With spectacular scenery these 9 volcanic islands are home to the worlds largest pelagic species
The Azores are nine volcanic islands that rise up spectacularly from the see bed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 3900km from the coast of North America and 1300km from Portuguese coast. The islands are lush and green with dramatic cliffs and impressive scenery. The diving here is equally as appealing!
The nine islands are split in to three groups. In the east the group includes Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, the western group includes Corova and Flores and in the middle we have the central group including Terceira, São Jorge, Graciosa, Faial and Pico. Although some of the islands are close to each other - the closest being only six kilometres, the archipelago is spread out over six hundred kilometres.
The islands are heavily effected but the Gulf Stream and this means that many of the world's largest pelagic species use the Azores as a resting place. The amazing underwater topography, including caves, arches, tunnels and drop offs provides a perfect environment for lots of subtropical fish and an abundance of marine life.
The dive season here lasts from May to October and during this period mammalian visitors to the islands include beaked, sperm, fin, false killer and humpback whales as well as Risso's and bottlenose dolphins. It is unusual to see these whilst diving but divers will quite often hear them underwater.
We have a collection of packages the Azores from £599pp please call for details
Sao Miguel is or Ilha Verde (Green Island) as it is known is part of the Eastern group is a great place to start if you are new to the Azores. It has a lot to offer both above and below the water and has the largest town of the nine islands called Ponta Delgado. The coastline of Sao Miguel has many dive sites so there is plenty of choice for divers. Vila Franca Only a short boat ride from Vila Franca do Campo is an islet which was created from an ancient submerged volcano and gives divers a number of dives to choose from. The huge under water boulders as well as the inlets of the walls create an amazing underwater scenery. There is a lagoon in the middle of the islet and in fissures in the walls join it to the open sea. There is plenty of marine life on the sites here with grouper, trigger fish, morays and octopus being regular spotted by divers. The diving here is generally pretty easy and dives up to twenty two meters being the norm.
Dori Wreck Close to Sao Roque lies a Liberian cargo ship which went down in 1964. She sank at a perfect depth (twenty meters) for divers and sits on sandy bottom. The wreck supports lots of life with shoals of wrasse, sea bream, mullet, salemas, and flounder all taking shelter. It is not possible to safely penetrate this wreck but it is a stunning sight and well worth the dive.
Praia Da Caloura Diving from this sheltered area of Caloura gives divers a few options to choose from from Caloura beach to Ponta da Galera. Various species of fish including puffer fish, dusky grouper, damsel fish and ornate wrasse habit the shallow depths amongst the arches and gulleys that were formed from lava flows.
Underwater Mountains Sites such and Dollabarat Banks and Ilheus das Formigas will impress the more experienced divers. These where created as the volcanic mountains rose from the depths and are passed by strong currents and during the summer months sightings of large pelagic animals are common place.
Whales, Hot Springs and Gradens Whilst you are in the Azores there is a fantastic opportunity to see some of the large marine mammals that can been seen during the summer months. Beaked, sperm, fin, false killer and humpback whales as well as Risso's and bottlenose dolphins are often seen on these trips along with turtles and lots more. There is a lot to do on land for divers and non divers including the hot springs village of Furnas, Terra Rostra Gardens and Gorreana Tea estate.
Santa Maria is the oldest island of the Azores which makes it flatter and lower lying. This in turn effects the climate which is dryer and warmer so it has a different character than it's younger neighbours. This small island does have a mountain centre with green sloping hillsides and some spectacular plunging down towards the sea. In 1493 Christopher Columbus rested her on his way back from America and Vila do Porto with it's 15th century streets and it's cliff top fort give visitors a feeling of those days gone by. There are fertile volcanic terraces which have been formed by nature and then shaped by man to let corn, wheat and vines to flourish. There is plenty to do out of the water here, there are fantastic walks with breathtaking scenery and swimming along it's beautiful coastline.
All the diving on Santa Maria is done from RIBs but it does offer something for all levels of divers. There are plenty of sites for the less experienced divers around the coastline and for the more experienced there is more challenging diving out in the open sea in the blue. The island is blessed with reasonably good visibility under the water and has a mix of sandy and rocky sea beds, wrecks and caves all to be explored.
A lot of the dives around the island are effected by tides and strong currents. You really need, and be able to use, your DSMB as it is a vital bit of kit. Our dive centre on Santa Maria will try it's upmost to plan the dives in the best conditions according to the tidal patterns. The space at the dive centre and on the RIBs is limited so we really recommend that during the peak dates, June through to September that you book early.
Pedrinha This fantastic site, close to the dive centre is formed of lava pinnacles. It's a dive that can be done at varying depths which go down to about thirty meters. There is lots to see here as you move through the coral formations and over a plateau formed from lava. There is plenty of marine life and grouper, damsel fish and morays are all seen here along with the beautiful yellow cluster anemone which waft in the underwater currents.
Penedia da Maia This site is approximately fourteen kilometres to the east of the marina and sitting a hundred meters from shore there is a small pinnacle with the top part raging from three to twelve meters. There is then an impressive drop-off with a stunning wall which goes down to a little oner thirty meters. You will find a couple of small caves here where you have some large groupers and some good numbers of large trevallys. All around the pinnacle you will find tube worms and an abundance of other marine life so a great place for photography enthusiasts.
Ambrosio This is a 'out in the blue' dive so if you like hanging onto a moored rope whilst schools of large mobula rays gracefully feed in the currents then the is for you. Ambrosio is a deep pinnacle which at forty six meters is out of reach for the recreational divers However there is a moored buoy which makes the dive possible for most divers. The rays common to feed from late June to the mid part of October and can be joined by barracuda, tuna and other bait fish.
Formulas, Dollabarat & Blue Sharks These are a longer trip so the do carry a supplement and are dependant on conditions but they are really worth it and we highly recommend them.
Formigas - This marine reserve is formed of a small group of islets and it's a thrilling RIB ride for about fifty five kilometres. It is common to see various cetacean species on the journey so keep your eyes peeled. Although it drops to over sixty meters the reef at Formulas has an average depth of fifteen to twenty meters and offers really good visibility and it's not unknown to get sixty to a hundred meters. This dive is often done along with Dollabarat and can be dependant on the conditions but it is common to see various pelagic species here so well worth the trip.
Dollabarat - It's only a few kilometres to the south east of Formigas and the reef at Dollabarat is about the same size as a football pitch. It rises from the seabed over a thousand meters below and the reef averages at fifteen meters. The visibility is normally very good here and the sunlight bounces beautifully from the coloured rock giving you very picturesque dive. It is famous for the marine life on this dive and it is common to see mobula and manta rays along with sharks and large groupers.
Blue Sharks - From June to late September blue sharks are attracted to the submerged sea mounts and it is very common to see them. Chum is put in the water (the sharks are never fed) and you can see the sharks approaching up the chum line as they cautiously get closer to its source. Divers hang on to a weighted line and watch as these magnificent creatures cruise effortlessly by. The dive centre has done this many, many times and has never had an incident and all divers must follow the instructions from this experienced team. You still do need to be aware that this dive takes place in the off shore blue water and that you are in an wild, natural and although utterly beautiful a somewhat unpredictable environment.
Pico is part of the central island group and it's volcanic tip dominates the local scenery. It rises from the ocean to a heady 2351 meters and those slopes continue to disappear in the sea. These deep waters that flow past Pico make it a fantastic destination for dolphin and whale watching and a great place to dive.
It is the second largest island in the archipelago, it is forty two kilometres in length and fifteen kilometres wide and is home to approximately fifteen thousand people. It is very close to its neighbour Faial which is only six kilometres away and the channel in-between the islands does have some fantastic dive sites. Pico already has a well established and very well thought of whale and dolphin watching programme due to the large variety of cetacean species that swim in the waters around it. More recently Pico is developing it's reputation around another fantastic attraction - the blue shark along with the less frequently spotted mako sharks. This along with fantastic dive site of Princess Alice Banks really makes Pico a great destination for the adventurous diver.
Blue Sharks These amazing creatures are elegantly designed for cruising the open oceans and they are often found in the deep waters off Pico's coast. They are now classified as a 'Near Threatened' species and have been studied for a number of years now across the world and their habits and migration patterns are certainly becoming more understood. Our local dive operator strives to ensure that the shark diving does not impact on the animals and a set of strict in water regulations have to be abided by, they take part in education programs along with protection schemes to create better understanding of this majestic pelagic shark. There is a donation to the PADI Project Aware foundation, for all the Blue shark dives made around Pico.
Princess Alice Bank This is a large underwater mountain with the peak sitting thirty five meters under the surface and the long boat ride is certainly worth it. It is formed from part of the mid Atlantic ridge and is home to some very special visitors. Mobula rays, specifically Chilean devil rays swirl and dance in the strong currents which really is a sight to behold. This dive is usually done holding onto a mooring line above the submerged mountain peak as a wonderful variety of marine life whirl around. Even though the rays are the stars of the shows there are lots of other things to see here. It is common to see Atlantic bonito, Jacks and large schools of Barracuda and it is common to see sharks here as well.
San Jorge Pinnacle There is a narrow channel that divides Pico from it's neighbour Faial. Here you will find the San Jorge Pinnacle which is approximately an hour out of the harbour. Divers get the chance to do two dives here, both extremely exciting and challenging and can be done when conditions are favourable. The currents are strong in this channel as the water gets pushed between the two islands and is dense in pelagic marine life. This really is an area of extreme importance to the local marine life and it is easy to see why the local dive operators are trying to get the area protected as a marine reserve.
Arcos Do Pocinho and Cachorro The dive sites here will highlight to divers exactly how Pico was formed. There are two sites and are created from lava tunnels, walls and arches and this amazing topography forms gorgeous underwater seascapes. From the sea bed of Cachorro it is easy to see the large pebbles which indicate the lines of the original lava flows.
15th Century Vineyards These amazing vineyards were planted on the rocky slopes of the island and now holds UNESCO status. There are lots of other things to do above the water including lots of walking trails and the fit and adventurous can take a guide to the peak of Pico which is so high you have to do it twenty four hours after diving!
This island has some great shore diving as well as a good selection accessible from the RIB. Famous for it's unique underwater topography and rock formations Terceira also has some great walls as well as the famous anchor graveyard.
The main town of Terceira is Angra do Heroismo which in 1983 was given World Heritage by UNESCO. Over on the east side of the island near Praia da Vitoria has some of the shore diving and offers plenty of sheltered coves and small beaches.
An anchor graveyard & Lidador Wreck This subaquatic park has a collection of over thirty anchors and they ended up here as ships mooring here lost them in violent seas, they were either detached from them or worse, were left there when the ship went down. They lie in depths of between fifteen and thirty five meters and makes for a great dive as you explore this archaeological site. It also holds a lot of marine life with shoals of bream, jacks, dusky groupers common and moray eels have plenty of places to hide and keep an eye on the sandy patches for common sting rays.
For and easy wreck the steamboat Lidador provides a perfect option as it lies at only ten meters and there is usually little current here. It went down in 1878 when it hit the reef when it made the passage between Brazil and Portugal. This seventy eight meter long London built boat also makes for a nice night dive due to the ease of the site and there are plenty of fish around the crumbling wreck including mullet, flounder and lots of young fish and it is not uncommon to see eagle rays cruising around the Lidador
Arcados do Judeu Spectacular and unique underwater topography await divers at this site. A natural staircase formed from basalt it is an Azorean version of the Giant's Causeway that has been crossed with an Egyptian pyramid and certainly provides you with a unique underwater experience.
Calheta do Lavador This dive is known for the natural pools which are formed from Basalt that provide a safe nursery from lots of juvenile species. There is always a variety of marine life on this picturesque dive with parrot fish, sea bream, grouper and barracuda common place.
Unesco Town Under the protective shadow of Monte Brasil sits the town of Angra do Heroism which historically was a safe haven and wealthy trading post for ships travelling from India to America. It has a naturally deep harbour and as the mountain shelters the bay from the weather it allowed ships of days gone by to anchor here.