April through November is the best time for scuba-diving in Cuba. Temperatures begin to rise and the water gets warmer, explained Yail Martínez, customer services representative at the Diving Center of the Meliá Cayo Guillermo Hotel in Jardines del Rey.
However, thanks to its warm and tropical climate, Cuba is the perfect destination for diving all year round, noted Martínez who, given both the quality of the water and the service, receives clients on a daily basis as well as much repeat business.
Yail is the only female member of staff at the Center, where she has been working since 2004, and despite not being an instructor, she knows all there is to know about diving.
“We currently receive lots of un-certified divers who don’t know what they can do and my job is to guide and advise them. Some just stick with the initiation in the swimming pool, others go further and take the complete course which includes practicing in the swimming pool, and a shallow open water dive, that is to say, to a depth of no more than 10 meters,” she explained.
TRAINING IS NECESSARY
Just one year ago, the Center was based at the Trip Cayo Coco Hotel, but is now located in a privileged spot at the Meliá Cayo Guillermo, close to all the beach front hotels, and accessible to any client staying at the complex.
“Most of the clients we get are from Europe, and are normally people with a lot of diving experience and knowledge, but we also receive customers from Canada and other countries. Anyone can dive and we have five advanced level instructors with a vast amount of experience in the field.
“A lot of people who come here do so out of curiosity, that’s why it’s so important to be prepared. My job is to find out if they know anything about diving, if they’ve taken a course or are certified, and explain what they need to do depending on each case,” stated Yail Martínez.
The Center, affiliated with the Marlin Marinas and Nautical Activities Group, is a member of German based organization Scuba Schools International (SSI), and one of only a few in the country authorized to offer international courses. SSI meanwhile, is one of the most prestigious diving schools in the world with a central office in Havana.
“It has a well structured training program and in various languages. What is more, clients don’t have to come to us to get their certificate, they can do it online; get all their theory training and do their test, get their certificate and then come to us, and we take care of the practical side,” noted Martínez.
The center’s timetable includes three daily dives; one in the morning for certified divers, including a submersion to a depth of between 18 and 30 meters around a coral reef or sunken shipwreck. Then a shallow water dive at midday to enjoy the seabeds and fish; and another in the afternoon for beginners.
OPEN WATER DIVING
Cuba’s coastline is surrounded by coral reefs, home to countless species of crustaceans and mollusks, over 700 different types of fish and 300 sea sponges, as well as countless star fish and sea urchins.
In Jardines del Rey, coral reefs are located at a depth of between three and 30 meters and full of natural charms and a wide variety of marine life.
According to Yail Martínez, the depth of the submersion depends on the client’s diving level. She also explained that the center has a boat which accompanies clients throughout the duration of their dive, and another available to cater for larger groups. Meanwhile, sites alternate on a daily basis and if a client wants to do a full week of diving, they are taken to a different location every day.
“The Felipe barrier is shallow and good for beginners or inexperienced divers. The reef starts at a depth of three meters and goes down to 12. It’s a varied area and a good option for those that need to familiarize themselves with the environment,” Martínez explained.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
The reason why there are so many high quality dive sites in Cuba is not only due to the island’s natural environment but also concerted efforts by the government to protect the country’s marine ecosystems.
Diving at different locations helps reduce the impact on Cuba’s marine environment and is one of the key principles upheld by different diving centers located across the island. In the specific case of Jardines del Rey, protecting Cuba’s marine system is a taken very seriously and before setting out, clients have to sign a disclaimer, explaining the precautions that must be taken during a submersion.
“The instructors explain to everyone the characteristics of diving (maximum depth, submersion time, location, security measures, and emergency procedures) and stress the care that must be taken with the environment,” stated Yail Martínez.
Over 100,000 scuba divers travel to Cuba every year given its international reputation as one of the top 27 diving destinations in the world, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Scuba diving on the island dates back to 1970 and is an activity committed to the protection and conservation of the environment. According to statements by the Ministry of Tourism, one of its main priorities includes expanding scuba diving and nautical activities with development plans through 2030 and the creation of 23 nautical and marina facilities.
Protection and conservation of diving zones in Cuba. Ministry of Tourism legislation, May 8, 2014.
- Sample extractions of marine flora and fauna as well as underwater heritage, without due authorization from the regulating body.
- Underwater spear fishing.
- Removing or tampering with shipwrecks.
- Throwing garbage, waste or any other kind of potentially contaminating material or substance into the sea.
- Anchoring boats in diving zones.
- Any other action or oversight that harms the environment and wildlife.
Top diving sites in Cuba:
- María la Gorda, Pinar del Río.
- The southern coast of the Isle of Youth and Cayo Largo del Sur.
- Havana’s northern coastline.
- The Zapata Peninsula, between Playa Larga and Playa Girón.
- Jardines del Rey.
- Jardines de la Reina.
- Santa Lucía, in Camagüey. Diving with bull sharks.
The coast of Santiago de Cuba.