High mountains, rolling hills, deep valleys, stunning beaches, stone-built villages, world-renowned cuisine, amazing wine… What’s not to love about Portugal? This idyllic nation offers something for everyone, whether it’s the cultural traveler or the active traveler looking for adventure and adrenaline. Scuba divers will find here a diverse diving destination and one of the best Europe has to offer.
Portugal has almost 1,800 km of coastline and scuba diving is possible all around it. From Porto in the north to the Algarve region in the south to the amazing Azores Islands, you’re bound to find excellent scuba diving opportunities regardless of where you’re staying.
Historical wrecks, diverse marine life, underwater caves, crevices, and rocky reefs are just some of the things divers can expect to find here. With a bit of luck, it is possible to spot whales, dolphins, or even seals. With many marine protected areas, the dive sites of Portugal are teeming with life and divers can witness species of all sorts going about their lives undisturbed.
Scuba diving off Madeira with a giant grouper. Photo by Mal B
Thanks to its mild climate year-round, scuba diving in Portugal is possible throughout the year. However, you may want to avoid the rainy month of November and December. During winter, the water is significantly colder than during summer, so keep this in mind. Divers who wish to visit during winter most often do so because of the increased chances of spotting whales in the Azores.
The peak tourism season in Portugal is all summer long and it can get overcrowded with tourists. However, it is during the months of April through September that you will find the warmest water temperature.
The average water temperature in mainland Portugal ranges between 15° C/59° F during winter and 23° C/73° F during summer. In the Azores Islands, the water temperature ranges between 17° C/63° F and 22° C/72° F, while in the Madeira Islands, water temperatures fall between 18° C/65° F and 22° C/72° F.
Water visibility ranges from 5 meters/15 feet to 40 meters/120 feet right off the coast while offshore it is a consistent 35 meters/105 feet.
The Azores is a distant volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean where divers come in search of the big stuff: sperm whales, beaked whales, humpback whales, fin whales, false killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, and more. The topography is another selling point for the Azores: caves, tunnels, arches, ridges, gorges, underwater cliffs – so many elements for an exciting dive! The Princess Alice Bank stands out for its biodiversity and is considered the premier dive site in the Azores thanks to the unique opportunity to encounter large groups of friendly mobulas.
Berlengas is the oldest natural reserve in the world. The archipelago is made up of the Island of Great Berlenga and the reefs of Estelas and Farilhoes-Forcadas. These waters are home to dolphins and large schools of fish and feature beautiful caves with red gorgonians and interesting macro life. Tech divers can also find about a dozen shipwrecks. In fact, the Berlengas Archipelago is the largest wreck graveyard in Portugal.
The Algarve region has a long coastline of almost 200 km and is the top diving destination in mainland Portugal. There’s an incredible variety of marine life, from different species of finfish to nudibranchs, crustaceans, cephalopods, and cnidarians. One of the most interesting places to dive in the Algarve is Ocean Revival Park, an underwater park featuring four vessels that were deliberately sunk to create a huge artificial reef.
Madeira is famous for its diverse marine life such as barracudas, groupers, stingrays, and manta rays, and underwater scenery that includes caves, rocky reefs, and sunken vessels. The open ocean dives near Madeira are highly appreciated by pelagic lovers. The archipelago is one of the best spots for whale and dolphin watching.