There are many things to do in the Azores but many people don’t realize that the islands are home to some excellent scuba diving. This Azores diving guide will tell you how to get PADI certified in the Azores and where some of the best diving in the Azores can be done.
If you have any Azores scuba diving recommendations, please drop them in the comments. Thanks!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Azores Diving Guide: PADI Qualifications and Diving in the Azores
- Taking your PADI Qualification in the Azores
- PADI Discover Scuba Diving in the Azores
- Azores PADI Open Water Diver
- Where to Stay on Sao Miguel
Azores Diving Guide: PADI Qualifications and Diving in the Azores
Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where the Eurasian and North American plates meet are the stunning Azores islands. The archipelago is made up of 10 different volcanic islands formed from the volcanoes running along the fault where the two plates pull apart. The underwater volcanoes have formed magnificent islands and also a rich and beautiful underwater world, with those rich waters attracting fish and crustaceans in large numbers.
This magical underwater world that mirrors the beauty of the islands is the perfect place to go scuba diving. As you explore the volcanic waters, you will encounter amazing natural wonders, as well as magnificent shipwrecks that lie on the ocean floor.
This guide will take you through some of the best Azores diving tours on the islands, as well as places where you can get your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) qualifications. These qualifications are incredibly important as they will allow you to partake in different types of dives as well as the ability to even rent scuba diving gear.
Looking for seeing wildlife above the surface? Check out these Azores whale watching tours.
Taking your PADI Qualification in the Azores
To fully enjoy the experiences of diving in the Azores, it’s best to gain the correct qualifications. There are plenty of centers where you can gain these qualifications as well as various levels of qualifications that will allow you to complete different kinds of dives.
Many of the diving tours in the Azores will not allow you to join without having the correct qualifications. Luckily, by learning to dive, you will still get to experience the magical underwater world of the Azores.
Azores PADI Certifications
There are four levels of qualifications available to gain from PADI centers in the Azores and each will allow you to take part in different kinds of diving trips.
- PADI Discover Scuba Diving
- PADI Scuba Diver
- PADI Open Water Diver
- PADI Advanced Open Water Diver
To complete any of the qualifications you will need to be able to swim without any aid. You will also need to have a note from your doctor that is no older than three months saying you are fit and able to complete such a course. Another important consideration is the timing of the course- you must have finished the course at least 24 hours before you are due to fly due to an increased risk of succumbing to decompression sickness.
PADI Discover Scuba Diving
This is the most basic and introductory level course you can take and it can be done within a day. Although this isn’t a full certification, the one-day course will give you the basic knowledge of scuba diving, such as understanding the gear, how to breathe underwater, and the key skills needed to start your diving adventure.
The qualification can either be done in a pool, off of a beach, or a shallow dive off of a boat. The course will consist of a theory lesson and two dives. You do not need to complete this course to go for any of the other qualifications; it is merely a way to introduce yourself to diving.
PADI Scuba Diver
This is the most entry-level qualification you can gain in the PADI program. You will learn all you need to know about diving through theory lessons, pool training, and several open water dives.
The course lasts around 2-3 days and you will learn all about diving to the depths of 39ft (12m). You do not need to complete this certification in order to take the Open Water Diver certification.
PADI Open Water Diver
The Open Water Diver course is another entry-level qualification although it is more useful than the Scuba Diver qualification. Like with the Open Water qualification, you can continue on to complete the Advanced Open Water Diver qualification.
The 5 to 7 day course is the most recognized diving qualification in the world and is perfect for those wanting to dive more regularly as well as on their own. The course consists of theory courses, pool dives, and open water dives. Once you have passed the course, you can dive independently to depths of 59ft (18m).
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver
The advanced level qualification is the next rung on the scuba diving ladder and a perfect activity to add to your Azores itinerary if you’re into diving. While partaking in the course, you will learn all about diving to depths of 98ft (30m) while completing five adventure dives, such as search and recovery, wreck diving, and deep-sea diving.
Once you have completed the qualification, you will be able to dive independently up to depths of 98ft (30m) which will give you access to wrecks and marine life that are often far below the 59ft (18m) that the open water qualification permits you to dive to.
To take this course, you will need to have the Open Water Diver qualification.
For the purpose of this guide, I’ll only detail where to do Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water Diver, and give an overview of the places that offer the Advanced Open Water Diver certification.
If you wish to do the PADI Scuba Diver qualification, I will list it with the Discover Scuba Diving course if it’s available. While taking the courses, you will be provided with all the necessary diving equipment needed. You should, however, bring swimwear, a towel, and sunscreen.
PADI Discover Scuba Diving in the Azores
If you are just interested in attending a Discover Scuba Diving course, there are several locations where you can take the course throughout the islands. The following courses are well worth checking out, depending on where you are staying in the Azores.
Sao Miguel – If you are staying on the island of Sao Miguel, you can enjoy an amazing day of scuba diving around Villa Franco do Campo, one of the world’s best diving spots. Under the supervision of experienced diving instructors, you will explore the underwater world and the sea life that lives within 39ft(12m) of the surface.
Santa Maria – if you wish to take the course while staying on the island of Santa Maria, then I recommend trying out diving courses with Haliotis Santa Maria. The course consists of a theory lesson followed by two diving experiences, either in a pool, off of the beach, or two different scenic diving spots in the ocean. The center also offers the PADI Scuba Diver qualification.
Terceira – There are several options to begin your diving adventure on Terceira, but I recommend trying the one with Arraia Divers. The course will take you through the basic theory of diving, followed by a session in the pool to get used to breathing underwater.
Once you have a good level of understanding of the basics, you will head to an on-site reef and gain a taste of open water diving.
Pico – On the island of Pico, I recommend taking your introductory diving course at the Cowfish Center. The course consists of a theory course, aided with books and online resources. Once you have studied up, you will head to the training pool for the first of your two dives. The training pool is used to get you used to being underwater.
From there, you head to your final dive in the open water, where you will experience depths of 39ft (12m).
For those traveling to Pico with young children, there is a special course for children (8+), where they can learn to dive up to depths of 2m in the safety of a diving pool.
Faial – The Haliotis Faial dive center is a great place to learn if you plan to learn on Faial. You will complete a theory course, as well as two dives in scenic locations around Faial. Faial has great scuba diving spots and the underwater world is plentiful. The center also offers the Scuba Diver Qualification.
Azores PADI Open Water Diver
If you are wanting to obtain your PADI Open Water Diver qualification, then there are few better places in the world to learn than the Azores. There is no need to have completed any formal dive training before taking the course, so don’t worry if you have never dived before.
Once you have completed the qualification, you will be able to book to go on one-day diving adventures throughout the world. The following courses are well worth checking out.
Sao Miguel – The company Azores Sub is one of the best places to get your PADI Open Water Diver qualifications on the island. The 3 to 4 day course, consists of learning the theory and ensuring you have fully understood the theoretical side of diving. You will also learn the practical side of diving in the safety of a diving pool as well as out in the open ocean.
Santa Maria – With the company Haliotis Santa Maria, you can gain your PADI Open Water Diver Qualification over a period of 4 to 7 days. You will have five theory lessons, including tests and a final exam at the end of the course. You will also have five diving pool lessons to get the grips of the basics of diving.
Then there will also be four open water dives where, with an instructor, you will be taken to depths of 59ft (18m) and get to see the underwater paradise for yourself.
Terceira – The Arraia Diving school is one of the best places to learn on Terceira. You will complete the Open Water Diver qualification over 3 to 4 days and the duration entirely depends on your schedule. As well as completing the theory, you will do five swimming pool dives and four open water dives out in the sea.
The great thing about this school is that they have their own reef and it is teeming with marine life. Another advantage of this dive school is that it is part of the Hotel do Caracol, and all those learning to dive there can use their facilities as well as receive a discount at the restaurant and bars.
Pico – The Cowfish Center on Pico is another great school to obtain your PADI Open Water Diver Qualification at. Once you have completed the theory and five sessions in the pool, you will head out to spots in the ocean to dive down to depths of 59ft (18m).
These spots will depend on the day’s weather and sea conditions but all of them are equally as stunning. You will need to bring your ID with you, as well as a passport-sized photograph on your first day. If you are traveling with children, they can take advantage of the children’s diving school at the center.
On Pico, it is also possible to take an Open Water diving qualification by the Scuba Schools International (SSI). This qualification is pretty much the same as the PADI and will be recognized by all diving tour operators. The set-up is slightly different, but you will learn all the same skills. Once your course is complete, you can sign up for some extra open water dives, including the possibility of a guided night dive.
Faial – If you are wanting to escape the tourists and the crowds for a week and truly focus on your scuba diving ambitions, I recommend checking out Haliotis Faial. The small island has many great diving spots to explore as you take to the open waters after completing your theory and pool dives.
As you search for diving spots around the island, your guide will explain all about the island to you and you can see the so-called “Blue Isle” (because of the large number of hydrangeas).
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver
If you are looking to take your diving qualification to the next level, several places in the islands offer the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver qualification. With this qualification, you will be able to independently dive to depths of 98ft (30m). They will give you access to many shipwrecks and marine life that are located below the 59ft (18m) as well as the possibility to complete night dives.
To complete the course, you will need to complete five different adventure dives, which must include the Deep Dive and Underwater Navigation Dive. Other adventure dives include Wreck Dives and Search & Recovery dives. Courses last 2 to 3 days and there is no theory element.
To attend the course, you will need to have completed the Open Water Diver qualification. The following three places are the ideal places to complete the course. As the diving areas are pretty much the same as the places above, I will simply list the diving schools available.
Diving Tours & Spots in the Azores
Once you have completed the Open Water Diver qualification, the world of diving tours is opened up to you. There are plenty of tours around the Azores that are waiting for you.
Best Self Planned Azores Dive Options
If you are looking at tackling the islands best dives spots in a group independent of diving schools, then I suggest checking out the following spots where you will see crazy underwater scenery as well spectacular marine life.
Located just off the coast of Graciosa Island by Vila de Praia beach is the amazing shipwreck of the Terceirense cargo ship. The ship is over 130 ft (40m) and is located just 65ft (20m) below the surface of the water. Largely intact, the awesome wreck is home to many marine animals and you will likely see plenty of rays, eels, and fish living amongst the wreck.
The dive is relatively easy as it sheltered and there are not too many strong currents in the area, although you need to be wary of the close-by harbor.
Located around 45 nautical miles (83km) from the island of Pico, Princess Alice seamount is an impressive place to dive but only for those with a lot of experience. The incredible seamount rises sharply out of the depths of the ocean and has become a haven for marine life. In the summer months, you will see huge gatherings of manta rays circling above the mount. It is also likely you will see sharks and huge tuna hanging out here.
SS Dori Wreck
The WW2 era ship that played a part in Normandy was sunk just off the coast of Sao Miguel in the 1960s. The best thing about this ship is that fishing has been banned in the area where it lies meaning that there is an abundance of marine life swimming in and around the wreck. The dive is relatively easy and the boat lies around 65ft (20m) below the surface.
Head to the island of Pico and check out Shrimp Cave. The underwater cave is located on the coast of Pico and is a great place to witness more shrimp than you will have ever seen in your life. The narwhal shrimp is a small shrimp that vaguely looks like a mini red narwhal whale, with a protruding front end and these little shrimps are in abundance here. The dive is relatively easy and there is not a strong current.
Best Diving Tours in The Azores
If you would rather go on an organized dive, there are plenty of options available to you. For all the tours listed, you will need to have the PADI Open Water Diver qualification or equivalent to join the tour.
You can either bring your own gear or hire some from the dive company. The best thing about taking an organized tour is that if you get into trouble in these vast waters, there are plenty of people there to help you, especially in more challenging areas. Some of the places will even take you to multiple dive spots depending on the weather and sea conditions.
Adventure Dives Tour (Sao Miguel)
The company Best Spot Azores Dive Center offers a fantastic five hour guided adventure dive tour where you will take in two of the 50 or so dive spots around Sao Miguel. The dive spots depend entirely on weather and sea conditions on that day so you could book this tour on multiple days and experience something different each day. Please note though tours are only available April through to October.
Manta Blue (Sao Miguel)
Through the company Azores Sub, you can head out to one of the Azores best diving spots Manta Blue. During the summer months, this area is filled with plenty of manta rays who glide gracefully through the sea. Year-round, the area is home to plenty of other marine life and is truly a stunning place to dive. Due to the currents in this area, the dive is only recommended for experienced divers.
Adventure Dives (Santa Maria)
Santa Maria is known as one of the best places to dive. The small island is home to many creatures, including sea turtles and a huge array of fish. On this full-day guide with Haliotis Santa Maria, you can select two of the three dive spots available to experience some of the best diving there is to offer.
The choice between Santa Maria, Dollabarat, and Formigas is not easy, but each has its own magic and beauty so either way, you will not be disappointed. When booking your diving tour, you will need to specify if you need to rent equipment or not because the renting of equipment is only an additional €20.
the currents in this area, the dive is only recommended for experienced divers.
Adventure Dives (Terceira)
On the island of Terceira, there are plenty of great diving spots. The Adventure Dives tour run by Arraia Dives gives you the opportunity to select a diving experience that suits you. There are various packaged deals that let you select a diving method that suits you, as well as the diving location.
Terceira’s coastal landscape even allows for many awesome dives to depart directly from the beach without having to get a boat the spot. They have many options for dives including shipwrecks, volcanic lava tubes, and night dives.
As the diving center is located in Hotel do Caracol, you are granted access to use the hotel’s amenities and there is also a discount available at the restaurant and bar.
Click here if you’re looking for an Azores hotel for your trip.
Adventure Dives (Faial)
Take a plunge into the open waters around Faial with Haliotis Faial Diving Center. They offer a full-day tour where you will go to two different diving locations and experience the amazing marine life and underwater topography of the small island.
It is the perfect place to head for your diving tours if you are looking to escape the high volumes of tourism that can be experienced on the other islands. There are two packages available depending on if you need to rent equipment or not.
Where to Stay on Sao Miguel
I stayed at a couple of hotels in Sao Miguel but I can not recommend the Sao Vicente Lodge enough. It is located on the north coast of the island and it offers a luxury experience with a lot of anonymity. The lodge is eco-friendly and they take this into consideration with all rooms and amenities. You can hike around and witness spectacular nature right out your doorstep. I highly, highly recommend this hotel.
Hopefully, with this guide, you are able to find an Azores diving option that suits your needs. If you feel you are still not ready for full-on open water diving, check out my snorkeling in the Azores guide where I have listed some of the best snorkeling spots and tours to take throughout these beautiful islands.