Here at More Adventure we are always on the lookout for more destinations and trips to offer. We recently had the opportunity to visit the Algarve in Portugal as guests of the Portuguese tourist board.
Now I know what you are thinking…..the Algarve is just a beach holiday full of rowdy Brits? Well not necessarily, we can certainly testify to that. The Algarve is a fantastic destination for a number of activities including walking, cycling, kayaking, diving, golf, sailing and many more.
Here we are going to concentrate on Scuba diving, as the Algarve has recently made huge efforts to attract divers from all over the world to visit its new underwater park which is known as the Ocean Revival project (http://www.oceanrevival.pt/en/). This is an exciting project in which a number of ex-Navy ships have been sunk a few miles off the coast in an area which is now off limits to all boats except diving boats. This has created an incredible underwater playground for divers plus a haven for local sea life.
There are currently two ships in the park with another to be sunk in June 2013 and another in September 2013. It is already a fantastic place to dive but once all four ships are in place, it really will be the place to go wreck diving.
Luckily for us we were invited to spend a few days in the Algarve looking at various hotels and dive centres and, of course, to dive the wrecks at the Ocean Revival Project. What follows is the day-to-day diary of our short visit to Portugal.
After a short flight (2 hours, 20 minutes), we landed at Faro airport and promptly picked up by our transfer. Our destination for the first two nights would be Portimao, a lovely town on the sea with an impressive marina and huge pier. Our hotel was the Hotel Tivoli which nestles right in the middle of the marina and on the water’s edge. The hotel is impressive with all the facilities you would expect from a four star hotel in the Algarve.
A five-minute walk and you are at the beach, which really is a sight to behold – a huge arc of golden sand that looks like it goes on for miles. Its size makes it perfect for sports with plenty of room to keep the kids busy! This started a trend for our whole stay – just one of the many world-class, immaculate beaches in the area.
After meeting our guide for the trip Ana Vargas, we were taken to the local dive centre (a 5-minute walk from the hotel, although we didn’t walk as we were driven in style by golf buggies!) by Subnauta, whose owner is the driving force behind the Ocean Revival project.
In the buggy, the dive centre staff joked that the centre was the best in Europe and upon arrival, we were already sure he was not joking! A state of the art modern dive centre, the centre is impressive to say the least! And with all good dive centres, the showers were fantastic, which after a day’s diving were quite simply amazing!
After a presentation on the Ocean Revival project we headed back to our hotel and got some rest whilst looking forward to our day of diving the following day.
After an early start we were driven (golf buggy again) to the marina where our boat and equipment were waiting for us. The boat was an impressive 16-man rib which was very comfortable for the short trip to the dive sites. We had three dives, the first two were the two sunken ships in the park. They both lay at around 29m at the deepest point, there is nothing better in diving than slowly descending then out of the gloom the huge shape of a wreck starts to appear. The ships are huge, nearly 100m long and at least 3 levels.
If you are into penetrating wrecks this is definitely the place for you as once inside the wreck, it becomes a maze of corridors and rooms. There are kitchens complete with sinks and cookers, bedrooms with bed frames, toilets with all the facilities intact and of course the engines rooms with giant pistons slowly being consumed by the sea.
Before the ships were sunk, the Ocean Revival team made sure there were no dead-ends or doors that could swing shut and trap any divers. They also cut lots of extra holes in the ship to create a lot more places where divers could enter and exit the wreck. You can always see an exit point which is reassuring when 28m down inside an old warship!
This was our second day of diving where we checked out some other dive sites away from the Ocean Revival park. The first was impressive, the actual wreck was obviously a lot older and more higgledy-piggledy than the newer wrecks. There were numerous nooks to explore with sea bass, sea bream, conger eels, octopus and cuttlefish.
The second dive was an old French ship sunk by the British in the 1700’s. It was particularly fascinating in that most of the ship has now broken into small pieces and scattered over a large area. This meant that it was like following a trail – first you come across parts of the cannons, then you come across beautifully preserved wooden panels that were the ships side. The real icing on the cake were the various metal plaques placed by Subnauta, telling you what you are looking at and a little of the history – it really was like an underwater history lesson!
Today we checked out the beautiful towns of Alvro and Lagos, which both nestle on the beach and both have an ‘old world’ charm with their small streets and market squares. There is a small museum and church in Lagos which is well worth a visit.
Another huge draw of this area is the coastline, it is a jagged adventure playground. Swim-through and stand alone rocky outcrops make this area perfect for diving or exploring with a kayak. Not to mention the multiple boat trips that leave every day.
All in all a fantastic trip! The Algarve and Portugal in general has so much to offer the adventure traveller, it is certainly not just the ‘beach holiday’ that many people believe.
We hope to be organising some cycling trips to the centre area of Portugal sometime soon, with its’ Tuscan like scenery, gorgeous climate and incredible mountain roads, this really is an undiscovered jewel for cyclists and walkers. Watch this space!
A big thank you to Ana and the Portuguese tourist board for being perfect hosts.