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Captain Morgan’s Defender Gozo Jeep Safari Tour – A Flop in Malta

May 14, 2017

Finding and booking with the right tour company for your next destination can be a hard, even for an experienced traveler.

Why? Because the company you book with has absolute power to inspire or discourage your impression of a destination or activity during your time with them.

I thought I had found a great tour in the Captain Morgan Defender Gozo Jeep Safari. I was looking for was a small group tour with a great mix of sightseeing, action and the opportunity to learn about Gozo as a destination.

Unfortunately we thought wrong.

Though we generally look on the positive side of things and understand that travelling can bring with it its own set of challenges, this tour did unfortunately miss the mark for us.

Find out why and see what we’d recommend you do instead to make the most of gorgeous Gozo…

Choosing our Gozo Tour in Malta – What we were Promised

The Captain Morgan page for the tour offered limited information, mentioning that travel would be ‘in comfort, luxury and style in Land Rover Jeeps and followed the same route as the Gozo Jeep Safari’ (a link to this tour was provided to check out the description). There was mention in the inclusions the tour was in a chauffeur driven jeep and separately in the same line a Safari Tour Leader was indicated.

Further information available on the linked ‘Gozo Jeep Safari’ tour included mention that the tour is ‘probably the best way to see the island of Gozo, where we take you to all the places of interest that our sister island has to offer and drive through beautiful countryside and valleys, taking different routes from your ‘normal’ excursions’.

The following paragraph described the day’s itinerary:

‘You will be collected from your accommodation from 7:00am onwards and taken to the Jeep Safari Terminal (departure point) from where the Safari departs for the Gozo Ferry. Upon arrival in Gozo, we will start our Safari to discover the magical island of Calypso. We drive to the village of Qala and then on to Nadur, down to the red sandy beach of Ramla l-Ħamra (Ramla Bay) and then on to the very quaint village of Xagħra. From here we go onto Victoria, Gozo’s Capital City where we will stop for some free time and lunch. After lunch we head off for Marsalforn which is a very popular tourist town and then on to Dwejra the ‘Inland Sea’. From here we head to the Fishing Village of Xlendi and then back to the ferry.’

Aside from the limited information, the tour sounded like it would give a unique perspective to Gozo and online reviews mentioning the Defender Gozo tour generally had positive narratives.  Sure there were less-than-positive reviews but always ones to look on the bright-side, we passed over them.

I hoped the higher cost (in comparison to other tours on the market) was a true reflection of a superior quality tour – it would make sense, after all, wouldn’t it?

Booking the Defender Gozo Jeep Safari

Booking the tour was easy. I called the company direct and the lady I spoke with was helpful taking our booking. Email confirmations came through quickly and we were also offered a chance to amend our morning pickup spot to a more convenient location. This was a great first impression!

Advertised Stops on the Tour

Qala and Nadur

I don’t remember the Qala or Nadur villages specifically… Apparently, our tour should have driven through them but nothing of interest was pointed out on the tour – the GPS on our phones didn’t actually show us reaching Qala so we’re not even sure we did.

We did get taken to a high point where our driver got us out of the Jeep and with no explanation pointed us through a set of gates to a lovely lookout over the coast and sea. Since the tour I found out Nadur in Malti actually means ‘lookout’ and our stop was at the Ta’ Kenuna Tower (Kenuna Look Out Tower) – a beautiful spot for a photo and quiet contemplation.

Ramla Bay (Ramla l-Ħamra)

We did not go down to the sandy red bay at Ramla as mentioned in the original description.

Instead became a stop at what is sited as Calypso’s Cave, which provided views out over over Ramla Bay (and beautiful ones at that).

If you are interested in mythology you might recognise the name Calypso from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. In short, Calypso, a beautiful nymph, kept the great Odysseus as a ‘prisoner of love’ in her cave for seven years during Odysseus’ quest. Calypso promised immortality to entice him to stay but instead he escaped to return to his wife Penelope.

I love mythology, so this sparked my interest, but stopping here with our ‘guide’ for the day meant we were left to our own devices. We read about the significance of the site from a run down plaque before following a trail up to a lookout.

The cave sits alongside a viewpoint of Ramla Bay. Blocked from access with steal bars to mark the spot, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of the ‘cave’, a small crevice-like opening leading down into the rocky cliff – it really wasn’t what I’d imagined.

It wasn’t all bad though as we were treated to a spectacular view – check it out!

Xagħra and Marsalforn

Similar to previous stops, there was nothing of interest pointed out as we went through Xagħra or Marsalforn.

Are you starting to see a pattern now?

Beyond journeying through these seemingly uninteresting villages, we stopped roadside in the middle of nowhere across from what will one day be an impressive frontage to a beautiful church. We were let out of the jeep for 20 minutes at what I now know to be Ta’ Pinu in Gharb. The landscaping out the front of the church was under construction, but with the stunning blue sky behind it, the church’s solitary form on the landscape was beautiful. Inside marble and wood sculptural details added additional textures to the carved stone and stained glass decoration and to the back of the Church we found a small hall full of family history and photos which was interesting to look through.

Just down the road from here we stopped at what I aptly named the Tourist Trap Store. I could only guess the store was filled with locally sourced items. Hosting a range of sweets, drinks, jewelry, trinkets and even woollen products it could have been an interesting stop, had we had someone taking an interest in interacting with us as other larger groups in the store did. I might have even purchased a few foodie items to try, had I been able to find out what it was I was purchasing.

Victoria

The Cittadella was the main attraction for our stop at Victoria and we were given around an hour to explore the site before lunch. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, we enjoyed a short video introduction of the extensive history and cultural influences of Gozo before entering to explore. We wandered through tiny streets forged in medieval times, explored the beautifully restored fortress walls with far-reaching outlooks and ran our hands along worn stone ruins of the medieval castle that once stood proud on top of the hill.

This was one of two highlight stops on the tour and we’d certainly recommend a visit to the site!

We had lunch a short walk from the entrance of the Cittadella – more on that soon.

Dwejra

One of Gozo’s world famous attractions located at Dwejra (the Azure Window), was a stunning location to take a few snaps and scramble about on the rocks in the afternoon sun.

This natural limestone rock formation was one of the most recognisable locations in Europe, featured more recently as a Game of Thrones location and in the Clash of Titans movie.

We count ourselves lucky to have seen it as sadly, on the 8th of March 2017 the arch collapsed into the ocean, leaving nothing to show of the once natural window.

Xlendi

Stopping at this fishing village we were given twenty minutes and were pointed to a cliff with a few stairs cut into them.

Though we weren’t told of the significance of the area, upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a stunning view over the beautiful bay.

Tour Review – What we Really Got in Gozo

Unfortunately, the tour really failed to inspire us. Described as ‘action-packed’ and ‘the best way to explore Gozo’, we were left wanting – they’re certainly not phases I would use as part of the narrative to our experience.

Key points of interest which we thought were included, like the Neolithic Temples (a site with construction older than the pyramids of Egypt) were left off the itinerary. I was gutted to have missed it.

Questioning the guide while waiting for the ferry we were first told the attraction was closed (I promptly called them to find last admission for the day was 4.30pm) and then another guide was called over to explain it wasn’t on the scheduled stops, even though both Mark and I, along with the other two tour participants understood it was. Our misunderstanding was forgivable, I may have read its inclusion on a review somewhere online instead of directly on the company website, however the other tour participants were told that the tour visited the temples by their booking agent.

Regrettably I seem to have learnt more about Gozo and where we visited by writing this blog post than actually taking the tour!

Upon return from the tour I emailed Captain Morgan to highlight my disappointment from the day, mentioning the following points of contention:

  1. Timing. Our tour was described as 8am – 5pm. After waiting in the cold and a phone call to the company, greeted with a short-tempered answer to wait and they would be there soon we were picked up after 8.30am. At the end of the day we were back at the ferry terminal heading for Malta before 3pm and dropped off before 4.30pm. This was at least an hour less than the expected tour time.
  2. The Tour Leader. The jovial older man who collected us from the roadside with “Captain Morgan?” and a beckon towards the jeep opened the door to the smell of someone who had stumbled out of a pub. I had the sneaking suspicion he had just finished a cigarette in the vehicle. Sitting behind the driver, I had to notch the window open and deal with the cold chill on my face to allow me to breathe; the stench of smoke was so bad. Also, the driver was not concerned about speaking loudly on his mobile throughout the day while hurtling down motorways and through the narrow roads on Gozo.
  3. Communication. Our ‘Tour Leader’ aka our driver had not introduced himself when we were collected, nor did he extend any further information to us after two others joined us. During the drive to the ferry I asked his name, to which I got an inaudible response. Mark and I hoped he was a pick-up driver and we would meet our Tour Leader for the day at the Jeep Terminal. We had no such luck.  Our ‘Chauffeur’ and ‘Tour Leader’ for the day was merely a driver who’s English consisting of the words ‘lady’, ‘[attraction name] over there’ and ’20 minutes stop’. His lack of interest in his tour group became more evident during the day; he was more engrossed in speaking loudly on his mobile and disappearing to chat with his buddies at each stop than accommodate us at all.
  4. ‘Action packed’ stops. The tour description let itself down by stating ‘action-packed’ stops (this now seems to be removed from the website description). Our day consisted of getting in the jeep, getting out of a jeep, being pointed towards a view and being given a time to be back at the jeep, usually 10 – 20 minutes. With no guidance or background to the significance of the stops or areas passing out the window we were left to read signs and look at the view. Thrilling.
  5. A local’s lunch. Lunch was an incredibly processed affair absent of any form of local feel. Sat at a table without a welcome or any interaction with restaurant staff, the courses silently placed in front of us consisted of a simple tomato and penne pasta starter, chicken leg and potatoes mains and what looked like a child’s sundae (two small scoops of processed ice-cream). There was nothing on the plate that inspired me to think it was anything other than mass produced for tourists.
  6. Price disparities. The lunch stop had instigated chatter with the two other tour participants and this continued into the afternoon. While the driver was off chatting with his buddies waiting for the 3pm ferry Mark and I shared our concerns and displeasure about the tour with the two other guests (yes, we gossiped). Our comments were met with agreement and similar insights from the day. The cost of the tour arose. Their €60 per person price and a free harbour cruise certainly trumped our €80 each leaving us feeling cheated.

In effect, we paid a lot for what was little more than transport from one location to another – we’ll leave you to decide if that offers fair value or not.

The response from my email was a ‘We will look into it and come back to you’.

I am yet to get a further response which leaves us hesitant to suggest that Captain Morgan are working hard to improve their tours.  One can hope but based on the other less-than-glowing reviews, it doesn’t look positive.

Gozo Done Right

Overall, from what we saw from the back window of a Defender Jeep and a few 20-minute stops, Gozo looked like an enchanting place to explore, but based on our experience I could not recommend doing it on a Captain Morgan tour.

Instead, hire a car and take it across on the ferry (prices are very reasonable to do this) or use one of the hop-on hop-off bus services to give you a bit of freedom during the day.

Mix your stops by choosing to wandering through villages, stop at coastal sightseeing spots and sunning on beautiful beaches and definitely get into the historical sites.

I would say a well-planned day would easily see you cover everything you wanted to get to in a much more efficient and enjoyable manner.


Headed to Gozo?  Pin this post for future reference…

Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.

Jade and Mark were paying customers on this tour.  Of course, all thoughts are their own and not necessarily indicative of experiences others will have with Captain Morgan but there does seem to be an unfortunate pattern occurring.

Thank you to Sidetracked for their gorgeous cover photo.

Europe Malta

Chasing Sunshine: Malta in the Wintertime

March 3, 2017
Malta in the Wintertime - A sunny winter getaway option in Europe

Christmas holidays for a Kiwi means warm weather, beaches, BBQ’s and lots of time with family and friends outdoors in the sun. So when I experienced my first cold Christmas in London, overindulging on an array of cheeses, cold cuts and carbs with the usual bad Christmas movies on TV it brought mixed feelings…  Feelings made entirely positive thanks to a quick trip to Malta. 

We had made the most of our first year in London with trips into Europe, around the UK and lots of London exploration. More recently Mark and I had spent a few nights in a grey Iceland and a weekend in the snow in Norway and Sweden. It seemed like forever since we had stopped to enjoy seaside and sunshine. I did a bit of research and found we were unlikely to get bikini weather staying within budget and reasonable flight time, however Malta looked promising. The internet  predicted mild temperatures and, most importantly, promised sunshine, so on a whim I booked.

No itinerary and opportunities abound, Mark and I boarded the plane ready to be rid of giant jackets in just 2 hours, 45 minutes.

On our first evening, we weren’t disappointed. Following a quick taxi ride in the setting sun we were down the street for dinner in a lovely restaurant called Paparazzi on Manoel Island. No jackets required. Fantastic!

Admittedly we were the only ones sitting outside… And staff did check twice if we were ok so we definitely stuck out as tourists. With our taste buds satisfied and bellies happily full, we wandered home excited for daylight.

Unfortunately the next morning the temperature had dropped and a cold wind was blowing. We layered up, jackets back on and I silently wished I had stashed my beanie into my bag as we set out to explore.

Day One: Getting to Know Malta’s Capital Cities

Following the recommendation of our Airbnb host, our days mission was to explore the two capital cities: Valetta, the current capital, situated across the harbour from our apartment and Mdina, the old capital, easily accessible by bus from Valetta.

Valetta

The ferry across the harbour provided beautiful views of the fascinating walled city and set the expectation for the days exploration. Upon reaching the rocky outcrop on which Valetta stood, we ambled up the narrow steep streets towards the centre of the city. Our wandering took us to the main street, peaceful for the time being with stores just beginning to open their doors for the days trading. We later came back and the street was unrecognisable, bustling full of people going about their day.

We crossed Valetta on foot stopping often to marvel at the buildings, statues and sculptures dotting the streets. We quickly came in view of the Grand Harbour and became conspicuous tourists. Cameras snapping whilst we enjoyed the beautifully designed Upper Barrakka Gardens with its large framing arches capturing a different sunny scene at each turn. We were also perfectly on time to watch the Malta Heritage Society fire their midday salute from the Canons below the gardens. An impressive BANG! And the crowd quickly dispersed. Moving off we stopped for lunch in a quiet open courtyard and watched the community come to life before making our way towards the buses for Mdina.

Mdina

After a quick 30-minute trip we were walking through the stone gates into Mdina. We marvelled at our surrounds and spent most of the afternoon sauntering through the charming narrow alleyways of this ancient and historic landmark. Quiet and peaceful, this tiny fortified city on the edge of Rabat was well kept, unlike the out-of-place pristine buildings sharing a wall with the run-down and boarded up neighbouring spaces visible elsewhere in Malta. Cars were not allowed through the all too narrow streets and signs kindly requested visitors to respect residents by keeping noise down. We drifted through the streets, walled so high that only a midday summer sun would keep the alleys from shadow. Walls were broken by the odd majestic door and window here and there.

We stopped at the Bastion Square viewing point looking North over land and sea and enjoyed a tasty gelato. Following the wall around the North-Eastern side of the city, we strolled past a wine bar & bistro, followed by a cute tea garden which captured my attention with it’s décor of foliage and risen dining space making the most of the extended view. Since we had just spoilt ourselves with our cold treat, sadly we did not stop in. I momentarily regretted the gelato. But only for a second.

 Day Two: Last Minute Car Hire + The Blue Grotto

On our second day in Malta we took a last minute hire car for a lazy ‘Sunday’ drive around the island. Let me tell you two things:

1. A kiwi bloke in a car after not driving for a year is one happy man and

2. Don’t rely on Google Maps to get you to your destination through Malta’s overpopulated old cities. Road works and one-way streets were all too much for Google to handle; it sent us in circles through the back streets of Sliema. We ditched the device and resorted to Mark’s amazing navigational 6th sense to get us onto the motorway (it has gotten us to the right place more times than I can count on our travels).

The Blue Grotto

Our first stop was a half hour drive (disregarding our initial delay) down to the Southern coast to check out the mesmerising Blue Grotto. We arrived around 10am to a near empty car park with a warm greeting and news that the boats were running. Rugged up and ready with our €8 tickets in hand and feeling grateful for the off-season calm we were soon bobbing in the ocean in glorious orange life jackets. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day and the clear waters coloured in stunning aquamarine and turquoise had me in awe as we coasted in and out of the shoreline caves.

Once back on land we went inland and wound back around to the coast for a new dramatic view. Stopping roadside at an unsuspecting bus stop, with no obvious signage or dedicated parking, we walked the short 10 minutes along a scarred path to view the Dingli Cliffs. With the rugged terrain and the edge not far from my feet, I was grateful I chose my sturdy hiking boots for the day.

Acrophobia sufferers and selfie lovers beware! This cliff top is not an ideal spot for gallivanting about on the edge, especially if you are inept on uneven ground like me. My nerves endured a 10-minute assault while I clambered over crevasses to reach the uneven rock outcrop Mark had just happily jumped across to. But my dis-ease was worth it for the fantastic photo opportunity.

Moving off, we drove further North and discovered unkept roads and a multitude of seemingly unfinished stone walls surrounding tiny crops dotting the countryside.

By 1pm we had reached Golden Bay, situated in a sheltered little cove on the North West coast of the island. Aptly named, the beautiful golden colour of the sand was enticing; I could not wait to sink my feet in and sit quietly by the seaside.

We stopped in at the cute little café on the shoreline called Spiaggia D’Oro. Choosing a table on the sand facing the afternoon sun and sparkling sea we topped up on vitamin D while enjoying a luscious Italian hot chocolate. If you have not yet had the pleasure, I implore you to try one if you get the chance. More custard in texture than that of a milky drink, an Italian hot chocolate is a silky smooth extravagance – no one will blame you digging the last of it out with your spoon.

Day Three: Tour to Gozo Island

For day three we booked a tour across to Gozo Island situated off the north east coast of Malta’s mainland. Check out the review of the tour coming soon! 

So, Is Malta Worth an Off Season Visit?

Our off season trip to Malta, although colder than expected, was a great way to get away from dreary London and soak up beautiful blue skies and refreshing sea air.

The scenery is stunning with the bright green countryside in stark contrast to the rocky seaside outcrops and stone buildings dotted across the country. The architecture style changes with the landscape; preservation of ancient stonework sits alongside buildings in varying degrees of repair and style throughout the cities.

Maltese people are warm and welcoming and you can get by in most places with English. The mixed cultural influences resulting from Malta’s varying ruling nations through history are captivating, providing both history enthusiasts and food lovers an endearing journey though this multicultural melting pot.

Malta in the Wintertime

During warmer months, sun lovers would enjoy the choice of beaches, bays and beautiful resorts to baste their bodies on. For those who like more adventure we were told there is fantastic scuba diving available in several spots around the island.

For me traveling sans-schedule was an unusual experience for me (as my travel is usually very well researched and planned). By instinct the experience left me wondering what other great sites, sounds and smells we had missed by not shuffling our toes in a slightly different direction.

A Hidden Gem

To my surprise, by exploring without agenda we haphazardly found my favourite place on Malta, Tigné Point Beach in Sliema. The term ‘beach’ is used loosely; it is not somewhere to relax for fear of getting knocked off by one of the intermittent monstrous waves pounding the rocky outcrop. The beach is where sea meets stone at the mouth of the Marsamxett Harbour. Sitting on the large stone stairway, you are presented with a view of the walled capital city Valetta in all it’s glory. A clear evening, lovely company and nothing else to do but ponder life while watching the lights of the city illuminate as the sun goes down was my favourite part of this adventure.

Though I enjoyed our visit I don’t expect I would return – there are too many other places I am yet to tick off my list. While our trip suited its purpose I was not left completely inspired to head back.

I would love to know if others who have visited feel the same way. Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know about your Malta experience!

Thanks for reading. Until next time…

XO Jade


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