Although Belgium has much to offer in terms of city tourist attractions, picturesque buildings and the prominent EU headquarters, it is not always the first place one would choose to go scuba diving. It does, however, offer a good variety of diving options in some interesting sand pits and quarries and so is more diverse than most would expect.
Bordering the North Sea, Belgium is a small country divided into the French-speaking area of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking area of Flanders, both of which can easily be reached by car.
Flanders is home to Belgium’s more natural dive sites with water-filled sand pits and lakes, while Wallonia offers quarry sites to explore. Many of the dive sites in Belgium can be dived independently, and in fact it is rare to find frequently organized guided dives. The dive sites often have filling stations on-site and bathroom facilities for convenience, especially on some of the quarries which are privately-owned. These private sites may request a small payment from divers, while recreational sites may require a permit to be purchased. There may even be options to rent equipment at some of the dive sites.
It is possible to dive from a charter boat in the North Sea, which would present the chance for advanced and experienced divers to visit some of the great wrecks in the area. The wrecks include cargo ships and those that served in WWII, and are very well-preserved considering their age and the challenging conditions in which they lie.
The water in Belgium is certainly on the colder side, with the quarry temperatures ranging between 4°C in winter and 20 °C in summer. In the North Sea, the temperatures range between 7°C and 19°C. Divers are recommended to wear at least a 7m wetsuit in the summer and a dry suit for winter. Divers should expect poor visibility in shallow lake and quarry dives, especially after rain, with the vertical visibility being only 5-10 meters on some days.
When diving in Flanders, the natural lakes are fairly shallow yet filled with fish life. In Wallonia, the manmade quarries make for a unique experience with artificial aesthetics and fauna that has been introduced to the area. For some of the most popular quarry dives, the town of Walcourt is a must-visit, as is the old marble quarry in Carrière la Croisette, which is privately owned. Divers visiting this unique site will descend down to 30 meters and find themselves surrounded by opulent walls and pillars of marble, not to mention a decent size population of fish. Divers can expect to see stickleback, carp, sturgeon and trout. Other quarries that are nearby Wallonia and worthwhile visiting include Vodelée and La Roche Fontaine. Nearby the quaint town of Esneux in Wallonia is the site known as La Gombe, a surreal quarry with a sunken airplane wreck and dead trees that are now home to a wide variety of fish.
Nearby the larger city of Antwerp lies a dugout area known as Muisbroek where a variety of fish and bird life gather. With calm conditions and good visibility at any time of year, Muisbroek is always a good choice when diving in Belgium, especially considering you may be able to find fossil seashells and shark teeth.
In order to dive some of the most popular wrecks in Belgium, it is recommended to charter a boat in the North Sea. Lying between 24-36 meters beneath the water’s surface, the SS Trifels was a cargo ship of German origin that was hit by a torpedo in 1941 and subsequently sank. The MS Birkenfels is another cargo ship of German origin that now lies at the depths of Belgium’s North Sea due to a collision that caused it to sink. Divers of all levels are able to see parts of this wreck as it begins at 15 meters and descends down to around 36 meters.
Getting to Belgium by air is easy, with direct flights from European regions and international areas into Brussels Zaventem Airport. There are a few smaller airports in Belgium, namely Charleroi in the south or even Eindhoven in the Netherlands, that will accept European flights from budget airlines. Divers can then rent equipment and rent a car and travel the short distance to any number of private or recreational dive sites. English-speakers may have some trouble in French-speaking Wallonia, but otherwise the rest of Belgium is fairly English-friendly.
The Belgian dive centers can assist guests with rental equipment, training, air re-fills and suggestions on where to dive based on recent conditions.