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.
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.
Arrange your Travel to Cuba
Travelling to Cuba is relatively simple and visa requirements are pretty straightforward. You will need:
- A valid passport – To be shown upon entry into the country and upon check-in at your accommodation of choice.
- Proof of travel insurance, including medical coverage
- 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.
- 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?