Discover the best Diving Spots on Santa Maria Island!
Around the island of Santa Maria several types of diving can be done, resulting from the diverse geological formation characteristic of the Azorean archipelago - near the coast, among caves, tunnels and sandy bottoms, in littoral lows, located near the coast or in seamounts, distant from the coast.
Of particular note is “Baixa do Ambrósio”, where every year there is a concentration of jugs like nowhere else in the world - a guaranteed success.
The contrasting landscape is one of its great charms. Its slope is very jagged, forming bays and small coves that give way to very pleasant beaches, with the particularity of being the only white-sand beaches in the Azores.
One of the great contributors to the richness of Santa Maria's Natural Heritage are the geological and geomorphologic aspects.
It is the only island in the Azores that has marine fossil deposits. All the richness and diversity of Santa Maria Island is due to its many singularities.
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Baixa do Ambrósio
Being one of the most sought after diving sites in the Azores and worldwide, this Marine Protected Area (MPA) has a diversity of marine life that can only be found on seamounts far from the coast. Located only 3 miles off the north coast of Santa Maria Island, the "Ambrósio" has become a popular spot due to the dozens of manta rays that, in the summer months, swim in a very peculiar way around divers.
It is a deep dive and sometimes subject to moderate to strong currents. However, it can be done by less experienced divers and even snorkelers. Most divers choose to stay on the anchor line, between 5 and 15 metres, as the local fauna is at a fairly shallow depth.
However, for more experienced divers, it is possible to explore the bottom, at around 46 metres deep. It consists of a small platform, about 50 metres long, which is also rich in life: shoals of pelagics, lily pads of impressive size, anchovies and even moonfish.
Reserva Natural das Formigas e Banco Dollabarat
After a trip of about 30 miles from Santa Maria you your destination, during which you can usually spot some cetaceans, turtles and sea birds. The remote location of Formigas and Dollabarat, associated with the possibility of observing the multiple species that abound in the islands' seas, make the place one of the best diving spots in the Azores. It is recommended, especially to the most experienced divers, as it is far from any harbour of refuge and subject to sometimes strong currents.
Once on site, the choice is multiple: you can visit the Olympia wreck, southwest of the islets, between 30 and 50 meters deep; explore a small dive at 8 meters deep and 50 meters south of the lighthouse; dive on the vertical walls on the east side of the largest islet and go around the rocky blocks on the north side.
Southeast of the Ants is Dollabarat, so close that some divers take the opportunity to dive both sites, considered a marine reserve and where fishing is strictly prohibited. The Dollabarat presents a shallower zone, at 5 metres, cut by ravines at 8-10 metres. This kind of platform quickly drops to 20-30 metres and the walls testify to the abundant biodiversity of the site.
The Formigas-DollaBarat complex can be considered one of the best diving sites in the Azores. In its crystalline waters there is always the opportunity to observe many species, such as grouper, whiting or dogfish, but also some less common animals, such as manta rays and several species of sharks.
Pedrinha is less than 1 mile from the coast, opposite Praia Formosa on the south coast of the island. It is considered a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and is a wonderful place for night diving and snorkelling.
With the top about 5 metres from the surface and a large platform full of small schools of fish between 8 and 12 metres deep, the bottom drops to 30 metres (even 40 on the south side), providing an excellent dive for both beginners and more experienced divers.
This dive can also reveal three different caves and a wide crevasse that rises from 17 metres to the top of the low.
As the depth increases and especially around the deepest cave, full of colourful canary seals, large grouper, dogfish, schools of pelagic fish and even manta rays can be seen.
Ilhéu da Vila
This small islet, called Ilhéu da Vila because of its proximity to Vila do Porto, is about 50 metres high and is 200 metres off the southwest coast of the island. Although it is also close to the Marina, the place boasts an abundance of marine life. It is integrated in the Natural Park of Santa Maria Island and is also a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The north-facing side of the islet is more favourable to the appearance of shoals of pelagic fish such as lilies, beaked whiting and wreckfish.
Also on the north side is a small cave, about 12 metres deep, where several species of nudi-branchs and crustaceans, such as sand shrimps, can be found.
Baixa da Maia
A small islet located less than 500 metres from the coast, opposite the town of Maia.
It is a Marine Protected Area (MPA), having been forbidden to fish within a 300m radius due to its importance for diving. This area is often subject to moderate to strong currents. However, this spot is ideal for encounters with shoals of pelagic fish that share the waters around the low, large shoals of bicudas and lilies being common.
Banco João Lopes
Located on the north coast of the island of Santa Maria, the João Lopes Bank is an underwater rock, with the top 14 meters from the surface and the base about 40 meters deep.
Because it is relatively far from the coast, it sometimes has moderate to strong currents, which, associated with the high depth around it, makes this place advisable for more experienced divers.
At the top of the cliff, there is an abundance of fauna typical of the Azorean sea-beds, such as kingfish, queenfish, shoals of salemas and the curious groupers. The rock presents strong slopes and vertical walls, around the 20 metre mark, ideal for observing pelagic fish such as lilies, beaked whiting and grouper.
Near the bottom, grouper and whiting swim along the vertical wall, with groups of manta rays often hovering around them.