The best dive sites in Argyll
We have been running diving and swimming trips along the Oban coast and the Argyll Islands for 10 years. Here are our top picks for places to dive in Argyll.
Our coastline stretches for 3,000 miles and is made up of many islands, bays, marine lakes, and bays. This results in a total coastline greater than that of France! The view of the Atlantic means that we are bathed in clear, nutrient-rich waters, making it a hotspot for marine life. The Atlantic can also be a wild place, with strong currents, waves, and winds that have earned it the nickname "Wild West." With such a melting pot of conditions, we have found that there is no substitute for strong and capable boats, guides, local knowledge and some flexibility in weather and sea conditions.
It's a tricky paradox when it comes to finding suitable locations. Usually the best snorkeling spots have clear water and lots of marine life. Marine life thrives in areas with strong currents, as this brings food and energy. The high currents mean you need to have adequate plans in place to safely dive these areas; we always recommend making sure you have the right experience, visiting with a local guide who knows the waters, and for added peace of mind, snorkeling from a boat.
Known as the gateway to the islands, Oban is also our base of operations here in Argyll! Our favorite places are reached by boat: there is always more marine life, better visibility and fewer water users. We also have some places accessible from land that we use for training or maybe for bad weather conditions.
For a coastal location, the Ganavan Sands is easily accessible from the city of Oban. You can take the bus or it is a comfortable journey of less than 10 minutes with a large municipal car park. Restrooms are available along with a wide variety of drinks and snacks from Dougie Dan's Snack Bar. Cannae suggested a bun and sausage after snorkeling! The wide bay consists of sand and pebbles with rocks to the west and east where you can find some kelp forests and sea grass beds. There may be multiple water users and boat traffic, so make sure you have adequate visibility of them with an SMB (Surface Marker Buoy).
Our choice near Oban would be to take our boat up to a nearby secluded cove with much clearer views and a greater abundance of marine life. We usually anchor first in a sheltered part that gives you access to different reefs and then we return to the boat or swim with the current and the boat will pick you up. We have several options within a distance of 5 to 30 minutes that we can visit depending on the weather conditions and how much adventure we want to have! We always customize our snorkeling tours to the needs of the group based on their experience and what they want to see.
The beautiful island of Coll is where we relocate our operations during the summer to coincide with the best wildlife, water temperatures and sea conditions. The island lies to the west of Mull and has many beaches, bays, headlands, straits and islands. We have been exploring the coast for many years and have found many treasures hidden under the waves. There are plenty of currents and deep water around the island which means the marine life is fantastic. Our tours are based around the boat providing safety cover along with our in-water snorkel guides accompanying our divers to ensure everyone is safe.
There are a few places where you can swim from shore, but you should seek local advice beforehand. Our first pick would be Cliad Beach, which, as long as you stay close to the coast, is out of the mainstream and out of the hassle! The rocky reefs are beautiful with gneiss covered by kelp forests. You can park near the recycling center and then walk a bit along the path between the dunes, watching out for machair and brittle dune grass. The bay is exposed to both wind and swell to the west.
We use many different locations around Coll for snorkeling and swimming and have a lot of experience with which locations work best in relation to tide, wind, swell and the experience level and wishes of our passengers. In addition to the main island of Coll, there are hundreds of smaller islands just offshore to explore. These islands create passages through which the current is squeezed, which in turn increases the abundance of marine life. We have really exciting routes through rocky reefs like the "Algae Coaster" but our favorite is the lagoon which has so many different areas to explore. You can join us on a day trip to the lagoon from Oban or Mull, or spend much more time exploring all these places during our multi-day tours.
ISLANDS OF TIRE
Tiree is the neighboring island of Coll where we spend our summers and often visit this beautiful island in search of wildlife. Visit Scaranish Harbor or swim and snorkel off shore. It is known for its sun but also for its wind, waves and strong currents. There are beaches on all sides of the island, making it perfect for finding a protected area, but local advice should always be sought before exploring from shore.
The beach next to Scaranish Harbor is a good place for safe snorkelling and has good access to the car park, hotel and also toilets. It is relatively gated so it is protected from most directions and easily accessible from the beach. You can follow the rocks on both sides or strong divers can go around the islet and east, scale the rocks and come back. Do not stray too far from shore, as currents can be strong, and stay away from the harbor channel and west entrance, which are frequented by commercial and pleasure vessels.
We spend a lot of time on the coast of Tiree as it is very close to our base on Coll Island during the summer. The islands are only separated by a small channel called Gunna Sound, as we explored by boat it really is like one giant playground on the island. Like our Coll Snorkeling Route, Tiree has so many coves, ports, nooks and crannies, all of which have different qualities and offer protection from the wind and waves. Tiree lies to the west of Coll and the wind and swell speeds increase as we go west so we generally stay on the east side of the island. There are some fantastic protected sites, accessible only by boat, with excellent water clarity and lush kelp forests.
ISLA STAFFA / CUEVA FINGALS
The famous Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa is a must-see after Queen Victoria, Felix Mendelssohn and Joseph Banks. It wasn't really known as a swimming spot until we started the tours there. However, not only do you have to be careful with the giant Fingal, it is also a place very exposed to Atlantic conditions with a lot of maritime traffic. We recommend swimming in the cave only by boat, with safety cover and experienced guides. Entering from shore can be very dangerous with unpredictable sea conditions and boats that don't know you are there.
The cave is about 70 m long and has side walls made of basalt columns. You will be dropped off at the entrance and you will follow our guide who will lead you into the cave. The view from the cave with the islands and the ship in the distance is a sight to behold, along with the ceiling 20m above you and the kelp forest below with the rocky seabed. A true 360° experience! Our guide will take you to the other main caves on the island, Boat Cave and MacKinnon's Cave, while the boat keeps watch nearby. We run it as a labelcrossfrom Oban & Mull, however, it takes a bit of luck to pick a single day with good weather. We schedule a cave dive for all of our longer multi-day tours, choosing to visit during the best time that offers the best chance of a successful dive.
Here is a great video from the Wild Swimming Brothers who joined our tour a few years ago and were impressed with the cave diving.
Or check out this amazing video from one of our tours to see what it's like inside one of the nearby caves. It took Shane with some good drone skills and perfect conditions to capture this!
The Isle of Mull is the fourth largest in the Hebrides with over 300 miles of coastline! Most of our tours visit Mull and we even circumnavigate our longer trips which take around 4-5 hours non-stop! There are so many places to swim and snorkel along 300 miles of coastline.
Calgary Bay is a well-known bay with white sand and turquoise waters in the northwest of the island. It's a short drive or bus ride from the main Tobermory village and has excellent parking and toilets close by. Calgary Art in Nature is also nearby - a great cafe, art walk and craft store. For snorkeling, the bay is wide and sandy, with rocks on either side that turn into a more accessible kelp forest. It is generally away from the main streams and has good visibility and little boat traffic. It's a pretty innocuous place, but watch out for the weather as it faces W/SW.
With 300 miles of coastline on Mull, we have unlimited places to visit. It is very difficult to choose the best, but we decided to visit the unique Arcos de Carsaig. We usually do this after a visit to the falls, but it's worth noting in its own right. Nicknamed the "Next Fingal's Cave", it has the advantages of a pointed basalt pillar finger, a keyhole arch, and a huge cave. The formations sit at the foot of 300 m high cliffs that have exposed volcanic rock; it looks a lot like Jurassic Park and many people notice a resemblance to Icelandic landscapes. This comparison is very relevant as Iceland is geologically like Mull, but much younger.
You can walk up to the arches but it takes many hours with tricky rock sections (there is a very good local walking guide in Carsaig who can help if you prefer two feet or two flippers). The boat drops you off and we swim over many large rocks and kelp forests to reach the keyhole. Once there, we have an amazing view through the rocks and then explore the next huge cave on foot. We left here and walked through a rocky cove and then back to the boat. Another amazing and unique snorkel!
Check out a video from one of our previous trips there. We visited this in our 5 days.Primaveraand 4 daysFallenTours, in addition to offering aswild swimmingDay trip from Oban.
SNORKEL WITH SHARK
No Argyll snorkeling guide would be complete without mentioning our friends the basking sharks as we have the best hotspot in the world for them here! The world's second largest fish migrates from the subtropics to the Argyll Islands each summer to feed on the abundant zooplankton and also potentially for courtship and mating purposes. We pioneered low impact swimming with them and on many of our trips we offer them the opportunity to do so! An overwhelming world class experience!
Another amazing animal encounter in Argyll is seal diving. We have two resident species, the common seal and the gray seal, in Scotland we have very high numbers of European and global populations of these species. Both are protected species, just like the places where they live, so handling them is something that must be done carefully to avoid discomfort.excursions. i.e. sneezing, making a lot of noise, and swimming right next to a seal in the water probably isn't a good date. However, if you do everything right, you can increase your chances of landing good prospects, and if you're lucky, you may find a "player," the nickname for an animal that is highly curious and seeks a close encounter with you. We do a day trip where you can snorkel and swim with seals but oursmulti-day toursYou can work on techniques much better and have a better chance of good matches.
Known as the gateway to the islands, Oban is also our base of operations here in Argyll! Our favorite places are reached by boat: there is always more marine life, better visibility and fewer water users.
But there are also some easily accessible places to explore on land, which are also ideal for our snorkel training.
As a land site, Ganavan Sands is easily accessible from the city of Oban. You can take the bus or it is a comfortable journey of less than 10 minutes with a large municipal car park. Restrooms are available along with a wide variety of drinks and snacks from the Dougie Dan snack bar. Cannae suggested a bun and sausage after snorkeling! The wide bay consists of sand and pebbles with rocks to the west and east where you can find some kelp forests and sea grass beds. There may be a lot of other water users and boat traffic here, so make sure you have adequate visibility with an SMB (Surface Marker Buoy).