With a coastline of 5000km which includes the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands there is no shortage of scuba diving opportunities in Spain. In fact Spain has the largest coastline of the EU yet surprisingly it has only relatively recently joined the list of desirable diving destinations.
For most divers it is the clear waters of the Mediterranean that is most attractive for a diving holiday. In prehistoric times the Mediterranean was a valley that flooded when the isthmus that joined Spain to Africa was breached by the Atlantic. The western part of the Mediterranean is very deep and without plankton which means that as well as there being no danger of coming across basking sharks or manta rays there is also very good visibility, excellent characteristics for most divers.
One of the highlights of diving on the Costa Brava are the Medas Islands off L’Estartit which have been protected since 1990. As well as conger and moray eels you’ll come across a huge diversity of marine life and many fish tend to come close to divers as they are protected and have no fear of fishermen. There is plenty to see from as shallow as 10m down beyond 50m including magnificent cave structures. There are some great dive sites on the Costa Blanca, the most notable ones being around Calpe which is a stone’s throw from Benidorm. Further down on the south coast there are great dive sites off the western Costa del Sol from Fuengirola and the other major resorts as well as from Nerja and Almunecar in east.
There is some outstanding diving off the rugged west coast of Mallorca stretching all the way from Pollenca in the north to Andratx in the south. There are regular sightings here of morays, octopus, scorpionfish, bream and anglerfish as well as the shoaling barracuda. The island of Cabrera off Mallorca is a protected marine reserve which can be booked in advance by divers. The southern coast of Menorca offers stunning underwater scenery which attracts many cave divers as well as recreational divers. Marine life is similar to that in Mallorca with common sightings of barracuda, amberjack, dentex and dolphins as well as the occasional swordfish.
Costa Blanca Scuba Diving Sites
Peñón de Ifach
There’s some great scuba diving around the Calpe on the Costa Blanca which is primarily focused around the Peñón de Ifach – a towering rock stretching out into the Mediterranean Sea, which is visible from Benidorm to Moraira and for miles around. At the Peñón de Ifach there are several dive sites from the shallow shore dive at Pebble Beach to the beautiful Arches at Los Arcos and all the sites in between. The temperature in the water ranges from 27ºC in the summer to 13ºC in the winter.
Fish life is abundant around the Calpe area as the Peñón de Ifach is a protected area. During the months of May through October we regularly see eagle rays, sting-rays, large schools of barracuda and sometimes if we are lucky the odd shaped Ocean Sunfish. Amongst the many other species, our all year round residents include octopus, moray and conger eels, Thornback rays, groupers, scorpion fish, large schools of cow bream and damselfish.
At the tip of the Peñón de Ifach there is a 30m dive – The Bowl. This site can only be dived when the sea is calm. The dive starts in a cave at the point of the Peñón and continues through a swim through to an area of the rock carved out by the sea to form a perfect soup bowl into which 4 to 5 divers can fit. In this area lots of the larger fish congregate including wrasse, grouper and from time-to-time barracuda.
This area enjoys good visibility within a range of 10m-40m with an average visibility of 20m. There are several dive sites within a 5-10 minute boat ride of the various ports around Calpe and double that amount within a 45 minute boat trip. All of the diving around the area is very scenic with wall dives, arches and swim-throughs as well as some impressive caves and caverns.
The dive site at Los Arcos has evolved over hundreds of years to become the favourite that it is today. In the past boulders have fallen from the Peñón de Ifach forming a maze of arches and swim-throughs encrusted with soft corals and anemones. At this site you will usually find large schools of the smaller local residents – damselfish, wrasse and sea-bream. If you look closely among the rocks you can find octopus, moray eels and scorpion fish.
The dive site of Flatrock runs along the shore line of the Southern side of the Peñón and has a jumble of large rocks exploding with fish life. Anything from dive-bombing cow bream feeding from the plentiful Neptune grass to schools of stripped barracuda up to two or three hundred in number. This site starts at around 5m and drops down a slow sloping ledge to around 25m where the elusive Sunfish can sometimes be seen.
For the more experienced and adventurous divers there are many deeper dives around the Calpe area to a depth of 35m. At Toix, the headland South of Calpe there are some impressive cave and cavern dives and another cave dive at Cumbre Del Sol to the North of Moraira
The south side of the Toix headland is very interesting with numerous caves and caverns – most can be entered with ease although this dive is recommended only for experienced divers. Torches are essential here as in some of the caves there is no natural light. As well as the caves, this site offers a wall dive with many swim throughs coated with soft corals.
Cumbre Del Sol
Cumbre Del Sol is a popular cave dive. At the beginning of the dive you can swim through a wide, low cave opening and surface inside the open air cave. From there you dive back out of the cave entrance and follow the wall along until you reach a second cave. This is a very large entry which takes you into the cave where a fresh water river pours into the sea. As you surface in this cave you come up through salt water into the fresh water. This sits on top of the salt water forming a salicline and is like travelling through an underwater fog
La Manga Scuba Diving Sites
La Manga offers some of the best diving in Spain. Although few northern European divers have heard of it, it is invaded on a regular basis – particularly at weekends – by divers from elsewhere in Spain. The Islas Hormigas marine reserve is the main attraction, but Spanish divers are also drawn to La Manga by the excellent shore dives, wreck dives, cavern dives and reef dives which lie close to, but outside, the reserve itself. Shore dives and the easier boat dives are ideal for novices, but also interesting and enjoyable for more experienced divers. And there are plenty of more challenging wreck, reef and cavern dives in the area.
Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve
Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve was established by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (and the Murcia regional equivalent) in 1995. A handful of local fishermen are still permitted to fish the reserve – to preserve their traditional way of life. All other fishing is banned and scuba divers must obtain a permit to dive the reserve.
The inner reserve has four dive sites – Bajo de Testa, Piles 1, Piles 2 and Bajo de Dentro. Of these, Piles 1, Piles 2 and Bajo de Dentro are the more challenging and interesting dives. All three are pinnacles or submerged mountains, with maximum depths of 28m+. All the sites are buoyed. You will almost always see barracuda, grouper, dentex, moray eels and a multitude of smaller fish on these sites. Bajo de Dentro has the added attraction of a large cavern at around 22m.
Cabo de Palos
Cabo de Palos which is a great site near the Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve. In general this area offers idyllic conditions for divers with very warm sea temperatures during the summer months combined with visibility as high as 25 metres.
Cabo de Palos lies on the edge of La Manga del Mar Menor, this where you’ll find some good diving for beginners most notably in the small bays at Cala Muerta and Cala Fria. With depth varying from 6 to 20 metres and all kinds of rock formations you can see an amazing amount of underwater life. As soon as you descend you will see big shoals of varied kind of fish. In the shallow part of the bays lie fields of ocean gorgonians which brings shoals of salaam and sergeant fish. Swimming over and looking between all the rocks lying on the bottom you can spot the octopus trying to hide from the intruders into their world. You might also see brown rays lying on the sandy parts of the bottom while you’re passing by.
Swimming along the walls you’ll come across the morays, with their beautiful golden spots, sticking their heads out of their holes. Also the conger eel lives in this area. Going through one of the swim troughs of just a few metres you will get a drop-off to about 15 metres. Passing some big rocks you arrive at the “Sharkmouth” which is named because of its shape which looks like a shark facing up with jaws open and waiting to attack.
Here you’ll observe a wide variety of fish, small ones in shoals of hundreds or thousands, and the bigger ones like the grouper with a size of 50 cm up to more than a metre. Don’t forget everything underwater looks 25% bigger because of the density of the water.
Further on we arrive at another longer swim through which reaches 18 metres. In this area while hovering above the rock formations you can spot the groupers lying on the rocks but hiding as soon as they are aware of divers. Around these small canyons you can spend hours watching the fascinating underwater life. Octopus, moray eels, groupers, poisonous stonefish and small rays are quite common and if you take the time to look up now and then you can spot barracudas circling around the top of the rocks.
In the other bay there is some good diving for divers of all standards following the wall at a depth of 3 to 10 metres and a visibility of 10-15 metres. This shallow depth allows you to take underwater pictures to show your friends when you return from your holidays.
All the way along the wall at the end we leave the bay through a narrow gap and you can choose to go left around the cliff or right around a small reef and again you have the chance to spot a large octopus, morays or groupers amongst all the small sealife. There are also rays on the sandy part of the bottom and the barracudas at the top of the reef. On the way back you can visit the wreck of a catamaran that was destroyed on the rocks during a storm.
Bajo el Dentro is one of the most popular reefs in the marine reserve where you can see huge morays lying on the rocks or in the sea grass and big shoals of barracudas as well as gigantic groupers hanging at a depth of around 20 metres. Because of the depths involved and the strong currents this site is only for experienced divers.
In the surrounding blue waters you can see eagle rays passing by and sunfish hanging still in the light of entering sun. Around 35 metres there are amazing red gorgons and even more enormous looking groupers. On the side of the wall there is a small cave you can easily enter and then leave via the top opening. If your lucky you might meet a dolphin or a turtle or a the occasional shark which still inhabits this part of the Mediterranean.
One of the most interesting wrecks in this area is the Naranjito. The Naranjito was a 50 metre freighter which sank carrying its freight of oranges (hence its name). This wreck lies about 3 km out of Cabo de Palos. With an average visibility of 20 metres and the good conditions of the wreck it is in a nice spot for divers who like wreck diving but is only recommended for advanced divers as it starts at a depth of 27 metres and the prop lies at a serious depth of 42 metres and sometimes there are really strong currents around the wreck which are not always noticed from the surface. On the wreck you can enter the load compartments safely and meet the congers, sunfish, barracudas or shoals of other smaller species
For easier and more relaxing dive sites the area around Cartagena is highly recommended. Here you can find several dive sites where you can find lots of stonefish, morays and octopus. One of the interesting things about this area is that sometimes you can find relics from ancient times like pieces of old pottery, copper nails or pieces of lead from the wooden ships that have sunk while attacking the nearby harbour of Cartagena.
Cala Fria, Cala Correo and Cala Reona
Cala Fria, Cala Correo and Cala Reona, all close to the small port of Cabo de Palos, are the most popular shore dive sites in the area. Cala Fria and Cala Reona are gravel and sand beaches respectively. Both have bottoms which slope steadily to maximum depths of 7 to 10 metres, which makes them ideal for beginners or experienced divers who haven’t dived for a while. Cala Correo has a small gravel beach and is a little more challenging. Maximum depth is 18 metres and access is via a staircase set into a low cliff. Cala Fria, Cala Correo and Cala Reona are very enjoyable and (once you get in the water) relaxing reef dives. Expect to see lots of smaller fish, lots of colourful sponges, sea urchins, sea grass, the occasional octopus and maybe even cuttlefish, moray eel or hermit crab.
La Laja, El Farallon and Isla Grosa
La Laja, El Farallon and Isla Grosa are easily accessible by boat from Puerto Tomás Maestre (towards the North end of La Manga strip). Each of these dive sites has something unique. La Laja is a completely submerged reef with a canyon to the north and has been the subject of a marine archeological investigation for the last two summers (looking for remains of a Phoenician shipwreck). El Farallon used to be used for target practice by the Spanish armed forces and is surrounded underwater by large boulders and chips of rock blasted from the island. Isla Grosa has two caverns – both shallow and one of which is open to the air for most of its length. Divers on these three sites usually see lots of smaller fish, lots of colourful sponges, sea urchins, sea grass. Octopus and moray eels are frequently seen. Barracuda, grouper and dentex are occasional visitors. From time to time, smaller nudibranchs (flabellinidae) are seen.
El Naranjito, Turia and Ulla
El Naranjito, Turia and Ulla are three of the shallowest wrecks in La Manga, but all are deep enough to make PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) and experience of deep diving essential. El Naranjito or Isla Gomera sank in a storm off Cabo de Palos in 1946. She gets her nickname from the cargo of oranges she was carrying – which reputedly caused her to sink when they shifted during the storm. A shot line is attached to the bow at about 27 metres and the deck at the stern lies at about 35m. Occasional strong currents make this a challenging dive. Turia and Ulla were both minesweepers until they were sunk as artificial reefs around 10 years ago. They are a few hundred metres apart off the La Manga coast in just under 35 metres of water. Turia is almost completely flat – her hull split along the keel sometime after sinking. Ulla is in much better condition, with the top of the wreck at a depth of around 28 metres. Ulla is in two large pieces – the bow and stern sections lie a small distance apart on the sea bed.