Beneath the warm, crystalline waters that embrace the archipelago of the Canary Islands lies a breathtaking underwater world steeped in ancient myth, legend and outstanding natural beauty. If you’ve a long-held fascination for reefs, wrecks and the lost city of Atlantis, allow us to introduce you to what’s at the bottom of Prestige Holidays’ garden in the Canaries…
The Canary Islands are one of the world’s most popular diving destinations, so for clients who, like me, have an affinity with this alluring underwater world it’s difficult narrowing down my recommendations. But if you’re looking for inspiration to explore decaying shipwrecks, captivating geological formations and weird and wonderful marine life, read on!
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and I’ve always considered the foreboding, ragged slopes of Mt Teide (a dormant volcano and the highest peak in Spain) a perfect complement to the ancient geological formations that lie beneath its surrounding oceans.
La Catedral: Just a few minutes by boat from Santa Cruz, I’m starting with one of my favourite dive sites. Suitable for a range of diving abilities (20-45m), La Catedral comprises a rocky shelf punctuated with caves, arches and vaults, moulded by eons of time and tide. The highlight is the interior cave with a 20-metre high vaulted roof – if not for your regulator it would definitely be a jaw dropping experience!
Yellow Mountain: For a mid-range dive (12-24m) there’s certainly a lot to see at Yellow Mountain, situated on the south coast of Tenerife. What I love about this site, aside from its location beneath the incredible fossilised sand dune, Montaña Amarilla, is that you can actually just walk into it from the beach. As you make your way through the lunar-like landscape of lava rocks and caves you’ll encounter an abundance of sea creatures keeping you company all the way. It’s pure magic.
If you’re making Tenerife your base, we have a wonderful collection of properties, including the luxurious Botanico, set within lush gardens in Puerto de la Cruz, and the equally special boutique beachfront hotel, Villa Cortes.
Diving on Gran Canaria
It would be remiss of me not to recommend the ‘other’ La Catedral, on Gran Canaria. For keen underwater photographers, I think this could be the most inspiring natural environment I’ve ever experienced. Situated off La Isleta, north of Las Palmas, the submerged landscape is a geological masterpiece – or monstrosity, depending on your aesthetic bent. Descending to 40m, divers can explore the endless maze of lava caves, crevices and sheer rock walls of this mind-boggling structure that rises some 30m off the ocean floor.
You can only understand what the Canaries’ reputation for superb underwater visibility means when you experience it for yourself. The vibrant marine life can be seen through the crystal clear waters up to 30m away and, with an ambient temperature of about 20°C at any time of the year, you can comfortably stay under as long as your equipment will allow.
La Restinga Marine Reserve
There are a number of marine reserves, but my top pick for sheer biodiversity and volume of wildlife is La Restinga, off El Hierro. The wetland habitat around the salt lagoon is home to a proliferation of migratory and resident birds, along with huge numbers of fish.
For divers and snorkelers, the underwater volcanic landscape off the beach is astounding; it’s teeming with life and around every crag, crevice and corner you’ll encounter a host of curious groupers, rays, barracudas, tuna fish, dolphins and even an occasional whale shark – don’t worry, they come in peace!
Top tip: you can easily take a day trip to El Hierro from Tenerife – just catch the daily ferry from Los Cristianos.
If my clients are history buffs (like me), I always recommend wreck diving, which opens a window to the past not many people get to see – although in many cases you do need to be experienced.
Wrecks off Tenerife
El Meridian: For advanced divers, the wreck of El Meridian, a German WW2 minesweeper vessel, lies in a watery grave 30m beneath the waves – although it was only scuttled in 2005. It sits (quite eerily) dead upright on the ocean floor, visited by dolphins, groupers, rays and other sea life. You can swim right around it from end to end to get an up close and personal look at its well-preserved carcass.
El Meridian: I recommend the Tabaiba wreck to our clients as a very accessible site because you can reach it straight off the beach, or not far out, depending on the tide. Because of this and also due to its depth of around 16-30m it’s used for quite a lot of dive courses. The 35m long vessel, El Peñon, was sunk in 2006 to create an artificial reef to attract the sea life – and it’s certainly done its job. I think this is one of the best wreck dives around for divers with some experience.
The wreck of the Arona, situated off Las Palmas, is one for the advanced divers only. But if you’ve got the skills you’ll certainly get the thrills and this decaying 100m-long vessel is submerged at a depth of 40m. Its hull is encrusted with coral and anemones and there’s never a dull moment, with grunts, bream, barracudas and other fish constantly darting in and out of the wreck.
On Gran Canaria, if you choose to base yourself in Las Palmas, I highly recommend the stunning Reina Isabel. It’s in a superb position right on the seafront and I love its very sophisticated yet traditional ambience. We always make sure our clients book a sea view room or Junior Suite with balcony to take advantage of the wonderful ocean aspect.