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Friday, June 5, 2015

Scuba Diving Sao Miguel and Snorkeling with Wild Dolphins - Sao Miguel, Azores

If you are planning a trip to the Azores, you are probably what I call an "adventure traveler". You probably like to go somewhere to experience the cousin and the culture but to also be active and see the sights in a different way. The village of Franca do Campo is a launch-off point for a bunch of fun stuff, the ferry to the island, scuba diving, and swimming with wild dolphins. 

Franco do Campo Marina

If you are a diver heading to a country with a coastline, you are probably looking up dive shops, reading reviews, and planning a dive. I did all of this and landed on the Azores Sub Dive Center, a PADI dive shop. I did some research and found that this spot was highly recommended. I also discovered that the Azores was home to some fantastic diving. 

What is so special, is that every island has its own "flavor" of diving if you will.  While you aren't going to see bright tropical fish (we are still in the Atlantic folks..), you are going to see some amazing fish, eels, octopus and if you are lucky, rays, dolphins and whales.  Because of the location of these islands out in the middle(ish) of the Atlantic, a lot of whales and dolphins pass through the islands on their migration routes. 

Franco do Campo Marina  

The best time to dive the islands is between June and November.  Conditions are best at the islands of the triangle (Sao Jorge, Pico and Failai) but Sao Miguel still has some wonderful diving. On a good day diving these islands, visibility can be over 60 meters (almost 200 feet). 

According to the shop, Divers will frequently see schools of mackerel, barracudas, yellow-fin tuna and trigger fish. Common sting rays grow quite large in these waters and large mantas are sometimes encountered. Keep an eye out for the small sea creatures like sea spiders, sea urchins, tube worms, octopus, moray eels and lobsters that hide in the small formations.

Around the island of Santa Maria, there are over 55 dive spots with caves, grottos, walls, flats and seamounts - all close to the island. This is the kind of place where you can experience a variety of species within a very short distance. Some specialty type divers are done by some of the charter companies, such as towed dives, scooter dives and blue water dives.

Because I was on Sao Miguel and would not be seeing the other islands during this trip, I decided to go diving in Sao Miguel out of Franco do Campo.  It was also logisticaly the easiest way for my family to drop me off for a half day adventure while they did something else on the island. The plan was to go diving around the nature reserve/island from yesterday's post and featured above. 

There was the captain, two dive instructors/guides, myself, and a gentlemen from Italy vacationing in the Azores.  This was my first time diving without my trusty group of dive buddies, and my first time diving off a boat (well, inflatable skiff).  I was a little nervous about going down a line (with bad ears) with this group of strangers, but this company and the guides made it an amazing experience.  The one on one experience (two guides to two divers) was also very reasurring. 

If you are coming from the states, things are a little different when diving in a European country- no one calls them tanks, only cylinders, and pressure and depth is in the metric system.


We got dressed at the shop, and the guys brought all of our gear over to the boat for us (all that weight is heavy). We headed over to the island, put on our gear, and jumped right in. Our guide took us down the line (a little slower than he probably thought due to my awful ears) and did two separate dives in two different spots around the island.  The dives were absolutely beautiful, swimming along the large walls of the islands. We saw Moray Eels, Portuguese Lobsters (Cavacas!), parrot fish, and various small ocean critters.  The water was on the cold side but the visibility was amazing. When you are ready to get back on the boat, you take off your bc, clip it onto the side of the boat, and they pull you back in (service, I tell ya). Then they pull over your BC for you and you are back on your way to shore. 

Video by Azores Sub Dive Center June 13 2013 

Our guide put together this little GoPro video montage of our dive so you can all see a little glimpse of almost exactly what i saw in the comfort of your living room.  

Yellowfin Tuna. Franco do Campo 

Later in the week, we were back in the water to go "swimming" with wild dolphins. Until this trip, I had never swam with dolphins, never feeling quite comfortable to do the kind of excursion that seaworld offers, sliding into a concrete tank to watch trained dolphins do tricks. This was such a different experience and probably one of the coolest ones I have ever experienced.

There is no SeaWorld in the Azores. Instead, you head to the marina and jump onto an inflatable skiff, donned in a wetsuit with snorkel gear in your hand. A marine biologist in the front of the boat tells you all about the species we are heading out to see. The captain is on a walkie talkie with a helicopter pilot, his job is to scan the horizon for pods of dolphins. Once he has some in sight, he tells the boat captain and we zip on over to this location.


I remember it like it was yesterday, quietly sliding over the rubber skiff into the water with a pods of wild dolphins. They were darting around us for a brief few minutes, checking us all out while being ever so careful and cautious. What was more miraculous than seeing them was the sound. The echolocating clicks and chirps underwater was magic. It doesn't last long, but once everyone is back on the boat, we are on the move again, waiting for the pilot to tell us where another pod is spotted.


Whale and dolphin watching is a large part of Azores tourism, a drastic change from it's whaling history. The Azores is one of the world's top spots for sighting whales and dolphins - what's even cooler, is you have the opportunity to swim in the ocean with a wild pod of dolphins. I booked a tour through Futurismo and went to Ponta Delgada on the south coast of Sao Miguel.  The 2.5 hour adventure was 65 euros, or $72.25 (back in 2015). Worth . Every . Penny.  

Dolphin species that can be seen
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)
Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

If you rather just see the whales, you are in luck! The Azores are visited by several whale species, with the most common being the big sperm whale. Also seen in these waters are the blue whale (especially during spring and summer), the pilot whale, the false killer whale and even the killer whale. In other islands of the archipelago, cetacean watching is more seasonal, but in São Miguel the rigid inflatable boats set off all year round.  


  1. I saw a "whale watching sign" and I was sold. Great post once again lovely!

    xx -n
    Naomi in Wonderland

    1. If you like Whale Watching STAY TUNED! I have a post on swimming with wild pods of dolphins here :)

  2. One of the prime spots for learning is Grand Cayman (population 40,000), circled in part by a single flat road with driving on the left, since it's a British territory. padi open water

    1. Have not been as a certified diver. Would love to go

  3. So as to obtain certification, divers need to complete four or five open water dives, in the course of which instructors will test them on all of the items they were supposed to have learnt over the duration of the scuba diving course, which includes clearing masks and buddy breathing. scuba diving cayo diablo

    1. Correct, I have taken several diving classes and learned so much through each one!

  4. Your style is really unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just bookmark this blog. Dive Oahu

    1. Hi Brian, Thanks for reading and stopping by! I am glad you like the style of the blog and posts, it is definitely laid back and casual with various places and spaces. I will have to check out Dive Oahu as well!

      Thanks for reading,


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