Have you ever felt pressured to do some sort of so-called leisure activity while on holiday? Perhaps you were persuaded that no trip to Queenstown in New Zealand is complete without a bungee jump. Maybe you embarrassingly and reluctantly joined in some traditional Greek dancing while in Athens. What about when you’ve taken a holiday next to a beautiful beach with soothingly calm waters? You might have been perfectly happy sitting on the sand and reading a book, but there is always one well-meaning friend or family member who tries to get you to strap on some scuba gear and explore beneath the water. If there’s one place on earth where you should jump at the opportunity to go scuba diving, it’s Cuba. There are few boats, so the water is crystal clear, and many of the beaches are protected by a coral reef. So what are some of the best places to go scuba diving in Cuba?
1. Just You and the Turtles: Isla de la Juventud
The jewel in the crown when it comes to scuba diving in Cuba has to be Isla de la Juventud. This is an island some 50 km off the mainland, and the name translates as the rather intriguing Isle of Youth. It’s only regularly accessible by ferry, which takes about six hours, or three hours if you opt for a more expensive catamaran service. The whole island is wonderfully underdeveloped, and when you put on your scuba mask to gaze beneath the azure blue sea, you’ll find it’s probably just you and a few turtles.
2. Don’t Think About Sharks: Jardines de la Reina
Located near the Port of Jucaro, you’ll be diving in a marine park, making it the best scuba diving in Cuba when it comes to spotting marine life. If you’re scared of sharks, then perhaps this dive is not for you, since there can be a fair few of them lurking beneath the water. For everyone else, it’s best to go between November and April, when fish stocks are at their highest in the park. It’s a dive that is suitable for novices as the currents are quite mild.
3. Reef Scuba Diving in Cuba: Holguín
There are actually a few different dive sites along the coast of the Holguín province, so you’re better off choosing one that is convenient in terms of your accommodation. There’s an abundance of things to see, since Holguín province is home to the second biggest coral reef in the world. It’s second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but when you dive in Holguín you can enjoy the majesty of a gigantic reef without having to fight hordes of fellow visitors.
4. Leave the Hotels Behind: Cayo Coco
The island of Cayo Coco is linked to the Cuban mainland by a 27 km bridge, which transports masses of guests to their luxury hotels, of which the island has many. If you come to Cayo Coco to go diving, you won’t be so concerned with tourists sipping mojitos by the hotel pool, since it’s a different kind of water you’ll be interested in. There’s another reef just off the island, which is the case when it comes to much of Cuba. The waters are generally calm, although it’s known to get a bit rough in October and November.
5. Invade the Waves at the Bay of Pigs
It’s surprising to discover that the location of a failed military invasion is now one of the most gentle places to go scuba diving in Cuba. When making your way out from the shore, you’ll begin to see glorious coral gardens on the seabed when the water reaches around 5 to 6 metres in depth. When conditions are favourable, you should be able to see for around 30 metres in these waters. This is good for more nervous participants who might wish to linger around the surface of the water without missing out on a marvellous view. Please do not expect to see any swimming pigs here, as the photo below suggests 🙂
6. Dive into History: USS Merrimac, Santiago de Cuba
Advanced divers might wish to descend beneath the dark waters at the mouth of Santiago de Cuba’s harbour. 22 metres down is the final resting place of the USS Merrimac, a US steamship that was deliberately sunk in July 1898. The ship was scuttled during the Spanish-American War, in an effort to prevent Spanish ships from leaving the harbour. It’s a magical experience, but the currents are strong, so this is a dive only for those with considerable experience.
One of the key appeals of diving in Cuba is the unrivalled serenity that can be experienced. Even in the more popular dive locations, the groups are small and you simply won’t encounter the types of large scale ecotourism found in other parts of the world. Cuba truly is a scuba diving paradise.