Cartagena, La Azohia &
Cabo Tiñoso (Marine Reserve)
A short distance along the coast from Cabo de Palos you come to the next diving area, which centres around the shoreline near the city of Cartagena and the small seaside village of La Azohía.
Cartagena is the largest city along the coast, and boasts more than 3,000 years of history, which is immediately evident when you begin to wander the streets and see the rich tapestry of architecture on display. There are a vast array of things to see and do in Cartagena, but make sure you check out the Carthago Nova Theatre, which was built in the 1st century BC by Roman Emperor Augustus, but was not discovered until 1990! Now excavated, the interactive Roman Theatre Museum has built up around it, and is a great way to look back into the past. Also worth a visit is the Underwater Archaeology National Museum (ARQUA), which houses the famous treasure of the Nuestra Sra de Las Mercedes frigate, which includes more than 570,000 gold and silver coins from the 18th and 19th centuries.
A short distance along the coast from Cartagena you find La Azohía. This charming fishing village is perfect for those looking to chill out and relax when they aren’t diving. There are a few small shops, a supermarket and pharmacy, as well as a selection of bars and restaurants, but otherwise it is the perfect place to kick back and soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches.
Central to the diving from both of these locations is the relatively newly created marine park around Cabo Tinoso, which has been up and running for just a couple of years yet is already showing positive signs of following in the footsteps of its longer-established near-neighbour at Cabo de Palos.
Dive sites accessed via La Azohía include Cala Cerrada, which is a sheltered inlet that drops gradually down to 30m and is the perfect spot for a first foray into diving.
More-experienced divers will be thrilled by El Arco, which is one of the region’s iconic dive sites, offers a plethora of marine life and has depths down to 37m. Here the archway that gives the site its name looms above water, and the dive usually begins on the wall and then navigates around a headland and back through the arch itself.
At La Farola, on the edge of the cliffs at Cabo Tinoso, a constant gentle current creates a haven for marine life, with colourful corals, sponges and algae supporting reef fish that draw in a stream of predators including tuna, barracuda, snapper and grouper. Depths can reach beyond 50m, so something for all levels of diver.
La Garita is found at the foot of an old military construction, and the rock forms a series of stepped terraces where you can see specimens of the giant triton snail (Charonia lampas).
La Azohía is the gateway to the Cueva del Agua cave system, the most-famous cave in the area and actually one of several in the Costa Calida region – they range in size and difficulty, and include both inland and coastal caves. There are over 3,000 metres of lines throughout the Cueva del Agua cave, and the water temperature remains a constant 30 degrees C throughout the year. A must for serious cave divers.
Dive sites visited from Cartagena include Las Palomas Reef, a large rocky system extending off Isla Palomas which starts with a shallow plateau and then gets progressively deeper and narrower as you head southwest. The nooks and crannies on the reef are home to all manner of marine life, including moray eels and lobster, and always keep an eye put on the blue for passing pelagic predators. At the end of the dive site is a deeper plateau, which drops off to 40m, and here there is the chance of seeing eagle rays.
Just outside Cartagena port you can find El Espeque, which is a huge underwater reef that once boasted a beacon to warn ships of the submerged hazards. This was blown up and sunk when an extension was made to the port, and the remains now lie on the northern side of the reef in 25m. Like the rest of the reef, it is heavily encrusted with marine growth, and as well as the beacon itself there are some walls and steep drop-offs to explore. In the shallows on top of the reef you can find the base of the beacon, as well as a thick chain disappearing into the depths.
At the Isla de Escombreras, there are several diving options, with a couple being suitable for novice divers, though a stand-out is the 500-metre-long wall Pared del Capitan, which is more suited to advanced divers. Expect moray eels, octopus, crabs, grouper, nudibranchs and even, if you are lucky, a seahorse.
Close to the island is Bajo de Escombreras, which is a ridge rising from 35m to just 8m and well stocked with a selection of Mediterranean marine life.
Then there is the Centro de Buceo de la Armada, tugboat wreck, which was sunk in the 1950s by the navy to train divers on. It is just 20 metres long and four metres wide, and there is limited penetration into the bridge. A short distance off the port side lies the fuselage of a harrier jet, which was also sunk by the navy for training purposes, and makes for an interesting photo prop. Maximum depth is 20m, with the top of the tug rising to 8m, so this is ideal for all levels of diver.