Scuba diving in Cayo Santa Maria in Cuba. Exit from the boat into the blue sea!

Amazing Scuba Diving In Cayo Santa Maria By An Expert (2024)!

Cayo Santa Maria is a chain of three interconnected, beautiful Caribbean islands off the northern coast of Cuba, facing the Atlantic Ocean. These cayos are dedicated to pampering resort experiences, incredible beaches, and stunning surroundings.

I have been traveling to Cuba regularly for five years and have been scuba diving in different locations. This time, I traveled from Havana to Cayo Santa Maria and spent a couple of weeks out here exploring.

Read on to find out what I think of my experience and how you can go scuba diving in Cayo Santa Maria yourself. Spoiler alert: I saw dolphins!

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Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Holidays

Diver getting ready to go out diving from Marina Gaviota on a bright sunny day with blue skies. The dive boat is docked ready with tanks at the jetty.
Dive boat in Cayo Santa Maria

If you are visiting this part of Cuba, you definitely should consider going scuba diving in Cayo Santa Maria. 

One of my passions is scuba diving (I am PADI advanced certified), so naturally, exploring the coral reefs outside Cayo Santa Maria is on my itinerary for this trip.

A small teaser: on one of these dives, slowly pacing along at around 10 meters depth, the guide suddenly became super-enthusiastic to my left, gesturing for us to look! Look! 


A beautiful, elegant shoal of dolphins passing by is only meters away, roaming free! Smooth and silent, gliding through the water, making horizontal S-patterns, and then they were gone. Wow! 

Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Adventure

Beautiful white catamarans docked side by site at Marina Gaviota on dark blue sea, with a bright blue sky above.
Marina Gaviota

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.

With this booking, 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. 

Normally, you pay in advance at your hotel, where you get a ticket you must bring.

Travel Cuba Cayo Santa Maria Marina Gaviota catamarans
Marina Gaviota Cayo Santa Maria

For the one-day scuba diving trip with two immersions, I paid $75, including all the gear for the day. 

When arriving at Marina Gaviota, where the dive center is located (next to a little bar where you can get soft drinks and pay ONLY by credit card), the first thing you will do is sort all the equipment you need.  

Prepping For Today Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving

Prepping the dive gear in Marina Gaviota, from the office counter where you will get your equipment. Two happy dive guides are standing behind the counter, ready to help, and all the gear is hanging orderly in the bakcground.
Prepping the diving gear

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, 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 formed three smaller groups, each consisting of three to four people, 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 was clean and organized. The rest of the crew prepped the gear on board, and we could all just relax!  

📍 Do you keep thinking you should have had a GoPro? Going diving in Cuba is a perfect opportunity to get one!

Scuba Diving Preparations On The Boat

Divers on the white boat getting ready, with the gear sorted in bundles on the deck.
Dive boat moment

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.

The majority of dive sites outside the Cayo Santa Maria are perfect for nature dives, exploring coral reefs that have successfully been kept healthy despite sea pollution (in general in the world), and increased tourism on the islands. 

Getting ready

The two different dive sites for today are a couple of miles off the shore, and the divemasters use the transport time to give each group the pre-dive briefing. 

We are going through what conditions to expect on the dive site, signals that will be used, troubleshooting, partnering, the max depth on the dive, planned duration, and a bit of wishful thinking on what species may possibly 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. 


First Tranquil Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving Experience

My first diving experience in Cayo Santa Maria was exploring a coral reef, and I was again super happy to see that the reef seemed to be bubbling with life and color and really looked 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, canyons with a sun-kissed sand bottom, vegetation looming on all sides, and tropical shoals of fish.

All good

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! 

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 prepared the gear with a brand new tank, kitted up, did the buddy check, and headed into the water. 

This second dive starts with a minor issue for me, despite the checks and all-good situation on the boat.

My air display suddenly claimed I had around 10% air as we started to descend, although it showed over 200 bars on the boat.  

So I signaled to the guide that I had a slight worry, and we ascended to the surface again (we had only reached 3 meters), assessing the situation. 

As the tank is new and probably full, we swim to the boat and hand the gear over to the crew. The crew checked everything and changed my regulator set, as that may be the source of the error. 

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. 

Nature dive smiling at the camera

The second dive is less about exploring the coral reef and more about 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).

It constantly changes its focus so the environment looks like a wavy golden fan 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.

The white water behind the boat in the dark blue sea under the blue clear sky
Boat transport from the dive site

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 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 snapperfish 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). 

Other Fun Tours In The Area To Check Out!

Where Is Cayo Santa Maria Cuba?

This map was created with Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

Cayo Santa Maria Keys in Cuba are a part of a larger archipelago called Jardines del Rey, or The Kings Gardens. 

The others are Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas, which are interconnected to the main island of Cuba by a pedraplen, or a road-bridge combination. 

This island triplet is located around 3-4 hours east of Havana and just over an hour’s 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. 

The several miles long paved pedraplen crossing the sea from mainland Cuba to Cayo Santa Maria
The pedraplen crossing to Cayo Santa Maria

Wide roads crisscross the islands, with exits to secluded entrances of the large, all-inclusive hotels. These are the only building complexes on the islands, which all border 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. 

From here, you can go deep-sea fishing, take a day trip on a catamaran, visit the delfinario, or, like me today, go scuba diving. 

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.

Scuba diving sites are not found just by the paradisiacal keys in Cuba.

Several good diving destinations are in the area of VaraderoBay of Pigs, and even outside of the capital, Havana. Click the links to read my experiences diving in these locations.

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Wrap-Up Cayo Santa Maria Scuba Diving

Heading back to shore after 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. 

Mind you, I only went scuba diving this one day, and there were blue skies and calm waters. There can be “a lot of weather” in these parts, especially in the period from June through October.

My experience was great! 

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