Cuba is home to the third-longest coral reef in the world behind the Australian Great Barrier reef and the Belize reef! This opens up a lot of sea activities, and magnificent scuba diving in Varadero is one of them.
Scuba diving in Cuba has location where you find long drop-offs over stunning voids below, wall dives, cave dives, nature dives, and wreck diving sites.
There are two distinct archipelagos in Cuban territorial waters with gorgeous coral reefs in between the thousands of little keys of the main island of Cuba.
That is the Jardin de la Reina, the Queen’s garden, and the Jardines del Rey, the Gardens of the king.
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Divine Scuba Diving In Varadero
Scuba diving in Varadero Cuba, off the northern Cuban coast, you are in the waters just a few clicks west of the Jardines del Rey archipelago.
This archipelago, the Gardens of the King in English, starts around Cayo Cruz del Padre, outside Varadero.
Its fabulous counterpart Jardines de la Reina (named after the wife of the king, of course, the queen) is on the Caribbean side of Cuba, 60 miles south of the main island.
The Gardens of the Queen is the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean. A huge area with hundreds of islands, reefs, and beaches, it is forming an archipelago that is about 200 kilometers long.
Scuba diving in Varadero, the long narrow peninsula on the northern side, is one of the absolute best ways to explore the fantastic marine life off the coast of Cuba – and it is only a couple of oval hours’ drive from Havana!
Also read: 10 Reasons To Spend Your Honeymoon In Cuba 2023!
Varadero Is A National Park
Varadero was declared a national park in 1996 and has been preserved through high levels of protection and strategic marine-resource management ever since.
The health of the marine life is very good outside Cuba, and rumor has it that this is because the late president Fidel Castro was very concerned with preserving the marine environment of Cuba.
As a side note, there are excellent diving spots in other Cuban destinations as well. You can have great diving experiences in Havana and Trinidad, and the Cuban keys like Cayo Santa Maria.
While scuba diving in Varadero, first of all, you will find the surroundings are stunning out here. You have white sands, blue seas, and a laid-back atmosphere throughout the whole experience.
Read more about Varadero in general at the end of this article!
Atlantis Center Scuba Diving In Varadero
For this diving day, I have booked with Atlantis Varadero Scuba Diving center, which I found online. Their “office” is a cabin on a stretch of beautiful white beach outside Blau Varadero Hotel!
This scuba diving center has good reviews overall, which is important, as security and safety always come first when embarking on an underwater exploration in a new place.
Feeling safe, I am able to fully enjoy the diving destination and the beauty of the submarine world!
As the Atlantis scuba diving center is located right at the beach, I actually arrive in my slippers and swimsuit all ready to go!
Also read: 18 Of The Unquestionably Best Beaches In Cuba 2022!
After registering with my travel insurance and credentials as a recreational diver, we find equipment that fits me, conduct the test of everything, and get ready to go.
The plan is to do two immersions at a destination a couple of kilometers from the beach, and a boat arrives from somewhere else to pick us all up right here.
We are a group of around 10 people, all internationals, with two Cuban dive guides that will lead us through the dives today.
Things To Know About Scuba Diving Tours In Cuba
Our dive boat for the day appears in the soft waves, and we enter the water with full kits climbing into the boat from the water.
Scuba diving tours in Cuba by boat exit are not a casual super-easy thing to do, contrary to what you might think (as it is a Caribbean island).
The reason for this is that Cubans need a special permit to be aboard a boat in Cuba. Fishermen have this permit, and some other people, like scuba diving guides working with foreign tourists – like me.
But this is not always the case though. If the dive guide does not have permission to enter a boat, you are going to have to surface swim to reach your dive site.
Sometimes that is quite a distance, so checking if there is boat access is a good idea.
This means that your Cuban friends can not come diving with you from a boat, as boats are off-limits for Cubans in general.
Today’s guides, however, all have their permit in order, and we are heading out to the coral reef which is the first dive destination of the day!
Also read: Amazing Scuba Diving In Cayo Santa Maria Cuba
First Varadero Dive Exploring A Beautiful Coral Reef
After a 10-12 minute boat trip straight out to sea, we arrive at the dive site and the skipper safely secures the boat in the water that is a liiittle rugged, but not a lot.
We are split into two groups, with their respective dive guides for the two dives today.
Do you keep thinking you should have had a GoPro? Going diving in Cuba is a perfect opportunity to get one! Unlike other great diving destinations, the dive guides here often do not have cameras to help you out, so maybe this is the reason you need to finally get it!
As we exit, we gather around the anchor line and descend together to around 20 meters the coral reef starts, the water still is almost tepid, and the view is very good.
We explore the coral reef for around 40 minutes, and it is really beautiful and healthy. I did not know what to expect in these waters beforehand, but the health of the reef seems really good with lots of colors, coral growth, and plant forests.
There were shoals of fish everywhere, a broad variety of species all very curious and vibrant.
Truly a super dive, with lovely coral reef nature, lots of marine life, and little sun-kissed caves and rocks to explore where the non-swimming marine animals hide.
After the dive, we discovered that the other group had spotted a reef shark – three times! While none of my group had that luck, unfortunately, at least now I know they are here!
Second Dive Of The Day Is A Relaxed Sunny-Dive
Returning to shore for a pause, we were dropped off at the beach for a nice little break, water, and refreshing the body and blood. The boat went off to collect new divers to join us for the second immersion of the day.
We did the same procedure entering the waves for round two, into the boat, and heading for the second dive site which was in the same general area as the first one.
This dive, however, stays at around 12-15 meters in depth and is focused on a sandy area with light vegetation. A myriad of Caribbean reef fish species and creatures are everywhere, going about their business.
Personally, I really like these kinds of dives, not very challenging but you can just dazzle along in the sunlight from above and enjoy the surroundings totally relaxed and with very little time restraint!
Also read: Urban Scuba Diving Sites Right Outside Havana
All in all, I can truly recommend scuba diving Varadero with Atlantis. They have skilled guides, great ambiance, super destinations (well, that goes for anyone I suppose), well-kept equipment, and in my opinion an overall well-organized diving day.
Shoutout to Luis Miguel and his collegues at Atlantis!
Click to see the video below.
Booking Scuba Diving In Varadero.
Although Cuba, in general, is not yet an online nation, it is possible to book diving experiences in Varadero before you arrive. But I would not say it is necessary.
Should you prefer to have your plans fixed in advance, you can contact the dive centers via email or telephone (if you speak Spanish. If you meet someone who speaks good English, you are lucky!).
You may also book your dive trips when you arrive at your hotel, at least one day before you wish to go diving. Some hotels have desks with representatives from tour operators, or they will be able to make the call and booking for you.
Also at your Casa Particular, a private home rental, your host will be able to assist you with a booking.
Even if you have pre-planned everything, your plans may be hampered by the weather. You will always get a confirmation on the night before of whether or not the planned dive trip is on for the next day.
The diving conditions are rather stable all year round, but there may be some issues in the wet season due to tropical thunderstorms that affect visibility.
Scuba Diving In Varadero Prices
Being a super popular destination for travelers from all over the world, prices for scuba diving in Varadero are a little higher than what you might find for scuba diving in other, smaller, and less-traveled destinations in Cuba.
Then again, the standard of gear and equipment probably is better in the larger resorts where international travelers are customers.
Also, disembarking from a boat and not from shore (which is a lot better and gives the dive center lots more options), adds to the price.
For today’s dive with all rental equipment included, two immersions with a certified guide, and boat transport twice to the dive site, the cost was €70.
Expect to pay cash for your dive trip, as smart little payment devices (and connection) are scarce. And remember to pay in Euro, or Canadian dollars (not US$), as weirdly the Cuban currency CUP is often not accepted.
I could not pay with my credit card at the dive center, rather they expected payment in cash, and in euros. That issue was resolved by going to a nearby marina where I could pay by card, but be aware that electronic payment may not always be available.
The Cuban currency system changed in 2021, and to make a long story short you will make your life a lot easier if you bring euros in cash for the duration of your Cuba holiday in 2022.
Don’t Know Where To Stay In Varadero?
Scuba Diving In Varadero | Diving Centers
I went scuba diving in Varadero with Atlantis Varadero Scuba Diving Center and was very happy with everything. All the organizing of the pick-up, dive-site, equipment, service, safety, and gear was good.
The guides were knowledgeable, there were English-speaking guides as well, and the ambiance of the day was great!
If you want to check your options though, here are a few other Varadero diving centers you find on the peninsula.
Varadero Is On The Hicacos Peninsula
Varadero is a little city, a village even, in Matanzas Province that is situated on a long narrow peninsula named Hicacos, stretching out into the sea to the north.
The whole Hicacos peninsula is mainly a tourist area, with large hotels and resorts, and lots of available Casa Particulares in the charming Varadero town.
Casa Particulares are way cheaper than the resorts, and are super charming Cuban houses, also right on the beach – but of course, lack the lux & lounge experience.
There are plenty of activities to do in Varadero apart from just lounging by the pool or the beach, or scuba diving. You can read more about Varadero in this guide!
The waters outside the Hicacos Peninsula are a haven for scuba divers, surrounded by calm waters which hold about 24 degrees temperature almost the whole year-round.
Outside the shores of Varadero, there is a vast area with thousands of coral reefs. As marine life health and sustainability were a priority for the late ex-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, a lot of work has been done to keep it that way.
The larger resort areas like Varadero, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Santa Maria, are more likely to have up-to-datediving equipment than places in less-touristy neighborhoods.
Reasons for this are that money and the economy are constant issues in Cuba, as well as access to actually buying the equipment and spare parts due to the sanctions imposed on the country.
Also read: 18 Best Things To Do In Varadero Cuba!
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Wrap-Up Scuba Diving In Varadero
Nothing to wait with, planning to go scuba diving in Varadero is something you will not regret!
When you first visit, I recommend you make time for a brilliant adventure going scuba diving in Varadero, even if you are not already a certified scuba diver.
The centers on the peninsula will offer you a safe and fun introduction dive, and what better place to do that than in these pristine waters where you have the best view and light you could ask for!
Contact one of the diving centers directly before your trip, or book a scuba diving day via your hotel when you get there. Enjoy!!
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Do you have any questions about Varadero, diving in Cuba, or general questions about Cuba? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail! Happy to help!