Diving Holidays in Cuba - The Ultimate Guide

The ultimate guide to your diving vacation in Cuba

Scuba diving in Cuba is a new concept for most divers. Apart from its interesting history, culture and cigars, Cuba boasts some of the most thrilling diving and remains a hidden gem for scuba divers worldwide.

Hosting the third largest reef in the world, diving holidays in Cuba are now becoming more and more popular.

Scuba diving in Jardines de la Reina

Best Places For Diving In Cuba

The following are some of the best dive sites and areas for underwater adventures in Cuba:

Jardines de la Reina

Jardines de la Reina, or ‘Gardens of the Queen’, is a healthy marine ecosystem, teeming with sea life. Covering an area of approximately 840 square miles (2,170 square kilometers), 50 miles (80 km) off Cuba’s southern coast, this diving area extends for 93 miles (150 km) and is one of the largest marine protected areas in the Caribbean.

Jardines de la Reina hosts many beautiful dive sites, consisting mainly of reef and shark dives. It has stunning coral reefs which provide habitat to an array of vibrant marine life. Large groupers, green morays, eagle rays, snappers, tarpon and sharks are just some of the fish life you will see.

Farallón and Vicente are two of the best reef sites in the area.

Shark diving is very popular here as well. You can see several shark species, mainly Caribbean and nurse sharks but occasionally silky, lemon, blacktip and great hammerhead sharks. The elusive whale shark can also be seen in season (July to November) should you be one of the lucky ones.

Some of the best shark dive sites are Pipín, Black Coral I and II, and Five Seas.
Surrounding mangrove forests and seagrass beds protect these habitats, amongst which roams the American crocodile. You can even snorkel in the shallows with these creatures if you’re courageous enough!

Permits to dive in the Jardines de la Reina are limited and booking in advance is highly recommended.


One of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean, Varadero offers fantastic diving for all experience levels. It is a great place for beginner divers ready to start or having just completed their Open Water course.

Divers can find stunning reefs and abundant marine life during a dive in these warm waters. Coral gardens and incredible rock formations as well as a few critter-filled walls are just offshore from the white sandy beaches of Varadero.

Especially popular is the Cayo Piedras del Norte Sea Park. This site sees deliberately sunken yachts, frigates and even an aircraft, found between 15-30m. Here, the popular wrecks of Coral Negro and Russian Patrol Boat 383 are well worth a visit.

If cave diving is more your thing, then check out the Cenote and El Brinco cave sites.

Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón & Playa Larga)

If you are looking for caverns, cenotes and vivid coral reefs then Playa Girón, in south Matanzas, is the place to go. Punta Perdiz, a famous reef dive with abundant sea life, is worth your while. Most dives in Playa Girón can be done from shore, giving you all the more reason to get in! You will find beautiful coral formations adorned by gorgonian sea fans and sponges. In protected areas with clear visibility, you can’t not appreciate the flora and fauna that surrounds you.

For incredible underwater formations, diving in the cenotes is a must. Where the salt and fresh water mix, it creates an ethereal, shimmering effect.

For deep wreck diving, make your way to El Jaruco.

Best Season for Travelling to Cuba

Cuba is a year-round tropical destination with temperatures ranging from 68°F (20°C) in winter to 86°F (30°C) in summer. There is an increased chance of rainfall from June through October (wet season), with the wettest time of the year being between August and October. Water temperatures are warm year-round and average between 77 and 86°F (25 and 30°C). Visibility is generally very clear, up to 100 feet (30m).

Best time to go: The best time to dive in Cuba is during the dry season, which runs from December to April with March and April representing the busiest period, so make sure to book well in advance. Prices will be higher at this time. If you prefer to avoid the crowds and are more budget minded, visit during the wet season from June to October when prices will be lower.

Your best chance to see whale sharks is from July to November.

Snorkeling in Cuba

Amongst amazing dive spots, Cuba also hosts a number of impressive snorkelling sites with warm waters, colorful reefs, great visibility and a multitude of reef fish.

As well as snorkelling excursions, shore snorkelling is also possible in some areas like Playa Guardalavaca, Holguin. Here the reef runs parallel to the shoreline, only a few meters out to sea. Other popular locations include Varadero, Maria de la Gorda, the Ancon Peninsula, Bay of Pigs, Cayo Santa Maria, Jibacoa Bay, Playa Esmeralda, Cayo Coco and Santiago de Cuba. You will typically see large schools of blue tang, lots of sergeant major fish, squirrelfish, blue chromis, blueheads, yellowtail damselfish, trumpetfish, parrotfish and with luck, porcupinefish.

For more adventurous snorkelers, don’t forget to try jumping in the water with crocs in the Jardines de la Reina. Follow your guide’s instructions and bring your camera as it makes for incredible memories. Besides, people may not believe you otherwise!

Dive Holidays in Cuba

There are a number of dive holidays and scuba diving packages to choose from in Cuba. If you are one to enjoy the beach and prefer staying in hotels, there are excellent choices all over Cuba with different levels of accommodation.

If you are more inclined to do as much diving as possible, in more remote areas, then there are many liveaboard options to choose from. If, like many, you are visiting Cuba to dive the Jardines de la Reina (the best area), this can only be done on a liveaboard.

Liveaboard Diving in Cuba

There are a number of liveaboard options in Cuba that suit all preferences and budgets.

Most liveaboard options last for up to 7 days / 6 nights and offer the benefit of diving more remote areas.

Jardines de la Reina is only reachable by liveaboard. However, if liveaboards are not for you, there is also the option of a floating hotel, called the Tortuga. Cosy and diver friendly, this hotel still requires a lengthy journey by boat, but allows divers to explore the protected marine area from a stationary base.

Be aware that most liveaboards in the area do not offer Nitrox diving, and the Avalon II is the only option with Nitrox capabilities. It additionally boasts luxurious accommodation.

Much of the diving in Cuba is suitable for beginners, so do not worry if this is your first liveaboard holiday.

View all liveaboards in Cuba with schedules, prices and reviews

Visa requirements for travelling to Cuba

Arrange your Travel to Cuba

Travelling to Cuba is relatively simple and visa requirements are pretty straightforward. You will need:

  1. A valid passport – To be shown upon entry into the country and upon check-in at your accommodation of choice.
  2. Proof of travel insurance, including medical coverage
  3. Tourist card or visa – Obtainable at your local embassy prior to departure or online upon purchase of your ticket. This is valid for a single entry and a length of stay of up to 30 days. It can be extended once in country for an extra 90 days (at a tourist hotel or immigration authority office). Secure the visa in a safe place as it is not stamped into your passport but provided separately.
  4. Return ticket and proof of sufficient funds

Travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens

Restrictions on travel for Americans to Cuba have relaxed since the lifting of the trade embargo, but an additional license as well as a visa is required. For more information on visa requirements for US citizens, please review the guidelines here.

International flights fly directly into Havana Jose Marti International Airport from worldwide destinations, now including flights from the US. Operators adding new routes from American cities to Havana include: JetBlue Airways, Sun Country Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways.

If diving from a liveaboard, there are 3 main ports in Cuba: Jucaro Port, Trinidad or Cienfuegos. Liveaboards to the Jardines de la Reina usually depart from Jucaro Port. Most probably, your dive operator will arrange for transport from your accommodation to the port.

Other Things to Do in Cuba

What is there not to do in Cuba?! This intricate country bathed in history and culture should be on your must-visit destination list. If time allows, ensure you delve deeper into the roots of the country and don’t just take it at tourist face value.

Old Havana is a step into the past; it is a great place to wander and explore. Intoxicating by nature, the area is steeped in history and caters to all with lots of interesting restaurants and bars.

Plaza Vieja, Havana’s old square, is reminiscent of the old colonial days. With several places to dine in the area, it is a great place to eat and listen to live Cuban music.

Plaza de la Catedral, located on Cathedral Square in Havana, is worth a visit and is a great place to people watch.

Elsewhere on the island, discover Vinales, where there are a lot of things to do including visiting the tobacco farms. This is a great introduction to Cuban cigars.

For nature lovers, you can spend the day on horseback in the lush vegetation for which Cuba is famous. History buffs will want to visit Bay of the Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) and the Museum of Santa Clara, where the body of Che Guevara is buried.

For nightlife in Cuba, visit the Varadero District, where cigar smoke and the scent of rum is only a charming addition to your night out!

Furthermore, the country hosts international festivals for jazz and ballet every year and is renowned for its latino dancing.

The warmth of the Cuban people is matched only by the warmth of the oceans that surround the archipelago. Where the country is yet relatively unchanged, so are the seas unspoiled. So why not make Cuba your next scuba diving destination?

View the latest liveaboard deals in Cuba

25 Responses

  1. After the Jardines de la Reina, Isla de la Juventud and Cayo Largo are second best (maybe fourth biggest reef in the world?) dive locations of Cuba. They have the same advantage of Varadero and Bay of pigs that live a board is not a necessity but the reef is much nicer than the coasts of the main island. Especialy the nort coast of the main island is hardly caribian tropical water, much colder, less coral and marine life. Exception is shark diving but thats only possible by feeding and attrachting them, so absolutely no natural habitat!
  2. Now that Americans can travel to Cuba again I need to start planning a trip! Looks and sounds fantastic to dive!<br />-----<br />
  3. Excellent for the development of tourism in Cuba, photo impressive, a bit too stressful for me. Just small fish clown for me.
  4. Varadero? Bay of Pigs? = good diving??? Really? Been there, I don't think so...<br />-----<br />I'm just sayin' :pirate3:
  5. Been there twice for the diving, its nothing special, mostly fished out. would I go back? No, theres far better places to dive.besides the food is crap, both times I got sick from the food. Sorry its so negative but its the truth.<br />-----<br />
  6. I agree the diving is not great. I go several times annually to Cuba and have done a fair bit of diving in different areas over the years. The last few times I haven't bothered- reefs are generally not very healthy and marine life is sparse due to over fishing. But it's a cheap holiday, people are friendly and it's very safe to wander. Food is bad at the tourist resorts but in the restaurants and paladares it is fine.<br />-----<br />
  7. I'm sure we were in a managed cocoon, but the Oceans for Youth trip on the Jardines Aggressor was fabulous. I've dived all over the world, and this was right up there. No, not the Phillipines or Fiji or Indonesia, it is in the Caribbean after all, but multiple sharks, lots of groupers, huge schools of critters you see few of elsewhere in the Caribbean, healthy coral, lots of it soft, decent viz, and terrific boat and crew. The pretrip to Havana was really interesting with a first-rate tour guide assigned to our group. Good food. No, we did not drink the local water. In fact, most places we go kin the world we do not drink the local water.<br />-----<br />
  8. The marine sanctuary jardins de la reaina is supposed to be terrific diving.<br />-----<br />
  9. For What it's Worth... Southwest Airlines will begin flying to both Havana and Varadero sometime this month. Their flights from Ft. Lauderdale (HAV and VRA) and Tampa (HAV only) are being advertised at only $150 round trip. As with all SW flights, this includes 2 x 50 pound bags of checked dive gear at no extra charge! For that price, it would be worth the experience Steve<br />-----<br />
  10. [QUOTE="simcoediver, post: 7811523, member: 10488"]Been there twice for the diving, its nothing special, mostly fished out. would I go back? No, theres far better places to dive.besides the food is crap, both times I got sick from the food. Sorry its so negative but its the truth.[/QUOTE] I agree. Anything close to shore has been grossly overfished. However if you get far offshore you can get pristine reefs with all sorts of critters. If you are planning to go to Cuba to dive make sure the dives you are doing are a long way out. Otherwise don't bother.<br />-----<br />
  11. Also if you take your own dive gear make sure it is excellent working condition, repairs to any dive gear may be impossible in Cuba. Avoid rental gear at all costs. If you can ,bring a small bag of tank o-rings to give to the crew that takes you out. O-rings are very hard to get in Cuba and they will appreciate it.<br />-----<br />
  12. Oring for Tank neck or yoke valve?<br />-----<br />
  13. For the price of diving Jardins de la Reina, one can have 2 or more very lovely Caribbean trips. Inasmuch as, they're feeding at Jardins, definitely not worth it to me. I can dive Raja Ampat for that $5000.<br />-----<br />TS&M quote: "This is what we go underwater for . . . for the pure joy of being free in three dimensions, to pursue a diligent and detailed critter hunt if the circumstances warrant it; to gather scientific data if that’s the purpose of the dive; to document historical wrecks and answer questions that have lain unsolved for centuries . . . and sometimes, just to dance." " . . . the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid." (partial quote from J.D. Salinger)
  14. [QUOTE="chillyinCanada, post: 7847306, member: 416605"]For the price of diving Jardins de la Reina, one can have 2 or more very lovely Caribbean trips. Inasmuch as, they're feeding at Jardins, definitely not worth it to me. I can dive Raja Ampat for that $5000.[/QUOTE] Thats true, it is very expensive in comparison to other livaboards, not worth it, being Cuba it should be much less expensive. The money all goes to that German company and very little money is paid to the Cubans working on it.<br />-----<br />
  15. [QUOTE="guruboy, post: 7847270, member: 427510"]Oring for Tank neck or yoke valve?[/QUOTE] Yoke.<br />-----<br />
  16. Here are the top 5 destinations for diving in 2016! [URL="https://www.diving.io/top-5-diving-locations-2016/"]Top 5 Diving Locations for 2016[/URL]<br />-----<br />
  17. Went there in September through the Aggressor Fleet. First, the educational sponsor, Oceans for Youth was expensive. We did a tour of Old Havana, which was worthwhile. then a bus tour of 'Modern' Havana, which amounted to a tour of the dilapidated 70's style soviet apartments in the west part of Havana...disappointing. the Tour Guide, Damian, was a devout Communist Party member, & would start ranting about how the US screwed Cuba, blah, blah.. At lunch, He called me & my brother, pricks, in Spanish, not knowing that we both speak fluent Spanish. Needless to say we ditched the tour after that.... Diving was at the Jardines de la Reina. the vis was minimal, water temp was from 86 to 88. Didn't see alot of fish, some silkys... All dives were done on the same reef. It got to hard to discriminate one dive from another. Bottom line: save your money. the Cubans do not like Americans, & diving was so so....<br />-----<br />
  18. We are definitely looking at this for the future<br />-----<br />[CENTER] [IMG]https://image.ibb.co/kZTufQ/WSM_Logo_WBsmall.png[/IMG] [FONT=Georgia]Sales - Service - Instruction - Trips[/FONT] [URL='http://www.wallins-peninsula.com']www.wallins.com[/URL][/CENTER]
  19. I totally loved Cuba....<br />-----<br />
  20. I read your article! It is very nice and useful for scuba divers.<br />-----<br />
  21. It is very nice article for scuba divers.<br />-----<br />
  22. As a new diver on my 2nd dive trip we went to Cuba. Varadaro. Found the dive shop in the town and signed up for 10 dives, with the intention of doing 10 more over 2 weeks. I intended to build up my experience there as a new diver. Crap. If not enough people signed up on a given day, "the boat is broken" (strange, very nice, well kept boat with a good crew that seemed to get miraculously repaired for the next day when enough warm bodies showed up...) So they'd say, well we can do the beach dive (did that once. That was really enough). Night dive? Oh sure, but you have to arrange that privately - not in your package. The people at Baracuda, the dive shop, were very nice, to be sure. Equipment was in new condition, the place was very well organized, nice buses to pick you up at the hotel and bring you there or to the marina. Amilkar, the barman out there makes a great Margarita. Good DM's (except one who seemed to be on a power trip). Good dives were the wreck (a small intentionally sunk-for-divers Russian frigate at about 100') and a bus drive over to Bay of Pigs (with lunch thrown in IIRC at a restaurant along the way). But even that made for a long day and only 2 dives. Reefs were otherwise not very impressive. And by the way, plenty of Americans - and that was before the "lift". So with the intent of bucketing 20 dives, I managed 10 in 2 weeks. Not happy. They're just not geared (at least then) to really do diving daily. (Didn't help, perhaps, that their customer base was spread all over the resorts...) So before heading out to Cuba to dive, do some research with people who have been recently.<br />-----<br />
  23. Sorry, you had to experience that first hand but yeah, Varadero, Cuba is not known as a diving destination.<br />-----<br />
  24. Cayo Largo (Cuba) is only marginally better. A diver at our hotel last trip was told three days in a row 'no diving', we had been before and just showed up for the bus. We dove every day that he had been denied. (Okay, but not spectacular, diving.) When you get paid the same if you go out or not there doesn't seem to be any incentive to go.<br />-----<br />
  25. I wish to visit Cuba at least one time in my life.<br />-----<br />
  26. [QUOTE="dany43, post: 8868167, member: 514001"]I wish to visit Cuba at least one time in my life.[/QUOTE] You can do it.:)<br />-----<br />
  27. It's worth going for the experience. Parts of Cuba were beautiful...other parts not so much. I think it's important to see what a communist country is. We were on a very managed tour and frankly...the diving mostly sucked by all General Carribean standards....but still far better than Oklahoma lake diving. The Russian Patrol Boat was fun, the rest was just not that memorable. I believe there is one dive company, Barracuda, in the country and there is just no competition to be better. Fuel is allotted so I think we're we're relegated to closer dive sites. I considered it the "cruise ship" level of dive service where if you get wet and blow some bubbles, you got what you asked for. The history of Cuba was fascinating and we had an excellent guide. The people either loved Americans or hated them depending on what government line of news they believed. The coffee and rum were great...the rest of the food, we just ate because we were hungry. I'd love to dive Gardens of the Queen, but for the price, I'd rather go two or three times to CoZumel (but I'm horribly biased there) I think all Americans should go to Cuba to experience carrying your own toilet paper with you, bottled water in short supply, the 50's American vehicles with Chinese Diesel engines, Russian transmissions, and held together by sheer genius level mechanical ability making do with what you have, and experience what a socialist state does for its citizens. It was definately an experience. I would still go back, primarily to focus on the pre Cold War history and I'd still dive because I can dive a septic tank and be happy. Flights are cheap. We stayed in hotels, but you can stay with families for a truly Cuban experience. I think I would like that. If you do go and dive, absolutely bring everything you could possibly need. I carried the "dive shop in a box" and used it several times for our group. Leaking orings were a given and they tried to save the old ones even when you hadn't dozens in your kit. Next time we go, I will order 1000 from the Oring store and leave them with them. Unless it was totally blown, they did not get too concerned. They also considered a 2000 psi fill adequate. While I enjoyed Cuba for the different lifestyle, I needed to get to Cozumel when we got back for a real dive vacation. Good luck, safe travels. Jay<br />-----<br />
  28. [QUOTE="simcoediver, post: 7847336, member: 10488"]Thats true, it is very expensive in comparison to other livaboards, not worth it, being Cuba it should be much less expensive. The money all goes to that German company and very little money is paid to the Cubans working on it.[/QUOTE] Agreed, given the local cost-of-living and the primitive/spartan lifestyle there, Cuba should be dirt-cheap to dive for 1st-world tourists. Singledivers.com and one of my local dive shops not long ago ran trips down there on a liveaboard and in both examples the pricing was obscene, Galapagos-level pricing!<br />-----<br />