Hidden away somewhere near the centre of Italy is a scuba diving gem. In the 1950s, a valley was flooded to create an artificial lake for hydroelectricity. In doing so, they flooded a collection of ancient ruins that is now a scuba diver’s paradise. Scuba diving in Capo D’Acqua (sometimes written as one word: Capodacqua) is a must-visit for any diver visiting central Italy.
Capo d’Acqua is in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about 2 hours east of Rome.
The dive site is shallow (max 30 feet/9 metres), with no current, and nearly unlimited visibility. The only catch is that the lake is fed by mountain runoff so the water temperature stays around 10ºC/50ºF all year. You could possibly do the dive in the thickest wetsuit you can find, but I would strongly recommend a drysuit if you want to have an enjoyable dive.
Dives are arranged exclusively through Atlantide in order to preserve the dive site. Email them through their website about a month before you visit and Dante will take good care of you. When we visited in spring 2016, diving was only available on Saturdays and Sunday. They can provide rental gear if you don’t want to trek your gear across Europe for a single dive (we brought our own drysuits, hoods, gloves and regulators, but rented BCDs, fins, tanks and weights). All the other divers were Italian; we were the only people speaking English, and the locals definitely appreciated the distance we travelled to visit the Capo D’Acqua.
The hidden lake
The lake is near the small town of Capestrano, in the Abruzzo region. It is not marked from the highway and you won’t see water until you’re on the edge of the lake. GPS directions will take you off the highway onto some small dirt roads and you’ll still be unsure if you’re in the right spot until you’re there.
The average air temperature in the area during May tends to be in the low-mid 20s C (70s F), but we happened to be diving on a day with record-setting temperatures. May 29, 2016 had a high temperature of 31°C/88°F. With the humidity, the temperature felt more like 43°C/109°F.
Suiting up in a drysuit for 10°C water on a day that feels like 43°C is not a fun experience. It’s never good to rush getting ready for a dive, but once we were suited up, it was a race into the water to start cooling down. Never have I been so happy to get into water this cold!
Scuba diving in Capo d’Acqua is strictly by guided dives with a leader from Atlantide, who takes the group through a path around the underwater structures. We were diving with a group of about 10 other divers, but there’s lots of room to spread out, so it never felt crowded (except at the stairs into the water when you were rushing to get in and cool off).
When diving in a lake, descending along the edge of the lake where all the divers were stirring up sediment is always murky. But once you start swimming into the lake, the visibility opens up dramatically. And then the ruins appear…
One of my favourite parts was towards the end of the dive on the swim back to the shore… Looking back at an old wall, I noticed what was clearly the old stream bed and an opening in the wall allowing the river to enter (or exit). Most people are a bit chilly by this point and eager to return to shore and miss this sight completely.
Enjoy the swim back to shore. Since the lake is so shallow, a safety stop is automatically build into the swim back.
So if you’re ever travelling through central Italy, scuba diving in Capo D’Acqua is definitely worth a detour. It’s a relatively short dive (30-45 minutes) because of both temperature and the relatively small area of the ruins, but you still have plenty of time to take in everything and capture some photos or video. It might seem a bit silly to make a detour for 30 minutes of diving, but Capo D’Acqua is really one of the most unique dives you’ll ever do.