Malta off the coast of Italy is a fast-growing tourist destination for European travelers. The country joined the EU in 2004 and despite that joining the EU requires of the member countries to achieve a minimum level of wheelchair accessibility, Malta still has a long way to go to achieve this target. Getting around Malta in a wheelchair is not impossible yet there are major challenges that need to be considered by travellers before going there. This article will try to explain the difficulties I faced during my visit to this beautiful Island in the summer of 2016.
The country has many accessible hotels. Many hotels have a ramp to access them yet it is only 5 or 4 stars hotels that have wheelchair accessible rooms. So, be prepared to pay extra money if you can not stay in a room that is not fully wheelchair accessible. It is always recommended to give the hotel a call to check on accessibility before making any booking. English is the second official language in the country and everyone speaks it very well.
All the public buses have manual ramps. The majority of bus drivers I encountered were friendly and got off their driving seat to put the ramp down for me. However, two drivers were reluctant to do that. Therefore, you have to be blunt and ask them to help you when they do not. Buses are usually crowded. Many people were standing in the space designed for wheelchair users and I had to ask people to move to clear the space for me. Another problem is related to reaching the bus stop itself; streets and sidewalks rarely align, so accessing bus stops can be a challenge. However, people are extremely friendly, and I recall a guy driving next to me when he saw me negotiating with a curb and offered to help me get to the pavement.
Hopping on and off buses are a good way to see the Island, yet 50% of them are not wheelchair accessible, so sometimes you have to wait extra time at the bus stop until the right bus comes.
Cruises are a very popular thing to do in Malta. Some companies provide ramps to get on the boat. You need to check with the company before making the booking.
Taxi drivers do not use meters to estimate the fare. You need to agree with them on the fare before going anywhere. Three experiences I went through in Malta proved to me that Taxis are a rip-off and you have to be very careful. I am not aware if there are any wheelchair accessible taxis. I had to fold my chair and put it on the boot of the taxi.
Horse carriages are a very popular way to move around too. I managed to get on one and the driver folded my chair and put it at the back of the carriage.
Access to Attractions Tips
There are many other places to be seen and visited in Malta but this is what I managed to fit within a week’s time of my visit.
- For shopping, you will find large accessible malls in Malta, but 90% of the shops are small and not accessible with at least one or several steps.
- Malta International Airport is easy to get around with an excellent wheelchair assistance service and accessible toilets.
- Valletta (the capital) is accessible except for the very steep streets.
- St John’s Cathedral is very accessible via ramps and easy to wheel around.
- Golden Beach is split between a free public beach and a private beach which you have to pay. The public beach is not accessible. You have to pay 10 Euros to have access to the private section of the beach that is fitted with a wooden ramp leading you nearly to the sea.
- Mellieha Bay claims to be wheelchair accessible from a big logo photo exhibited by the beach. There are two ramps which leave you about 20 meters from the sea. There are no disabled toilets either. There are staff that work there and they are willing to help you reach the beach. You have to pay to get a bed and umbrella.
- Azure Window is supposed to be the most beautiful place in Malta and is always referred to as the icon of Malta. The geographical formation of this place makes it difficult for wheelchair users to have a proper view of it. There are rough terrains surrounding it which makes it extremely hard for wheelchair users to have a proper view of it. I couldn’t see it.
- Blue Lagoon can only be reached while on a cruise. I could not get off the boat because the pathway from the boat to the lake shore is not accessible at all.