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Once one of the world’s most powerful nations, Greece has always had a strong connection to the sea. This collection of some 1400 islands has fought and won battles across its oceans as far back as 3200BC, conquering Persia, Minoa, and Mycenae along the way. These days, there may not be maritime battles of Herculean proportions waging when you visit, but the seas are still very much a focal point for travelling divers and snorkelers.
The craggy outline of mainland Greece juts out into a smattering of small islands that wend their way through the Ionian, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Popular as tourist holiday hotspots, the islands are also a mecca for scuba divers, with plenty of dive sites to choose from suitable for all ages and abilities. While the warm weather of the Mediterranean climate has allowed interesting marine life to develop around these waters, many of the sites also hold specific cultural interest that is fascinating to divers.
Dive shops and sites are located all over the islands, and each chain offers something a little different. Santorini, one of the Cyclades Islands, lies in the Aegean Sea and is home to a large number of dive sites off its shores, including House Reef, Mansell and Old Volcano, three locations that range from an easy beach reef dive, to a 200ft wall. Further south, the island of Crete touches the Mediterranean, and divers have over twenty sites ranging in difficulty to choose from. This popular holiday island, a traditional winter escape for Europeans, has wreck and cave dives to discover, and plenty of dive shops to choose from. Back on the mainland and just north of Athens, a protected bay harbours waters known as the Pagasetic Gulf. Over ten sites are dotted around this curving inland saltwater bay, and divers flock here to visit the beach dive of Kato Gatzea, a lovely drift and reef dive just outside the pretty Greek village by the same name.
Divers heading to Greece should be aware of certain restrictions though. Until 2005, it was actually fairly difficult to dive anywhere in Greece. The government had difficulty controlling the looting that was taking place, so an almost blanket ban meant that around 90% of their waters were off-limits for recreational divers. They’ve since had a change of heart, and diving is now widely acciessible, leading to a healthy rise in the number of dive shops available. There are, however, certain rules that have come along with this new freedom. Night dives, for instance, are only allowed if a guide from a certified centre is in attendance. Solo diving is strictly prohibited, regardless of experience, and divers must have a qualification from a governing body (like PADI) that’s recognised in Greece. Of course, training courses from Greek dive centres are allowed for novice divers. What makes Greece so exciting for divers is that with the relaxation of the rules still so fresh, there are hundreds of new sites being discovered every month.
Diving in Greece is great throughout the year, but winter can get particularly chilly. The best months are from April to October, with the warmest temperatures arriving around July and August. Generally, the visibility in most waters remains relatively clear, making it the ideal location for some recreational scuba diving.
Dive sites are littered all over Greece and her islands, and no matter where you choose to vacation, you’ll be within easy driving distance of some fantastic sites. Ancient wrecks compete against dramatic reef dives for your attention, and the most southerly islands in the Mediterranean have a diverse selection of marine life to discover.
One of Greece’s most famous dive sites is the HMHS Britannic, sister ship to the equally ill-fated Titanic. Sunk by a German mine in 1916, this hospital ship is now a protected war grave just off Kea Island. A depth of 120 metres is mostly for technical divers only, but for those who do have the experience and expertise to descend to this depth, they’ll find interesting wreckage and the formation of colourful corals to examine.
For less technical divers with an interest in wreck diving, the Ios wreckage just north of Fira island is a great starting point. Her bow sits in around 13m of water; visibility is great; currents in this location are relatively gentle; and the broken hull has become home to a family of crustaceans with an appetite for coral. Its maximum depth reaches 23m, making it an attractive site for mid-range divers as well, but because it’s located next to the shipping channel for the islands, visiting this dive site should only be done with an experienced guide.
On Crete, one of Greece’s most southerly islands, a popular dive site can be found at Mononaftis Bay, near Agia Pelagia. The site is a beach dive that reaches 35m in depth, but is still considered suitable for novice divers, with plenty of crevices and caves to explore. The rocky seabed trails away from the beach in a gentle slope, and the waters teem with groupers, morays, scorpion fish and plenty of other tropical species. Shoals of barracuda occasionally make an appearance, and divers have reported spending time with stingrays in the deeper waters.
With the rapid growth of diving in Greece as a recreational sport, the number of dive shops has also increased dramatically, springing up on all the main tourist islands, as well as some of the smaller ones. The strict regulations governing diving in Greece means that dive shops all carry a certification from one of the major sub aqua groups, with internationally recognised PADI being the most prominent. Traveling to Greece is relatively easy, with a number of international airports to choose from – the largest being in Athens. But for some of the smaller islands, the only way to get to and from their pretty sandy beaches is by boat.
On Crete, a popular holiday hotspot, Omega Divers claims to be the last word in diving. Whether that’s true or not, they certainly have an excellent reputation and an eye for a good dive site. PADI rated, they run courses and certified dives to some of the most popular dive sites around the island, including Elephant Cave, a sub-aquatic cavern where the fossilised remains of an elephant have been discovered.
Isos Diving in the Cyclades Islands is located on Mylopotas Beach, a PADI certified school established in 2007 after the restrictions were relaxed. The school is one of the few on this chain of islands but it’s already established a great name for itself, thanks to its excellent local knowledge in these virtually unexplored waters. Night dives, wreck dives, and single shore dives are their speciality, and they’re well known for operating in small groups to give that personal touch to every trip.
Just south of Athens, Aqua Divers Club is ideally located on the mainland for local dives, as well as boat trips to the island. This 5 Star PADI Instructor Development Centre flies the flag for responsible diving, leaving as little impact on the environment as possible. Its base in the Calypso Hotel was one of the locations originally used by Jacques Cousteau, the father of sub aquatic adventure. Their trips include beach and shore dives, as well as boat trips to the nearby island of Arsida.