Sao Miguel – the largest out of 9 volcanic islands that form Azores archipelago. It is located about 900 miles west of the mainland of Portugal and roughly 2500 miles to the shores of North America, which translates to only 4 hours of flight time directly from Boston.

Hotel Marina
Seven Cities

We, that is my wife along my friends Yelena Aronova and Camilo Pires, drove around the island, taking lots of picture of the mesmerizing sceneries. Just in a few days we were able to visit many natural parks, like Caldeira Velha, and quite a few delicious restaurants. People on the island were very friendly and always willing to help.

Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) Sao Miguel, Azores

Hotel Marina

There are 2 Marina Hotel on the island. One is Marina Atlântico situated at Ponta Delgada, the main city of the island, and the other (where we stayed) in Villa Franca do Campo.

Vila Franca do Campo. Sao Miguel

The location of the hotel has many pluses and a few drawbacks. As to a diver – the big plus is that there are 2 dive shops, situated in 2 minutes walking distance from the hotel. The view is awesome and the beach is literally right at your doorsteps.

There is also really nice coffee shop, which stays open till 11 pm, offering nice, inexpensive meals and free access to the internet.  The minus, at least as much as I concerned, is the noise on the bustling streets. Breakfast is ordinary, but it was included into the room price.

Espirito Azul dive shop

Carlos – the owner of the Espirito Azul

Right from the beginning I would like to thank all members of “Espirito Azul” for assistance in making all my dives an easy and pleasurable experience. As I mentioned before there are two dive shops located within 20-30 yards from each other.  They are tucked in into one-floor mini-mall, which wraps Marina de Villa Franca. One of my Facebook acquaintance suggested to contact “Espirito Azul” and I do not regret following his suggestion. Basically, it’s a boutique shop which runs 2 dives a day – in the morning and afternoon.  Except for really long distances (then fiberglass boat is utilized), the shop utilizes large inflatable (good for 14-16 people).  Carlos – the shop owner – is very knowledgeable and easy to deal with diver. Safety is a priority for all dive-masters, they monitor your air supply very closely and twice Nuno offered to me his second source while I still had about 1000 psi left in my tank. All dives were 50-60 feet deep and about 45 minutes in length. Nitrox is recommended.

Nuno – the dive-master

Espirito Azul dive-shop

Diving

One of the best places to dive in the Azores, as I was told, is Dollabarat Reef, aka Formigas islets. It is about 42 miles from Sao Miguel and only 35 miles from Santa Maria. During my trip, we were unable to go to the atolls, but an acquaintance of mine did and liked it a lot.

Mauve stinger jellyfish

He also mentioned that water was a bit colder with a lesser amount  of the plankton. That diminished presence of sardines, mackerel and other smaller fish which, in its turn, attracts greater hunters such as dolphins, tuna, whales and other large pelagic fish. The best time for diving around Formigas islands is from the middle of July through September.

Felimare picta

Around Sao Miguel water was about 65-67 F and 7mm with the hood was comfortable enough. Gloves are not necessary yet it’s a good idea to protect your hands from a large amount of jellyfish. Due to cooler environment reefs are not very colorful, but rocky formation full of swim through passageways. Visibility was about 50-60 feet. The place is good for both – wide and macro photography.

Felimare picta

I had only 3 days available to dive at Sao Miguel. Of course, such a short period cannot give you the comprehensive picture. And yet 4 dives that I was able to make went very well. They showed to me great opportunities and I definitely would love to come back for more.

Dusky grouper

I also would like to express my deepest gratitude to my good friend Camilo Pires, who made this whole trip a reality. Upon arriving on the mainland, besides Porto, Lisbon and tons of other small towns we spent an unforgettable time in the town of his birth – Miros. Thank you very much, Camilo!

Mairos, Vila Real, Portugal

New discoveries and safe diving to all.