Found on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is located in western Europe and is bordered by Spain to the east and north, with the Atlantic Sea bordering from the west and south. Portugal’s population is around 10 million, and with good infrastructure and well-developed, densely populated cities such as Lisbon, this European Union country is a great diving destination with much to offer.
Portugal also boasts possession of Madeira and Azores, two magnificent archipelagos in the Atlantic lying between North American and Europe. Located between 1.5 to 2 hours away from Portugal by plane, these islands offer some great diving opportunities.
The Azores archipelago consists of 9 islands – Corvo, Pico, Tercerira, Santa Maria, São Jorge, São Miguel, Faial, Graciosa and Flores.
The Madeira archipelago consists of Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island as well as the Selvagens and Desertas nature reserves.
Portugal’s climate is mild and temperate throughout the year in most regions, offering 3000 sunshine hours annually. It’s no surprise that the coastal areas of Portugal are popular holiday spots with sun lovers and scuba divers, thanks to its fantastic warm weather and stunning beaches that follow the Atlantic coast.
Other regions, for example those inland areas closer to Spain, can experience cold winters and sometimes even snow. Inland, the summers are dry and hot, whereas on the coast the summer is milder, with sea temperatures between 13-18°C on Portugal’s western coast and 15-26°C on the southern coast.
This Mediterranean climate ensures temperatures in the Azores are mild at any time of year, with comfortable sea temperatures in summer and winter. The subtropical climate of the mountainous Madeira archipelago means that temperatures can fluctuate between 19°C in the winter and 24°C in the summer. Sea temperatures around both these archipelagoes are in the range of 17°C to 26°C, meaning that divers can opt for a 5-7mm wetsuit or even a drysuit.
As a prime holiday destination, Portugal offers much more than just scuba diving. Visitors can enjoy surfing, cycling, horseback riding and mountaineering to name just a few of the outdoor sports available. Portuguese people are warm and welcoming, offering tasty local cuisine and a rich cultural heritage that they are only too happy to share with tourists.
Portugal Dive Sites
When considering diving off mainland Portugal, divers have a number of great options.
Berlengas Island Nature Reserve
The Berlengas Island Nature Reserve consists of Berlenga Island and the nearby reefs of Farilhões-Forcadas and Estelas. Located in Peniche, this archipelago is very popular with divers thanks to the brilliant visibility and exotic marine life that can be found across the many dive sites. Divers can hope to see oceanic sunfish as well as massive schools of white sea bream while exploring the area, and there are also some caves and wrecks to explore, such as the famous Furado Grande.
Sesimbra is a great choice for divers and is located nearby the beautiful protected Arrábida Natural Park. Just 40km to the south of Lisbon, Sesimbra presents some unique underwater topography which makes for an interesting dive – crevices, platforms and cavities filled with fish, starfish and sea urchins are all on display.
Alentejo and Algarve
Heading south along the Alentejo and Algarve coastlines offer great holiday spots and even better scuba diving.
Considered a top class diving destination and one of Portugal’s very best, the Azores archipelago is a diving spot not to be missed. Diving is possible throughout the year, and visibility can be as good as 30 meters in the summer time.
The underwater scenery is truly breathtaking, with dramatic underwater landscapes that have formed thanks to the volcanic history of the islands. There are many caves to explore and archways to swim through, not to mention the thermal springs that are hugely popular with scientific divers. The Azores also offers an abundance of wrecks which are home to some interesting marine life such as goliath groupers, manta rays and amberjacks to name just a few.
Graciosa and Flores islands are some of the most popular diving choices, with Terceira and São Miguel also proving very popular with scuba divers.
The Madeira archipelago offers great diving for any diving level. Interesting marine life and visibility that can be as good as 20 meters means that Madeira has a lot to offer divers. Divers should be on the look out for dolphins, moray eels, manta rays and goliath groupers, especially the grouper colony in the Garajau Nature Reserve.
Cluba Naval on Funchal is a popular choice with divers, as are the sites Garajau Este, Corais Negros, Gruta dos Reis Magos, Recife dos Monges and Pão de Açúcar.
How to get There
Portugal boasts easy transport options thanks to a number of international and major airports all around the islands and mainland. Major airports can be found in Oporto, the capital Lisbon, Faro, Ponta Delgado for the Azores archipelago and Funchal for the Madeira archipelago. There are also Portuguese airlines including Air Portugal and SATA which between them offer over 50 domestic and international destinations.
It is also easy to travel by road in Portugal thanks to a well-developed road system. Rental car, bus or coach are all possibilities, as is the rail system known as Comboios de Portugal. The rail system stretches throughout mainland Portugal and even travels internationally to Madrid, Paris and Vigo.
Portugal has a number of dive operators, with the majority being PADI Dive Resorts or centers. These operators offer equipment rental and guided dives as well as certification from beginner right up to technical diver. These operators can be found all over the country, with hubs located in the popular diving spots such as Santa Maria, Sesimbra, Peniche, Lisbon, Funchal and Terceira.