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April 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 31, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Want To Dive Cuba?

How Americans Do It

from the April, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

For Americans, Cuba is the next hot Caribbean dive destination. While some American divers have sampled its reefs, divers from other countries have traveled freely there for decades. Americans officially can't go as leisure travelers, but if you want to dive there, you can do it with virtually no risk of financial penalty and certainly no risk of jail time.

Our travel agent says, "I can't book them, but I can give information about the flights to Cuba."

In March, preceding the President's historic visit to that country, the Obama administration announced a new round of measures chipping away at the decades-long sanctions against Cuba, encouraging more person-to-person educational travel, allowing Cuban nationals to get jobs in the United States or to open U.S. bank accounts and lifting limits on the use of dollars in transactions with Cuba.

We talked with a major dive travel agent who wishes to stay anonymous when discussing the illegal (for Americans) leisure travel to Cuba, but she says, "It's getting easier for me to write about Cuba travel in my marketing materials than it was nine months ago. Traveling there is getting better."

She legally books her customers onto organized dive trips, but they have to classify themselves in one of 12 authorized categories for travel to Cuba, including educational, religious, and humanitarian work. "The categories we use most are people-to-people education and/or photojournalism. They sign an affidavit saying essentially, 'I fit into this category.' No government official checks. Legally, there has to be a full schedule of meetings at the travel destination, but the boats have marine biologists on board, and that works."

Americans fly to Cuba through Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas or Grand Cayman, and expensive charter flights depart from Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. Our travel agent says, "I can't book them, but I can give information about the flights."

While most Americans take liveaboards -- the Aggressor fleet now dives there -- or head to the floating hotel, La Tortuga, in the Jardines de la Reina, divers from other countries also visit the Colony Hotel on La Isla de Juventud or Isle of Youth (formerly the Isle of Pines), which has a staffed hyperbaric center as well as 56 buoyed dive sites. There are also dive centers in Maria La Gorda (long popular with Brits), Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Ancon, as well as Cienfuegos (in the Bay of Pigs) on the Caribbean coast, and at Varadero to the less calm north. Fidel Castro's favorite diving was said to be at Cayo Blanco, a small island on the Caribbean coast with accommodation as luxuriously appointed as almost anywhere in the Caribbean.

Until now, American divers could prepay their trips, but for local expenses, you had to use cash. There's a 10 percent fee for converting greenbacks into Cuban pesos (it's wise to arrive with Euros or Canadian dollars). However, there is a wellestablished and thriving black economy where U.S. dollars have been well received. If Verizon is your cellphone carrier, you can call home from Cuba.

Our travel agent says if you're interested in diving in Cuba, call your favorite travel agency. "When someone contacts me online, I tell them, 'Let's talk by phone; I can explain the rules, affidavits and how to book your part of the travel much easier that way.'"

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