Three Locations for Scuba Diving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is on everybody’s Brazil itinerary when visiting the largest country in South America. For scuba divers, it bares the question, can you scuba dive in Rio de Janeiro? 

The state of Rio de Janeiro has three possible diving locations: Cabo Frio, Buzios, and Arraial do Cabo. 

All three destinations are fairly close to each other and about 2 – 4 hours away from Rio de Janeiro by bus. 
But where should you go to have the best dive experience in the area?

Scuba diving in Rio De Janeiro Brazil

Scuba diving in Buzios vs Arraial do Cabo vs Cabo Frio

If you are unsure which destination to pick for your scuba diving trip in the state of Rio de Janeiro, this comparison table will help you:

All 3 locations are very similar in terms of conditions and what you can expect to see. Buzios however, is more for advanced divers due to deeper dive sites. The waters are cold with an average of 62 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit (19 – 21 Celsius) and in the off-season even colder. I was diving in September and had temperatures of 18 degrees. The visibility can vary heavily from very low (3 ft/1 m) to exceptional 100 feet/ 30 meters (but this is very rare and usually comes with even colder currents). The average visibility for Buzios, Arraial do Cabo, and Cabo Frio is 30 feet (10 meters).

During your underwater adventure, you can see turtles, guitar sharks, banana moral eels, colorful fish, squid, seahorses, and octopus at all three Rio de Janeiro dive sites.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what you value in your destination when you are not scuba diving.

  • Buzios has stunning beaches and a vibrant nightlife, but is on the pricier end and the furthest destination from Rio de Janeiro
  • Arraial do Cabo is famous for its beautiful and relaxing beaches, but it’s hard to find good food options and nightlife.
  • Cabo Frio is a good mix between the two. The beaches aren’t as lovely as the other two, but you have some dining and bar options.

All three locations are safe to walk around.

Why not dive in all three locations? Scuba diving in Araruama

Pro-tip: Can’t decide where to stay? I stayed in Araruama. It’s the closest to Rio de Janeiro and from here you can go scuba diving in all three destinations. 

Araruama is the kite surf capital of the area. In fact, instead of the Atlantic Ocean, Araruama is located at the world’s largest lagoon with constant wind that allows for fantastic water sports activities.

When you pick any of the three possible scuba diving locations, you will only have the option to dive there. From Araruama you can go to any of Buzios, Arraial do Cabo, and Cabo Frio based on your skills, wishes, and also the best conditions. 

I stayed at AF Dive and had the most amazing experience. We went to Cabo Frio dive sites but could have also gone to the others on day 2. However, it was further and not worth it due to similar conditions (bad visibility during the days we were there).

Language is a problem

Only 5% of Brazilians speak English (1% fluently). Even in the tourism industry, it’s hard to communicate in English. This is also true for dive centers in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I contacted several dive operators and often didn’t get a response or just in Portuguese. I only speak German and English. Often, Spanish might be helpful in Brazil.

I’m grateful that I came across AF Dive. Alexandre, the dive instructor, and his wife, Carolina, speak English and were outermost helpful. I can only recommend going diving with them.

Scuba diving in Buzios – Rio de Janeiro 

Buzios is famous for its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. It also has some of the best diving in the area. An island approx. 1 hour by boat offers a great scuba experience – especially for advanced divers. The dive sites are usually deeper than 60 feet (18 meters). 

What do you need to know about scuba diving in Buzios?

Be prepared for cold waters and low visibility. The water temperature is year-round about 62 to 70 degrees (19 – 21 C), and sometimes even colder. You will also encounter an average visibility of 30 feet (10 meters) but often below. 

The water has a high salt percentage. Combined with a 5mm long-exposure wetsuit, be sure to pack some extra weight onto your belt if you are used to tropical diving in destinations like Thailand or Mexico.

Marine life in Buzios

If you like turtles, you will enjoy scuba diving in Buzios. Buzios is home to hawksbill and big sea turtles. You can also find colorful angelfish and unique banana moral eels. They are named after a ripe banana with dark spots.

Especially, during a night dive, you can see squid and octopus.

squid scuba diving in Rio De Janeiro
Sorry for the poor photo quality

Are there sharks in Buzios?

Buzios is home to a small shark species – The guitar shark. You might not even recognize that this is a shark. You can see them fairly often in Buzios and the entire Rio de Janeiro area.

Scuba diving in Arraial do Cabo

Arraial de Cabo is a small town nestled in small mountains. It is famous for its beaches and idyllic scenery. You can’t expect many activities past 9 pm, but if you are looking for a relaxed vacation after your dives, it might just be the best spot for you. 

Almost impossible, during a scuba dive, you could spot some humpback whales passing by. 

Scuba diving in Arraial do Cabo is similar to Buzios and Cabo Frio: cold waters, not the best visibility but some interesting marine life full of turtles, guitar sharks, seahorses, and colorful fish. 

Unlike Buzios, Arraial de Cabo is excellent for all levels of scuba divers. Most dive sites are shallow, around the 39 feet (12 meter) mark. 

Scuba diving in Cabo Frio

Cabo Frio is closer to Rio than Arraial do Cabo and Buzios. It has a long white sand beach all along the town. 
After diving for two days in Cabo Frio from Araruama we stayed for two nights in the town.

scuba diving in cabo frio rio de janeiro

Scuba diving in Cabo Frio is also very much the same as the other two. I saw hawksbill turtles, as well as a giant sea turtle. During a night dive, we saw squid – unfortunately, we didn’t see an octopus, but they are common in the area.

Parrot Island dive site in Cabo Frio

Parrot Island is named after the birds that live on the island. It has different bays that are the different dive sites. I dove at Bay 2 and 3. They are big enough for 2 – 3 dives each. Usually the boat anchors in the middle of each bay, and you split the bay into 2 dives in either direction.

Speaking of birds, do you want to learn where you can scuba dive with birds?

You can expect to see the usual marine life in the area: turtles, moral eels, seahorses, squid, stonefish, guitar sharks, angelfish, and other colorful fish.

Sea turtle Scuba diving in Rio De Janeiro

Parrot Island dive sites are great for beginners and advanced divers alike. The depth is 46 feet (14 meters), but most of the dives are shallower at 39 to 30 feet (12 – 10 meters), allowing for long dives without reaching no-decompression times.

Conclusion of scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro

Scuba diving in the state of Rio de Janeiro is a hidden jam. With a short bus ride from the city center, you can reach one of three possible dive locations: Buzios, Arraial do Cabo, or Cabo Frio. Each location has something unique to offer, but it is usually above the water. Besides Buzios with deeper dive sites, you can expect to see the same marine life, similar cold waters, and low visibility. 

Therefore, pick your location based on your interest outside the water.

I can only recommend staying in Araruama, so you can go diving in all 3 locations or pick the best for the day based on the conditions. AF Dive is the perfect partner for this. Besides the location benefit offering flexibility in dive sites, one of the biggest advantages is that Alexandre and Carolina speak English – and are just amazing hosts! 

If you choose to dive with them, please say hi from me. (Also to their dogs)

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