´Splashpacking´ again: Travelling to Porto Santo Island to go scuba diving with Rhea Dive Center
After a too-long break from scuba diving and travelling, I finally pick up my ´Splashpacker bag´ again to go scuba diving on Porto Santo Island. Most people might not know about this island, but it´s located at about 70 km from Madeira Island and roughly 500 km from the coast of mainland Portugal to which both islands belong. For me, currently living on the Canary Islands, Madeira is only a 1,5-hour flight away and I can´t believe it took me so long to discover this place. I fall in love with Porto Santo island the minute I put my feet on dry land, after arriving by ferry from Madeira Island.
The staff of the diving centre on Porto Santo let me choose where to go scuba diving
Because it´s low season (it´s beginning of March), I am the only diver for the day. Lucky me, I feel like some kind of VIP diver! One captain and one dive instructor only for me, they even let me choose where we go diving for the day! As always, my decision-making problem comes up when I have the choice between 2 wreck dives for the first dive, but I make up my mind to go for Cordeca wreck. After a very detailed scuba diving safety briefing for both dive sites for the day, we put our diving equipment on board of the little zodiac boat who is going to bring us to the dive sites.
The first dive site of scuba diving Porto Santo Island: Cordeca Wreck
After a short boat ride of about 15 minutes, we arrive at the first dive site of the day. Because the Cordeca wreck sunk pretty recent, in 2016, the wreck is almost completely intact. There are big schools of fish hanging around the wreck and a curious barracuda is watching us from a distance when we descend first to about 15 metres to reach the top of the wreck. We enter the wreck and swim through different rooms like the captain´s cabin and even the toilet is still intact in the bathroom of the ship.
Full penetration during scuba diving the Cordeca Wreck
I am really impressed by the diving of this wreck, and without my instructor, I would definitely have got lost inside the wreck. Soft corals have started to grow on the wreck over the last 4 years and have attracted already a lot of fishlife. Looking through the window frames, we are also able to keep an eye on any interesting fish which might be passing by on the outside. Once we come out of the wreck, we do some diving around and on top of the wreck. A Madeira Rockfish, a certain type of scorpionfish, is staring at me from a little hole. We see a stingray getting up from the sand before it swims away in the distance and I play with my camera to take a photo of a jellyfish. The maximum depth of this dive site is about 30 metres and the visibility is amazing!
The surface interval during our scuba diving: meeting the local staff from Porto Santo Island
During our surface interval, I chat with the diving instructor and boat captain. I learn that both of them are born and raised on Porto Santo Island. They are working for the diving centre the whole year round, so whenever you plan to go scuba diving on Porto Santo Island, you can expect a local scuba diving instructor with a great knowledge of all the fishlife and spotting the best fish during your dives. From experience, and as a scuba diving instructor myself, I know that local dive guides are the best and they know where the fish is hiding which you otherwise might miss.
Second dive site on Porto Santo Island: Pedra do Ginja
This dive site is located at one of the small islets surrounding Porto Santo Island, called ´Ilhéu de Cima´. The dive spot, which exists mainly of volcanic rocks and with a maximum depth of about 20 metres, is named after a dusky grouper living at this dive spot: Ginja! And I am really surprised about what happens after we jump for this dive! We are in the water for about 5 minutes and this grouper comes, super quickly, swimming towards us and instantly find his way to the scuba diving instructor. He almost bumps into him and looks like he wants to be cuddled, as he does. I know we should not touch fishlife normally, but this is really an exception. The grouper, Ginja, is coming towards us asking for it! See a little video at the end of this post!
The scuba dive site is named after Ginja, which means ´sweet cherry´ in Portuguese
When I see Ginja swimming towards the instructor, it really looks like a happy dog running towards his owner, after waiting for him to come home. He also follows us during the whole dive and comes towards me or the instructor many times. At some time he´s under my belly, just staring at me with something that almost looks like a smile! You can see he is enjoying our company. I never saw this before with a grouper, but it is really amazing! We see a nudibranch and some other fishlife, but I am so amazed by ´Ginja´ that I spend most of my dive just playing with him without looking much on other stuff! After the dive, I learn that in Portuguese, Ginja means ´sweet cherry´, so this fish is well named!
General impressions of scuba diving around Porto Santo Island
In general, marine life and the reefs are a bit similar to the ones from the Canary Islands. However, the wreck is very impressive and I never in my life saw a tamed grouper like that. Therefore, I enjoy it way more than scuba diving on the Canary Islands. Also, the unspoiltness in combination with the crystal clear visibility reminds me of diving on El Hierro island, which I believe is the best diving of the Canary Islands. But on El Hierro are no wrecks like that. So if I could choose, I would choose Porto Santo. Simply because it´s more complete. Furthermore, the staff is very friendly and helpful and everything seems very organised. Although I have no idea how this looks like in the busy summer season!
Scuba diving on Porto Santo Island: an introduction to the dive sites
There are about 20 dive sites around Porto Santo Island, most of them are in between 20 – 30 metres of depth. Porto Santo island is of volcanic origin, so you can expect volcanic rocks, walls, sandy areas and some swim-throughs and overhangs. There are also scuba dive sites at the surrounding little islets. It´s recommended to dive on Nitrox if you are certified for it or you can take the course. The water temperature varies from 18-19 degrees Celcius in winter to about 23 degrees in summer. Sometimes there can be currents so drift diving is no exception here.
Wreck diving and the marine life of the Atlantic Ocean around Porto Santo Island
There is a lot of variety in scuba diving around Porto Santo Island. It might be a great place to do your Advanced Open Water Course! There are two wrecks located within 2 km of the coast. Next to the Cordeca wreck, there is another one called ´Madeirense´ at a depth of about 33 metres, which sunk in 2000. The water around Porto Santo Island gives home to the usual Atlantic reef fish like different species of rays, octopus, barracuda, tuna, moray eels, big groupers, pelagic fish and trumpetfish, amongst much more. Located in the Atlantic Ocean makes it quite possible for bigger marine creatures to pass by. You need to be lucky though, but bigger fish as whales, dolphins, turtles and the Blue Marlin do swim in this part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Practical information about Rhea Dive Centre
Rhea Dive Center is on Porto Santo Island since 2007 and offers comfortable diving excursions for experienced divers, beginners courses and all other courses within the SSI system. It´s a good place to do your Advanced Open Water. Next to the zodiac boat, they also have a big catamaran for diving- and snorkelling tours. The dive centre welcomes couples or families with non-scuba diver members as well since they can go snorkelling, freediving, join a boat tour and even do some whale- or dolphin watching. High-quality scuba dive gear from Aqualung is available for rent. I saw a pretty new Bauer compressor and Nitrox is available as well. The nearest decompression chamber is on Madeira Island. Click here for a link to the dive centre for more information and updated prices.
Information for your scuba diving holiday to Porto Santo Island
Porto Santo Island is a great destination for either single travellers, couples and families. The island is very quiet during the low season but can get a bit crowded in the high season which is from June till October. Porto Santo is only 11 km long and half of this in width offering almost 9 km of a Caribean style beach, viewpoints, spa & wellness and very relaxed people. Almost everybody speaks English on the island since this is common in Portugal. You can go hiking, cycling, do other watersports or visit one of the museums, like the one about Cristopher Columbus. The sand of Porto Santo has medicinal properties and there are some spa & wellness centres offering special treatments with this sand. You can also do a little island tour by bus which takes a little 2 hours and costs €8,- (price in 2020)
How to get to Porto Santo Island: by ferry from Madeira Island
You can reach Porto Santo Island by ferry from Madeira island with ´Porto Santo Line´. The boat trip takes about 2,5 hours and I paid just over €30,-. Porto Santo Line operates daily, with exception of Wednesdays, from Madeira to Porto Santo in the early morning and returns in the late afternoon back to Madeira. The ferry is a very comfortable big boat, where you can have breakfast or dinner and there´s even a cinema onboard where you can watch a movie free of charge. Click here for a link to Porto Santo Line for more information.
Flying to Porto Santo Island from Madeira or mainland Europe
Porto Santo Island does have a little airport. The Portuguese airline ´TAP´ offers direct flights from mainland Portugal to Porto Santo and the airline ´Binter Canarias´ operates a twice-daily flight between Madeira and Porto Santo. However, if you have the time I recommend taking the ferry since it much better environmental wise and cheaper too. It´s also a great idea to combine your holiday to Porto Santo with a visit to Madeira Island. For booking your transport or international flight to Madeira Island I recommend checking on 12go.co scanning all available flights for you. This way you can choose the most economic way and what best fits your travel plans. If you decide to fly, always keep your no-flight time after scuba diving in mind.
Where to stay during your scuba diving holiday on Porto Santo Island
Because I was only on the island for a few days, I did not have time to check out any accommodations. However, I had a fantastic stay at ´Porto Santo Hotel & Spa´. This hotel was the first hotel on Porto Santo Island! The location is great because you are in a quiet area right at the beach but still able to walk to the village centre in about 15 minutes. The staff was so friendly and they offered me an early check-in and a late check-out, both free of charge. There is a spa, swimming pool, mini-golf, beach bar and they offer a buffet-style delicious breakfast. For dinner, next to their international main menu, the restaurant also offers a complete ´a la carte´ vegetarian menu which I highly enjoyed. Check out booking.com or use the search table below to find your accommodation deal on Porto Santo Island.
Conclusion about diving and travelling to Porto Santo Island
The only thing on my mind when I was on that ferry leaving this amazing island, was: I wish I could stay longer! There really is something about this island. The people were oh so friendly everywhere, I did not meet ANY person which was in a bad mood. The amazing scuba diving with crystal clear waters, the wreck and Ginja made me reconsider my current job and wondering if I should not work as a scuba diving instructor again! The diving, in combination with wellness, white beaches, friendly people and quietness made me experience this as one of the most relaxing scuba diving holidays ever. Maybe I should not write about this place because right now it really is a little secret gem, a paradise in Europe, where not many people know off. I absolutely like to go back one day!
Here is the little video of Ginja:
Happy bubbles & safe travels!