Travel Tips: What's the go with H2O in Malta?

Water is a problem in Malta, either not enough, or too much. The tiny islands don't have rivers, so tap water is desalinated seawater and groundwater, of dubious quality.

Many rely on rain, which comes not at all in summer and in floods in winter.

Taste Not Toxic

Officially the tap water is safe to drink in Malta, but it tastes awful. The desalination process removes particulates and contaminants but leaves it heavy in minerals. It's not toxic, but many visitors find it hard to stomach – literally. Traveler's Diarrhoea is the most common illness to strike tourists but there's no cause other than "a change in the water".

The desalinated water is perfectly clean and safe when it leaves the plant, but there's no vouching for the cleanliness and integrity of the pipes that deliver it around Malta. Many of the pipes are very old and cracked.

In apartment buildings, the water may be pumped to roof-top holding tanks before coming out of the tap. Some of those tanks are in poor shape.

Bottled or Tap?

Seasoned Malta visitors say a combination of tap water and bottled water is best. Brush your teeth, bathe and cook with tap water (perfect for pasta – no need to add salt!), but drink bottled water.

It's a matter of taste, but the heavy mineral content of tap water doesn't make an appealing cup of tea, so fill the kettle with bottled water.

Water Everywhere

If you're in Malta during the summer months there's no need for an umbrella. The average rainfall in July is just 1 millimeter (.03 inches), that doesn't even settle the dust!

But come October and the islands are awash with rain, an average of 120 mm (almost 5 inches) falls in tropical downpours.

Old watercourses, long since built over, revert to their original state, and streets become raging torrents. Roads, cars, people and anything not nailed down (and quite a bit that is) gets washed away.

There's an infamous incident from the October 2010 floods, in which a coffin was videotaped floating don the Qormi valley. Thankfully it wasn't from a cemetery, an undertaker's warehouse with 800 stored coffins had been inundated.

Now it's a part of the Eurozone, Malta is supposed to be attempting to comply with European flood prevention practices, so things are improving – slowly.

If you're in Malta during one of these downpours check with locals before venturing out. They'll know which streets always flood and how likely it is you'll encounter a wall of water coming your way.

Tips for Dealing with TD

The use of loperamide (anti-diarrheal medicine) is controversial. While loperamide does prevent diarrhoea, that may not always be a good thing. If a traveler has an invasive and especially strong infection you are essentially trapping the bacteria in the intestine/colon where it can do the most amount of damage.
Diarrhoea is the body's way of excreting these damaging microbes. Travelers who do not know the cause of their diarrhoea should use Loperamide with caution as they may be doing more harm than good.

Those travelers who simply cannot afford to be slowed down by diarrhoea (business meetings, honeymoons, athletes, etc) can speak with their doctor about using bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) as preventative measures.

Taking 2 tabs every morning and two tabs every night for the duration of the trip has been shown to decrease rates of TD. This may not be for everybody and good advice is to speak with your doctor prior to using this method.

Better in than out?

The use of loperamide (anti-diarrheal medicine) is controversial. While loperamide does prevent diarrhoea, that may not always be a good thing. If a traveler has an invasive and especially strong infection you are essentially trapping the bacteria in the intestine/colon where it can do the most amount of damage. Diarrhoea is the body's way of excreting these damaging microbes. Travelers who do not know the cause of their diarrhoea should use Loperamide with caution as they may be doing more harm than good.

Those travelers who simply cannot afford to be slowed down by diarrhoea (business meetings, honeymoons, athletes, etc) can speak with their doctor about using bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) as preventative measures.

Taking 2 tabs every morning and two tabs every night for the duration of the trip has been shown to decrease rates of TD. This may not be for everybody and good advice is to speak with your doctor prior to using this method.

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2 Comments

  • Libbie said

    The water from roof top tanks on the old apartment building in Sliema where I stayed made me sick with traveler's diarrhea for six days - and stopped only when I realized I didn't have the flu and started drinking bottled water. It ruined my vacation in Malta and left me feeling weak. If you know any more about those water tanks on the roof I wish you would email me. Thank you.

  • Kit said

    Came back from Malta Sept 16th 2017 and still having stomach issues... would like to know what parasites might be in the water and the best way to cleanse.

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