Diving in Turkey - the best dive centers and dive sites

With 8,000km of coastline, a perfect Mediterranean climate, great visibility, fascinating historic wrecks and a growing number of marine parks, it is no wonder that Turkey is fast becoming a destination divers want to explore. You can get away from it all on a liveaboard and discover deserted sandy coves from traditional sailing boats. Or you can visit chic resorts and enjoy bustling bars and restaurants at night and some great boat diving during the day.

Turkey is the perfect spot for a family holiday that allows you to sneak off for a few challenging dives while the non-divers can chill out on the beach and have fun. It is also an ideal place to learn to dive – warm, calm waters and great value for money, with well-run schools and dive centres.

There are lots of dive centres in most resorts and they are run to strict government-set regulations – foreign visitors can only dive with registered centres whose boats must meet the highest standards.

While diving is all year round, the main season runs from May until November, with water temperatures ranging between18ºC and 26ºC.

Traditional gulets and custom-built dive boats provide the perfect platform to explore the often protected waters. These large, spacious and well-equipped vessels, complete with sun decks, have the capacity to carry in excess of 30 divers, and some of the newer vessels even more. In practice, numbers normally remain well below this figure, leaving more than ample room to kit up or prepare photographic equipment.

Diving conditions are excellent throughout the diving season from April to November with visibility up to 30m. The underwater landscape is typically a varied selection of reefs, walls, drop-offs and caverns. Marine life is less abundant than in tropical seas but includes grouper, rays, moray eels, turtles and octopuses. Observant divers may be able to catch a glimpse of seahorses in some areas and there are lots of nudibranchs. Many sites also shelter amphorae and other pottery remains.

There is a large number of wrecks around the Turkish coast, both ancient and modern - many are protected by law. Some have been sunk on purpose to give divers novel adventures – exploring a Dakota that looks as if it about to take off on an underwater runway is an experience not to be missed!

GALLIPOLI

For many people Gallipoli is synonymous with the First World War battle that took place on the peninsula in 1915, in which Allied powers launched a naval attack and landing that was repelled and after eight months led to an Allied withdrawal. But the history and importance of this peninsula extends ways beyond the First World War, stretching back to the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. Today it’s an altogether more peaceful place and protected as a Turkish National Park. Much of the tourism centres on the First World War memorials, with 40 Allied war cemeteries located in this part of Turkey. For divers, the obvious attraction is the many shipwrecks – between April 1915 and January 1916 several hundred ships and boats sank in the coastal waters between Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay on the western side of the peninsula. To date, the locations of 216 wrecks have been discovered. While some cannot be dived – for instance, two of the battleships sit at a depth of 80-90m in an area that is busy with shipping traffic – there are several that are regularly dived.

HMS MAJESTIC

This British battleship was torpedoed by a U-boat at Cape Helles in May 1915 with the loss of 49 men and sank in Morto Cove, where the wreckage now lies with its stern on the sand at 29m and its bow at a depth of 18m. Schooling fish including bream and dentex have made the ship their home, secure in the wreck’s interior which cannot be penetrated by divers. Although some parts of the wreck were dismantled in the 1960s, plenty remains to interest the visiting diver, including a barnacle-encrusted cannon and the crow’s nest some 10m away.

LIGHTERS

Lighters were sheet iron boats that were used by the British to land infantry troops and carry provisions. Many of them were sunk during storms and by gunfire in the First World War, and several now rest at diveable depths. There are two examples in Morto Cove, both of them at 30m and only a few metres apart. One of the wrecks was carrying a steam boiler, which now lies on the nearby sand, and both attract schools of leerfish – large silver fish that are seemingly unafraid of visiting divers.

THE LUNDY

The ex-trawler, HMT Lundy sits at a depth of 28m in Suvla Bay, and remains in good condition despite its age. A support vessel during the campaign, the boat was sunk by torpedo in 1915 and is now home to a very different cargo than the one it was originally intended for – octopus, lobsters, conger eels, scorpionfish and small schooling fish can be found amid the war supplies and ammunition. Much of the wreck is now encrusted with sponges and inside there are shoals of bream and gobies.

THE STEAMSHIP

Not far from the Lundy, near Büyük Kemikli headland, is the wreck of a steamship that is most notable for its armoured steam boiler, which is now in three sections, having exploded when the ship sank. Its location near the shore and its maximum depth of 15m make it an excellent dive, even for relatively inexperienced divers.

BODRUM

Like so many other coastal tourist centres, Bodrum began life as a sleepy fishing village before catching the attention of visiting Europeans in recent times in search of sun and sand. Today this port on Turkey’s Aegean coast receives more than one million visitors a year, yet still retains a traditional feel with whitewashed buildings and ancient ruins providing an aesthetically pleasing authenticity.

The centre of the town is around the harbour, where St Peter’s Castle towers above narrow streets that are packed with bars and restaurants. The castle was built partially with stone from the nearby Tomb of Maussollus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and today houses the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Although the Bodrum peninsula covers an area of approximately 650 square kilometres, and has a coastline some 174km long, the main tourist resorts are found along the southern coast at places such as Gumbet, IÇmeler and Bitez. On the western side of the peninsula, you’ll find excellent beaches at Turgutreis and Gűműsluk, which offer a number of watersports including scuba diving.

Life underwater is varied, with Bodrum’s interesting topography providing a number of different types of diving, including wrecks, caverns and reefs. At several of the sites, ancient amphorae remain scattered on the sea bed and there is a good mix of fish life, including schooling barracuda and damselfish and several types of wrasse and grouper. There’s a decent chance of an encounter with both octopuses and lobster, and in between spotting marine life you can take advantage of some of the diverting tunnels and swim-throughs.

BIG AND SMALL REEF

These two reefs between Bodrum and Black Island are separated by only 200m. The reef walls are packed with fish life and extend from 5m all the way down to 32m on the south side and 36m on the north. These walls are particularly popular with photographers, who flock to capture images of sponges along with grouper, wrasse, scorpionfish and schooling barracuda and jacks.

PINAR 1 WRECK

This tanker located southeast of Karaada was sunk in 2007 as an artificial reef, and is particularly popular with photographers by virtue of its attractive wheelhouse (where the wheel remains in place), now the home of nudibranchs and tube worms. There’s also a good chance of seeing a number of cephalopods and moray eels. The wreck sits between 18 and 33m, making it perfect for scuba diving.

BUBBLE CAVE

Southwest of Karaada, this boat dive is named after a chimney-shaped cave that can be accessed at 12m. Once inside, keep an eye out for an abundance of fish life, along with crabs, corals and sponges. The bubbles, of course, come from the many visiting divers whose exhaled air ascends through cracks in the cave’s ceiling, all of which make a spectacular sight as you exit the cave via its chimney at 5m.

C47 DAKOTA PLANE WRECK

Further west is the wreck of a Turkish Air Force C47 Dakota plane, which was purposely sunk as an artificial reef in 2008. Storms and currents have shifted the plane around and it is now somewhat broken up, with one wing at 17m, the other at 25m, and the tail at 28m. Nevertheless, the C47 still makes for an impressive dive.

GÖKOVA BAY

Those able to make the 60 mile or so journey east from Bodrum to Gökova Bay will be rewarded with stunning topside views and memorable underwater encounters. This is a popular site with sailors and was designated a Special Environmental Protected Area (SEPA) in 1988. Among the notable species found in this area are sandbar sharks and Mediterranean monk seals.◊ With a dive season that extends from April through to November, visibility averaging between 20 and 30m, and a variety of dive sites that includes wrecks, reefs, drop-offs and caverns, there is much to recommend the diving in Bodrum. Novices and more experienced divers are well served by several dive centres in the area Diving is on good quality day boats and you can expect to pay £30-£45 for a day’s diving including lunch and two dives, with boats returning around 3pm.

MARMARIS

8 Famed throughout Turkey and beyond for the beauty of its Mediterranean coastline, this port city is popular with visiting tourists and has a modern marina, busy harbour and a traditional Old Town. The city is known for its vibrant nightlife and is well served by bars and restaurants. Those in search of a quieter resort might choose to head a few miles south to İçmeler on the Datça peninsula. Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll find the surrounding countryside is an exquisite mix of pine forests and cute coves of shimmering blue – this part of the Turkish Riviera is also known as the Turquoise Coast. Underwater Marmaris is no less attractive, offering excellent visibility and with many of the dive sites in well-protected bays – perfect for some gentle, stress-free holiday diving. Both shore and boat diving is available and the larger centres will offer a range of courses and night dives. As with the diving around Bodrum, expect a variety of sites from caverns to reefs and plenty of opportunities to spot some of Turkey’s ancient amphorae, transported in vast quantities, usually carrying wine or oil.

GOAT ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE

This site next to the lighthouse is perfect for more experienced divers, stretching as it does from a depth of 8m down to 38m. Marine life mingles with broken amphorae. There’s a good chance of seeing big fish drawn in from deeper waters, along with red cardinalfish, plenty of morays and octopus. Keep an eye on nooks and crannies in the reef to spot shellfish, including good-size lobster.

KADIRGA COVE

This site could be renamed ‘amphorae and eels’ such is the prevalence of both on this dive. Opposite the Kadirga Lighthouse and stretching down some 40m, this rocky site is suitable for most level of experience and offers a field of amphorae and, at 15m, the remains of a ship from the Hellenistic age. Amid the amphorae, moray eels are ubiquitous and there are plenty of crabs and shrimps in attendance too.

INCE BURUN LIGHTHOUSE

Located on Yildiz Island, which faces the bay of Marmaris, this site has a maximum depth of 38m and is known for its schools of leerfish and bream. Coloured sponges clothe the site and there is a good chance of seeing several species of nudibranch.

As you’d expect from a significant resort such as Marmaris, there are plenty of dive centres to choose from, many offering a full range of courses along with daily diving. The centres will pick you up from your accommodation.