What if we told you that you could dive alongside mako sharks and manta rays within European waters? And if we told you that those waters were Portuguese, would you believe us? The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, a little under 1,000 miles due west of Lisbon. Nestled atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the islands rise from the ocean floor and serve as navigational beacons for pelagic species crossing the Atlantic. Alongside the mantas and makos, whale sharks and schools of sleek blue sharks make the Azores the best diving in Portugal, and maybe even Europe!
São Miguel Island, nicknamed 'The Green Island', is in the eastern region of the archipelago and is the largest and most populous island in the Azores. From São Miguel, you have access to some of the best diving in Portugal, including a unique volcano dive off the island's southern coast. The almost perfectly circular caldera at Vila Franco do Campo creates a protected diving environment, and a dive here will give you bragging rights for having dived inside a volcano.
The coastline of São Miguel is also the final resting place of the SS Dori, which was involved in the D-Day Landings in Normandy. The wreck lies a mere 900 yards offshore and is another unique dive in the Azores. But for those seeking out the best diving in Portugal, a trip out to the Formigas Bank could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The group of uninhabited rocky outcroppings provides a good chance of spotting manta and devil rays cruising past in the blue.
Lying to the south of São Miguel Island is the island of Santa Maria, the southernmost island in the archipelago. From here, you can also easily reach the Formigas Bank, but you will also be on the doorstep of Baixa do Ambrosio, arguably the best dive site in the Azores and the best diving in Portugal. Baixa do Ambrosio will give you a very high chance of diving alongside mantas and devil rays, and the site, accessible to intermediate divers, is just 45 minutes away by boat.
As well as offering the best diving in Portugal, Santa Maria boasts superb views from the summit of Pico Alto, the island's highest point, taking in the island's white-sand beaches and, on a clear day, the rest of the archipelago.
Pico & Faial
The central island group of the Azores includes the neighbouring islands of Pico and Faial, and in addition to some of the best diving in Portugal, they offer the chance to enjoy epic hikes in verdant hills with dramatic volcano views. Below the waves, Pico and Faial's ace up their sleeves is their proximity to adrenaline-fueled off-shore sites, a favourite hangout for the blue sharks and occasional pods of common dolphins.
You shouldn't have to wait long for the show to start, when the devil and the manta rays come swooping into view. Keep your eyes peeled for the ocean's fastest fish, the mako shark, to make a speedy pass along the seamount's edge, and if one does, you will surely agree that the Azores is the best diving in Portugal!