When considering a visit to Switzerland, most visitors will envision snow-capped mountains, skiing, hiking and other adventurous snow sports before ever considering scuba diving to be a popular sport in Switzerland. Due to the many rivers and lakes that Switzerland has to offer, scuba diving is actually a worthwhile experience with many unique aspects that you wouldn’t expect.
Lake Geneva and Lake Zurich are two very large lakes in Switzerland with immense depths. Wall diving is the name of the game in these deep lakes, with walls suddenly dropping off to hundreds of meters below the surface. There is even a wreck in Lake Geneva, the Hirondelle, which lies at a starting point of 43 meters down and is suitable only for advanced divers or higher. Lake Zurich presents the opportunity for shore diving, with many local towns offering ideal access points to the lake and the many walls on offer in this area.
Although river diving is not as popular or common as lake diving, the river location still offers a few extras that lake diving is not able to. Visitors are always advised to explore river diving with the help of a local guide, as some rivers are fed by large streams and can be quite hazardous when water levels are high. For some of the best river diving in all of Europe, look no further than the area known as Ticino which lies just on the borer of Italy between the southern Alps and the Italian border. There is also the possibility of diving in the Verasca River which offers great scenery and excellent visibility.
Water temperatures in Switzerland vary between 3°C in the winter to 20°C in the summer. Needless to say, if opting to dive in Switzerland in winter, a dry suit is required. For those visiting during the summer, a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit should suffice.
Some sites have poor visibility such as 3m but the Verasca River boasts visibility in excess of 30m on a regular basis.
Swiss Dive Sites
The vast majority of scuba diving in Switzerland takes place in Lake Zurich. Measuring 40km in length and 3km in width, this enormous lake is home to a number of great wall dives that can reach depths of more than 30 meters. Not all the dives in Lake Zurich are deep, however, as there is the opportunity for shallow training dives in certain areas as well as good night dive spots. Kleiner Parkplatz is one such dive site that offers a shallow alternative to its nearby sister site of Grosser Parkplatz.
To the south of Switzerland and spanning country borders into Italy also offers some great river and lake diving opportunities. The area known as Ticino is renowned for hosting some of the best freshwater diving spots in Switzerland. Offering crystal clear water and interesting topography, Verzasca is a river dive not to be missed, whereas Maggia River boasts masses of freshwater fish to be seen. Maggia River merges into the mountain lake of Lago Maggiore where divers can explore steep walls and ship wrecks.
Matterhorn, named after the famous mountain with the same name, is an underwater rock sitting at 25 meters that makes for great diving, especially when the visibility is good.
Lake Geneva is another common spot for scuba divers to congregate as this mountainous region makes for some dramatic underwater landscapes including steep walls. Chateau de Chillon is a site that offers 4 walls ideally suited for all diving levels, while La Falaise Bikini features walls that stretch to more than 200 meters down. Lake Geneva is not only good for wall dives, however: advanced and technical divers could opt to descend 43-67 meters to explore the Hirondelle wreck. Originally built in 1855, the Hirondelle was a passenger cruise vessel that sunk in 1862 as a result of hitting a large rock that caused irreparable damage.
How to get There
Travelling to Switzerland from Europe is a breeze, with major airports in Geneva and Zurich serving the majority of international cities.
There are smaller airports in places such as Ticino which connect easily with larger Swiss airports, making travel arrangements hassle-free. Switzerland’s road systems are great and divers might find it easier to rent a car and travel by car to the many rivers and lakes where diving is most popular.
There is also the option of the Swiss train system which connects to a number of European countries and is an efficient way of travelling from one place to another.
For example, the train station in Ticino, Bellinzona station, has links to Milan, Zurich, Lucerne and Basel, and all trains in Switzerland are clean, comfortable and pleasant to travel on.
Switzerland actually has 3 different languages – German, Italian and French – and these are prevalent in certain areas of the country. Ticino, for example, is an Italian area located south of the Swiss Alps and very close to Italy, where Italian is the predominant language and almost no German will be heard.
Although scuba diving information in English is somewhat limited in Switzerland, there are a number of multilingual dive operators who can help to arrange diving excursions and training courses for those interested. As one of the most popular Swiss diving destinations, Lake Zurich is located in the German area of Switzerland, with many nearby towns providing access to the enormous lake.
Geneva is another option for diving in Switzerland, although due to its close proximity to France, dive operators in Geneva are likely to be French speaking.