Diving in the Azores

The Azores – a distant Portuguese island group in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – are a paradise for divers. We explore the rich marine landscapes that exist here, and the reasons why water babies should take advantage of the world-class Azores diving scene.
Dusky grouper with a diver. Photo: JTeixeira/Shutterstock
Dusky grouper with a diver. Photo: JTeixeira/Shutterstock

Nine far-flung islands of Portugal, the Azores are characterised by stunning natural scenery. Deep craters and calderas pockmark the landscape and looming volcanic cliffs – carpeted by a patchwork of green fields and grazing cattle – plunge down to the glassy waters of the Atlantic, with its wealth of marine species. Here's our guide to why diving in the Azores should be at the top of your travel list. 

1. Quality diving

The underwater world of the volcanic Azores is endowed with fascinating landscape features – caves, tunnels, ridges, gorges, arches and cliffs – which make for excellent exploring. This landscape, coupled with the Atlantic’s nutrient-rich waters, provide the perfect habitat for shoals of colourful sub-tropical fish and other marine species. 

Sightings are likely to fluctuate with the season – be sure to check what to expect before you travel. Pelagic fish, tope shark, squid, rays and krill are all commonly seen. From July to October (high season), blue sharks and manta rays populate the Atlantic waters around Pico, Faial and Santa Maria islands – many operators offer bone-chilling ‘shark dives’. There’s a range of different dives available to suit all levels of ability. Coastal, offshore and deep-blue dives can all be arranged.    

2. Escape the crowds

The Azores are still sparsely populated and see relatively low tourist numbers, largely as a result of their remote location, which is around 850 miles west of Portugal. Surviving under the radar means that the islands are the perfect base for anyone keen to enjoy pristine marine (and terrestrial) environments without the crowds. The lack of a general and sophisticated tourist infrastructure just adds to the islands’ charm – although there are, of course, a number of accredited and safety-aware Azores diving operators to be found such as Twin Peaks Diving Centre and Best Spot Azores.

Azores dolphins.Azores dolphins. Photo: Wild_and_free_naturephoto/Shutterstock

3. Larger marine mammals

The Atlantic waters are also home to a number of larger marine species. The Azores support more than one third of the world’s whale and dolphin species, which live in their waters or pass through on seasonal migrations. Possible sightings include blue, baleen, beaked, sperm, fin, pilot, humpback and false killer whales; bottlenose, spotted and Risso’s dolphins; and turtles. While you are actually fairly unlikely to spot any of these animals on a dive, you might hear them from the depths. Luckily, there are a number of dedicated whale and dolphin-watching operators, including Terra Azul Azores Whale Watching, that offer tours from the islands, so that you can see these mighty marine species in their natural habitat. 

4. Cheap flights

A welcome side effect of dodging the tourist radar – flights to the Azores remain cheap. Flights from the Portuguese mainland take just over two hours and can cost as little as €20 one-way. Round-trip flights from the UK cost upwards of £50. Car, moped and bike rentals can all be arranged on the islands. 

Hiking trail with lake views, Sao Miguel Island, Azores.Hiking trail with lake views, Sao Miguel Island, Azores. Photo: Valerija Polakovska/Shutterstock

5. Other activities

Aside from diving and wildlife-watching trips, the Azores have a lot more to offer. Each of the islands has a distinct character, but all are defined by their striking landscapes: volcanic craters filled with turquoise lagoons, lush green vegetation blanketing sweeping hills and picturesque Mediterranean-style villages. Naturally, hiking is one of the most popular activities on offer; deep-sea fishing, golf and tennis can all be arranged, too. Then there’s the enchanting culture. Historic and traditional, the Portuguese-speaking Azores serve up a delicious and rustic cuisine – make sure to try the fresh cheese on Sao Jorge Island – frequent festas and a stunning collection of basalt-carved Baroque churches.

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