quarantine

The Isolation Hospital, built by the British in the 1890s, is Comino’s largest historic building. The hospital served as a quarantine station for British troops returning to Malta from the cholera-stricken Levant. While the building lies largely in a state of disrepair, military buffs will doubtlessly find its ghostly, abandoned wards fascinating.

The Wildlife Trek

Animal lovers planning to trek around Comino should definitely bring their binoculars along. Here you’ll spot speckled-back Filfola lizards scuttling along the dirt paths and colonies of wild rabbits zig-zagging across the rocky terrain. You may even chance upon a glistening whip snake coiled in the warm sunshine. No need to panic; the species isn’t poisonous.

The island is also a haven for birdwatchers. Autumn sees flocks of starlings and sky larks migrate to the island, drawn by the bright red berries blooming on the mastic trees. While springtime attracts woodchat shrikes, whinchats as well as larger birds of prey. Avid ornithologists may wish to join special bird-ringing camps organised by BirdLife Malta.

Get Wrecked

Should you have exhausted all of Comino’s land-based options, there’s still plenty to explore under the waves, with caves, reefs and grottoes aplenty. Of particular note is the P31 diving site, the only shipwreck around Comino’s shores. This former East German minesweeper was purposely scuttled for scuba divers with lots of swim-throughs and easy exits in and out of the rusted, algae-covered hull.