Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and nestling between two continents, the Azores is one of the world’s premier scuba diving destinations.
Indeed, this enchanting nine-island archipelago is a hot spot for curious divers, with around thirty of the world’s most prominent cetaceans regularly spotted in its waters, including humpbacks and minkes.
Dolphins, likewise, can often be seen gliding through the waves, along with turtles and different kinds of rays. Common features under the surface are purple sea stars, yellow encrusting anemones, fireworms and nudibranchs.
Attracted by the mild, nutrient-rich currents of the Gulf Stream, the local waters are teeming with fish and underwater flora of all descriptions.
Each of the archipelago’s nine islands has a unique marine biodiversity which in turn provide some of the most exhilarating diving experiences on the planet.
The region has over a hundred first-rate diving sites in total, some of which are located in protected marine reserves where encounters with some of nature’s rarest creatures are a regular occurrence.
The Azores’ submarine environment is varied, ranging from underwater mountains of volcanic origin to many unexplored cracks and caverns deep under the sea bed.
Famed for its crystal-clear waters, Flores is the most westerly of all the islands and offers visitors the chance to dive on the very edge of Europe.
Of equal interest is nearby Corvo, the smallest in the archipelago with a population of just 400 people and the island is comprised of a single volcano with a deep crater.
Faial in the central group has a long seafaring tradition and thus is well prepared for scuba divers from all over the world with a vast selection of sites of all descriptions available.
The enchanting island of Pico with its iconic peak (the highest point in Portugal) is another popular choice on account of its diversified geological features, having been the last of the nine islands to be formed.
Long and thin, the island of São Jorge is a scuba diver’s dream with several underwater arches and caves to explore harbouring a wide array of different and interesting species.
Graciosa is an island of great natural beauty and one that’s gaining popularity with divers due to the depth of some of its off-shore sites, which go as deep as 30 metres (98 feet) in some places.
Famous for its UNESCO World Heritage-classified capital, Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira is a preferred destination among divers due to its excellent conditions, including the Archaeological Subaquatic Park of the Azores where an underwater museum exists.
The largest island in the archipelago, São Miguel, is also the one that has the most diving sites to offer, including a group of islets known as Ilhéus das Formigas located 33 nautical miles (60 km) off the south-east coast.
Last but not least is Santa Maria (the first of the nine to be discovered in 1427) where large shoals of yellowmouth barracudas and comb groupers can often be seen crossing its waters.
The Azores features several key diving locations that are high on the must-visit list of divers all over the world, such as the Dori site off São Miguel which features the wreck of Edwin L Drake, a former Liberty Ship built in the USA during World War II.
Renowned for its colourful array of fish such as the rainbow wrasse, canary damsel and parrotfish, another wreck worth exploring is the Terceirense which sank off the island of Graciosa in 1968.
Another attraction for adventurous divers is Gruta dos Enxaréus, a submerged cavern located at the foot of some cliffs on the outskirts of the town of Santa Cruz on Flores Island.