The Portuguese islands in the North Atlantic are not just a natural and hiking paradise, but also a dream for adrenaline-addicted divers, whale watchers, and canyon hikers. Float with the shoal of rays, encounters with whale sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles. Diving in the Azores archipelago is diving in paradise.
No matter how much the grouper and octopus attract the attention – diving in the Azores is primarily known for its deep-sea reefs. In no other sea area in Europe are there at least four real seamounts where diving lovers can dive and so many shoals between the nine islands that are nothing more than the peaks of the mid-Atlantic ridge.
With visibility of up to 40m you can explore underwater canyons, steep walls, and reefs with great freshness. Schools of barracudas, jacks, and the fastest fish in the oceans, the blue sharks, will delight you in the open water.
Basic information about the Azores for divers
The location of the Azores in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge brings extremes: in many places the continental shelf is a few 100 meters from the coastline, only to plunge into four-digit depths. Strong currents from the deep sea supply the habitats on the isolated seamounts with plenty of nutrients and stimulate a food chain that is unusual for today’s European conditions.
Hawksbill and leatherback turtles seek the protection of such places on their migrations through the Atlantic. And while plankton and jellyfish-eating ocean dwellers such as sunfish, mantas, and schools of mobula roam the open water above the reefs, predators such as bottlenose dolphins, yellowfin and bigeye tuna, marlins, jacks, blue, hammer, and mako sharks lie around the undersea peaks on the lookout.
Of course, all seamounts are under fishing pressure more than ever, but with a bit of luck, the right timing, and favorable sea conditions, spectacular encounters with the heavy calibers of the seas are still more likely than anywhere else in the European waters. Another tip for diving in the Azores: During the long trips, be sure to keep your eyes open and maybe invest in polarizing sunglasses beforehand – everything that the temperate Atlantic offers lives between the islands and the offshore banks!
The Azores are one of the few places in the world where it is even possible to dive with one of the fastest predatory fish in the oceans. Hammerheads and mako sharks are also occasionally found here.
Top 4 sites for diving – Azores
In the primary season from July to September, tours to the deep-sea banks are offered at least once a week, although the weather always has the last word. Many dive sites characterize impressive lava formations such as deep steep walls, narrow but possible to dive-in canyons, and vast arches. There are also diving schools on the islands of Graciosa and Terceira further north, but international diving tourism has not yet gained a foothold here, which is why there is still a lot to discover!
1. Baixa Ambrosio
As a playground for the smaller Mobulas, the Sugar Loaf Reef, which was discovered relatively late, is the most exciting dive site in Santa Maria ten kilometers off the northwest coast. In the summer months, squadrons of up to 20 rays regularly approach the divers, who can safely enjoy the spectacle with one hand on the buoy rope. Experienced divers can also take a brief detour to the summit of the Seeberg at a depth of 50 meters by prior arrangement. Not only anthias swarm above the rock overgrown with pink sponges but also full-grown amberjacks and solitary barracudas and blue bass. Large scorpionfish and Mediterranean moray eels often lie unprotected on the reef. On the way back to the surface, divers can often see the schools of bonito and barracuda in the blue water. The dives at Ambrosio are often more spectacular than those at the Formigas! Travel time from Santa Maria is about 45 minutes.
2. Baia de Sao Lourenco
Local marine biologists consider the shoal 2 kilometers from the dream bay Sao Lourenco to be one of the most biodiverse diving spots in the Azores. Around the two peaks at a depth of almost 20 meters, there are often groups of over 20 semi-grown Macaronese groupers. Schools of triggerfish, horse mackerel, and barracudas accompany the divers as they descend into the cool 40-meter area, in which there are large brown groupers cavort and stingrays, nudibranchs, and slippers. If you look over your shoulder, with a bit of luck you will see the silhouette of a hawksbill turtle that occasionally takes its nap here. In midsummer, during the deep stop, you regularly float through clouds of young fish, which of course does not go unnoticed by bonitos and jacks.
Caution: The spot with a lot of currents is only suitable for experienced divers, as it is child’s play to slide into the decoration. With Baixa da Maia, Pedrinha, and Banco Joao Lopes there are easier alternatives for beginners around the island. Travel time from Santa Maria is about 40 minutes.
3. Condor Bank & Azores Bank
With the highest elevations between 200 meters depth, both seamounts are pure blue water places. These spots, which are popular with deep-sea fishers and biologists alike, are approached solely for diving with blue sharks, which have a nursery around 100 miles to the west, which is why many inferior animals appear. Upon arrival, diver drops bait bins filled with mackerel into the water. After a quarter to a half hour waiting time, the diver steps into the water and wait on several weighted ropes for the appearance of the magnificent sea predators. Even if the curious animals tempt you to let yourself drift, divers should watch out for currents, difficult to see without a reef insight. Otherwise, you risk alternately devoting yourself to the sharks and paddling back on the line. If the blue sharks suddenly disappear, it is important to observe the entire water column – often their disappearance signals a mako shark. The sites are visited once a week during the high season, with usually two dives. Driving time from Faial is about 1.5 hours and from Pico about 2 hours.
4. Banco D. Jao De Castro
The rarely dived seamount rises from a depth of around 1000 meters and is difficult to access due to its great distance halfway between Terceira and Sao Miguel. The active underwater volcano rising from the great depths is known for its hydrothermal springs, curtains made of gas bubbles, and extremely clear water. The flattest of the four peaks forms a plateau that has been sanded off by the current at a depth of 13 meters and is often swarmed by many deep-sea fish such as bonitos, barracudas, wahoos, and various mackerel. It also represents the typical reef fish of the Azores in large numbers. More often than usual in these islands, there are encounters with sea turtles on the bank who rest here. It is always possible to see dolphins, whales, turtles, and seabirds there. Travel time from Terceira is about 3 hours.