Trip Report: Diving Portugal from Top to Bottom

By Arlindo Serrao

Monika and Vincent are a couple of experienced divers; Vincent, a technical diver that wanting to spend a couple of weeks on holidays and diving, decided to come to Portugal after visiting the Portugal Dive website.

Although they knew Portugal quite well and had already been diving in the Azores, they weren’t aware that in mainland Portugal, there was so much to do and see underwater, both for recreational and technical divers.

Monika asked if we could help them plan some diving, but after the first emails, we soon realized that what started with “we chose Portugal because we love your country,” was growing to be a much more complex stay and dive program.

We built the following itinerary on a subsequent video call, and I remember Monika’s last comment. She said, “my Gosh, I had no idea it would be the way you describe it. We want it all!”.

They decided to drive themselves. “We appreciate the possibility of having a Portugal dive buddy driving us, but we prefer to go for the rental (car) and do it all by ourselves.”

Details of the trip 

Day 1 – Porto, Matosinhos

You will arrive at the Porto Francisco Sa Carneiro International Airport (OPO).

At the airport, you’ll collect the car that you will use for the entire trip, to go to the locations and dive sites included in your itinerary, but also for your discretionary use during the next twelve days.

At around 8:00 PM, your Portugal Dive Buddy will meet you at the hotel reception desk. He will brief you on the dive trip, provide useful information, and answer any questions you may have.

Porto is the capital and gateway to the North of Portugal, and both the city that provided a nation with a name and a fortified wine known world-wide: Port wine.

With its splendid geographical location on the mouth of the river Douro and architectural heritage of exceptional quality, UNESCO declared the historic centre of Porto as World Heritage in 1996.

Porto is the capital of the North and the second-largest city in the country.

Porto’s hard-working inhabitants are noted for their commercial enterprise, always standing firm against outside impositions and foreign invaders, which explains why Porto has become known as the «unvanquished» city.

 Day 2 – Matosinhos, Porto;

First-day Diving; People tend to leave the best for last? Don’t count on that. You will start by the most iconic dive in Portuguese waters, the U-boat 1277.

U Boat – 1277 is a WWII shipwreck. She was a German submarine Type VIIC/41 from the Kriegsmarine. On 3rd June 1945, she was scuttled by her crew to avoid the capture of the submarine by the Allies.

The wreck of U boat -1277 is located in a North-West direction from Oporto, 2 miles offshore way, laying at a depth of 31mts.

Small white Anemones (Sargatia Elegans) cover the hull of the submarine. Thousands of Pouts, the largest Congres in these waters, big and curious Octopuses, fantastic Lobsters and the magnificent Pink Anemone community are some of the natural attractions of this wreck.

After the dives, the Port Wine Tasting experience. Don’t drink too much, though. This is a dive trip and tomorrow you have to wake up early to drive south to Peniche.

Other dives close to this location

Days 3 and 4 – Peniche, Berlengas Archipelago;

Your base for the next couple of days is Peniche, and you will be diving in the fantastic Berlengas Archipelago. You will not believe you’re diving European Continental waters. Located opposite Peniche, the Archipelago consists of 3 groups of small islands: Berlenga Grande (the only inhabited one, that can be visited by boat from Peniche) and the nearby reefs, Estelas and Farilhões-Forcadas; their geological nature is different from that of the Portuguese coast.

The Islands have particular fauna and flora, with characteristics that make their ecosystem unique in the world. The importance of this was recognized by the creation of the Berlenga Nature Reserve in 1981.

Parede de Rabo de Asno is the dive that everybody wants to do (its name translated into English: Donkeys Tail Wall).

The rock is famous for its wall covered with red Gorgonians and for its cave. Its bright blue waters make the wall similar to coral walls which we usually find in tropical seas. In certain parts, the density of the Gorgonias covers the rock completely; inside the cave, we can still find walls lined with Gorgonians and the shoals of Pouts sometimes cover the sight. A beautiful sight!

It is a dive with usual currents which brings pelagics to feed along the wall. In the extremities of the rock, there is usually Seabream, and it is also possible to see Mola-mola.

Other dives on this location

Day 5 – Lisbon

Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and the hub of a multifaceted area that appeals to different tastes and senses.

In a city that has been influenced by many different far-off cultures over time, there is still a village feel in each historic neighbourhood.

You’ll stroll through the Pombaline grid of streets in the Baixa district that opens on to the Tagus in Praça do Comércio, then follow the river to discover some of the city’s most beautiful parts: the Cais do Sodre, the monumental area of Belém with its World Heritage monuments, finally returning to see the mediaeval quarters on the hill we call Alfama.

You’ll end the day having dinner at a Fado Restaurant. Your Portugal Dive Buddy will invite you to listen to sounds that evoke the Portuguese soul. Fado is melancholic with mourning voices expressing longing and is always accompanied by an acoustic and a Portuguese guitar.

A national symbol and included in UNESCO’s list of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, beyond the music, Fado is a sensory experience. A journey through history, art and the gastronomy of Portugal. One more “dive” you’ll never forget.

Days 6, 7 and 8 – Sesimbra;

For the next three days you will be diving in the Sesimbra Marine Reserve. For Portuguese divers, Sesimbra is a kind of sanctuary – some call it the “Mecca” of Portuguese diving because of everything you find underwater, but also because of its location and morphology; the perfect match for a site where you dive over 330 days, on average, each year.

Sesimbra, formerly a fishing town set in a sheltered bay, was founded on the hilltop around the Moorish castle that Dom Afonso Henriques (the first King of Portugal) captured to the Moors in 1165.

Sesimbra’s wealth of seafood persuaded the population to go down the hill and explore the neighbourhood, turning this town into one of the region’s main fishing ports. It was the sea, too, that during the 20th century, has attracted outsiders in search of excellent sheltered beaches with prime conditions for water sports and diving, making this peaceful place a busy summer resort.

Jardim das Gorgonias (Garden of the Gorgonians) is one of the most popular dive spots in the area, because of the diversity of life and easy orientation.

In the descent, a group of Seabreams accompanies the divers, seeming to guide the “guests” to their territory. Reaching the bottom, 15.5 meters, you face the primary rock, while on the rock floor, some Soft Corals and Gorgonians dance with the flow. If you look carefully, you will see some fish that lurk among the corals or are merely sleeping. This rock has several holes and cracks; each one is full of life: Forkbeard Fish, Octopuses, Morays, not to mention the diversity of Sponges, Anemones, Algae and lots of Sea Stars in different colours.

Here we can also find a vast variety of Nudibranchs, so, if you are a fan, a camera is indispensable! The best time for this small and beautiful specimen is between April and September, although some species are all year round.

The most popular course is to have the rock on our left side and go round it, taking into account that the northside of the stone is less deep; therefore, you can have a longer dive. When following this path, it is possible to see Cuttlefish, Pipefish, White Seabream, and several species of hard and soft corals, mixed with schools of fish. If you look carefully, you can see some Zeus Faber, hiding in disguise.

Please take into account that when rounding the rock on our right side, there is a large sand area. Look steadily for hiding Flounders, Stingrays and other creatures.

When the dive has ended, the Seabreams will be escorting you again, halfway to the surface.

Other dives on this location

Day 9 – Fonte da Telha

Day nine will be the day you go further south, to the Algarve. But this is also the day to go diving at Fonte da Telha, a beautiful beach south of Lisbon, which is unique in Portugal because although this is a country with numerous beaches, this is the only dive centre with its entire operation on the beach.

Pedra da Lagoa, or Lagoon Stone, is one of the most appreciated dives at Fonte da Telha for the life that it attracts. Usually, there is some current, so this is considered a dive for experienced divers that should know how to behave in such conditions. The average visibility is 10 meters and the maximum depth is 30 meters.

This spot consists of two stones that are about 20 to 30 meters apart. As we approach the most massive stone, Seabreams surround the divers, while Triggerfish and schools of Pouts swim by you.

This stone has canyon forming shelves where you can see Lobsters, Rock Crabs, Mediterranean Slipper Lobsters, Octopuses and many Congers. The rocks are full of life; yellow, red, orange and purple are predominant colours, due to the various species of Sponges, Soft Corals, and Starfish Urchins. For this reason, some consider the “Lagoon Stone” (translated from the Portuguese) the dive where one can observe more species and with a greater diversity of life, in mainland Portugal.

Other dives close to this location

Days 10 and 11 – Algarve, Praia da Rocha

Located by the mouth of the Arade river, Rocha Beach extends over a vast area of sand some 3 kilometres long, irregularly broken up by odd rock formations that the sea has been carving out throughout tens of thousands of years.

Bathed by a calm and warm sea that provides for risk-free swimming, Rocha Beach houses many facilities for some different sports, including the Ocean Revival Park.

You will stay here for the last part of your trip, diving the wrecks of the Ocean Revival and enjoying everything else Rocha Beach has to offer.

The Fragata Comandante Hermenegildo Capelo is the second frigate in a group of four ships ordered in 1964 by the Portuguese Navy. From the point when it was brought into active service for the Portuguese Navy on 26th April 1968, it took part in several missions in Africa, in various national and international exercises, search and rescue missions and also inspection of the exclusive economic zone. It also undertook voyages for the instruction of naval college trainees.

This shipwreck is part of the Ocean Revival Project. The Ocean Revival Project was born with the intent of promoting Algarve’s underwater tourism, making it an exceptional destination. Three other ships are part of this project: Corveta Oliveira e Carmo, Patrulha Zambeze and Navio Hidrográfico Almeida e Carvalho”.

The Ocean Revival Park is a group of shipwrecks worth being explored! The lower decks are only accessible to experienced divers, as it is necessary to have reasonable buoyancy control to not raise sediments.

However, there is still a lot to explore on the superior decks. There you will find lots of life. You can observe several schools of fish, namely Triggerfish and Seabreams, that act almost like “dive guides” as they accompany us throughout the entire dive. They are the actual hosts of these wrecks!

Other dives close to this location

Day 12 – Algarve, Praia da Rocha

And on, Day 12 – Algarve, Praia da Rocha; you rest. Yes, it’s surface interval day — time to enjoy a little more of the Algarve.

Our recommendation, go to Sagres and enjoy the site where many centuries ago, Portuguese sailors departed to the discovery of new land like the one we call today, Brazil.

 Day 13 – Faro;

You will drive to the Faro International Airport (FAO), return your car and start thinking about your next dive trip to Portugal.

Because of the COVID pandemic with the borders closed and airliners grounded, Monika and Vincent had to postpone their trip and are anxious, waiting for the opportunity to reschedule.

After resuming the diving activity in Portugal; we went diving for the first time after two hard months last week. We are getting ready to go back to the sea with friends and fellow divers.

Step by step, touristic operators are working to restart their operation again, so we had a call yesterday, and our mutual objective is to meet mid-July.

If you want to join them underwater, diving in Portugal is waiting for you.

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