Azores Trip

Jul 07 2022 Posted by Office Administraton

by Sarah

The Islands

The Azores is almost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is comprised of an archipelago of islands.   The region is 1500km off the coast of Portugal and encompasses nine diverse and unspoilt islands which are very much part of Portugal in their language, historic architecture, and cuisine.  The islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus on his return trip following the European discovery of the Americas.

Santa Maria, a two-hour flight from Lisbon, is the most southerly of these islands and has a mild climate with rainy winters and pleasantly warm summers.    The best time to visit Santa Maria is between June and September when the sea temperature ranges from 20°C to 24°C.   Light clothes, with one or two sweaters, or a jacket, for the cooler nights are enough along with a light raincoat.

The main town on the Island is Vila do Porto which has one hotel in the town, and two other hotels not far outside the town.   Apart from a few restaurants attached to hotels most of the eateries around Vila do Porto target local diners.   While seafood is very popular, meat dishes are also available, as well as locally produced wine and cheese from the island. However, the choice for vegetarians is limited.

For non-divers, car, scooter and bike rentals are available locally, and the island is one of the Azores best mountain biking destinations.    If you’re a walker or hiker there are several linear hiking trails and, taking the Santa Maria’s circular Grande Trilhos is a great way to explore the island’s costal walking paths, which are all well marked.

For visitors from Northern Europe the price of food and drinks will come a pleasant shock.  On the day we arrived, our group of 12 had lunch together and were presented will a bill of less than €60. A small local beer of 200ml was less than one euro during this visit in 2021.

Some of the group used a degassing day to explore the hill walks around the island. The island looks strikingly like Ireland, when you are off the beaten track, except that it is much warmer and generally much dryer. The Azores is a unique and unpolluted gem nestling mid-Atlantic and should be on every diver’s bucket list.

Setting off hiking

The Group and getting there


Due to the uncertainty surrounding travel requirements during the COVID 19 pandemic, we decided to focus on travel options within the EU.  The Azores, as part of Portugal, met this requirement while offering us a new and exciting travel location.

Initial research in relation to liveaboards in the Azores was not promising from a cost or logistics perspective and availability was limited. In this context, we were pleasantly surprised when the option of a land-based holiday on the island of Santa Maria emerged as a cost-effective possibility.  Flights from Dublin to Villa Do Porto, via Lisbon costing €250 including 23kg of check in luggage, our accommodation in a 4-star hotel costing €40 per night B&B, and a 12-dive package for under €600 made the trip financially very attractive to our core group of 7 divers and a snorkeler from Portmarnock SAC. We were delighted to be joined by Ray and Aoife Yeates who added a few days in Lisbon to the trip. This is an idea worth considering, and it is easy to organize when flight and hotel bookings are made individually.  Contact with the dive centre, aptly named Mantamaria (, was very straightforward and Jorge Rita and the team provided a relaxed small Island environment.  The dive center van was at our disposal for the week, which meant that we could travel around the Island and take in all the sights and sounds.  Local elections were on, during our stay and campaigning was reminiscent of Ireland in the 60’s with parades of flatbed lorries carrying candidates through the villages.  The island is self sufficient in terms of food, and the local cuisine is legendary.  We were determined to sample the famous Caçoila” (a thick meat stew in traditional ceramic pot) which was required to be ordered the day before.  It was worth the effort, especially when accompanied by the local  Licor Beirão  as a digestive.

The Hiace to Heaven


John and Ciaran taking in the (sun) rays


The Diving

This is the Atlantic Ocean where the swell can give similar conditions as the west coast of Ireland. The big difference is that the sea spray here is warm. Most of the diving is 30 to 40 minutes from the harbour in Santa Maria. The dive depth is mainly in the 20-metre range where long warm dives can be enjoyed. There is some very deep water around the islands, so diving is carried out on reefs and seamounts.  The choice of dive locations, as you would expect, is determined by the sea state on the day, and taken in consultation with the coastguard. Some more remote locations, like Formigas Lighthouse, are only accessed when there are enough divers to fill two boats.  This is for safety while travelling to such remote dive locations, but more on that later.

We chose to use Mantamaria Divecenter in Villa de Porto harbour.  This is a friendly, well equipped dive centre located adjacent to the marina. From there it is just a 20 metre walk to the dive boats.  The RIBs operated by the centre are up to 10 metres in size and are well equipped with everything a diver would need.   Nitrox is available at an extra cost. All of our group availed of this option as we did dive intensively over six days.  The dive centre recognizes divers trained by all federations and agencies and, the level of red tape required to register to dive was minimal.  The dive centre also arranged van hire for the group to use for transfers.  During the week we had free use of “de van” for evening trips around the island.

With the conditions sometimes being challenging, a CMAS Diver 2* or equivalent dive qualification would be advisable.  Some days on the boat can be long but, the crew bring drinks and cake to keep divers well fed and hydrated.


 The small island formation of Formigas is a two-hour RIB trip from Santa Maria, and what a dive! It is the centre point of a marine reserve and is very isolated. As stated earlier, the dive centre needs a large number of divers to arrange this trip as protocol dictates that two boats are needed for safety.  The visibility generally in the Azores in September is almost unlimited, and this dive is a must dive for visitors to Santa Maria, if you have the sea legs for it. The huge groupers are amazingly friendly and, a big amorous grouper took a huge fancy to one particular diver, who was wearing a blue wetsuit, harassing him for most of the dive!


Interacting with a Formigas resident


The Rays


Rays in the blue


The name of the dive centre says it all, It’s about the rays. Being in the wild Atlantic means, that on any dive, you may see all forms of migrating creatures including, rays and whales.  We were fortunate to see tuna hunting with a whale and forcing fish into a giant bait ball. This can be seen using snorkel equipment and the dive centre will spend al long as needed to find sights        like those for visiting divers. The centre owner is passionate about his island, and diving, and goes to extraordinary lengths to give divers the best experience possible.

Another highlight of the week is seeing the rays in their natural habitat.  A station has been set up at a site where the rays come close to the surface. The site is buoyed, and divers can clip on to a series of lines and spend 50 minutes or so with rays circling around them. At one stage our group noted 16 rays in attendance.  A ” look not touch” policy strictly applies and it is a truly spectacular sight.



What’s not to like? It’s Europe, it’s the wild Atlantic, it’s four hours away, it’s 26° air temperature and 22° water temperature in September.  Why not spend a day or two in Lisbon which is one of Europe’s finest cities on either end of the trip? This group will return again this year, and many members of the group plan to make it an annual trip.


Ray Yeates, Aoife Yeates and Ciran Kissane


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