Cuba is a Caribbean island nation located where the northern Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean meet, and its location makes it a prime spot for diving.
It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, south of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Hispaniola, and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and, while neighboring islands have experienced diminished fish species as a result of overfishing, Cuba’s reefs remain astonishingly well preserved, and are among the most vibrant in the region.
If you’re considering Cuba for your next diving vacation, you’ll find everything you need to know - including the top spots and how to prepare for your trip - in this article.
So, let’s dive right in.
The first stop for diving in Cuba is home to the International Diving Center “María la Gorda”, situated in the furthest west peninsula of Cuba.
It’s located in an area that falls within the Guanahacabibes National Park, which is home to around 50 highly preserved dive sites that include plunging walls, swim-throughs and caves.
This location attracts both beginner and experienced divers alike, and the center offers highly qualified dive instructors to allow beginners to be certified with SSI and CMAS.
While the area is a hot spot for divers, non-divers can snorkel, fish or kick back on a boat ride, and of course take in the abundant nature of the tropical forest surrounding the resort.
Home to crystal clear waters, the area is popular for sub aquatic photography since the transparency of the water allows a visibility of 30m long and 30m deep, with average water temperatures of 24 celsius in winter and up to 30 degrees celsius in summer.
At the Lost Paradise dive site, you can delight in shoals of jacks and barracuda, and keep an eye out for patrolling stingrays, too. At the Gorgonian Garden, divers enjoy sightings of hulking Nassau groupers.
Punta Frances, located along Cuba’s fabled “pirate coast” on the Isla de la Juventud, is another favorite spot for diving.
With a sea bottom populated by colorful reefs, soft corals, crustaceans and a myriad of fish species, as well as numerous caves and tunnels, there’s plenty for experienced divers to explore.
Advanced divers enjoy submerging in a tunnel called Cueva Azul where you can spot huge tarpon.
This area is not only popular for scuba diving but snorkeling too. Even snorkelers along Punta Frances’ shores are able to spot hawksbill sea turtles and sometimes even manatees, too.
With its white sands, 3km of dunes, and turquoise waters, you don’t want to miss the stunning sights of Punta Frances.
As global temperatures rise, marine life and flora take the brunt of the damages. Already, 50% of the world’s reefs are dead, and another 40% are in serious jeopardy.
This means it’s more important than ever before to conserve the reefs that haven’t been bleached, one such place being Jardines de la Reina National Park, in Cuba.
The Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Marine Park can be found off the island’s southern coast and is perhaps Cuba’s greatest underwater treasure. This area is government-protected, so no commercial fishing is allowed, and as a result, the marine life here is abundant.
Considered a testament to the power of protected areas: since Jardines de la Reina was protected in 1996, fish numbers have increased 30-50%.
It’s considered among the most beautiful dive destinations in all of the Caribbean and is the last refuge for critically endangered sharks, groupers, and sea turtles in Cuba.
Divers frequently spot various sharks, including reefs, hammerheads, black tips, leopards, and silkies in the park. We recommend organizing a multi-day trip via liveaboard dive boats so you can truly take in the natural beauty of this national marine park.
Cayo Largo is another prime location for scuba diving thanks to excellent conservation measures that have been put in place here. The area is particularly known for the quality and diversity of its dive sites, making it perfect for beginners and experienced divers.
There’s also a dive center located at the Marina Marlin Cayo Largo, in the pueblo Isla del Sol (aka the village), about 8-10 km from the all-inclusive resorts. Here you can take diving courses and gain the SSI certification.
In the water, you’ll find over 30 dive sites featuring tunnels, steep walls, and vibrant coral heads that are home to eels, barracuda, sharks, lobster, grouper, and all manner of snapper.
Jardines del Rey (King's Gardens) is the name of a chain of islands located off the northern coast of Cuba. This archipelago is part of a larger one called Sabana-Camaguey, which consists of over 2,500 small islands stretching for about 450 km (280 mi) along the Atlantic coast of Cuba’s main island.
Head for Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King) and Cayo Coco to find bright white sand beaches and a rainbow of reef life.
The ocean here is equally as enticing, and thanks to its warm temperatures and crystal clear waters, you can easily spot tropical species such as angelfish, parrotfish, and large schools of tarpon and spadefish as you weave through the pristine reefs.
Two hours southeast of Havana, you’ll find Bay of Pigs, which is most famous for being the site of the failed United States-backed invasion in 1961.
However, it’s a delight for divers as much as it is for history buffs. This is considered Cuba’s most accessible diving area, and there are dozens of swim-out dive sites scattered across the bay.
Advanced divers usually head to the deep wall at Punta Perdiz - a dive site that is home to all manner of tropical fish - or the Jaruca wreck - a purpose-sunk wreck that offers plenty of scope for exploring - and there are a plethora of species to see near to the shore for snorkelers, too.
The numerous shipwrecks dotted around Cuba make great exploring spots, and the USS Merrimack in Santiago de Cuba is one of the best.
An intriguing dive site located at the mouth of the harbor in Santiago de Cuba, the ship was deliberately scuttled in July 1898 during the Spanish-American War in an attempt to block Spanish ships from leaving the port and remains in place today, with a plethora of amazing marine life having taken up habitat both in and upon it.
However bear in mind that the strong currents in this area mean that considerable diving experience is advised before tackling this dive site, and is, therefore, best reserved for advanced divers.
The Canarreos Archipelago of Cuba consists of 672 islands, islets, and cays, among which Isla de la Juventud is situated. This island was a pirate base camp back in the day, and over the years divers have found all manner of treasure chests and gold coins left behind.
While this area is rich in history, it also boasts 50 dive sites that offer an array of caves, tombs, craters, and wrecks to explore, as well as colorful coral gardens, sponges, and an abundance of fish species and other marine life.
Considerations for your diving trip to Cuba
Where to Stay
On the northern coast of Cuba’s mainland is the popular beach resort town of Varadero, situated on the Hicacos Peninsula. Varadero Beach was previously rated one of the world's best beaches in TripAdvisor's Traveler's Choice Awards of 2019, ranking at number two!
With its myriad of beach resorts, this is a great place to base yourself whilst in Cuba, and while there are some local dive sites for those not wanting to travel far, there are plenty of dive schools offering excursions and day trips to better sites situated in a different part of the island.
Types of Diving
Cuba offers many diving opportunities and is one of the best countries to dive in in the world.
You can enjoy reef diving in protected areas where you can witness untouched corals and thriving marine life, such as the famous Jardines de la Rey, and popular dive spots Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. These sites offer a myriad of breathtakingly vibrant reefs which vibrate with endless species of fish.
Cave diving is also common in Cuba, and there are many great spots in which you can explore caverns and tunnels, such as those in Santa Lucía, Jardines de la Rey, Punta Francés Marine National Park on Isla de Juventud and Playa Girón, and many more.
Advanced divers and history enthusiasts also enjoy exploring Cuba’s numerous shipwrecks. Notably, the USS Merrimack in Santiago de Cuba and other wrecks found off Varadero, where the Russian guard frigate BP 385 MONCADA rests, and the Jaruca wreck, located in the Bay of Pigs.
Liveaboards are a popular way to access dive spots in Cuba, as they allow you to easily access the more remote dive sites, such as those in the protected marine park of Jardines de la Reina, while also taking in the beautiful surrounding beaches and wildlife. There are also many diving spots you can easily swim out to from the shore.
What to see
So, what can you expect to see when diving in Cuba? You can expect to see a myriad of marine life, from schools of colorful fish to crustaceans, turtles, and pelagics galore. Cuba’s marine life is diverse, and you can even expect to catch sight of dolphins and sharks, too.
For example, at Cayo Largo, there are over 30 dive sites and the healthy reefs are home to reef sharks, grouper, snapper, reef fish, lobster, and many more species.
Cuba is big on conservation, and the heavily protected marine park of Jardines de la Reina is home to beautifully preserved reefs and thriving marine life that can be observed across its 50 dive sites. This spot is considered the perfect place to spot sea turtles, hammerheads, leopard, silky and blacktip sharks, and even saltwater American crocodiles!
When to Visit
In Cuba, average ocean temperatures remain around 81°F (27°C) all year, and with visibility ranging from 30-40 meters (98-131 feet), it’s one of the best countries to dive in regardless of the time of the year.
Depending on the season, there are some mild changes to water temperatures. In July and August, the sea can reach 30°C (86°F) and is at its coldest from December to February, where it can drop to around 25°C (77°F).
From December through March, Cuba’s climate is more comfortable due to lower humidity levels thanks to the coinciding dry season, which is November until April. You can expect warm, sunny weather during this time, with temperatures averaging between 24°-27°C (75°F-80°F).
Due to the optimal conditions, hotel and diving prices will often go up during this time, and it’s not unusual for places to get fully booked, so it’s best to reserve in advance if possible.
May to October is Cuba’s rainy season, and during these months humidity is high and downpours are heavy but tend to pass quickly. Due to the weather, prices are cheaper and beaches quieter, so it’s a great time to snap up some deals if you’re on a budget.
You should bear in mind that hurricane season is June to November in Cuba, so be aware of this when traveling.
Arriving in Cuba
You will be expected to show your insurance policy on arrival in Cuba, so take out comprehensive travel, diving, and medical insurance before you travel.
For a holiday in Cuba, you'll require a tourist card before you travel and your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. For more information and advice about visas, you can contact the Cuban Embassy.
The only currency accepted in Cuba is Cuban pesos, and you should exchange your American dollars before entering the country ideally, as while you can exchange American Dollars in Cuba, you will be charged 13% to do so.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, things are slowly starting to open up again, with international holiday charter flights to Cayo Coco, Cayo Cruz, Cayo Guillermo (served by Jardines del Rey airport), Cayo Santa Maria (Santa Clara airport), and Cayo Largo del Sur now running.
Cuba’s entry requirements are pretty straightforward: all travelers must have proof of a negative RT-PCR covid test result that was obtained within 72 hours of arrival in Cuba and valid travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage.
All international travelers will undergo a RT-PCR test on arrival in Cuba, and tourists on charter flights will then be transferred to their hotels, where they will await the test results which are usually ready within 24 hours.
All other international travelers and Cuban nationals/residents will have to self-isolate in a government-approved hotel at their own expense for 6 nights and 7 days unless they arrive at the airports of La Habana or Santiago de Cuba, in which case they must self-isolate for 5 nights and 6 days.
On the penultimate day of the quarantine, travelers will undergo yet another PCR test and if the result is negative, they may explore Cuba freely.
It’s best to keep up to date with the latest information when it comes to U.S. and Cuban travel advice, and, if you do decide to go to Cuba during this time, don’t forget to pack all the essentials that may not be readily available in the country, such as hand gel with 70% alcohol, handkerchiefs and other essential items that may prevent transmission.
Face masks must be worn at all times when traveling on buses and in taxis.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to scuba dive in Cuba?
Scuba diving in Cuba typically costs 40 USD per person for a dive, equipment, and transportation.
Can you dive all year round in Cuba?
Cuba has some of the most consistent year-round diving conditions, with sea temperature and visibility levels remaining pretty stable throughout the year.
Between December and April, the seas are usually at their calmest, but it is still possible to enjoy scuba diving in Cuba between May and November - just be wary of hurricane season when planning your trip.
What sharks live in Cuban waters?
The seas that surround Cuba and its islands are home to more than 50 species of shark, so it’s the perfect place to come face-to-face with these creatures. Don’t worry, the majority of these do not pose a threat to man, and shark attacks are very rare here.
How dangerous is Cuba?
Cuba is generally a safe country to visit and the locals are warm and welcoming, though as a tourist, you’re vulnerable to “minor” crimes such as currency scams, pickpocketing, and theft.
You should also be aware of health risks such as contaminated tap water, mosquito-borne diseases, poor road conditions if you are driving, and of course - Covid-19.