On the west coast of Italy south of Rome approximately two hours drive is the Naples Bay area as well as the Amalfi Peninsula. Low mountains and high ridgelines dominate the area in the vicinity. Of course the Bay of Naples and the Sorrentine coast is overseen by Mount Vesuvius. Vesuvius and the island of Capri are the most readily identifiable features in the area and both can be seen from the bay on all but the mistiest days.
The Bay of Naples as well as the Amalfi coast are similar to the rest of central and southern Italy in that they receive abundant sunshine and host very clear waters. Twenty to thirty meter visibility is the rule rather than the exception. Due to the exceptionally rocky coastline in this section of Italy, even the worst weather normally does little to hamper the visibility. Because of the sheltered harbors marginal weather rarely discourages the dive centers from going out. Normally, sheltered anchorages can be found and if the weather is quite bad, the boat will not go far from the dive center and will simply not anchor while the dive is underway.
In addition, the area is absolutely spectacular in both its scenery and its cultural heritage…it has exceptional gifts to present to the diver and the non-diver alike.
Sorrento is a unique opportunity in that many people find it to be easy to get around, absolutely beautiful to investigate, with large numbers of hospitable restaurants and shops. Sorrento has a special personality that has kept it a favorite with divers who return season after season. Like most other areas in Italy where diving is done, there will be one dive center which tends to become a favorite both for locals and visitors. This creates a lively atmosphere where multiple nationalities meet and in some cases make life-long friends.
Situated southwest of Naples on the extreme south side of the Bay of Naples, the main dive center at Capo di Puolo is slightly west of Sorrento. From the dive center, which may run up to three dives per day, you will take a boat to one of many sheltered coves along the peninsula. If there are adequate divers AND if the weather is quite calm it is possible to get everyone for a full day of diving at the island of Capri.
Even if a trip is not made to Capri, from Sorrento it is less than a 45 minute boat ride to some of the better spots in this portion of Italy. The small and extremely colorful fish make this area a pleasure to dive, and although pelagic species are not ordinarily seen in the area you will find more than enough corals and interesting rock formations to keep you busy. Caves and caverns abound due to carbonate rock sequences that are present so always ensure you carry at least a small dive light. This will be required to illuminate the many rocky crevices as well as the overhangs underwater which tend to block out the daylight even on the brightest days.
In the coral sections and on the walls in this area octopus are extremely common. It is not unusual to spy a dozen of these critters in a morning’s dive. Additionally, moray eels are relatively frequently noted as well as seahorses. Most of this will be missed without a light. Although dolphins are common in this part of the Med they are not often seen on dives near Sorrento partially due to the pleasure boat traffic.
One type of fish that is exceedingly common is the lionfish. This beautiful species can be seen very frequently in singles and sometimes in pairs lying on rocky shelves. Their favorite hideout is on horizontal shelves with overhangs of rock above. The key means to spot these fish, which will be obvious from the slight movement of their dorsal and pectoral fins as they rest on the shelf, will be to highlight them with your light. For photographers, these fish are very quiet and do not normally move even when you get your camera quite close. You will need a close lens and strobe, hopefully offset from the camera lens by 0.5m+/- because your best shots will be up close and personal, preferably from less than 1m. Be aware that once you have located one lionfish there are probably quite a few more nearby, so in your excitement watch where you put your hands, especially if you are not wearing gloves. When moving along the ledges and walls be especially careful with your fins. Not only are the fragile live coral susceptible to breakage from the backwash of your fins, but your dive partner won’t remain your friend for long if you wash a lionfish into his or her face or arms.
Also for photographers, the Sorrentine area is an excellent area for starfish. Most are of average size, but some large specimens are seen with armspans of 40-60 cm, and in a wide variety of colors. These are also excellent photographic subjects with the proper lighting and lens selection. Many of these are found out in open areas attached to rock outcroppings surrounded by sand or weeds.
The dive center at Capo di Puolo varies the time at which dives are done, but generally a morning dive meets at 0800, a late-morning dive at 1100, and an afternoon dive at 1500. The schedule varies somewhat and you must call ahead to make a reservation.
Dive Center Cala di Puolo Massa Lubrense 0039-081-8072410 phone
Centrosub Costiera Amalfitana Positano
Diving Center Aquarius Lido Giardino near Naples 0039-328/8963139 0039-339/3008826
Hotel Onda Verde Praiano
For morning dives from November to April allow only 20 minutes to get to the dive center, and during the remainder of the year allow at least 30 minutes. If you drive back into town between dives, be prepared to allow additional time due to heavy traffic on the narrow two-lane road to town as well as within Sorrento.
Normally the dive sites will be within 30 minutes of Capo di Puolo unless special arrangements are made for a large group of divers to do two dives, or to be gone all day. If you are a land photographer as well, be sure to have your camera along, as there are numerous ruins along the shoreline here that date to Roman times. For these the water is certainly the best vantage point. If you are planning to be picked up at the dive center for lunch or in the afternoon don’t expect to be terribly punctual.
For meals there are several trattorias on the beach at Baia di Puolo as well as a couple of nice restaurants. Obviously due to the locale the specialty will be seafood…the octopus which you illuminated with your dive light this morning, may be on your seafood appetizer plate taking a bath in local olive oil this afternoon. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
After lunch, if you plan to be in on the afternoon dive, you can relax on the black-sand volcanic beach or take a walk east 200-300m along the shoreline to the "Emperor’s Villa" which is a ruin that has become a favorite spot for the sun-worshipers. Be sure to take tough sandals or shoes, because the shoreline is rather rugged. This is a good spot to relax, as from the Villa you can see both Sorrento on top of the cliffs and Vesuvius directly to the east.
After the diving day is complete, you can leave your gear at the dive center and head back to town. Again, have your camera ready, as there are some exceptional views of Sorrento from the two-lane road which leads into town.
Sorrento is one of many areas in Italy where there are excellent possibilities for every individual. In the Neapolitan area are Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Pompeii, the islands of Capri and Ischia, and Naples itself. Within the town of Sorrento are numerous shops and stores as well as many excellent and unique restaurants. In this area of Italy, inlaid wood, ceramics, and cameo are prevalent as local art forms. Another item which is unique to this area is the artistic carving of conch shells into beautiful sculptures. This area is famous as well for its olive oil (you will observe the orange nets which are permanently strung between trees to catch the olives during harvest), wine, and a lemon liqueur known as limoncello which is an after-dinner drink throughout Italy.
In Sorrento, the streets are busy with people until three in the morning…during most of the year the main portion of central Sorrento is totally closed to auto traffic after early evening. This allows pedestrians total sway in the best part of town. Restaurants serve beginning at 1930+/- and get quite crowded along the main avenues by 2000 until 2200. There are, however numerous beautiful restaurants with fantastic seafood. In contrast to the restaurants at Baia di Puolo, a variety of second courses are served which range from fresh local seafood to fantastic roast or grilled lamb. There is as much variety to the pastas which are served here as there are anywhere else in Italy. There are several restaurants which specialize in American and British meals for those who REALLY miss home.
For visits to Naples and the surrounding areas such as Pompeii and Vesuvius, there are plenty of tour agencies who visit the hotels in Sorrento...they can conveniently set you up for a bus tour. These tours can be the best option, as you will not have to worry about parking or security for your car. They will also normally provide a tour guide at the sites who is licensed by the state. These tours generally are all-day affairs as the bus ride alone is 1 to 1 ˝ hours each way and the site tours are generally 2-3 hours long. Add in at least 2 hours for lunch and you can count on a 10-hour day minimum. Normally the tours will be organized to have the bus pick you up at the front of your hotel if it is on the main drag, or at one of the central main squares. Often the buses begin picking up at 0700 and are dropping people back off at 1800-1900 in the evening. From experience, wear strong shoes or even better lightweight hiking boots. And for those with kids (this is also from experience), leave the strollers at the hotel as the ancient streets in Pompeii and Herculaneum cannot be negotiated with them.
Tours are also available via buses to the Amalfi coast (the south side of the Amalfi peninsula). This is known locally as "The Amalfi Drive". If you have a car or can rent one in Sorrento, this is a lot easier and much faster than going by bus. The views are once-in-a-lifetime spectacular. From Sorrento plan on a drive of 1 ˝ to 3 hours to get to Amalfi depending upon traffic if you drive yourself. There are several excellent places to stop at and investigate, and numerous excellent restaurants with superb views.
How to Get There
Sorrento is exceptionally convenient to get to, especially if you have rented a car, which is the simplest way to get around in this part of the country. From Naples, go south on the Autostrada to the Castellamare exit (just south of the exit to Pompeii archeological site). From the Castellamare exit, follow the signs west on SS145 for Sorrento. You will know when you get close to Sorrento because you will go around a sweeping left turn and there will be a shear 500-foot drop-off to the Bay of Naples with a spectacular view of Sorrento and the island of Capri in the background.
A second alternative from Naples is to take the train from Naples to Sorrento. The station in Sorrento is the last on the line and is conveniently located to many hotels in Sorrento Centro.
A third alternative is to take the hydrofoil from Naples Terminal to Sorrento. This drops you at the foot of the cliff on which Sorrento is built, but taxis are available for reasonable rates to take you to your hotel.
Both of these means avoid the need to drive, but you will still require transportation to Baia di Puolo. In the event you will be making the trip over a period of two or three days it may be cost effective to organize a deal with a local taxi driver. If you get the driver’s cell phone number you can organize a pick-up when you get back to the dock, and by the time your gear is rinsed off and you have showered up he will be ready for you.
To get to Capo di Puolo from Sorrento, head west on the only road out of Sorrento (SS145) along the shoreline. Follow signs for the town of Massa Lubrense. About 2 km west of Sorrento you will see signs for Baia di Puolo. Continue on until you see a high white wall on your right. There will be a large gate in the wall with a sign for Villa Lauro and Capo di Puolo on your right. Turn right through the gate and descend to Villa Lauro. There will be a booth there where you may need to pay to park. Let them know you are with the Cala di Puolo Centro Sub and this normally negates the need to pay. Drive down to the bay, park your car where directed and walk with your gear east towards the small village. You will pass through one gate and the club will be 50m ahead on the right.