In a recent post, I talked about Cuban beaches; in my own humble opinion, the best white sand beaches in the world.
I said it there but it might be worth repeating – include a visit to a beach in Cuba into your itinerary if you didn’t already (literally any beach will do if you don’t have one on there already) because, otherwise, why the heck are you going there?
Personally, I have no problems just lazing about on those beaches. Plant me under a palm tree, put a pitcher of daiquiri in my hand and I’ll only get up for a quick swim and a refill.
I might even put down roots after a week or so.
However, I’m quite aware that not everyone is that type of a lazy hedonist (I do wonder why sometimes?).
If you’re more into active holidays, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Cuban beaches and the coastline have nothing to offer. Indeed, some of the world’s most beautiful (and pristinely conserved) coral reefs are located in this little Caribbean piece of paradise.
At a time when climate change is claiming victims at an accelerated pace (sadly, The Great Barrier Reef is beyond salvation at this point), Cuba’s coral reefs are still hanging in there.
That’s why scuba diving in Cuba is quickly becoming one of the most popular marine activities, threatening to overtake even that all-time favorite of mine – you’ve guessed it – lying under a palm tree!
Oh, and guess what – we can all thank Fidel Castro that Cuba is such a diving hotspot today.
What Does Castro Have to Do With Scuba Diving in Cuba?
A lot, actually.
Whatever your personal feelings about Fidel Castro, there’s one thing that nobody can take away from him – he felt strongly about preserving marine biodiversity.
I know, I know – if only he cared as much about human rights. However, the fact remains that Castro (an avid diver himself) and his government did a lot to conserve marine life before it became fashionable for world leaders to talk even discuss it.
For example, Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) are under government protection since 1996, which is probably the main reason why the area is still in pristine condition.
Only 1,000 scuba divers and 500 catch-and-release fishermen are allowed in the Gardens (which consists of more than 600 uninhabited reefs, ‘cayos’, and islets) every year and a government-controlled operator is the only one allowed to organize excursions there.
Perhaps it’s not an ideal arrangement when it comes to fair market competition but it certainly did save those reefs from overexploitation and potential destruction.
Things to Know Before Planning a Scuba Diving Vacation in Cuba
There are a few things you should know when planning a trip to Cuba for scuba diving and those things fall into three different categories:
- Best time to go there
- What to expect during dives
- Best Cuban diving spots
As for when to go to Cuba, it’s generally understood that you can go diving all year round. Temperatures rarely drop below 11 C or go higher than 32 C and the average winter temperature is between 20 and 22 C.
Winter is probably the best season to travel (actually, anywhere between December and April, since that is peak season) and a 5mm wetsuit is usually more than enough.
If you decide to travel during the summer, keep in mind that both air and water temperature is higher so pack or rent a thin wetsuit (3mm).
Cuba sees an average of one hurricane every two to three years during the summer period – it’s something to keep in mind but, again, not something to overly concern yourself with.
As for diving expectations, Cuba is pretty diverse when it comes to marine life. Expect to see dozens of species of fishes, around 100 species of sharks, and an abundance of different corals and sponges.
Of course, what you will see will depend on your location, but all around the coastline there are interesting wrecks, reefs, and coral gardens. Visibility is anywhere from 20 to 50 meters, although some areas can be explored even deeper.
It’s difficult to say where best diving in Cuba is done – the country boasts numerous dive spots that are nicely spread out so you never have to travel too far to find the nearest one.
Granted, those in the north are more accessible because they are close to Havana, but if you’re on a tight schedule and want to give scuba diving in Cuba a chance, they will do just fine.
However, it’s commonly accepted that the best Cuban diving spots are located off the southern coast, Jardines de la Reina included.
Best Diving in Cuba – Spots You Don’t Want to Miss
Well, since I’ve spoken so highly about Cuban diving sites here, it’s only fair to give you a few recommendations. Keep in mind that there are plenty of spots you can choose from- I’m just listing those that are popular with passionate scuba divers.
Yemayá, Maria La Gorda
Maria La Gorda diving zone is located on the western tip of the island and it’s protected. Its numerous diving spots are great for beginner and experienced divers but one of the most attractive dives is Yemayá. The dive will take you down a vertical wall, in between black coral outcrops, and you will return through an underwater cave. There’s plenty of life down here so expect to see giant gorgonian, lobsters and a whole lot of fish.
Jardines de la Reina
The best dive in the Jardines de la Reina is Avalon, especially if you’re a shark junkie and want to see those fearsome creatures up close – like, really up close! There are a few real choices here as the area is protected – you stay in a liveaboard that’s moored in the mangroves over night and have two to three dive sessions every day. Still, there’s a reason why scuba divers are flocking to Jardines de la Reina – if you want to see the most beautiful diving spot in the world, with lush corals and an abundance of life, it’s what you will set your sights on, as well.
Banco de Jagua, Cienfuegos
If you’re visiting Cienfuegos, you might want to check out Banco de Jagua – a mountain that reaches up from the abyss, as it’s popularly described. This is a slightly complicated dive best left to professional divers, however, and it’s definitely not a dive you want to be your first ever. Banco de Jagua goes down 40 meters and it’s absolutely teeming with life: stingrays, hammerhead sharks, red snappers, barracudas, you name it. If you’re fortunate enough, you will even get to see the fabled whale shark, so it’s definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not in the neighborhood.
El Colón, Santiago de Cuba
Spanish cruiser Cristobal Colón sank off the coast of La Mula (some 100 km from the city of Santiago). If it hadn’t, Cuba would be poorer for one of its landmark wreck dives. This is a relatively easy dive – some 15 meters down and only 30 meters from the shore. Still, to see this well-preserved wreckage firsthand is really breathtaking. It’s worth a visit even if you don’t plan to dive since the wreck can be seen from the surface with a mask.
Tiburones Toro, Playa Santa Lucía
This is a pleasant and easy dive if you’re looking to relax and do some shark watching. You will be diving at a depth of 28 or so meters but the visibility is average. The best way to get your money’s worth is to pick a nice, clear day with no wind. Sharks are fed lunch by experienced dive-masters at the turning of the tide so that’s the best time to be there.
El Acuario, Cayo Largo
Cayo Largo is an island off the south shore of Cuba, east of Isle of Youth. Although there are over 30 dive sites in the area, by far the most impressive one is El Acuario, where you will see walls of multicolored corals, and plenty of sea life. You will go down to a depth of 15 meters so it’s definitely not a very complicated dive, but it will still give you a chance to admire bull rays, stingrays, turtles and, if you’re lucky, a cat shark or two.
Boca de Caldera, Habana del Este
As I said, not everyone gets to spend a month in Cuba so visiting dive spots that are far from Havana might prove to be difficult. Luckily, one of the most impressive diving experiences in Cuba can be done pretty close to the capital. Boca de Caldera, or the Mouth of the Crater, is located just 200 meters from Habana del Este.
It’s a cave that drops down 12 meters and features an abundance of coral reefs and schools of young fish lingering in the semi-darkness for protection.
Cueva Azul, Isla de la Juventud
There are over 50 dive spots on the Isle of Youth. Picking any one of them will guarantee a spectacular diving experience. However, Cueva Azul (Blue Cave) is a singular experience. You enter into a tunnel and there are three exits, the deepest one of which is at 42 meters of depth. Just before you reach it, you will hit the ‘big blue’, a chasm stretching down for a full mile, if not more!
Ojo del Mégano, Varadero
Ojo del Mégano is a blue hole, a cave whose roof collapsed, exposing it to curious eyes of divers. The hole goes down nearly 70 meters and its circumference is close to 45 meters. It’s not a demanding dive so you can plan on doing it even if you’re not an experienced diver. The cave serves as a refuge to various species of fish but you’ll also get to see some predators sneaking around looking for a quick meal – try not to become one!
Diving in Cuba – The Verdict
There’s really not much to say here except that if you have a chance to go for a dive, take it. Thousands of people are flying to Cuba every month to do it – if you’re visiting for any other reason, it would still be a shame to miss it, especially since it’s so easy to find great dive spots everywhere on the island.
What are you waiting for?
Put your flippers on and scuba to Cuba!