The Atlantic Museum in Lanzarote, an underwater treasure for both tourists and the diving sector
The opening of the Atlantic Museum in Lanzarote has become an underwater treasure for the island and tourists, as well as for professionals working in the diving sector.
The number of visitors wanting to discover this new museum, designed by the British eco-sculptor Jason deCaires and in partnership with the Municipal Council of Lanzarote’s Centres for Art, Culture and Tourism (CACT Lanzarote), has grown significantly, as well as the number of specialised centres in Lanzarote.
According to official figures, over the last four years the number of licensed diving centres in Lanzarote has practically doubled with currently around 36 centres.
In order to discover more about the impact of the underwater museum on the island’s diving sector, we spoke with Johnny Spure, an experienced diver who has worked in Lanzarote for 30 years and now manages La Santa Diving centre at Club La Santa (Tinajo). He told us how this underwater space has brought international recognition to the southern part of Lanzarote. “The opening of the Atlantic Museum put the island on the map, a good thing for the island as everyone now knows that there is an underwater museum here. It is something that has attracted not just experienced divers”.
Alessandra Meli also gave us her perspective on the Atlantic Museum from her diving centre, Cala Blanca Diving Centre Lanzarote, located further south in Playa Blanca on Avenida de Papagayo. She agreed that the international reach of the museum can be seen “a lot” in the visitors to the centre. “Of course it is noticeable since the museum opened. Especially in people who are not qualified divers. They are tourists who have never dived before but are interested in discovering the Atlantic Museum. We offer them a course so that they can then go diving to Las Coloradas”, she explained.
Cala Blanca offers their course on Playa Dorada, along the coast of Playa Blanca. “Here we offer the first underwater experience: Discover Scuba Diving. It’s not just an introduction to diving where you go underwater for a few metres, but a series of exercises that you can then use to dive without any problems in the afternoon at the underwater museum”.
Introducing diving to thousands of tourists in Lanzarote
Since the Underwater Atlantic Museum opened, the diving centres and schools in Lanzarote have taken the initiative to create a diving package which concludes with a dive exploring the museum created by CACT Lanzarote. Of course, each package varies in price and group preparation.
All of the professionals in the diving sector we spoke to told us that both they and their excursions have adapted to the different visitors coming with a range of qualifications and skills, but all eager to see the incredible sculptures from Jason deCaires.
Depending on the type of excursion, the dives can last between 25 minutes or 40 to 60 minutes (plus preparation and travelling time). However, each package has a preparation time of at least two hours.
The prices vary between diving centres in Lanzarote, but on average a day package with an introduction to diving and a visit to the Atlantic Museum can cost you around 140 euros. For professional divers it costs 35 euros per person for entrance to the museum and transportation by boat.
Alessandra confirmed that the underwater museum has a strong “popularity and appeal”, drawing the attention of thousands of tourists visiting the island. However, she also notes that it has caused a “huge increase in diving centres, with increasing competition”.
A beautiful place, full of life
Close to Costa Teguise, we spoke to Virginia Ridruejo from the Active Scuba Divers centre. Originally from Seville, she is passionate about underwater excursions to places teeming with life, which for her is one of the main attractions of the Underwater Atlantic Museum. “Going past the wall, you find yourself in a place full of life. You dive in and see hundreds of fish swimming around, from big barracudas and John Dorys, to parrot fish and dentex fish that form huge shoals, as well as stingrays…”
She tells us that over time the sculptures by Jason deCaires “have filled with life from algae” and the fauna has multiplied in the reef created by the CACT Lanzarote initiative.
In terms of the dives, she explains that she recently dived with a group of nine highly qualified divers, but that “it isn’t usually like that, it is usually much fewer people”. And the divers are usually beginners.
The training courses at Active Scuba Divers usually end with a visit to the museum based at Playa Blanca. “Many people come to us asking about the Atlantic Museum which prompts them to try diving as it is truly beautiful”.
Virginia also gave us her view on how the site has evolved. “A year ago it was nice and very pretty as it was a dive to an underwater museum, something completely new of course. But now it isn’t just a dive to a museum, but to a museum full of life which is very beautiful”, she told us.
In this tourist initiative with environmental benefits, flora has naturally grown onto the sculptures. However, some people in the sector have stated that they would like the figures to be cleaned in order to maintain their silhouette.
Virginia Ridruejo also explained that there is an official route at the underwater site. “And we all follow it, especially to make sure that you see all the statues”. With the current growth of life she states that “the route has gained so much, I would say, and can be made longer… What happens is that, depending on the experience of the divers, it goes quicker or slower”.
Each centre has a different policy on this as they form their groups differently. For example, Johnny Spure from La Santa Diving told us that for them it isn’t cost-effective to give a monitor to every diver, therefore, dives to this underwater museum are aimed at those with 1 star, a minimum qualification which you can obtain after four days of training.
A question of visibility
The Atlantic Museum has gained visibility across the world. But, as in any museum, being able to actually see the works is pretty important. So we asked them about this. “Usually visibility is good, especially as the bed is sand. We also have to explain to the divers beforehand that kicking close to the bottom picks up the sand, which stops others from seeing clearly”, added Virginia.
Johnny Spure from La Santa diving centre stated that “the conditions are changing, but for us it is just as exciting to visit the space in light or dark, as it offers a different show each time. Even when visibility is bad, you get a different experience. I cannot tell you that one day is better than another”.
All the professionals we spoke to agree on two issues relating to the increasing number of visitors and the amount of business the museum has given people working in Lanzarote. Firstly, the fact that unqualified divers are able to visit the museum has meant that the amount of tourists going diving has increased. And secondly, that Lanzarote was already a well-known destination for diving, but the Atlantic Museum has reaffirmed this on an international scale where divers now come with even greater anticipation to visit this new underwater space.
Finally, here are some figures to conclude with. In 2016, 146,492 tourists dived in Lanzarote, almost 50% more than in 2015. The average visitor who went diving on the island was 43 years old and 75% came from four countries: United Kingdom (43.1%), Germany (11.7%), Ireland (10.6%) and Spain (10.5%).