Gran Canaria with Davy Jones
No coral reefs, but the Canaries boast spectacular sub-sea topography and marine life
Just a four-hour flight from the UK, the Canary Islands provide affordable blue water diving.
The islands of the Spanish archipelago are a year-round draw to millions of British holidaymakers, thanks to the high sunshine count and wide choice of resorts.
Betraying its volcanic past, the topography of Gran Canaria is one of dramatic mountains at its centre covered in a refreshing shade of green (due to a variety of microclimates at high altitudes, apparently.) It is the third largest Canary Island and served by its own major airport at Las Palmas, the capital.
Plenty of tourists seize the opportunity to do some diving and there are PADI and BSAC centres dotted all over Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria. Though lacking the corals of the Red Sea, warm Atlantic currents ensure the sea is well stocked with life, including plenty of the larger species associated with deeper water.
Wherever you stay, chances are there’ll either be a dive centre nearby, and if not, most are keen enough to pick up and drop you back at your own accommodation. That included my centre of choice, the superbly named Davy Jones Diving. This small British-run outfit is based in the non-resort and working town of Arinaga, between Las Palmas and Maspalomas. Located on a sleepy street behind an unsightly industrial estate, Davy Jones however does have an ace up its sleeve: close proximity to the El Cabron marine reserve.
sub-sea Gran Canaria hosts life in abundance
Formerly the province of tomato plantations, the Reserve nowadays is a barren stretch of rock-strewn coastline served by a single bumpy track. Beneath the water lie a series of shelves created over millions of years by volcanism and erosion. Getting in here can be difficult, with surge and currents typical, but we chose our entry point, dropped in and swam east towards a point known as Punta de la Sal.
The 20-degree water in February is distinctly warm and clear, and sub-sea Gran Canaria hosts life in abundance. In places rocky, white sand and even boulder-strewn, the seabed here was habited by dozens of Perch. A sole African Cuttlefish swam up in greeting, with colourful Wrasse and Parrotfish found across the plateau.
As a marine reserve, fishermen are not allowed to take from the El Cabron area and it is to a diver’s benefit, as all life is here. On the menu – metaphorically – are Tiger Moray and Dotted Moray eels, one of the former with a tiny spider crab in its gaping mouth. The rocky terrain has plenty of nooks and crannies for fish, crustaceans and anemones to call home. Uwe, our friendly dive guide, motions me over to shine a light on a beautiful purple Giant Anemone hidden beneath an overhang. He then proceeds to pull a pair or purple women’s knickers on over his wetsuit, conveniently ‘found’ under a rock. Funny how often the local guide stumbles innocently across such things isn’t it…
Our group descends slowly over the ‘Table Top’, with a drop-off at its rim in about 6 metres. Below at about 15m can be seen a huge ball of fish, a slow moving species called Roncadore. Twenty or thirty sleek Barracuda amble overhead, with a lone Trumpetfish minding his own business and standing guard on the periphery. Angel Sharks are an occasional treat but decline to show themselves this time around. Small consolation that we can clearly see marks in the sand, left behind when they swam off.
In a 6.5mm wetsuit my essentials feel plenty warm enough, and a 5mm would probably suffice. The temperature of the water in the Canaries doesn’t vary as wildly as elsewhere thanks to warm currents so this would be a suit of choice year-round. A drysuit would certainly be overkill and 3mm shorty could prove chilly post-dive. Entry often involves a walk over sharp rocks so booties and open-heeled fins are advisable, and there are lots of caves, swim-throughs and crevices to illuminate, making a torch essential.
But you can leave the twinset at home. Unlike those in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, the Canary Island dive centres seem reluctant to cater for technical divers. Davy Jones can provide advanced PADI courses and nitrox if required but the majority of sites in the area don’t really demand it, so sticking to air will leave you extra ‘cerveza’ money. Customers can also ask for night and wreck dives if the demand is there. At this time of the year the island is predominantly frequented by pension-age Germans with no interest in scuba diving, so expect to have your guide’s undivided attention and the sea to yourself.
And quite a teeming, large and spectacular sea it is. Gran Canaria is a laid back and relaxing place for a holiday, reflected in the type of no-rush diving on offer. If you like clear warm waters and plenty of marine life, make sure you don’t miss out
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