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
but if you
want to dive
there, you can
do it with virtually
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