There is a reason Italy is known as one of the top travel destinations in the world. The picturesque scenery, the ancient civilizations, the impeccably blue Mediterranean waters contouring the distinctive boot… For regular travellers it is considered a dream vacation; for avid scuba divers it is pure bliss.
Every year, tons of tourists flock to Italy to enjoy the first-class beaches, rich culture and world class cuisine. But what they’re really missing out on is the supreme scuba diving. To date some of my favorite diving sites have been in this part of the globe.
The marine protected area of Punta Campanella is located on the Sorrentine peninsula about 50 kilometers from the big city of Naples. Surrounded by the rich waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, this peninsula is part of the Amalfi coast, a 40 kilometer region of Italy stretching between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. The marine protected area includes some grotto’s, inlets and bays starting at Punta del Capo and ending near Punta Germano.
One of the most popular places to visit on this peninsula is the town of Sorrento due to its accessibility to the Amalfi coast and view of Mount Vesuvius. All around Sorrento there are diving centers big and small to be found. Our top choice, Punta Campanella Dive Center, was located a few kilometers past Sorrento in a quaint fishing village.
It took only one glimpse at the blue Tyrrhenian sea for Joey and I to get the scuba diving itch. After weaving through the maze of streets and dead ends of Punta Lagno we finally arrived at Punta Campanella Dive Center ready for a much anticipated day of diving.
From the Punta Lagno harbour there are about 17 dive sites that can be explored by boat from this center. The dive sites range from plunging wall dives carpeted in marine life to dark and dismal cave dives forcing you to navigate cracks and crevices with only a flashlight. Today Joey and I would be dipping our toes into the cream of the crop; Vervece and Grotta dell’Isca.
Like our other fellow divers along on the trip, before we took off from the harbour, Joey and I prepped our dive gear. Once everyone was ready the boat headed out to the first dive. A mere five minute boat ride from the shop, the Vervece dive site was visible right from shore. At first glance Vervece may seem like just a small rock poking out of the water but don’t be fooled. This part of the gulf is an integral part of the Punta Campanella marine protected area thanks to strong currents and abundance of healthy marine life.
I was one of the first to roll off the boat and hit the cool blue water at Vervece. Like clockwork, Joey followed with his gopro in hand. As soon as the water enveloped me, I knew it was going to be a good dive. Just looking down from the surface the visibility was incredible. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the fauna that was waiting for us out in the blue of Vervece.
Our dive group was split in two different teams; the main group which was lead by one of the female divemasters and would be doing a few circles around the gigantic Vervece rock and Joey, myself and the shop owner diving for the sole purpose of finding the huge school of barracuda that is known to frequent the area.
We started the dive descending 6 meters (20 feet) down to a sunken statue of the Virgin Mary. The religious statue was anchored to the bottom by a concrete slab and complete with hands brought together in prayer and a dainty rosary encircling her upper torso. The algae growth that covered her body lead me to believe that she had called this dive site her home for quite sometime.
As we moved away from the statue and out into the open sea, fish were flying at us fast – the amount of damselfish was truly staggering. They filled the water like confetti on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t just damsels either, so many groupers were sneaking around at the edge of my visibility, close enough to identify but too far for a good picture.
At a depth of about 21 meters (70 feet) we stopped following the bottom, which just kept plunging down, and headed towards the open sea. The divemaster told us at the beginning of the dive if the schools of barracuda were hanging out at this dive site there were two possible locations they would likely be, both places involved free swimming out into the blue.
It must have been our lucky day because not even two minutes into our swim I caught sight of a few silvery arrow dynamic bodies in the distance. They were here!
We followed the handful of barracuda from a distance and before I realized what was happening more and more started to drift into my line of sight. The next thing I knew we were surrounded by these magnificent creatures. I think I counted over 100 at one point all gliding along effortlessly through the water. The closer I got the more I realized how big these predatory pelagic fish were. I think the largest one I saw was about 1 meter (3 feet) long.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe the barracuda we dove with were shy and skittish creatures. As much as I tried they never let me get closer than 2-3 meters (7-10 feet).
Interesting Fact: Barracudas can swim at the speeds of up to 25 miles/hour (40 kilometers/hour) useful for both hunting and escaping predators.
I had so much fun playing follow the leader with the school of angry looking barracuda. I could have sprouted gills and stayed there all day. But as our tanks slowly emptied it was time to bid them adieu and head out of the open water back to Vervece Rock where were would do our safety stop and locate the dive boat. Talk about ending our Vervece dive on the right fin!
From the Vervece dive site we headed south towards the point of the Sorrentine peninsula. Our next stop was the Grotta dell’Isca or Isca Caves (as the non-italians like to call it), a stalagmite filled cave just waiting to be explored. It took us about 30 minutes by boat to reach the Grotta situated beneath sea level under the Homonym Island.
Once again we had fabulous visibility everywhere we turned our mask. I felt like a Mediterranean mermaid.
Going from swim-through cave to swim-through cave, we admired the silhouettes of other divers in front of us. Their profiles resonated against the vivid blue of the sea as we exited the tunnel on the other side. Colourful fish were darting this way and that way with no set path in mind. I passed enormous rocky walls sweeping from the choppy surface into the depth as I finned by. The walls were coated to the nines in colourful sponges and green and red plant life. For two scuba divers who have done most of their diving in Canada, it felt like heaven on earth.
Before long our scuba group made it to the main cave. We gracefully swam into the jet black tunnel, careful not to stir up any of the silty bottom sediment. Slowly and by the beam of our flashlights we surfaced in the heart of the cave and were greeted with a ceiling covered in long, dripping stalagmites.
Joey and I inflated our BCD’s and floated like to buoys in the ocean, gazing up at the massive dome. There was something about the black stillness of the cave that had us under its spell. After 15 minutes of floating and gawking it was time to exit the confines of the cave.
On our day of diving with Punta Campanella, I was treated to several first time species sightings but the highlight was hands down seeing my first big school of barracuda.
When it was finally time to return topside, Joey and I swam slowly back towards the boat. I can’t say I was ready for the dive to be over.
Punta Campanella may be a lesser known Italian dive destination, but after spending a day diving in this neck of the woods I can say that this spot packs quite the diving punch. From diving in giant shrimp filled caverns to swimming with fearsome barracuda, the clear blue waters of the Amalfi coast was second to none. To this day it has been my all time favorite dive spot.
Cost: The average cost of diving on the Sorrentine peninsula is 40.00€ with equipment or 70.00€ for those without. The dive includes tanks, weights, boat transport, protected area pass and a dive guide. Night dives run at 45.00€ or 75.00€ however not all scuba outfitters offers night diving.
Scuba diving courses are also available and range from a cost of 90.00€ to 500.00€. Most shops readily offer Discover scuba diving, open water diver, advanced diver, rescue diver and dive master. Make sure to contact the shop and plan well in advance if you are thinking about taking a scuba course.
Seasonality: Prime Amalfi coast dive seasons runs from April to October, with June to August having the warmest waters at around 29°C/84°F. While the coast can still be dove in the winter months the flora and fauna is significantly less bountiful and the water generally hovers around 10°С/50°F.
Restrictions: Divers of all different levels are welcome to dive the shoreline of the Amalfi coast. The dives sites range from easy, beginner level sites to more advanced and deep dives. Because of the steep and cliffy nature of this touristic peninsula, having a cavern diver specialty course is an asset as it allows certified divers to access the caves, caverns and grottos formed along the picturesque coastline.
Companies: Divers can find a fair share of scuba shops around the Amalfi coast. Punta Campanella was our choice of shop and we were left speechless with the staff and dive sites. When planning your trip, make sure to reach out to this dive shop via telephone, especially during the busy summer season, as they can be hard to reach over email. Here are all the dive shops that can be found on the Sorrentine peninsula.
Divers, do you have a favorite Italian scuba diving site to share, we’d love to explore and write about it?
Nova Scotia has seen a few strange things over the years, but never has a 360 kg leatherback turtle washed up dead and frozen in a Cape Breton lake.
Beneath the waters of the Gulf of Naples are the remains of an ancient Roman civilization lost to the sands of time and guess what? You can dive it!
Sometimes a dive doesn’t go according to plan and when that happens, it’s important to be seen. Learn all about surface markers and why you should have one.
Find out how a couple of scuba divers made a gigantic snow sculpture to try and turn the tides on plastic use in the city of North Bay.
Submerging into the cold waters of Deer Island is one of the best ways to appreciate the vibrant array of colour the Bay of Fundy hides beneath her surface.
It's not easy being green in a day and age where everything is plastic and waste. Let sustainability lead the way as you explore the underwater world.
With the civil unrest a recent memory, few places in the world lay claim to unexplored waters off its coastline. Let Albania help you become an underwater explorer.
There are many scuba diving agencies that play a role in training divers. Here is a look at PADI, NAUI and SSI, the top scuba agencies in the world.
Nova Scotia is filled with cold water diving opportunities, particularly around shores of Halifax.
A brief glimpse of some of the marine fauna and stunning snorkeling opportunities on Croatia's Dalmatian coast.