Cuba lies 145km (90 miles) south of Florida, between Jamaica and the Bahamas. In terms of fish life, Cuba is probably the most prolific diving destination in the Caribbean with some 1500 recorded species. Cuba’s ultimate diving is off the southwest shore of the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), which is situated 100km (62 miles) south of the southern mainland coast opposite Havanna. The sites are all located between Point Pedernales and Cape Frances. This area has been a marine reserve for more then 20 years and is sheltered from the prevailing winds that blow from the east-southeast; significant currents are also minimal and there are numerous tame and approachable reef fish. Liveaboard diving is a recent development in Cuba. Cruises to the Archipelago de Los Jardines de la Regina have opened up pristine unexplored sites in an area previously protected from fishing and tourism.
Best Diving Destinations in Cuba
Isla de la Juventud
The dive sites off the Isle of Youth mainly comprise of a shallow reef crest with caves, crevices, canyons and drop-offs in the Gulf of Mexico. Some sites are at 30m (100ft) with valleys descending to between 50-80m (165-262ft) The reefs are forested with gorgonian sea fans, sea plumes and sea rods, as well as bowl, tube, vase and octopus sponges. Black corals are found at 20-30m (65-100ft), which is considered unusually shallow for this particular species. Large shoals of tarpon barely condescend to move aside as you swim through them. Barracuda, rainbow runners, red snappers, trumpetfish, as well as schoolmaster snappers, follow divers around. Stingrays are camouflaged on the sand bottom, and spine lobsters, batwing coral crabs and green moray eel abound. The myriad friendly fish for which Cuba is renowned include queen and French angelfish, queen and Sargassum triggerfish, blue tangs, foureye and banded butterfly fish, bluestriped and French grunts, Nassau and marbled groupers, Spanish hogfish and parrotfish.
Maria La Gorda
In the remote Western side of Cuba: Pinar del Rio province, you can find one of the most virgin areas in the Cuban archipelago. This region has been declared Reserve of the Biosphere due to the treasures of its flora and fauna and for its sea and terrestrial landscapes. Within the limits of the Reserve, known as Peninsula de Guanabacabibes, we can find a wide stripe of white sands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, with rich and extensive coastal forest areas forming a beautiful beach, Maria La Gorda, named after an old pirate. Maria La Gorda in the Ensenada de Corrientes, is one of the best protected areas in Cuba with an amazing coral reef , located at a very short distance from the coast. From 5m (16ft) you can see big patches of coral with abundant gorgonians and sea fans, more than 20 species of coral and lots of small and medium size fish. Lobsters, morays and crabs can be frequently seen in the boles of the bottom. From 10m (33ft) deep these patches are joined together and increasingly higher, thus forming a chain of tall coral hillocks cut by channels and passages, with walls falling sharply and deeply. This wall shows attractive structures such as holes, tunnels and vertical caves, where you can see beautiful black coral colonies, big tubular branch or cup shape sponges and 2 m (6.5ft) high gorgonians. Among the fish that move along the wall we can mention barracudas, jacks, dog snappers, snappers and schoolmasters. You can also see eagle rays and stingrays. With a little bit of luck some mantas and whale sharks can be observed. This area has 50 sites of high level diving, some are still not named, all of them are less than 1 hour cruise from the coast, some at even 5 minutes away. Deeper dives can be found at El Cabezon de Ludo, El Salon de Maria, El Almirante y Yemaya, and for second dives Acuario, El Ancla de Francois and El Jardin de la Gorgonia are suitable.
Northeast of Cape Frances there are wrecks to dive in the Jibacoa and Spartan and the New Groove.
All wrecks are modern and hold little historical value but they are home to large schools of fish.
When to Visit Cuba
The best months are Feb-May. The wet season is from May-Oct. The visibility is always pretty clear. Hurricanes are rare.
Getting to Cuba
There are lots of direct flights to Havana from Europe, Canada, Mexico and nearby South American gateways. Restricted flights from Miami. A 25-minute flight by turbojet connects Havana to Rafael Cabrera Mustelier Airport, Nueva Gerona, on Isla de la Juventud. Americans are most likely to fly to Cancun first and board a plane to Havana from there.