We visited the Azores for the first time in July, 2018. We stayed on São Miguel Island for 9 days, our entire trip. Having never been before, we like to stay on one island and really explore, rather than island hop. Our flights were very easy (BWI->JFK->PDL, about 6 hours). But I know there are direct BOS->PDL flights, too. We stayed at an AirBNB in Ribeira Das Tainhas, only about 5 minutes drive from Vila Franca do Campo. From what I can tell, all the diving on the island is done from Vila Franca do Campo or from Ponta Delgada. We didn't want to stay in a more populated area, so we chose Vila Franca.
The island is very beautiful and has lots of black sand beaches, mountains, wonderful vistas, numerous hiking trails, and picturesque villages. Some of our favorite places to visit were the town of Furnas with hot springs and a botanical garden, and the Cha Gorreana tea plantation in the north. A car is definitely required to see everything. Being based in Vila Franca, we were able to explore the entire island and nothing was more than 75 minutes away. Food, lodging, and things like entrance fees were reasonably priced. But, we eat simply. We did a whale watching trip with Terra Azul. We saw mostly dolphins and a few pilot whales. Fun, but the boat was crowded.
I was able to do 4 mornings of 2-tank dives and one night dive. I did all the dives with Azores Sub (http://azoressub.com/
). Here are the dive sites we visited:
Morning 1: MV Dori Wreck & Caloura Arches
Morning 1: Amora (Dusky Groupers) & Tufo
Morning 1: Ponta Galeria & Baixa Das Cracas
Morning 1: Caloura Arches, Ponta da Cozinha
Night: Ponta da Cozinha (2nd time, night)
Azores Sub was great. The second day, I was the only person who showed up in the morning and they still sent 2 staff out for a whole morning of diving. I've never used a shop who would send a boat out with one diver. That really impressed me. Once they saw I was comfortable, they let me do my own thing and take pictures.
All the diving was from a RIB and the sites were an average of a 15 minutes by boat. The MV Dori was the farthest, about 30 minutes, and Cozinha was super close (at the rock Ilheu), only 5 minutes away. The RIB held a max of 12 divers, which we had the first day with a big group from Spain. That was quite crowded, but still safe. Most days it was 5-6 people. The tanks were DIN and 12L was standard. 15L on request. They also had some DIN adapters. The shop crew would transport the assembled gear to and from the boat and even rinse it. I was able to store all my gear there during my visit, which was very helpful. The cost wound up being less than $40 US/dive, which seemed quite reasonable. We met at the shop around 0830 and got back in around 1300. The dives were about an hour, but not too strict on that. The average depth was about 50ft. and the water temps were between 68°-70°F. I was comfortable in a 5mm full wetsuit without hood or gloves, but I run a little warm.
I really enjoyed the diving because it was different than anything I'd done before. I'm all about photos and small stuff. There were nudibranchs and bivalves on every dive. Lots of wrasses and some schooling fish. Didn't really see anything big, except some dusky groupers. The consensus was that the much-advertised big stuff (mantas, mobulas, big sharks) required 2+ hour boat rides (or a different island) and a number of people interested. We didn't have that. There wasn't really much coral, per se. Lots of volcanic rock, lots of swim-throughs, boulders, caverns, etc. I'd definitely dive it again. Here's a few sample pictures and my gallery is here: