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Snorkeling & Scuba Diving in Brazil, Best Diving Locations

Brazil’s official tourism advocacy group, EMBRATUR (EMPresa BRAsileira, de TURismo), has recently declared Scuba Diving as one of nine principal tourism categories in Brazil. If nothing else, that means they recognize the value and importance of diving as an attraction in Brazil. With over 7000 kilometers of coastline, numerous islands and an untold number of shipwrecks in local waters, Brazil is, indeed, one of the South America’s best diving destinations. More and more areas of the Brazilian coastline are being turned into sanctuaries or aquatic parks, particularly for diving activities and preservation of marine life. There are official groups to protect the proliferation and habitats of sea turtles (TAMAR) and the Peixe Boi, or Sea Cow, a salt-water cousin of the Manatee. Numerous locations off Brazilian shores are favored by dolphins, and whales come to give birth to new calves in the warm, Brazilian waters between June and October.

Just about every major diving spot in Brazil is home to a school with dive masters. It’s easy to find equipment rentals, classes, and guides to take you out from 4–70 meters down, day or night. A full scuba course with recognized certification takes 4–5 days and costs about R$600. This is a great way to spend a week on the coast of Brazil. A single baptism dive goes for about R$90 and many are performed in shallow ocean water.

The best months in which to visit Brazil for diving purposes are from December through March, when the waters are clearest. Following are the best locations:

The Northeast Coast

The most famous location for diving on the Northeast coast (and perhaps in all of Brazil) is around the island of Fernando de Noronha. Designated as a natural preserve, the island’s waters are crystal clear with visibility of up to 50 meters and maintain an average temperature of 27*C. Fish range in size from small tropical species to dolphins, sharks and even whales (diving is not permitted with whales and dolphins but they can be seen off the coast in great numbers). There are over 250 species of fish and five different types of sharks in the area. It’s also common to see huge sea turtles of up to 300 kilos. Favorite locations include the many natural underwater trails, or corridors, that are full of sponges, coral, lobster tropical fish and small sharks. There are dive schools on the island and back in the port of Natal.

On the coast around Natal is the largest area of underwater reefs in Brazil at the Parrachos of Maracajaú. There are also two accessible shipwrecks in the area. The water is super clear and the bottom is a bed of white sand. Dive masters can be found in the Ponta Negra neighborhood of Natal.

Along the northern coast of Recife are a number of shipwrecks that are easily reached at about 30–40 meters. In fact, the Recife area is considered a ship cemetery due to the number of wrecks in the local waters. The area around the Island of Itamaraca has clear water with decent visibility and variety of fish. In the south, there are the natural pools in the area of Porto de Galinhas, a haven for snorkeling, but also excellent for less advanced scuba dives.

The Coast of Bahia

In the south of Bahia, off the coast of Porto de Seguro is one of Brazil’s Marine Parks, the Recife de Fora Marine Preserve. There is a great variety of crustaceans and reef species there. To the south is the unparalleled Archipelago de Abrolhos and the Abrolhos National Marine Park, about 70 kilometers from shore. Formed by an ancient volcano, the archipelago has shallow turquoise waters from as little as two meters deep (excellent for snorkeling as well as scuba diving). The area is considered to have one of the highest concentrations of fish on the planet and it’s common to see Manna Rays and sea turtles. In the winter months, Whales are commonly spotted splashing in these waters. There is even a shipwreck here of a 1939 Italian ship. Visibility in the summer months is as high as 30 meters. Boats generally leave from the town of Caravelas. Overnight trips are available with sleeping and dining arrangements on board. Dive masters can also be found in Porto Seguro and Arraial d’Ajuda.

The area of Itacaré and Barra Grande is becoming known as a scuba diving haven. Dolphins are often spotted offshore, along with whales in the winter. There are underwater pools all along the peninsula of Barra Grande. Dive masters are based in Itacaré.

The Coast of Rio de Janeiro

The highlight in this area is the calm, clear waters of Ilha Grande and Angra dos Reis. On the island of Ilha Grande, you’ll find dive masters to take you all around the island, especially over to the far side, where there are a couple of shipwrecks. Around the islands in the Bay of Angra dos Reis there are locations for divers of all levels, including snorkeling in the shallow waters around the Ilha de Paquetá. There, you find a variety of sea life, including octopus and Manna Rays. For more advanced divers, there are a number of shipwrecks in these waters, and even an underwater cavern, some six meters below the surface. Other locations include the Ilha dos Meros and Laje Branca, both with clear water and depths of around 14–18 meters.

The bay of Paraty is equally calm and clear and there are some favorite diving spots among the local dive masters–including around Ilha Comprida, Ilha dos Cocos, and Ilha dos Ratos. There are 65 islands in the Bay of Paraty and many have excellent conditions for diving with depths of up to 15 meters and visibility of around 8 meters. The waters are replete with starfish, sponges, and coral, along with many tropical fish. Several dive schools are based in Paraty. Other locations off the coast of Rio include the plant-filled waters around Arraial do Cabo and Cabo Frio, where the visibility is around 20 meters and you can dive to over 80 different locations containing wreckage from ships. Seahorses, turtles, and colorful crustaceans are common here. Nearby are some interesting small islands around Buzios.

The São Paulo Coast

One of the best locations for diving off the coast of São Paulo is off the coast of Ubatuba. With various islands spotting the bay, the options for diving are numerous. Favored locations include Ilha Anchieta, Ilha Vitória, Ilha das Palmas and Ilha das Couves. Visibility in the area reaches 20 meters and the depths range from 5–25 meters.

Around the Island of Ilhabela is a marine sanctuary, where diving is actively encouraged. There is a great quantity of fish and lobster in this area and even a statue of Neptune six meters below the surface to honor the underwater world. There are several shipwrecks in these waters, including the Aymoré at a depth of only 12 meters. Others are resting peacefully in deeper waters.

The Santa Catarina Coast

The Arvoredo Marine Preserve is the largest of Brazil’s national marine parks and can be accessed from Bombinhas or Florianópolis. The visibility is the highlight here at around 30–40 meters. There are islands and rock formations to explore with depths from 4 to 50 meters. You can also dive near the island of Campeche off the coast of Florianópolis, where there are many sea turtles, sea lions, and even penguins in the winter months.

The Pantanal

Divers interested in fresh-water dives should not miss the incredible opportunities in the Pantanal. There, the water is said to be some of the clearest in the world. You can dive in Rio Formoso and Rio Prata with numerous species of fish and water plants and take a autonomous dive down into the Lagoa Misteriosa, where the water is transparent and the bottom of the lake has not yet been calculated (more than 220 meters deep). The highlights are the cave diving opportunities, including underwater caverns of 1800 meters in length and 50 meters in depth.

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