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.
´Splashpacking´ again: Scuba Diving Porto Santo Island (located close to Madeira)
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.
VIP diving on Porto Santo in the waters around Madeira Island
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 of diving two different ship wrecks to be found close to Porto Santo Island in the waters around Madeira archipelago. 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 diving sites of Porto Santo Island.
The first dive site of scuba diving Porto Santo Island, Madeira: Cordeca Wreck
After a short boat ride of about 15 minutes through the water around Madeira Island, we arrive at the first Porto Santo diving 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 go diving 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 on Porto Santo Island, which is to be almost fully penetrated. 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. Also, I am surprised by the clear visibility during scuba diving the waters around Porto Santo and Madeira Island.
Local diving staff from Porto Santo Island, Madeira
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, Madeira. They are working for the diving centre the whole year round, so whenever you plan to go scuba diving on Porto Santo Island in the Madeira archipelago, 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. Also, I always prefer to support local people during diving and travelling.
The second diving site on Porto Santo, Madeira Island: Pedra do Ginja
For the second dive, we went scuba diving at one of the small islets close to Porto Santo and Madeira Island, called ´Ilhéu de Cima´. The dive site in the Madeira archipelago exists mainly of volcanic rocks and has a maximum depth of about 20 metres. The diving spot is named after a dusky grouper living here in the waters around Porto Santo: Ginja!
I am really surprised about what happens after we jump for diving on this dive spot in Porto Santo! We are in the water for about five minutes when this grouper, super quickly, swims 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 diving 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 during this scuba dive at Porto Santo Island in the Madeira archipelago.
At some point 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 diving, I learn that in Portuguese, Ginja means ´sweet cherry´, so this fish is well named! And this Porto Santo dive site as well!
General impressions of scuba diving around the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira
In general, scuba diving in the waters around Porto Santo and Madeira Island is a bit similar to diving in 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 actually even 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 I have to admit that the scuba diving on Porto Santo Island near Madeira is just a bit 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 around Madeira
There are about 20 scuba diving sites around Porto Santo Island in the Madeira archipelago, most of them are in between 20 – 30 metres of depth. Porto Santo island is, like Madeira, of volcanic origin, so you can expect volcanic rocks, walls, sandy areas and some swim-throughs and overhangs during diving here.
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 the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira. 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 it is possible to spot bigger fish as whales, dolphins, turtles and the Blue Marlin during scuba diving in this part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Practical information for scuba diving with Rhea Dive Centre on Porto Santo Island in Madeira
Rhea Dive Center offers scuba diving on Porto Santo Island in the Madeira archipelago since 2007. The dive centre offers comfortable diving excursions for experienced divers, and beginners can learn to dive by doing courses within the SSI system. Porto Santo Island in Madeira is a good place to do your Advanced Open Water diving course. 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 near Madeira
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)
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Diving in Porto Santo and travelling to Madeira Island is safe during COVID-19 coronavirus
Porto Santo and Madeira Island are safe destinations to travel and dive during the coronavirus. Everyone is tested for free on Corona upon arrival at Madeira airport, you can read more about this in this blog post.
How to get to Porto Santo Island: by ferry or flight 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 on board where you can watch a movie free of charge. Click here for a link to Porto Santo Line for more information.
If you prefer to fly from Madeira to Porto Santo Island, I recommend using 12.go to find the best flight deal. Please be aware of your ‘no flight time’ after your diving, when you fly back from Porto Santo Island to Madeira. I earn a small commission on your purchase via the link above.
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. Click here for more information about Madeira Island. For booking your transport or international flight to Madeira Island I recommend checking on 12go.co scanning all available flights for you. I earn a small commission on your purchase through this link or the search table below.
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´. (I earn a small commission on your purchase through this link from Booking, and also if you prefer to use this link to book an accommodation in Porto Santo on Agoda).
The Porto Santo Hotel & Spa 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.
Conclusion about diving and travelling to Porto Santo Island near Madeira
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 around the waters of Porto Santo Island in the Madeira Archipelago, 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:
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Happy bubbles & safe travels!