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.
Diving in the Canary Islands
Diving in Gran Canaria: Visitors to the popular holiday destination of Gran Canaria have access to a number of interesting dive sites such as the El Cabrón Marine Reserve off the east coast. Wreck divers can explore numerous sunken ships at sites off the north-east coast and there are some dive excursions to sites off Playa de Las Canteras in the north.
Diving in El Hierro: For crystal-clear waters there’s nowhere quite like the dive sites around the volcanic island of El Hierro where visibility of as far as 50 metres is not uncommon. The island is the most westerly of the Spanish Canary Islands which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Underwater volcanic eruptions in 2012 have regenerated the seabed around the island creating a spectacular diversity of marine life which is best seen in the Mar de las Calmas Marine Reserve in the south of the island.
Diving in Fuerteventura: This is the oldest of the Canary Islands which was created by a volcanic eruption some 20 million years ago. It is also recognised as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Divers can enjoy warm waters and excellent visibility throughout the year in the island’s main dive sites which include the Lobos Islands Nature Reserve off the north coast and the volcanic rock formations off Ajuy on the west coast.
Diving in Lanzarote: Located off the north coast of Fuerteventura there are numerous dive companies around the coast of this holiday island. Experienced divers should head for dive sites off the north coast which is home to the Chinijo Archipelago which includes the little known island of La Graciosa.
Diving on the Costa Brava (Catalonia)
Medes Islands: This Marine Reserve off the coast of L’Estartit is an underwater extension of the Montgrí mountain range which is made up of seven small islands. It is one of Spain’s premier destinations for scuba divers thanks to the biodiversity of its fauna and flora. There are plenty established dive centres in L’Estartit itself and in other nearby resorts along the Costa Brava. Popular dives include Carall Bernat, La Vaca, Dofí Nord, Pota de Llop and Les Ferranelles.
Cabo de Rosas: Further up the coast, in the Gulf of Roses, is the Cap de Creus Natural Park which is an area of exceptional beauty on both land and sea. Dive trips to popular sites such as La Galera and Bau del Moli are ideal for novice divers thanks to the clear, shallow waters. More experienced divers should also head for Illa de la Massa d’Or which is one of the coast’s best biological reserves.
Diving on the Costa Blanca (Valencia)
Calpe: There are many PADI dive centres in the holiday resorts of the Costa Blanca which offer a variety of short dive trips off the coast. The area around Calpe is a popular destination thanks to a number of scenic sites with wall dives, arches and swim-throughs as well as some impressive caves and caverns. The premier dive sites close to Calpe are in the waters of the Parque Natural Penyal de Ifac (Peñón de Ifach).
Penyal d’Ifac Natural Park: The Peñón de Ifach is a towering rock off the coast of Calpe which is visible from Benidorm to Moraira and can be seen from Ibiza on a clear day. The Phoenicians referred to it as the Northern Rock to distinguish it from the Rock of Gibraltar in the south. The natural park is home to several dive sites ranging from the shallow shore dive at Pebble Beach to the beautiful Arches at Los Arcos. Water temperatures range from 27ºC in the summer to 13ºC in the winter and the area enjoys good visibility averaging around 20 metres depending on depth.
Isla Tabarca: Another popular site for divers located is the Island of Tabarca which lies 9 km off the town of Santa Pola to the south of Alicante. A number of dive centres located along the Costa Blanca offer dive excursions to this protected marine reserve which is well known for its crystal-clear waters and marine biodiversity.
Diving in Murcia
La Manga: Whilst relatively few northern European divers are aware of la Manga as a popular diving area, it is invaded most weekends by divers from all over 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.
Cabo de Palos: Located on the southern edge of La Manga del Mar Menor, the small port of Cabo de Palos is the ideal base from which to explore the Cabo de Palos and Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve which is one of mainland Spain’s premier dive destinations. The area offers idyllic conditions for divers with very warm sea temperatures during the summer months combined with visibility as high as 25 metres. The waters are home to an abundance of marine life amidst a series of rock heads which rise to from a depth of 60 metres.
Wreck divers are drawn to the waters around the Islas Hormigas where a number of ships have sunk over the years including the infamous SS Sirio which went down in these waters in 1906 on route from Italy to South America. Another popular wreck for advanced divers is to the site of a ship called the Isla Gomera which went down in 1946 whilst carrying a cargo of oranges. Dive trips more commonly refer to the site as ‘El Naranjito’.
There are plenty more dive sites along this coast as you head further west with the area around Cabo Cope of particular interest.
Diving in the Balearic Islands
Diving in Menorca: There are some great diving spots around the Balearic Islands but few can beat the the rugged north coast of Menorca. The dive centres of Fornells head to sites within the North Menorca Marine Reserve between Cap Gros and Punta des Morter and further west to sites off the Cap de Cavalleria. Another interesting spot is the island of Illa de l’Aire which lies just offshore from Punta Prima on Menorca’s south-east.
Diving in Mallorca Just about every holiday resort in Mallorca is home to a PADI dive centre offering courses and dive trips to sites all around the island. Experienced divers should try to get a permit to visit the remote Cabrera Archipelago Maritime-Terrestrial National Park which lies 10km off the south-east coast of the island. Boat trips to the Cabrera Archipelago depart from Colònia de Sant Jordi but are strictly limited in numbers. Other popular diving destinations in Mallorca include the Llevant Marine Reserve off Capdepera on the east coast, the marine reserves of El Toro and Islas Malgrats off the south-west coast and the Island of Dragonera in the very south-west.
Diving in Ibiza and Formentera: There are some excellent dive sites located between the Parc Natural de Ses Salines to the south of Ibiza and S’Espalmador to the north of Formentera. Crystal clear waters and mild temperatures help make these islands all year round diving destinations.
Diving in Andalucía
Cabo de Gata: Continuing along the coast from Murcia leads to Andalucía which is Spain’s largest autonomous community with a coastline of more than 1000 km. One of the region’s premier dive sites is the Cabo de Gata Natural Park in Almeria which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Piedra de los Amarillos is a popular choice for inexperienced divers whilst expert divers can explore the wreck of a steamer which lies at a depth of 40 metres in Punta Baja.
La Herradura: The neighbouring province of Granada has some excellent diving opportunities in the Bay of La Herradura on the Costa Tropical. The best sites lie amongst the rocky capes of Punta de la Mona and Cerro Gordo which cater for both novices and experienced divers. The area is home to a large variety of marine flora and fauna in waters which stay relatively warm all year round. Dive schools based in nearby Nerja offer excursions into the Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs Natural Area.
Tarifa: To the west of the Costa del Sol in the Province of Cádiz the main attraction for divers is the area around Tarifa. Although this coast is best known for wind sports there are some good dive sites where you might be fortunate enough to see dolphins and turtles. The main site for experienced divers is the Wreck of the San Andrés, a steamboat that sank in these waters in 1856.
Diving in Galicia
Rías Baixas: The Atlantic coast of Galicia in the north-west of Spain is famous for its shellfish which comes from a series of drowned river valleys known as the Rías Baixas. Not surprisingly these rias prove fascinating to serious divers. The main attraction is the Ría de Arousa which is home to some fascinating marine life such as soft corals, sponges and even seahorses. Many ships have gone down off this coast over the centuries creating a wreck cemetery for experienced divers.
Islas Cíes: Further south, in the Vigo estuary, there are similarly interesting dive sites and numerous shipwrecks. One of the best diving areas is the Cíes Islands which lies off Vigo in the National Park of the Atlantic Islands. The Cíes archipelago is made up of three islands (Monte Agudo, O Faro and San Martiño) where divers can explore some incredible marine environments. Visibility can be limited in this region and divers should prepare for the cold of these Atlantic waters.