Scuba Diving Gran Canaria
The Canary Islands were never on my scuba diving radar until a recent short trip to Gran Canaria. In fact, I had rather a negative image of places such as Tenerife and Lanzarote, with their reputation for cheap booze and trouble-making tourists. Many locations share the same sort of problem: one district full of nightclubs and bars and the whole region gets a bad reputation, and nobody sees the surroundings, however lovely they may actually be.
And what I found on Gran Canaria was, indeed, rather lovely.
We stayed Hotel Cordial Playa Mogán, a 30-minute ride from the airport with easy access to Las Palmas and, for those who fancy a bit more nightlife, Playa del Inglés, where a host of nightclubs and bars are located. It was a very pleasant location, set in a wide valley between opposing cliffs, and a gentle slope wandering down to the fairly quiet marina of Puerto Mogán. A small mall containing touristy shops and some nice bars is located opposite, with a large supermarket just a few hundred metres further from the hotel.
We travelled to Playa Taurito for the diving, hosted by Canary Diving, founded in 1998 by Irishman Jerry O'Connor, a veteran instructor of 25 years whose genial (and loquacious!) company was ours for the next two days. As he often old us 'Gran Canaria's only Paddy dive centre'. The outfit's RIB is accessible directly from the beach or - when the sea is inclement, as it was during our stay - from the marina at Puerto Mogán.
Sea conditions meant that our four dives were confined to the same location, but it was quite expansive with a fair amount to see. Two small shipwrecks are definitely worth paying some attention to. The Araganza (early ‘90s) and the Cermona II (2002) were deliberately sunk and although the Araganza has broken apart after facing the might of the Atlantic Ocean for so long, the Cermona II remains mostly intact.
The two ships lie just 60m apart on a rocky, silted sea bottom, and are easily visited on a single dive, however, there is enough to see that it’s worth making two separate dives, especially for those who enjoy underwater photography.
Like most wrecks, they have become home to a number of different species, including moray eels, octopus, cuttlefish and some very large lobsters. Throughout both dives, a cloud of jackfish circulated, easily comparable to the big schools of the likes of the Maldives and Seychelles in terms of numbers.
Approximately 100m distant from the wrecks is an artificial-reef-cum-sculpture named ‘La Atlántida’. Built from pH-neutral concrete in an area where mooring and fishing are not permitted, La Atlántida is themed around the lost city of Atlantis. ‘Ruins’ of Greek-style columns are interspersed with giant helmets, amphorae litter the floor, and a swim-through sculpture resembling the skeletal remains of a whale all form part of the artificial reef.
It sounds a bit cheesy at first but, given the logistics of its construction, I found parts of it quite atmospheric, especially with the unusually hazy skies during the trip limiting the available sunlight. I’m not certain it quite falls into the category of ‘work of art’, but it’s certainly a well-formed and well-executed exhibit.
The wrecks and the artificial reef are the work of the Yellow Submarine Company, which also operates out of Mogán. Submarine tours do not always sit well with divers, however, there is a planned route, Jerry and his divemasters keep well clear of it (although you can get up close if you wish!), and the propeller is well-protected. I personally thought it was quite entertaining, and a far cry from the marauding glass-bottomed boats which were the bane of my diving life when I was working in Sharm.
Speaking of Sharm, I found that there were certain similarities between the tourist hotspots of Gran Canaria and the popular Egyptian resort. Diving-wise, of course, there is little comparison, but both locations do the ‘family vacation’ very well indeed, especially for families that are not all divers. The accessibility of the nearby dive sites would easily allow for the divers to disappear and enjoy themselves, while the non-diving partner can enjoy the beach or the hotel facilities, and children can be dropped off with the kids club and animation teams.
The Hotel Cordial Playa Mogán is ideal for such a scenario. There are two pools with sandy beaches, four restaurants with a very good range of excellently prepared cuisine, and all the amenities typical of a 4-star establishment including a spa, massage, live evening shows and a very friendly environment. I thought my room definitely tended more towards comfortable utility than luxury but, given the surroundings, there’s little reason to remain in them beyond sleeping and showering.
The hotel is also very green. There’s a botanical garden on site, and from the lobby to the pool areas, there are plants of all types, everywhere, including a particularly impressive display of cactus. The Cordial’s grounds also contain an archaeological site, including the remains of an ancient village and its burial area. The open graves have been filled with imitation skeletons and its well worth a walk along the cliffside to explore – as long as you don’t mind a lot of up – and finish off the tour with a cocktail at the Sunset Bar.
It would have been nice to have stayed a while longer and enjoyed more of the diving. I enjoyed what we did during the two days of the press trip, but there is much more to see. Angel sharks are frequent visitors to the area although we didn’t see any, but some huge Atlantic stingrays did pass through the dive sites.
There are also some deeper sites including wrecks and warplanes that can be enjoyed by technical divers, and some dive centres are catering to the PADI/DSAT TecRec courses – designed for those who wish to learn tech but prefer not to go too far (max 50m) beyond recreational limits. Also, Divers who prefer a more dedicated diving holiday might enjoy the likes of Blue Explorers’ Gran Canaria Dive resort, located in Puerto de Mogán.
Overall, I enjoyed my short stay on Gran Canaria. It’s not a dive destination on a par with the likes of Indonesia, but it’s not far away from mainland Europe and relatively inexpensive. With almost permanent, year-round sunshine, very little in the way of precipitation, 20+m visibility on most days, and plenty to see underwater, it’s a very pleasant place to visit and enjoy some great scuba diving.
Diving was hosted, with thanks, by Jerry O'Connor and Canary Divers in Playa Taurito
There are plenty of flights to Las Palmas from all around the UK and Europe, and plenty of package deals including the Hotel Cordial Playa Mogan are available from most major operators. I flew with Thomas Cook from Manchester, prices start around £200