Cayo Santa Maria Scuba diving is a breeze this day, the water is warm and the visibility in April 2022 is amazing.
Slowly pacing along at around 10 meters depth, the guide suddenly gets super-enthusiastic to my left gesturing for us to look! Look!
And right there, only meters away is a beautiful, elegant shoal of dolphins passing by, roaming free!
Any link in this article may be an affiliate link! If you click through the affiliate link to do your shopping or booking, it may provide a small commission for me, at no extra cost to you, which makes me able to continue providing valuable information on this website!
Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Holidays
If you are visiting this part of Cuba, you definitely should consider going scuba diving in Cayo Santa Maria.
This is the first time ever I have seen dolphins while diving, and it happened in Santa Maria Cuba, such a gorgeous sight!
Smooth and silent, gliding through the water making horizontal S-patterns, and then they were gone. Wow!
Where Is Cayo Santa Maria Cuba?
Cayo Santa Maria Keys in Cuba are a part of a larger archipelago called Jardines del Rey, or The Kings Gardens. Cayo Santa Maria is the common name for three interconnected Caribbean islands off the northern coast of the island.
The others are Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas, interconnected between them, and to the main island of Cuba, by a pedraplen, or a mix between a road and a bridge.
This island triplet is located around 3-4 hours east of Havana, and an oval hours drive from Santa Clara on the main island.
Once you pass the guard point at the start of the pedraplen, where they check your ID on the main island side, you will arrive at a universe consisting of green tropical vegetation and resorts.
Wide roads are crisscrossing the islands, with exits to secluded entrances of the large all-inclusive hotels which are the only building complexes on the islands, all bordering the Caribbean sea.
It is on one of these islands, the Cayo Las Brujas, that you find Marina Gaviota center, the starting point for all sea activities from the Cayo Santa Maria triplet.
You can go deep-sea fishing from here, take a day trip on a catamaran, visit the delfinario, or, like me today, go scuba diving.
Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Adventure
If you are staying in one of the resorts on the islands, scuba diving in Cayo Santa Maria can be booked with Marina Gaviota, the only marina on the island triplet.
If you do this, someone will come to pick you up on a bus from your hotel in the morning and bring you to the dive center at the marina where the boat leaves from.
Normally, you pay in advance at your hotel, where you get a ticket that you need to bring with you. For the one-day scuba diving trip with two immersions, I paid $75, including all the gear for the day.
Arriving at the Marina Gaviota, where the dive center is located (next to a little bar where you can get soft drinks and pay by credit card), the first thing you will do is sort all the equipment you need.
Prepping For Todays Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving
From what I experienced, the dive center at Marina Gaviota is well organized. The gear and tank room seemed to be in meticulous order and the dive instructors were super accommodating and service-minded – and smiling!
While sorting the gear, they inquired about the level of experience and formal certification for each person and divided the group into three smaller diving groups based on that.
On this day we became three smaller groups of three to four persons in each group, each with its own dive guide for the two immersions.
When all kit and gear were in order, everyone set out for the marina and the dive boat.
The boat was clean and organized, we met all the crew, who was preparing everyone’s kit on the boat.
Scuba Diving Preparations On The Boat
As soon as everything was set, people were quickly organized, shoes off, face masks at least semi on, dive tanks like beads on a line, and off we went.
Whether you like meditating or not, when you are at sea, just watching the white oxygenated water stripes in the blue ocean swiftly shrinking behind you, from a windy boat deck is, well, a bit meditative.
Hair all messy, engine roaring. Do you know the feeling?
The majority of dive sites outside the Cayo Santa Maria are perfect for nature dives, exploring coral reefs that successfully have been kept healthy despite sea pollution (in general in the world), and increased tourism on the islands.
The two different dive sites are a couple of miles off the shore, and the divemasters use the transport time to give each group the pre-dive briefing.
Going through what conditions to expect on the dive site, signals that will be used, troubleshooting, partnering, max depth on the dive, approximate length, and a bit of wishful thinking on what species possibly may cross our path today.
Both dive sites provide very calm seas today, so there were no issues at all exiting the boat or communicating on the surface before we submerged.
Also read: Divine Diving In Varadero Cuba!
First Tranquil Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Experience
My first diving experience in Cayo Santa Maria is exploring a coral reef, and I am again super happy to see that the reef seems to be bubbling with life, and color, and really look super healthy.
Swimming around the reef, depths varying (but nothing below 12ish meters) we get to explore little cave-like structures, and tunnels.
There are overhangs, and canyons with a sun-kissed sand bottom, and vegetation looming on all sides as well as the tropical shoals of fish. We are gliding by lots of huge lobsters hiding under shadowy cliffs and the occasional dragonfish.
I really enjoyed this shallow exploratory nature dive, despite the fact that my Viking heritage seems to fail me – as I tend to start freezing a bit these days even in Caribbean waters!
Also read: Travel To Revolutionary Santa Clara City!
Chill Surface Time Before Cayo Santa Maria Immersion No. 2
After a quick break on the boat, mainly spent changing location over to the second dive site of the day, we prepare the gear with a brand new tank, kit up, do the buddy check, and head into the water.
This dive starts with a minor issue for me, despite the checks and all-good situation on the boat. My air display suddenly claims I have around 10% air as we start to descend although showing over 200 bar on the boat.
So I signal to the guide that I have a slight worry, and we ascend to the surface again (had only reached like 3 meters), assessing the situation.
As the tank is new and probably actually is full, we swim over to the boat, handing the gear over to the boat crew who change my regulator set as that may be the source of the 10% air claim.
That turns out to be correct, and with a new regulator set, we can safely start the descent again and this time my display behaves impeccably. The whole situation was handled calmly and with no drama, and I still feel good.
The second dive is less exploring of coral reef, but more slowly tagging along the submarine nature at between 10-14 meters.
White sandy bottoms, islands of vegetation, the sun, and water together act like the aurora (northern lights). Constantly changing its focus so the environment looks like a wavy golden fan is blowing the light around.
Shallow Water Diving & Great Lighting
The indisputable advantage of shallow nature dives is that the sun still manages to reach your surroundings, and the colors around you are still strong and vibrant.
And not least, if you want to take photos you can still have great ones without a huge source of light on your camera!
I really enjoy these kinds of calm zen dives, with no complicated issues to handle, all focus is on the calming sound of your breathing, and the brilliant surroundings.
Lots of curious fish to connect with, including the occasional barracuda (which I only have seen on shoals before, but here there were loners). There are pufferfish and a variety of colorful whimsy damselfish around in the islands of vegetation.
The highlight of this dive though, I have to say was the 7-8 seconds when the shoal of dolphins passed us by, super close, that was brilliant! And a first for me, but hopefully not the last time.
Also, I enjoyed the very curious rather huge snapper fish that was following and circling us for a while. And the french angelfish couple that was out promenading on the sun-kissed sandy bottom while we were doing our security stop (excellent visibility).
Awesome Scuba Diving In Other Cuban Destinations
Being a Caribbean island, obviously, there are good scuba diving options off the shores of Cuba pretty much anywhere.
Compare Flight Prices Here!
Wrap-Up Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving
Heading back to shore post my Cayo Santa Maria scuba diving experience, the crew is sorting all the gear (a luxury). I have tangly salty-water hair and feel really happy about the two beautiful dives today.
The issue with my regulator set was handled well in my opinion, and I enjoyed exploring the coral reef, the marine life, and the ambiance of the dive sites very much.
So if you feel inspired to go diving off the Cayo Santa Maria islands in Cuba, you can read more about the archipelago here. Also, read about some of the all-inclusive resorts where you can stay (there is no other accommodation option in Cayo Santa Maria).
Mind you, I only went scuba diving this one day, with blue skies and calm waters, and there is a lot of weather going on in these parts.
There are a number of other dive sites to explore, and I can not speak for all the different variables you might encounter.
But my experience was great!