The water temperature on the mainland tends to range between 16 to 22 degrees. This allows for comfortable diving throughout the year. Besides the abundance of different fish species there are so many old wrecks and reefs to explore along the whole of the Atlantic coastline. One very popular pursuit is to dive at night and also to visit the many fascinating caves that have been carved by the sea.
Diving in the Algarve and Southern Portugal
Top sites for diving in the Algarve include Armação de Pera, the Ancão artificial reef near Faro, Pedra da Torre near Lagoa, Porto de Mós near Lagos, Pedra de Âncora, named after a huge anchor wedged in the rocky seabed, the wreck of Vapor das 19 a world war I steam ship near Sagres, the Navio do Ipimar a ship sunk by the Instituto Português de Investigação das Pescas e do Mar as an artificial reef and a 17th Century wreck near Faro. You can even dive in the wreck of a plane: an American B-24 Liberator World War II bomber that crashed into the sea near Faro in 1943.
Don’t forget an underwater camera as you may see dolphins in the summer, rays, conger eel, whiting-pout, sea bream, sea bass, scorpion fish, toadfish, groupers, snappers, blenny, hogfish, squirrelfish, octopus, lobsters, crabs, starfish, cuttlefish, colourful nudibranchs (sea slugs), razor clams and bryozoans.
Diving in Lisbon and Central Potugal
The region offers a good variety of scuba diving experiences including reef diving, wrecks, deep sea diving and great photo opportunites. Some of the top sites in this region are Arcanzil, Pedra da Lagoa, Maria Eduarda, Pedra da Caldeira, Baleeira, Cabo Espichal and its resident wreck the Nigerian cargo ship River Gurara , the marine park at the Berlengas Islands near Peniche and around Fonte de Telha.
A visit to Lisbon’s spectacular, state of the art, Vasco de Gama Oceanarium is not to be missed.
Diving in Northern Portugal
The most famous site for diving in Northern Portugal has to be the World War II German U-boat U1277 that lies 31 metres down near Porto. It was deliberately sunk in 1945 after the signing of the Armistice and offers experienced divers a thrilling encounter with modern history.
This is not the only wreck you can explore in Northern Portugal. It may be a great area for diving but over the years it hasn’t proved so hospitable for a good many ships with other wrecks including The Tiber, a British steamboat that sank in 1847 off the coast near Porto, Veronese, a British steamboat that sank in 1913, Barbosa, a Brazilian packet boat that sank without casualties in 1934 while carrying Jewish refugees away from Nazi Germany, Vila do Porto a Portuguese motor boat that sank in 1955, Batelão, the wreck of a large barge which sank in a storm in 1959 while transporting concrete,
Jakob Maersk, an oil tanker that sank after an explosion in 1975, Kassamba, an Angolan cargo ship which sank in 1985, Charneca, a tugboat that sunk in a storm in 1986, Brenha, a trawler that sank in a storm in 1996 with no loss of life and the mysterious Navio do Norte about which little is known.
Diving in Northern Portugal is not only about wrecks though.There are also some very good general dive sites where the sea bed teems with life including an interesting mix of fish, eels, octopus, crustaceans, molluscs and beautiful, colourful anemones.
Some of the best dive sites are found around Porto and neighbouring Matosinhos both famous for Porto wine and excellent seafood and Esposende, an idyllic fishing village 50km (30 miles) north of Porto.
The best time for diving in Northern Portugal is from May to October when the average water temperature is around 13ºC to 16ºC (55ºF to 61ºF).
Diving in Madeira
The beautiful, mountainous island of Madeira has a lovely sub tropical climate and with lush vegetation and spectacular flowers, it has been described as a ‘floating garden’. It is located in the clear waters of the Atlantic and, thanks to the warmth of the gulf stream, water temperatures range from 22ºC (72ºF) in summer to 16ºC (61ºF) in winter. Diving is possible all year round.
Underwater you can explore lots of reefs, gullies, crevices and caves teeming with interesting marine life. There is an excellent chance of seeing both reef and pelagic (open sea) fish with frequent sightings of, amongst others, parrot fish, puffer fish, octopus, rays, cuttlefish, starfish, moray eels, sea urchins, trigger fish, tuna, barracudas, tarpons and large groupers. If you’re lucky you may even see a giant manta ray or even spot sharks, dolphins and whales travelling between Africa and the Northern Atlantic.
The top dive sites near Madeira include
Garajau national park, seen as the ultimate Madeira diving site, it is a popular dive for photographers and has huge, tame groupers and big schools of fish.
The house reef shore dives which are also ideal for snorkelers.
T-reef national park with its 30 metre pinnacles.
Ponta de São, where visibility can reach 50 metres.
Canical and Canico for caves with interesting marine residents!
Monastry reef and Machico for colourful reef diving.
The wreck Bowbelle (also known as Bom Rei) is a 90 metre long sand-dredger that accidentally sank in 1996, it is 32 metres down and is particularly popular with photographers.
The Madeirense which in 2000 became the first and, as yet, only ship in Portugal to be purposely sunk to create an artificial reef for divers.
Diving in the Azores
The waters of the Atlantic and the gulf stream mingle around the Azores. So the water temperature is a mild 17ºC (62ºF) to 24ºC (75ºF) and tropical and Atlantic fish live side by side. As well as a wide variety of pelagic (open sea) fish and colourful reef life, the Azores are also a haven for marine mammals with over 20 species identified. In fact the islands have been recognised as one of the best places in the world to see them, particularly between May and October.
For experienced divers, the Azores offers further challenges such as underwater lagoons, vertical drop-offs and wrecks. The water is clean and deep with generally good visibility of between 15 and 25 metres, sometimes reaching 60 metres off the island of Santa Maria.
Marine life you may encounter in the Azores includes turtles, bottle nose dolphins, humpback whales, sperm whales, manta rays sometimes travelling in very large groups, hammerhead, tope and moka sharks, Atlantic blue fin tuna, common eagle rays, groupers, amberjacks, barracudas, billfish, morays, cuttle fish, shrimp, crayfish, octopus and of course lots of vibrant flora and sea birds.
There are many impressive dive sites around the Azores, the most popular being Arcos de Caloura, Boca das Caldeirinhas, Baixa das Castanhetas, Baixa do Sul, Vila Franca do Campo, Formigas Rocks, Dollabarat, Gruta Profunda, the Dori Wreck and the Princesa Alice.
The Azores are also a great destination for snorkellers, who could have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snorkel with dolphins!