These are the best places
The waters around Cuba are some of the best in the world to go diving in, thanks to a distinct lack of human activity combined with strong environmental protection – the Cubans really know how to look after their natural wildlife and landscapes. It’s true what they say, that the warmth of the Cuban people is matched by the warmth of their waters.
The sea experience here is truly unique, and the area is home to the second-largest reef in the world – second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The visibility under the water is great for spotting sharks and dolphins easily, and a lot of the protected areas allow no more than 300 divers a year – so the areas remain largely undisturbed.
Read on to find about our roundup of the best diving spots in the world – although be warned, the protected areas work on a first-come, first-served basis, and the spaces available fill up very quickly.
Havana & Western Cuba
Maria la Gorda
One of the best places to start, Maria la Gorda is home to international dive centres right in the sheltered Bahia de Corrientes, one of the country’s most protected zones for diving. Right in the middle of Guanahacabibes National Park, there are over 50 diving sites here alone, including more unique experiences like plunging walls, swim-throughs, and underwater caves. Head to Lost Paradise for something really cool: diving and swimming with shoals of jacks and barracuda, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a few stingrays as well.
Cuba’s fabled pirate coast, Punta Frances can be found on Isla de la Juventud, and it’s a must-visit for any enthusiastic divers. If you’re feeling particularly confident, you could try diving in the underwater tunnel, called Cueva Azul, and try and spot the huge tarpon.
Havana, or La Habana, is better known for the fantastic capital city, and everything that comes with that. However, if you head to the beach, you’ll also find fantastic diving sites offering an insight into the incredible history of the city and the country. Hidden amongst the coral reefs and tropical fish are plenty of wreck dives, a favourite of which is Coral Island: an old merchant ship completely covered with marine life.
Literally translating to the “Blue Cave”, Cueva Azul is one of the best cave dives in the country, and definitely around Isla de la Juventud. A 45-minute drive from El Colony, the cave itself has three different exits, and as you swim around you can spot anything from sponges to coral, and shoals of silver glassfish. There’s also the “big blue” which you swim over just before exiting and has a depth of 1,500 metres. Pretty intense.
If you’re interested in history, La Mula is the site for you. The wreckage of the Cristobal Colon can be found here, the Spanish cruiser that sank in 1898 during the Spanish-Cuban-American War. Plus, this area is great for seeing where the Turquino River flows into the Caribbean Sea.
This fabulous diving site can be found by Cayo Largo, famed for having the whitest and finest sand across all of Cuba (and way too many seagulls, but we’ll gloss over that point). Found 15 metres below the surface, this is a great spot for even beginner divers to spot multicoloured coral fish, stingrays, bull rays, turtles, and even catsharks swimming amongst the coral.
Boca De Caldera
Known as Havana’s best diving spot, Boca de Caldera is easily accessible from the rocky shore. All you have to do is swim out 200 metres, and then you’ll drop into a small cave about 5 metres down, which takes you to the first wall. From there, there’s great visibility, lots of different coral fish, and a very impressive coral reef.
Jibacoa is known for being the destination of choice if you fancy snorkelling and diving right off the shore. The reef is practically right next to the beach, making it easy to find and explore, but also freeing up much of the day for other activities if you fancy. Plus, you don’t have to pay loads for a boat trip and having to deal with the faff of organising a full day out for the family.
Found in Maria la Gorda, one of the locations in Cuba that has the most diving sites in the country – and the most varied diving sites as well. Nestled away at the tip of Pinar del Rio, Yemayá is wild and romantic, with unforgettable sunsets and long, white-sand beaches. Diving here begins with a descent down the vertical Yemayá wall, and you return through a mysterious cave that comes with an abundance of fish and black coral.
Central Western Cuba
Cayo Largo del Sur
Found on the southern coast, near the eastern side of Isla de la Juventud, Cayo Largo del Sur is one of the best places to visit if you like diving, and the shallow waters are perfect for any experience you may have. There are roughly 30 different diving sites here, all with tunnels, steep walls, vibrant coral and more, perfect little hiding places for barracuda, sharks, lobsters and more.
Bay of Pigs
Historically famous for the failed US invasion, it’s also pretty spectacular for diving opportunities. Right off the coast is a fantastic wall that is rife with tropical fish, and coral plants, plus there’s the Jaruca: a purpose-sunk wreck that’s fun to explore for any level of experienced diver. There’s also the Punta Perdix, for the advanced divers.
Another area known more for its major city than its diving, it’s no surprise that this massive beach resort comes with fantastic underwater options. The clear blue waters at Varadero are perfect for diving and exploring fantastic reefs and an abundance of marine life hidden away in the warm waters.
Banco de Jagua
Found near Cienfuegos, the “Banco” is often described as an underwater mountain, ‘rising from the abyss’. It’s a tricky site even for very experienced divers, but it’s worth it; you can go down to 40 metres and see a variety of marine life from coral to barracuda, hogfish, red snappers and stingrays. Whale sharks have even been spotted here if you’re lucky enough to see them as well (or unlucky? Unsure, the jury’s still out on that one).
Isla de la Juventud
The best place to go to see turtles, Isla de la Juventud is Cuba’s shining jewel in the crown when it comes to diving. The island itself is about 50km off the mainland of Cuba, and the name translates into “Isle of Youth”, which is interesting seeing as the marine life you’ll be diving to see will have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The island itself is so remote it’s like something from another world.
If you head southeast from Playa Girón for about 8 kilometres, you’ll come across Caleta Buena. This protected cove is perfect for a bit of easy snorkelling, or you can get fully kitted out for some serious diving at the local centre. You have to pay to access the beach, but just 15CUC includes an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and it’s remote enough that you get to dive pretty much in perfect solitude. So, worth the entry fee, I’d say.
Ojo del Mégano
6 miles off the coast of Varadero, Ojo del Mégano is a former cave where the roof broke and sank into the ocean. It’s only 10 metres down, which makes it quite easily accessible, and it’s a natural refuge for a multiuse for different sea life: from snapper fish to barracuda, red groupers, as well as a bunch of different predators.
Jardines de la Reina Marine Park
Jardines de la Reina translates to Gardens of the Queen Marine Park, and it lives up to its name; one of Cuba’s greatest underwater areas, it’s government-protected and considered to be the most beautiful diving spot in the country. Commercial fishing isn’t allowed, meaning there is plenty of natural marine life.
Jardines del Ray
Translating to Garden of the King, Jardines del Rey is basically Jardines de la Reina but stepped up a bit. Home to sugar-white sand beaches and reef life to envy the cast of Finding Nemo, this quaint little spot is perfect for diving. The water is warm and crystal clear so you can see everything even if you don’t fancy diving too deep, and it’s great for spitting angelfish or parrotfish.
Cayo Coco is one of those tiny little islands only connected to mainland Cuba by a bridge, which is 27 metres long. Home to plenty of hotels, it inevitably comes with a bunch of tourists – but not a problem if you’re looking to get away and go diving somewhere remote. The waters are calm enough most of the time for even beginners, although be wary about visiting in October and November as they can be known to get a bit rough.
Another one for shark lovers, Tiburones Toro is one of those dives that needs a good day to make it really spectacular. So, if you’re lucky enough to be there on an excellently clear day, then you’ll get to witness whale sharks being fed their lunch. This is done at the turning of the tide by experienced dive-masters, you just have to make sure you’re up current from the sharks. And maybe don’t wear red.
East Central Cuba
Playa Girón is home to a multitude of diving sites, where divers of any level can check out caverns, cenotes, and coral reefs. The cenote on the island is fantastic, giving travellers a truly unique opportunity to see cavern wildlife along the indistinct, ethereal line that blurs between fresh and saltwater that feels like crossing into a new world when you swim through it. Alternatively, head to El Jaruco for a deep wreck dive, where you can see nurse sharks on the floor and reef fish in the coral.
Found among the many diving sites near Playa Girón, El Ebano is a fantastic spot for clear and clean waters that come with great visibility. If you head towards the edge, there is a great canyon to dive into which goes down as far as 23 metres before the wall begins. It’s not an amazing spot to see a lot of fish, but the wall is amazing and there are a number of small caves to explore.
Holguin is home to a few different diving sites, and all of them have something incredible to offer. Overall, it’s one of the best places in Cuba to see the second biggest coral reef in the world – only beaten by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, understandably. Arguably better than Australia’s one though, because at least in Holguin you get to dive without having to fight off masses of tourists.
USS Merrimack, Santiago de Cuba
This is one just for the advanced divers among you all. Found at the mount of the harbour in Santiago de Cuba, the wreck was deliberately destroyed in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, in an effort to prevent Spanish ships from leaving the port. The area is known for its strong currents, so only experienced divers are advised to tackle this one.
Clearly, Cuba is the place to go if you fancy a bit of diving. It’s truly worlds apart from anywhere else in the world and offers so many fantastic opportunities that you could literally spend a two week holiday here doing nothing other than diving, and you probably wouldn’t even experience half of the best the country has to offer.