Updated: Dec 14, 2019
Dive Saga recently hosted a dive trip on the island of Pico in the Azores, Portugal. The Azores are still an off-the-beaten-path travel destination, including when it comes to scuba diving. Seriously, have you ever heard of the archipelago of the Azores before? Maybe, maybe not. The Azores are a group of 9 volcanic islands, more or less in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere. It is an unknown dive destination, but by judging after the incredible trip we just had on Pico, we predict that it’s going to gain in popularity among thrill seeking divers.
Underwater Volcanic Topography
Mount Pico (“Her Highness” as the locals like to call it) dominates the eponyme island. The last eruption on the island happened in the seventies, so no wonder that the topography of the entire island, above and underwater, is massively shaped by volcanic activities which make diving around this island even more interesting. We're talking about arches, tunnels, boulders, ancient lava flows, caverns and caves. Dive sites like Cachorro, Furnas do Monte da Guia, Baixa Da Barca, to name just a few, all have very interesting geological features, as well as a very diverse fauna. On these dive sites, you might encounter inquisitive triggerfish, friendly dusky groupers, barracudas, etc.
Diving with Blue Sharks
One of the highlights of our SCUBA diving trip in the Azores were our three close encounter dives with Blue Sharks. Blue Sharks are known to be curious towards divers and non-aggressive. On the three different dives we did, we had up to five sharks surrounding us at once and we didn’t see the same one twice. It was extremely interesting to notice the different personalities they all had. Some were very curious and checking out every diver, others were just there to see if anything yummie was floating around. Some were shy, but were keeping a safe distance as others would come extremely close. Although not aggressive, they can reach a very impressive size of 3 meters long.
Juvenile Common Eagle Rays Cavern
One of the local dives we did was at a dive site called Furnas do Monte da Guia, nicknamed "The Bat Cave", which is located on the neighboring island of Faial. On top of the very interesting topography of the large cavern, the main points of interest for this dive were the juvenile Common Eagle Rays that hang out in the cave. They spend the night here and are used to divers coming for a short visit, providing you stay close to the bottom and swim slowly so as not to startle them. This dive also offers a unique opportunity to spend the surface interval in the haror of Horta on Faial. Often the first European harbor for many sailors crossing the Atlantic .
Princess Alice Seamount
Buckle up! The Princess Alice Seamount is located about 50 nautical miles off Pico Island. It takes 3 hours to get there on a day when seas are flat. But IT IS SO WORTH IT! It is without a doubt one of the best wildlife diving experiences one can find in Europe. After seeing 2 different pods of dolphins, we finally get to the dive site, which was first discovered in 1896 by Prince Albert of Monaco. The pinnacle of the seamount sits at 35 meters but the surroundings quickly drop down to 2500 meters. The night before, we listened to an extensive dive briefing, so we knew exactly what to expect about the conditions on this dive site : Strong current! The skipper put the anker down and we started our descent to a depth of 15 meters. No need to go deeper. Just hold on to the line and let the magic happen. On that day, we had about a dozen Mobula Rays (Mobula Tarapacana), swimming around us. They are very curious animals and they loved swimming into our bubbles (I imagine it tickles their bellies). Some of our divers even experienced a long eye contact with one of our curious friends. The Mobula Tarapacana can reach 3 to 4 meters in width, they are not small and extremely majestic. The dive lasts as long as the last diver in the water has air and we did 2 dives on Princess Alice. Sightings of Manta Rays are also often reported on this dive site. We also had the chance to watch a massive school of barracudas and amberjacks passing by. When I say massive, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say 2000+
Although not possible to scuba dive or snorkel with Sperm Whales, if you go to the Azores, you should not pass the chance to go whale watching. In the summer, they have a permanent population of Sperm Whales around the island, so the chances of admiring those giants are quite high. Unfortunately Posseidon decided against whale watching for us as seas turned too rough to go out on the last few days of our trip. It's a risk you accept when diving in the middle of the Atlantic. Throughout the year, they have migrations of many different species of baleen whales and toothed whales, which makes this archipelago even more special. The islands are a prime example of a former whaling economy that turned to tourism, appreciating a whale's economic value when alive, rather than dead.
Diving in the Azores is quite an experience. It requires divers to be confident and experienced but it is an adventure that we are eager to repeat! We can’t possibly get enough of those Mobula Rays swimming around us or those sharks coming so close that you have to move out of their way! We highly recommend the diving team at CW Azores for their professionalism, their knowledge and their flexibility with organising those expeditions. Stay tuned, we may be returning to the Azores sooner than later!
Our Pro Tips for Pico Island in The Azores
CW Azores is a great local dive operator: http://www.cwazores.com
Check out the local vinyards: https://www.terraltanaturetours.com/en/