Located in the central Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Libya, Malta comprises three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. The largest of the three, Malta is slightly larger than the District of Columbia. With a history dating back more than 6,000 years, Malta has a rich archaeological and cultural history influenced by the Phoenecians, Romans, Arabs, Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, French and British. Following more than 160 years of British rule, Malta officially gained its independence in 1964. Today's government is a republic with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government.

Official languages of Malta are Maltese (Malti) and English. Italian and French are also widely spoken. The predominant religion is Roman Catholic with celebration of the local patron saints.

Malta's climate is classically Mediterranean with cool rainy winters (November-February) and warm, dry summers. Lows in the winter rarely drop below 12 C (54 F) and highs in the summer range between 29 C (84 F) and 43 C (109 F). The favorable climate along with the harbors, bays, creeks and sandy beaches are some of the main attractions for travelers.

Telecommunications systems in Malta are very efficient. Yellow coin-operated and blue phone-card public phones are readily available, and the postal service is reliable. Fax service is available through Maltacom PLC branch offices and major hotels. A GSM 900 and 1800 cellular network covers 95 percent of the islands. There are a couple of Internet cafes.

The main airport is on Malta and there are 23 carriers operating. Car-ferry and hydrofoil service operates between Malta's capital, Valletta, and various Italian ports. Public transportation is a combination of taxis, buses, ferries and helicopters. Taxi fares from the airport are paid in advance according to the area. Rental cars, bicycles and mopeds are also available; driving is on the left. Buses are inexpensive and reliable, especially on the main island. Ferry service operates between Malta and Gozo with 14 daily crossings. Helicopters make the trip eight times a day.

Malta is a popular vacation and holiday destination with numerous hotel options. Newlyweds have made Malta a favorite honeymoon spot. Dining is influenced by the neighboring Mediterranean countries with excellent seafood.

Violent crime in Malta is fairly rare, but the use of weapons in the commission of these crimes has increased in recent years. The main concern for travelers is theft, with pickpocketing and bag snatching being the most common. Avoid traveling alone at night in Valletta and Victoria.


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