The Ultimate Guide to Diving in Portugal



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Dozens of species of whales and dolphins, along with sharks, manta rays, mobulas and moonfish, have firmly placed Portugal on the map of diving destinations. With some of the clearest and bluest waters in the world and beautiful islands, diving in Portugal is not to be missed.

Manta ray

New divers will enjoy the shallow and colorful reefs that dot the continent, while experienced divers will enjoy impressive wrecks, deep reefs and blue water dives with thrilling pelagic action.

With so many offers, it’s no surprise that Portugal has won the World’s Leading Destination – Europe award on several occasions. Read on to discover this undisputed mecca of marine life in our ultimate guide to diving in Portugal.

9 great places to dive in Portugal

1. North of Portugal

From north to south, Portugal offers an array of landscapes above and below the waterline. The northern region is greener than the south, with many natural parks, historic sites and thriving cities. Together they offer an abundance of wine and gastronomic delights as well as stunning architecture.

Although diving in northern Portugal is not high on most divers’ wish lists, it is worth diving there. There are a surprising number of wrecks, underwater rock formations, canyons, and crossings to explore. They are all overflowing with fish.

The best dive sites in the area include Bezerros, Pêlo Negro, the sunken cruise ship Ruy barbosa, and the famous U-1277, a German submarine from World War II.

2. Central Portugal

The central region of Portugal is more mountainous than the north and is surrounded by fragrant pine and chestnut forests. History buffs will appreciate the historic villages and old stone castles dotted among the mountains of central Portugal, while divers will explore the windswept coast.

Big wave surfers flock to the famous Nazaré in central Portugal for its epic waves and long beach. Take a short boat trip from Peniche and you will be among the best dive sites in Portugal. But before you board a boat, be sure to dive around Peniche. There are many options for diving off the beach and around the coves of the Peniche Fortress.

Nazaré

3. Berlengas Islands

The UNESCO Berlengas Biosphere Reserve has some of the best diving in Portugal, with crystal clear waters and a wide variety of fish, including huge sunfish. These odd-looking fish congregate in the hundreds off the Berlengas Islands during the summer and are a truly spectacular sight to see.

Moon Fish

Besides pumpkinseed, the Berlengas Nature Reserve has large schools of sea bream, groupers, conger eels, visiting dolphins and schools of small colorful fish. With a backdrop of rocky landscapes and wrecks, it is a fantastic diving destination.

4. Sesimbra

Situated on an idyllic sandy bay at the foot of the Serra de Arrábida mountains, Sesimbra is a popular tourist resort known for its seafood and soft white sand.

Sesimbra

There are dozens of diverse dive sites along the Sesimbra coast, including ancient communication cables, deep rocky landscapes and sweeping wrecks, as well as challenging technical dives.

With caves, canyons, and walls covered in shiny sponges, along with easy shore dives, there’s something for every scuba diver.

5. Setúbal

Located just east of Sesimbra, Setubal is a historically rich region of Portugal with exciting reefs for all levels of experience. It is one of the most popular areas for diving in the Lisbon region.

Monastery of Setúbal

With easy access to Arrábida Marine Park just offshore you can snorkel in some of the most biodiverse waters in Europe and explore fascinating wrecks and rock formations covered with living life.

6. The Algarve

The beautiful Algarve is famous for its stunning cliffs and calm Atlantic Ocean waters that stretch out to the horizon. With nearly 200 km of coastline, the possibilities for diving in the Algarve seem endless.

Algarve

Dive sites all along the coast cater for novice and expert divers alike and include Portugal’s largest reef. The mix of nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the vast reefs create unique dives of marine biodiversity.

Carrapateira, on the west coast of the Algarve, offers crowd-free dives among shallow rocky landscapes, with overhangs, walls and caves perfect for advanced divers.

Sitting in warm, shallow waters, the Burgau Wreck Diving is a great option for new divers who want to try wreck diving without committing to anything too difficult. You can also go snorkeling there.

7. Ilhas do Martinhal

A few hundred meters off the coast of Sagres in the southern Algarve, the Ilhas do Martinhal are a group of barren limestone islets rising out of the ocean. Important breeding ground for seabirds, these islets are also home to an impressive array of marine life.

Algarve

There are canals full of schooling fish and canyons covered with anemones, gorgonians and crustaceans. Around the islets you will find caves to explore, sunny caves and sheltered coves, all surrounded by clear blue waters with few people in sight.

8. Azores

The Azores need not be touted as one of the world’s premier diving destinations. Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by endless blue waters, these famous islands are home to over 3,000 marine species. Diving in the Azores is hard to beat for megafauna and pelagic fans who want an accessible yet remote destination.

The nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores have huge underwater rocks, pinnacles, and seamounts, with large and small marine life. In addition to a diverse macro life, the Azores is home to schools of pelagic fish, mantas, blue sharks galore, mobula rays, sea turtles and whales.

With water visibility of up to 60 meters, diving in the Azores is amazing no matter which island you explore. There are deep dive sites, famous WWII wrecks, and coastal reefs to suit all experience levels.

Azores

9. Madeira Island

Known as the “Pearl of the Atlantic”, Madeira is famous for its subtropical climate and fantastic scuba diving. This tiny archipelago packs a punch for ocean lovers, with world-class whale and dolphin watching and an abundance of dive sites.

Madeira

Jacques Cousteau once said that he found some of the cleanest waters in the world in Madeira and that they are still exceptionally clear. The volcanic landscapes and reefs around the islands are home to a wide variety of fish year round, as well as stingrays, barracudas and leatherback turtles in the summer.

In addition to the perfect reefs, diving in Madeira includes excellent wrecks. Highlights include the wrecks of the Ecological park and Garaju Marine Nature Reserve. When you’re done exploring Madeira’s many highlights, head to Madeira’s sister island, Porto Santo, to see two of the world’s best wrecks.

10. Porto Santo Island, Madeira

Porto Santo is another diving gem in the Portuguese crown, with water visibility of up to 40 meters and two impressive wrecks: the Madeira and the Corveta General Pereira d’Eça.

the Madeira was sunk in 2001 and is 30 meters away, surrounded by marine life including groupers, trevally and amberjack. the Corveta General Pereira d’Eça, a Portuguese Navy warship, was not sunk until 2016, but is already a thriving reef.

In addition to wrecks, Porto Santo has impressive walls and 50-meter-deep reefs for technical divers.

What marine life can you see while diving in Portugal?

The rich and varied waters of Portugal are home to varied marine life. From classic reef life to pelagic schools and marine megafauna, Portugal has it all.

Portugal’s reefs and wrecks are encrusted with life, including colorful corals, sponges and sea fans that are home to a variety of crustaceans. Congers, lobsters, and octopuses are commonly seen on reefs, and there are reef fish of all shapes and sizes.

If you love whales, dolphins, sharks and rays, scuba diving in Portugal is for you. They are found in abundance in the Azores and Madeira. The whale watching season runs from April to October, although you can see whales here year round.

dolphins
dolphins

For the best chance of diving with groups of sunfish, visit the Berlengas Islands in summer.

What experience does it take to scuba dive in Portugal?

With so many dive sites to choose from, diving in Portugal is suitable for all levels of experience. It is an ideal destination for family scuba diving vacations, island hopping adventures and city scuba diving getaways.

When is the best time to dive in Portugal?

Dive in Portugal is great all year round, although the main diving season runs from April to October. To enjoy the sun and warm waters all year round, head south to the Algarve or Madeira.

Kathryn Curzon, shark conservationist and dive travel writer for International diving schools (SSI), wrote this article.

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