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January 1999 Vol. 14, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving in Cuba's Forbidden Waters

from the January, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Boat and beach diving are possible at a number of other sites along Cuba’s shores. Here’s a quick summation of the key spots, moving clockwise from Havana. Information about services and accommodations can be obtained from the travel services and websites listed in the Diver’s Compass.

  • Varadero -Primarily a training base on the Atlantic with lots of beach resorts. Some beach diving and inland cave dives. Less than 100 miles east of Havana.
  • Cayo Coco/Guardalavaca/Santa Lucia -Shallow sites among cayes off the northeast coast. Pelagics, sharks, turtles. Remains of Spanish-American War shipwrecks and forts.
  • Cabo Cruz/Guantánamo -Southeast tip of main island, with sites ranging from Atlantic to Caribbean. Virgin black coral, historic wrecks.
  • Santiago de Cuba -Cuba’s most Caribbean city is the gateway to four diving zones. Tunnels, caves, walls, hammerheads.
  • Trinidad/Jardines de la Reina -Cave diving on the south-central coast, deep drop-offs, black coral, giant sea turtles, remains of Spanish galleons. Check out the floating hotel, or cruise on a couple of live-aboards.
  • Cienfuegos -Known as the Pearl of the South. Wrecks and the occasional whale shark. Just west is the infamous Bay of Pigs, which can actually be dived from the beach.
  • Cayo Largo -Largest island in the Archipelago de los Canarreos off the southeast coast. Historic wreck sites, walls, shallow coral gardens.
  • Maria la Gorda -Fidel’s favorite, on the western point of Cuba. One diver who has covered a lot of Cuba told me: “The walls blow away the Caymans and I had a chance to play — I mean PLAY — with a couple of 30-35 lb. groupers. There are caverns that start at the edge of the reef and spill you at 120 feet on the wall. The reef was the most alive I’ve ever seen.”

Is it illegal for Americans to visit Cuba? Technically, no, but the catch is that we are prohibited by the American government from spending any money there. That’s why, when a celebrity’s visits get publicized—e.g., Jack Nicholson’s a few months back—they make it a point to say they’re guests of the country. People like you and me get there by signing up with a foreign-based travel firm and paying money in advance so it doesn’t go directly to the dreaded Red Menace just 90 miles below Florida.

Official Treasury Department regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction have a license to engage in any transactions related to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist and business travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist or business travel from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada. Treasury will consider specific licenses for journalists, humanitarian missions, telecommunications activities, or for professional research. Without one, you pays your money, and you takes your chance. That includes possible fines up to $250,000 and confiscation of property, although enforcement of the laws is currently fuzzy. So hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans enter Cuba weekly from foreign cities on foreign planes.

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