Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, half way between Europe and North America, the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores archipelago are now easily accessible from both continents. With direct flights from Boston, Lisbon and many other European cities, it is perhaps surprising that more people do not yet visit these islands, but for those in the know, it is one of the best places to dive in the world, and provides underwater photographers with an opportunity to capture wide angle images of a number of elusive pelagic species.
The most popular destination in the Azores is Pico Island, part of the central island group that represents the top of an underwater mountain chain known as the mid Atlantic ridge. From here it is possible for non-divers to participate in whale watching tours or snorkel with a variety of different dolphin species. It is also the best place to take part in baited shark dives with blue sharks, and the closest island to the areas most famous dive site, Princess Alice Bank.
This offshore seamount is home to a population of mobula rays that regularly appear from the depths below to interact and swim with divers and, although the trip out to the site is a long one that can only be attempted in good weather conditions, the chance to encounter these giant rays is more than worth the effort.
The shark dives are conducted much closer to shore, but are just as exciting. It can sometimes take a while to attract the sharks to the boat, but once they arrive they generally stay around long enough people to enter the water and dive with them. Unlike other species, blue sharks can be bold and curious and will often approach divers very closely. Most of the action takes place near the surface, providing plenty of natural light and the visibility is often spectacular. Having photographed this species of shark in a number of other locations, I am certain that the Azores offers by far the best conditions due to the water clarity and colour, and the regularity with which the dive operators encounter the animals.
Shore dives around the island are also great, and it is possible to see different species of rays, turtles, friendly giant groupers, and large schools of other fish. Combine this abundant marine life with stunning vistas and activities above the water, and there is easily enough action to keep any keen photographer busy for weeks. If you have yet to consider a trip to the Azores, go now before the rest of the world discovers how amazing it is!