SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

We weren’t really sure what to expect with Scuba diving in Cuba, except for probably pristine waters and lots of tropical fish, but we quickly caught on – no trash, no crowds, and absolute rivers of blue fish streaming past.

For our first diving in Cuba, we took the elevator down five flights from our casa particulare flat with a view of the Prada, the Malecon, and two enormous Spanish Forts. We jumped into a big VW van with our dive gear and headed to go scuba diving on Cuba’s North Shore.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Route to the North Shore

Our driver, Angel-Louis aka “Union,” headed out of town. From Havana, we went through an underground tunnel, and popped up somewhere north east of where we had been.

We were still recovering from the experience of zooming through an underground tunnel on an island. Then we were visually assaulted by tropical lushness. There were flowers blooming everywhere, old cars in every direction, and horses and buggies traveling right on the highway along with motor vehicles.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Historic Sights

We drove past the site of the 11th Pan American Games of 1991, and could see the stadium and surrounding athletes’ village.

Our Dive Master and guide Mitchell told us that he helped to build the village. He said many Cubans went to help build the dormitories for the athletes for this prestigious event. He told us that afterward, Fidel Castro gave the accommodations to the people who helped build it.

This was our first trip out of town, and we were excited to see the old cars everywhere on the highways, plus motorbikes and motorcycles and horse-drawn buggies. It felt like traveling in a time warp.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Tank Fills at Mosquito Headquarters

We pulled off the road onto a side road with no street sign, and followed the dirt path down to a coral restoration foundation. Our dive master, Mitchell Morales of CubaDivingNow announced that we had arrived at “Mosquito Headquarters.” We jumped out to look at the small vegetable garden and rather funny-looking tanks.

Parked next to us was a 1950’s car complete with fins, and in the trunk were several short, fat yellow dive tanks. The ultimate dive ride! Wow!

I glanced at the tanks to try to determine if our regulators would have the right DIN fittings. It looked like we were in luck.

As far as hydrostat and visual inspection markings, I could find nothing. We asked about the tanks, and learned that they are steel 100’s.

We quickly performed some calculations, and determined that the 100’s, when they register a full 3000 pounds of pressure on our gauges, actually would have 20% more usable oxygen. We could dive longer, but had to watch the dive tables carefully due to the extended capability.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

First Dive in Cuba!

When we got to the dive site, one of our group said he thought he heard the dive master say the word “beach,” and he wondered where on earth the beach was since we planned to go scuba diving on Cuba’s North Shore.

We had pulled our van off the highway and a couple hundred yards toward a rocky area with moon rock just like you find in the Bahamas.

I recently picked up a copy of the PADI first level dive course textbook. Ironically, I read only a couple days before about diving in new locations.

The dive book talked about all different types of entries besides beach and boat, and described different possible methods. It also recommends that you listen to your local guide and they will show you how it is done and that location.

So, I was ready and prepared for anything. At this dive site, we would sit down on someone’s fin while we put on our gear, and then stand up and jump in. The other option was to toss your gear in, and then jump in after it.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore
Just remember – items (like my thighs!) look 30% larger underwater.

First Look Underwater

When we got into the water, we could see underneath us at a depth of about eight feet. Visible was a bit of fish bones and debris from fisherman standing on the rocks catching their nightly dinner.

This was the closest we ever saw to garbage in the water – hardly worth mentioning since it was all biodegradable. We saw absolutely no trash in the water, and started the 150 foot swim out to blue water.

The bottom was mostly sandy with dead coral. Later, we learned that this was due to hurricane Irma lashing the coast with wind and waves. A lot of the coral at the shallower depths had been killed, along with sponges and fans and everything else.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

What Are We Inspecting?

We stopped at around 15 feet to look in a crevice at some little creature. Mind you, it was sandy as far as we could see. We became a little bit concerned that it was going to be an hour long dive of finding small creatures in crevices in the sand!

We swam a bit further, getting down to 40 feet, and then the “under the sea world” of scuba diving on Cuba’s North Shore opened up to us.

Fish everywhere, moray eels tucked in here and there like apples on a fruit tree, plus crabs, shrimp, all sorts of life, and all sorts of colors. We were enthralled by the beauty.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Untouched Fantasy World

Next we headed east along a wall, at 60 to 80 feet. We were simply astonished with the variety of fans, corals, mollusks, and abundant sea life.

Every color of fish, many that we did recognize, surrounded us. Many that we did not recognize swam past us.

First we went East, later we came back West at about 40 feet. While we cruised back over the reef, I noticed more and more fish and amazing coral and fans and sponges.

The 150-foot swim at 15 foot of depth back to the shore was easy with no current. Next we arrived back to remove our gear, hand it up to someone, and then scramble up the rocks.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Surface Interval

Our surface interval of about an hour included the largest mango I have ever seen in my life. It was the size of a pineapple, and the pit was the size of my entire hand.

After a couple protein bars, the refreshing mango, and a lot of water, we were ready to repeat the dive, but swimming to the West this time.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Dive 2 – The Other Way

We headed out the 150 feet across the sandy area again. Next we descended and navigated through a glorious swim-through. Again, on the second dive, we viewed every type of sea life imaginable.

Every once in a while, I would stop and just look in an area the size of my kitchen sink. In only a couple square feet, there was such an unbelievable variety of fish, shrimp, and all sorts of organisms and micro organisms. I could have hovered over one of those coral heads for an hour, just observing the sea life there.

We saw no fish larger than my foot, however, we saw huge schools of jacks and snapper. Cuba seems to be the home of flowing rivers of deep blue fish. Wherever we went, we saw these ribbons of glittering cerulean activity.

With shore dives so easy and accessible, going one way then the other was quite common, we learned. No need to travel a long way for more fabulous views.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Getting Out of the Water

At the end of the second dive, we handed up our gear, scrambled up the rocks, and got back in the van to look for piña coladas.

We noticed that the tidal range while we were out was not too great – maybe a foot or a foot and a half. We did not encounter any strong currents over the reef, either.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Those Short Fat Tanks

We switched tanks during the service interval. I learned that the short fat tanks are quite a weight concentrated in the middle of your back. The weight must be dealt with slightly differently than the taller tanks. After the dive, I could feel a bit of tightness between my shoulder blades from balancing the heavier bulk there.

Also, since they are much fatter than our usual tanks, I had to open up the straps quite a bit to accommodate them.

When we got to mosquito headquarters, I quickly learned the word for thick or stout, which is “ancho,” and already knew “bajo” for short. These tanks were “bajo y ancho.” Short and fat!

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Post-Dive Treat

After the dive, we headed to a roadside stand to celebrate our first experience scuba diving on Cuba’s North Shore. They sold piña coladas served in hollowed out pineapples for $5 each. An unusual system; you decided how much rum you wanted to float on top.

There were a couple stray kitty cats lounging in the sun.

After taking some photos, we departed from the thatched hut roadside bar to go tour Santiago, the setting of Hemingway’s “The Old Man of the Sea.”

After lunch at Casa Grande, we headed to tour the smaller of the two enormous forts looking over Havana Harbor.

Our first two dives in Havana, and we were astounded by the beauty, the absolute lack of trash in the water, the abundance of fish and sea life.

What a great start to diving in Cuba! Next we travelled to Playa Larga, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad for more diving.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

What’s Coming Next:

Next couple articles will cover the diving from Playa Larga, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad! Subscribe for notifications so you don’t miss any of our Cuba travels articles. I can’t wait to show you more spectacular views of Cuba.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

What to Read Next:

Planning a Legal Trip to Cuba from the US // Travel Restrictions // Rules for Americans

Cuban Pesos // What We Learned About Exchanging Money in Cuba

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Sunscreen and Reef-Safe Toilitries

When you travel, don’t forget to bring a small backpack or bag for carrying a few items to the pool with you. A dry bag gives you even more flexibility and security.

My Stream2Sea dry bag is the perfect size for all my sunscreen, bathing suit or foundation garments, sunglasses case, a book, and a few other items for excursions to the pool or gym. My discount code “DeepWH” gets you 10% off everything.  Stream2Sea have reef-safe sunscreen, leave-in conditioner, lip balm, shampoo, body wash, and even mask defog! Using my link won’t increase you price, and I might receive a small incentive for introducing you to reef-safe sunscreens and more.

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore


What to Read Next:

Dive Trip From Havana // Diving the Reefs of Cuba’s North Shore

SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Planning a Legal Trip to Cuba from the US // Travel Restrictions // Rules for Americans

Cuban Pesos // What We Learned About Exchanging Money in Cuba

scuba diving on Cuba's North Shore, SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

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