Advanced civilization, democracy, the Olympic Games, western philosophy and literature and some of world’s most impressive myths and ancient gods originated among the peninsula and 1400 islands of Greece.
Looking to protect the history of that rich heritage, diving - until 2006 - was significantly restricted to keep people from plundering the artifacts littering the seafloor throughout the country. Now that the regulation has eased, a huge swath of dive sites is now open for diving.
The fact that many of the dive sites have had minimal attention from divers and are home to artifacts like amphora means that Greece has skyrocketed to the top of the new discovery and cool bragging rights destination list.
The Greeks have long had an intimate relationship with the sea and it continues today. With more than 240 inhabited islands and a significant coastline, you’ll find a wide variety of diving that includes wall, wreck, cavern and reef. Most of the PADI Dive Centers and Resorts are scattered throughout locations off the Aegean and Ionian Seas, both on the islands and on the mainland. You'll likely recognize the names from history class: Crete, Mykonos, Kythnos, Corfu, Lesvos, Chios, Zakynthos, Naxos, Paros, Lefkada, Santorini and the areas off Attica, Thessoloniki and Halkidiki on peninsular Greece.
On just about any dive, there’s a chance you'll come across some artifacts. This is what makes diving in Greece unique. You get to observe (not touch) and must report your finds. There is absolutely no taking. It’s like an impromptu archeological adventure every time you slip into the water. And, like most of the countries with a lengthy seafaring history and extensive coastline along the Mediterranean Sea, wrecks tend to dominate the scene. Just about anything and everything that float - and therefore sink, by storm, treachery, bad luck or intent - can be found on the seafloor off Greece.
Outside of the history lesson, there's also considerable life in the seas. There's the chance you’ll find large predators like groupers, but you’re best bet for marine life is to slow down and think small. The Aegean and Ionian Seas have a wonderful collection of nudibranchs, invertebrates, crabs, shrimp, eels, seahorses and other easily overlookable stealth critters. If you're bent on seeing the big stuff, there's a good chance you can get your fix off Galaxidi on the deep Gulf of Corinth, with dolphin and sea turtles. Don't forgo the diving once the sun goes down, however. Night diving is particularly interesting because that's when cuttlefish, conger eels and octopi venture out of their daytime lairs.
Of course, the culture that defines the 244 inhabited islands will force you into a more leisurely pace of life, whether you want it or not. It’s best to ease into it and enjoy the life-loving locals, fresh seafood and local artisanal wine and cheese. The blue roofs and whitewashed buildings that form the skyline of almost every seaside village make this part of the world unmistakably breathtaking. But, don’t skip out on Athens. Even if you’re there during peak tourist season, it’s worth seeing the Parthenon and other Greek icons. But, no matter where you go, you’ll leave with a much better understanding of the local Greek mythology, the people that you’ll meet and the rich history that has defined this unique corner of the world.
Aegean Sea - The water that separates Greece from Turkey harbors not only a deep well of world history, but also some of the most jaw-dropping, authentic islands in Europe. Beaches, sun, unique architecture and a laid-back lifestyle draw people from around the world. The area has three main island regions - the Cyclades, Sporades and Dodacanese - all of which offer a wonderful variety of diving. The hard part? Deciding which island to visit. Here we'll just focus on the Cyclades, which include some of the Aegean's most recognized islands.
- Prasonisia — This dive site has the best of both worlds. You can immerse yourself in a whirlwind of wrasse and other fish or connect the dots with a hoard of antiquities pointed out by your guide.
- Peloponisos Wreck —When conditions are right, this wreck from the 1930s is a must. Although split in two pieces, the ship remains fairly intact and has become a hub of marine activity.
- Dragonisi Island Caverns — With stunning rock formations and caverns that glitter with glassfish, this dive packs a punch for underwater photographers. The biggest surprise of all is the chance of encountering a rare monk seal that hangs out in the area.
- Beaufighter Wreck — Recently discovered, this torpedo bomber from World War II is mostly intact and sits in 34 metres/112 feet of water. The conditions can be a little rough, but the dive is well worth it.
- Arado 196 German Seaplane — This is a beautiful, dramatic wreck in 20 metres/66 feet of water. You’ll find the fuselage and wings mostly intact, although the plane sits upside down.
- The Dome — This large cavern dive sports a good variety of marine life, but the marquee experience is an air-filled dome that seems to be lit with an ethereal blue light.
- Nea Kameni — Roughly translated to mean New Volcano, this site has a small wreck that adds drama to the volcanic substrate.
- The Caves — This pathway of canyons, swim-throughs and caverns make this site a unique experience for your logbook.
Chios Island - Famous among European divers, this little island is closer to Turkey than Greece at the far edge of the Aegean. Here, from caverns to walls to shipwrecks to shoals of fish, there’s a little of everything. The vibrant blue hue of the water makes you feel like you're in an aquarium and the colors are simply incredible.
- The Great Wall — This spectacular 30-metre/98-foot precipice drips with colorful red and yellow soft corals, eels and the possibility of passing tuna and sea turtles.
- The Shell — This site is named after the unique creatures that live their slow, methodical predatory lives among the zippy schooling wrasse and other speedy marine life.
Ionian Sea - Greece has more coastline than most countries in the world, which means a big heap of adventure waits just offshore. Top places on the mainland to start your Ionian Grecian Odyssey would be Thessaloniki, Halkidiki and Attica. Dive flags also fly widely over the islands of Zante, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Corfu.
- Kelifos Island — Off the Kassandra Peninsula in the Thessaloniki region is a combination of three sites that are rich with marine life, including seahorses, octopus, conger eels, small cuttlefish, some large groupers and large shoals of fish.
- Alonaki — This shore dive, also in the Thessaloniki region, is crammed with macro critters, including lots of interesting nudibranchs. It also has some dramatic rock formations.
- Koundouros Reef — Off Kea Island, this dive may well define your Grecian reef dive experience with its hoards of marine life, lush marine growth and good visibility.
- Kyra Leni Wreck — Sunk in 1978 off Patroclos Island, this former cargo ship now provides room and board for a surprising variety of marine life (much of it is the macro variety), so go slow, relax and enjoy a leisurely exploration.
- HMS Perseus: The top dive off Kefalonia Island, this intact and upright submarine hit a mine and sank in 1941. Now, the artificial reef hosts a number of jacks, wrasse, sea bass and groupers. The conning tower is a great photo opportunity.
- HMS Regulus: This minesweeper hit a mine and sank off Paxos in 1945. In pieces, the wreck attracts significant amounts of marine life and has a massive, photogenic anchor.
- The Temple — The huge cavern houses a silent symphony of dancing light beams and the encrusting sponges shelter numerous invertebrates, shrimp and crabs.
- The Parking Lot — Few dives sites are more aptly named than this Attica region favorite, which is littered almost every known four-wheeled and motored conveyance.
- Rosa Vlasi Wreck — From their Attica home base, technical divers should head straight for Makronisos Island, strap on the trimix and visit Rosa. Sitting on her side in 51 metres/167 feet, this former cargo ship settled here after sinking in a storm.
Crete - A ring of sites and outstanding water clarity makes the underwater scene off Crete a playground for divers and one of the best places in all Greece for spotting big pelagics such as bluefin tuna. The caverns and canyons also provide exceptional photo opportunities.
- Messerschmitt Wreck — Step into history with a unique dive on a German fighter plane from World War II. It’s upside down, but the cockpit, fuselage and wings are intact. You can see the machine guns and the wreck is frequented by groupers and eels.
- El Greco Cave — This 30-metre/98-foot long cave has a bit of everything, including colorful encrusting sponges with lots of shrimp and other shadow dwellers. There's even a place to ascend into an air-filled chamber.
- Daedalos — This is a great spot for new divers and is loaded with crabs, octopus, cuttlefish, show-stopping trevally, fat groupers and toothy morays.
Depths: From surface to more than 50 metres/160 feet.
Visibility: 6 metres/20 feet to more than 50 metres/160 feet, depending on area and time of year.
Currents: Most sites are relatively free from current.
Water Temperature: From 16 - 23° C/60 - 74° F depending upon site, sea and island. You'll want to research your particular destination so you come prepared with the proper thermal gear.
Dive Season: Diving is available throughout the year. From June to September are the warmest months and it can get quite chilly during the winter.
Weather: Expect hot and dry summer weather from July to September, with average temperatures of 27° C/80° F. Winter temperatures drop an average of 6° C/43° F.
Access: The country is moderately well serviced by both international and domestic flights.
Skill Level: From novice to tec. There are ample opportunities for advanced divers, especially at the deeper dive sites.
Scuba Gear: Most dive centers and resorts offer full equipment hire.
Length of stay: Seven nights will let you sample a portion of the region or a single island. Two weeks is recommended if you would like to truly explore more than that.
Featured Creatures: You can find seahorses, scorpionfish, wrasse and big grouper along with the occasional sea turtle. Eels, nudibranchs and macro critters are abundant, as are schools of trevally, tuna and barracuda at certain sites. The region is best known, however, for it's wrecks and the chance to see intact antiquities in the water.
Tipping: Definitely tip your divemasters and boat crew. Taxi drivers usually don’t expect a tip, but waiters do - typically 10 percent of total.
Transportation: Taxis, ferries and local transportation is widely available in populated areas. You may need to make friends in the smaller towns to get around.
Major Airports: Athens International Airport is the main international air hub.
Religion: Predominately Greek Orthodox.
Electricity: 220v/50Hz electrical outlets.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: An Electronic Visa is required for many nationalities. Check the embassy web page for complete information. The departure tax of approximately 12 Euros is usually included with the airfare.
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