Enjoy the best Scuba Diving experience in Cuba
Exploring Cuba is a magical experience for many travellers. The country offers many beautiful locations to explore with its unique mix of culture, heritage, traditions and contemporary lifestyle. After experiencing Cuba’s cultural wonders you must dive deep into its waters to get acquainted with the country’s amazing marine life, one of the richest and most varied in the world. Late famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once said he saw more fish on Cuban reefs than anywhere in the world and he wasn’t wrong as the Cuban archipelago is home to the healthiest, most well-preserved coral reef systems in the entire Caribbean with thriving marine life heralded as some of the most beautiful in the world.
Scuba diving is one of the top travel activities for nature lovers to do in Cuba and one of the most rewarding indeed. The most amazing encounters and fascinating underwater sights are guaranteed whatever the time of year. From amazing underwater caves to historic shipwrecks dating back to the island’s independence wars against Spain (with U.S. involvement) and its privileged location with a coastline partly bathed by the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Cuba offers a seascape unrivalled by any other with pristine beauty and rich biodiversity that simply can’t be matched anywhere else.
Cuba offers amazing options for scuba divers. It has floating hotels, liveaboard dive ships and hotels entirely dedicated to scuba divers. Some of the major locations in Cuba for scuba diving are found in Maria la Gorda, Jardines del Rey, the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), Bay of Pigs, Cayo Largo, Cayo Levisa, Varadero, Rancho Luna, Santa Lucia, Guardalavaca, Santiago de Cuba, and the more exclusive Jardines de La Reina, which you can only access via a large double-decker liveaboard ship called La Tortuga, as there are no hotels built in this protected southern archipelago, one of Cuba’s largest protected areas. What’s there to see? Countless endemic fish species of all sizes and colours as well as intact seabeds home to healthy, thriving corals.
When it comes to Cuba, enthusiastic divers have an immense wealth of marine sites to explore. Dotted all along its ragged coastline you’ll find a variety of diving sites, ranging in size, depth, level of difficulty and accessibility for beginners as well as advanced divers.
Looking after the environment to ensure its immaculate preservation as well as to ensure the utmost safety of scuba divers, Cuba’s diving schools and centres don’t allow more than 5 divers per dive master.
Let us now introduce you to the best locations to enjoy scuba diving in Cuba:
- Isla de Juventud: Famous for having been frequented by pirates who buried countless treasures in its sands, this is the second largest island in the Cuban archipelago. Here, most diving is done from Pirates Point and with over 56 dive sites to choose from you’re truly spoilt for choice, including access to the National Maritime Park at Punta Frances, one of the world’s most incredible underwater world to explore. You can arrange all diving excursions through the Colony International Diving Centre which also has its own hotel. The entire area is protected and offers divers amazing unforgettable encounters.
- Jardines de la Reina: this is an outstanding location for some of the most amazing diving you’ll do in your lifetime. Completely uninhabited and completely off limits to humans, this chain of blessed virginal keys to the south of Cuba remains pristine thanks to its strict conservational measures, which means you can’t stay in any of the keys (no hotels built anywhere) and the only way to access this area’s blossoming diving sites is through a floating double-decker hotel called La Tortuga and sleeping up to 21 divers in its eight guest cabins. The diving to be done here is indescribably amazing and nothing short of spectacular.
- Cayo Largo: This small narrow island in the Canarreos Archipelago, to the southwest of Cuba’s mainland is naturally blessed with crystalline turquoise waters. Its geographical location close to Isla de la Juvented means that you can easily arrange diving expeditions from there. It offers an additional 30 dive sites to choose from and diving excursions can be arranged through the Marina Internacional Cayo Largo or through Colony International Scuba Diving Centre in Isla de la Juventud.
- Santa Lucia – Located is Cuba’s northern coast and home to the popular Shark’s Friends Dive Centre which arranges a variety of diving expeditions across the area’s 35 dive sites, including the two most famous: Valentina and Poseidon, Santa Lucia is also known for its bull shark population, which you can meet and greet (as well as hand-feed) on an underwater adventure. In these rich waters you’ll also be able to swim your way through the remains of an old Spanish fort and ancient shipwrecks dating as far back as the 19th century with amazing opportunities for night dives also available – you’ll be holding your breath in awe!
- Cayo Levisa – This tiny little islet off Cuba’s northern coast is home to an astonishing variety of thriving sealife. All you need to access it is hop on one of the boats departing from Palma Rubia in Cuba’s easternmost province of Pinar del Rio. There are several spectacular snorkelling and diving sites dotting Cayo Levisa’s coastline, blessed by the Colorados Archipelago’s coral reef system, which is famous for its stunning black coral and only one rustic hotel to sleep off all that diving action. It’s quite a journey from Havana but a trip here for the diving alone is more than worth it if you’re a keen diving enthusiast.
- Maria La Gorda – Also in Cuba’s easternmost province of Pinar del Rio and also part of Cuba’s National Park Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, this area’s rich marine waters are home to giant sea turtles and stunning gorgonnese gardens. Legends of pirates in this area abound and there’s certainly a good amount of evidence left behind to back these stories up; from old cannons and anchors to a variety of other treasures to be found in the seabed. There’s a hotel onsite with its ow international scuba diving centre for those wishing to embark on a full diving journey over the course of a few days (the most recommended option so that you dive in as many fascinating sites as possible – you’ll find it all near the coast of Ensenada de Corrientes.
- Jardines del Rey –yet another outstandingly beautiful archipelago home to popular tourist hotspots like Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, this dazzling diving location is found off Cuba’s northern coast. To arrange underwater expeditions there’s two places you should head to; the Marlin Marina in Cayo Guillermo and the Marlin Dive Centre in Cayo Coco. As both diving centres’ names indicate the area is home to a thriving population of marlin among many other species. The coral reef here is over 10 kilometres long and many have been known to say the sheer abundance of fish encountered here gives divers the feeling of being inside an aquarium. Dotted by beautiful all-inclusive resorts for all budgets and connected to mainland via a causeway, there’s simply no excuse for overlooking this diving gem
- Matanzas/ Varadero: The most developed of all diving locations in this list, the long 7-kilometre beach of Varadero in the western city of Matanzas is more famous for its beach resort appeal than for anything else. Yet the quality of scuba diving to be done here is not to be overlooked and certainly deserves mentioning. There’s quite a selection of diving centres to take your pick from here, but Barracuda Diving Centre is number one owing its popularity to the friendliness of the staff and the good selection of facilities. For a fun diving excursion suitable for divers of all abilities heading to Cayo Piedra Underwater Park can prove especially rewarding as you explore the wrecks of deliberately sunk military equipment, now home to a variety of tropical fish and crustaceans.
Low down on American divers visiting Cuba:
Until a few years back, there was a restriction on American travellers visiting Cuba, especially for the purpose of scuba diving which was considered a “tourist” affair. However, with the rules on travel to Cuba now eased, American travellers need no prior approval as long as they can tick off one of the 12 categories of travel defined in the new OFAC guidelines. One of the best ways to travel to Cuba is for educational and cultural purposes which are two of the categories established that comply with US Treasury. The diving is done through certain liveaboards, and leading marine biologists and educators do come on-board during the trip. However, you need to check the proper guidelines laid by Cuban diving service providers for travellers from America.
The cost of scuba diving in many locations is comparatively low, but it depends on the package you are seeking. As Americans can now visit Cuba legally, specific educational diving programmes could soon be on the cards.