For scuba divers, Cuba is a Caribbean destination apart. Where neighboring islands have experienced diminished fish species from overfishing, Cuba’s reefs have been astonishingly well preserved, and are the most dazzling in the entire region.
When you go diving in Cuba you’re often going where relatively few divers have gone before.
Nowhere else in the Caribbean feels as pioneering as here, so make sure your certifications are up to date and dive in for the underwater experience of a lifetime.
If you’re not certified, you can get certified in Cuba (where the cost is fairly cheap) but keep in mind that, because of the US embargo, you won’t be able to get PADI certification. PADI is not the only certification in the world but it is prized among many divers, particularly Americans, and it simply isn’t offered in Cuba.
Start your dive explorations on the peninsula furthest west in Cuba, in Maria la Gorda, where international dive centers front the sheltered Bahia de Corrientes, one of the island’s best-protected zones for diving.
The area falls within the Guanahacabibes National Park, and is home to around 50 excellent dive sites that include features like plunging walls, swim-throughs and caves.
At the dive site called Lost Paradise, you can fin amongst shoals of jacks and barracuda. Keep an eye out for patrolling stingrays, too.
And at the Gorgonian Garden, divers delight at the sight of hulking Nassau groupers.
Keep in mind that Maria La Gorda is a bit of a haul from Havana, and it’s far from the frequent daytrip to Viñales, which is also in the westernmost Pinar del Rio province. You may have to book a private taxi from Havana to get here. To save money, you could also take the bus to Pinar del Rio and get a taxi there but you may want to confirm in advance.
Punta Frances National Marine Park, located on Cuba's largest offshore island, is another must-do for divers.
Advanced divers can submerge into a tunnel at the site, called Cueva Azul, to spot huge tarpon.
Even snorkelers along Punta Frances’ shores may spot hawksbill sea turtles and maybe even manatees, too.
Because this is an island, you’ll either need to fly or take a ferry here. Schedules are not always consistent so it’s best to ask your host to help you confirm the schedule and how to purchase a ticket (which may require you visit the ticket office in person in Havana).
The Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Marine Park, off the island’s southern coast, is perhaps Cuba’s greatest underwater treasure.
A government-protected area, it’s considered among the most beautiful dive destinations in all of the Caribbean.
Since commercial fishing is not allowed within the park, the marine life here is prolific, with all manner of sea turtles and sharks (including reefs, hammerheads, black tips, leopards and silkies) to be seen.
The best way to visit the area is on multi-day trips via liveaboard dive boats.
Because you can only reach the area by dive boat and because very few trips are offered here, divers typically have to reserve their spot on the trip many months in advance.
Cayo Largo del Sur, east of Isla de la Juventud off Cuba’s southern coast, is yet another prime place to submerge, with shallow waters that host a wide range of marine life.
Tunnels, steep walls, and vibrant coral heads are among the over 30 dive sites here, with eels, rays, barracuda, sharks, lobster, grouper and all manner of snapper among the inhabitants.
Off the northern coast of Cuba, make a beeline for the stunning archipelago of Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King). Here you'll find Cayo Coco, home to beaches with sugar-white sand and a rainbow of reef life.
The water is warm and crystal clear – all the more enticing for spotting dolphins, angelfish, parrotfish, and large schools of tarpon and spadefish as you fin along the pristine reefs.
The easiest way to dive here is to stay at one of the many Cayo Coco hotels that offer diving but to save money, you could base yourself in Moron, which is about an hour away. If you do this, you’ll need to confirm transportation in advance with your host, as there are no regular tourist buses that run this route.
About two hours southeast of Havana, the Bay of Pigs may be in history books for the failed US military invasion, but scuba divers known it for something else. (And no one in Cuba calls it the Bay of Pigs – it's actually called Playa Giron.)
You can gear up right on the beach and dive straight from the shore to access a spectacular wall that vibrates with all manner of tropical fish, and more than 17 species of coral plants.
The Jaruco is a purpose-sunk wreck that’s fun to explore in this area.
Advanced divers love the site called Punta Perdiz for its deep wall, dazzling with fish life.
Updated with additional information by Cassandra Brooklyn in August 2023.
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If no action is taken, we could be living in a world without coral reefs by 2050.
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