Looking for scuba diving’s undiscovered country? Head to Portugal. Portugal’s gorgeous Algarve coast is one of the almost-undiscovered gems of the scuba diving world. It’s incredible that the Algarve remains so unspoiled in the world of scuba diving, as it’s perched on the Iberian Peninsula just 2 1/2 hours from London. You’d almost have to go out of your way to miss it!
It almost goes without saying that the weather’s fabulous. Portugal boasts a year-round mild climate with very little rain between April and September. The temperature hovers in the mid-seventies(°F) through most of the summer, with highs of up to about ninety degrees. (Hard to believe that Columbus traded his flipflops for deck boots to leave the place, right?)
The temperature of the water itself is on average between 60 – 65°F, although it can get as warm as 75°F in the summer. If it’s the warm water you are searching for, its best to plan your trip between June to September (when the water is typically at its warmest). With these mild temperatures, you’ll get by just fine with a 7mm wetsuit, and shallow dives in the summertime are perfect for shorties.
The average visibility for a dive is around 25 feet (eight meters). Be warned, though–as Portugal is on the Atlantic coast, storms out at sea can reduce visibility to less than ten feet. That said, calm weather commonly reveals visibilities of more than 65 feet.
For such a relatively unknown dive site, the available diving in the Algarve is remarkably varied in destinaton and scuba diving level. There really is something for every scuba diver, from reefs to wrecks. The two major reefs near the Algarve’s main tourist hotspot, Albufeira, offer a wealth of marine life. More remote parts of the coast offer both basic and challenging wall dives, as well as a number of caves for certified divers. You’ll explore several wrecks off the Portuguese coast, including the impressive U1277 “U-Boat” submarine (scuttled by order of her Commander on June 4th, 1945) that lies on its port side on a sandy sea bed. You’ll get a great view of her torpedo tubes, as well as and her conning tower. There’s more wreck scuba diving nearby, as well: the Tiber passenger liner which was sunk near Porto in 1847.
You won’t be alone down there, either. For those with an eye for wildlife, the Algarve coast offers a wealth of marine life around its reefs and wrecks. Some of the most conspicuous species include octopus, spider crabs, giant nudibrachts and a plethora of whelk and periwinkle species. Beyond those, you’ll spot several species of fish you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find so close to Europe (including triggerfish, damselfish, sea bream and bunches of different wrasse).
If you’re traveling with a non-scuba-diver–or simply want to pack as much fun into a surface interval as physically possible–you’ll be please with the wide variety of topside diversions. Albufeira is the Algarve’s main tourist hot spot, boasting an impressive array of top-quality restaurants, nightclubs and bars. Many venues offer traditional Portuguese events (including folk music and live bands), but there are also plenty of clubs playing the latest floor-fillers well into the night. Faro offers a quieter scene and top-notch amenities. Of course, the beaches are second to none–and bunches of other sports are on offer including paragliding, boating and jet skiing.
If you don’t feel like sweating the details and prefer to let a regionally-savvy expert handle your vacation, there are loads of tour operators that offer cheap scuba diving vacation packages. (These can include your dive trips and equipment rentals without any extra effort on your part–bonus.) If you want more flexibility and don’t mind doing a bit of research on your own, you may want to just book one of the basic Algarve holidays on offer and arrange your dive trips separately.