Scuba diving in Varadero Cuba

Magnificent Scuba Diving In Varadero In Beautiful Cuba (2024)!

Cuba is home to the third-longest coral reef in the world, behind the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Reef, which makes scuba diving in Varadero (and other places) in Cuba a great holiday adventure.

As a PADI advanced diver, I have been scuba diving here several times in the last few years, and I really enjoy it.

There are two distinct archipelagos in Cuban territorial waters, with gorgeous coral reefs between the thousands of little keys off the main island. These are the Jardin de la Reina, the Queen’s Garden, and the Jardines del Rey, the Gardens of the King.

When you go scuba diving in Cuba, you will find anything from deep drop-offs over stunning voids, wall diving, cave dives, night dives, deep dives, nature and reef dive spots, and fun wreck diving sites on sunken ships.

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

Divine Scuba Diving In Varadero

Aerial photo of the Varadero peninsula, stretching into the Atlantic Ocean. The west side is just one long white sandy beach, with high-end luxury resorts dotted like beads on a chain.
Varadero Peninsula

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.

Scuba diver hovering over the sandy botton in Varadero Cuba

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Its fabulous counterpart, Jardines de la Reina (named after the wife of the king and, 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.

The Garden of the King is along the northern shores east of Varadero and outside Matanzas Bay. It is one of the absolute best places to explore the fantastic marine life off the coast of Cuba.

And it is only a couple of oval hours’ drive from Havana!

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

Varadero Is A National Park

Diver ready to exit from the boat outside Varadero, on a bright sunny summer day with Varadero beach in the background.
Dive boat in Varadeo

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 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 Cuba’s marine environment.

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, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Keys like Cayo Santa Maria. 

While scuba diving in Varadero, first of all, you will find the surroundings stunning. You have white sands, blue seas, colorful reefs, and a laid-back atmosphere throughout the whole experience. 

Read more about Varadero in general at the end of this article!

Me all kitted up on the boat in Varadero ready to exit, smiling at the camera.
Ready to go diving

Atlantis Center Scuba Diving In Varadero

For this diving day, I 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.

As the Atlantis scuba Diving center is located right at the beach, I actually arrive in my slippers and swimsuit, all ready to go! 

This 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 area.

Feeling safe, I am able to fully enjoy the diving site and the beauty of the submarine world.

Dive gear ready and prepped at the dive center on Varadero Beach
Dive gear

After registering with my travel insurance and credentials as a recreational diver, we found equipment that fit me, conducted the test of everything, and got ready.

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 ten people, all internationals, with two Cuban dive guides who will lead us through the dives today. 

What are you going to do in Varadero?

Things To Know About Scuba Diving Tours In Cuba

Our dive boat for the day appeared in the soft waves, and we entered the shallow 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 one of the Caribbean islands).

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. 

The dive group seated at the aft of the boat waiting for the all clear to exit the blue water outside.
The group ready to go

However, this is not always the case. 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. However, your Cuban friends can not come diving with you from a boat, as boats are off-limits for Cubans in general. 

However, today’s guides all have their permits in order, and we are heading out to the coral reef, the first dive destination of the day!  

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 area 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!

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.

As we exit, we gather around the anchor line and descend together to around 20 meters, where the coral reef starts. The water is still almost tepid, and the visibility is very good. 

We explored 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.

Scuba diver swimming past a coral reef outside Varadero peninsula
Diving in Varadero

There were shoals of fish everywhere, a wide variety of species, all very curious and vibrant.  

It’s truly a super dive, with lovely coral reefs, lots of marine life, great biodiversity, and little sun-kissed caves and rocks to explore where the non-swimming marine animals hide. 

After the dive, we discovered that the other small group of divers 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

Brown wooden walkway to exit from the Varadero dive center to the beach. You see the beach and the sea at the other end of the walkway, warm white sands and blue seas and sky.
Exit from the dive center to the beach

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. 

What are you going to do in Cuba?

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 tropical fish species and creatures are everywhere, going about their business. Personally, I really like these kinds of dives.

Tropical fish swimming around a coral reef in the sea outside Varadero Cuba.
Coral reef fish

It’s not very challenging, but you can dazzle along in the sunlight from above and enjoy the surroundings totally relaxed and with very little time restraint! 

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.

Coral reefs in the sea outside Varadero, a diver in the upper right corner of the photo.

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 book for you.

Also, your host at your Casa Particular, a private home rental, will be able to assist you with booking. But remember that even if you have pre-planned everything, the weather may hampered your plans.

You will always get confirmation from the dive center the night before of whether or not the planned dive trip is on for the next day.

The diving conditions are relatively stable all year round, but there may be some issues in the wet season due to tropical thunderstorms that affect visibility and currents.

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 is probably 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. 

What are you going to do in Cuba?

Expect to pay cash for your dive trip, as smart little payment devices (and connections) are scarce. Remember to pay in Euro, US, or Canadian dollars, 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 Cuban holiday. 

You can read everything about Money in Cuba here.

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 can find on the peninsula. 

A group of divers waiting to leave from the red wooden hut that is home to the scuba diving center on Varadero Beach
Scuba diving center on the beach

Varadero Is On The Hicacos Peninsula

Varadero is a small city, a village even, in Matanzas Province. It 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 many Casa Particulares available in the charming Varadero town.

Casa Particulares are way cheaper than the resorts and are super charming Cuban houses, also right next to the beach – but of course, they 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.

Catamaran tour in Varadero, a white beautiful catamaran on the bluish green water and a group of snorkelers swimming around the boat.
Catamaran tour in Varadero

The waters outside the Hicacos Peninsula are a haven for scuba divers. They are surrounded by calm waters that maintain a temperature of about 24 degrees almost all 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.

What are you going to do in Cuba?

The larger resort areas like Varadero, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Santa Maria, are more likely to have up-to-date diving equipment than places in less-touristy neighborhoods.

The reasons for this are that money and the economy are constant issues in Cuba, as well as the lack of access to equipment and spare parts due to the sanctions imposed on the country.

FAQs Scuba Diving In Varadero

Does Cuba Have Good Scuba Diving?

Yes, there are plenty of great scuba diving sites in Cuba, and a variety of diving categories are available.

Does Varadero Have Good Snorkeling?

Yes, you will find a lot of great snorkeling sites (and boat tours to take you there) in Varadero.

Wrap-Up Scuba Diving In Varadero

There is no reason to wait; the reef outside Varadero is possibly the best place to go diving (and snorkeling) in Cuba. 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 by going scuba diving in Varadero, even for non-certified divers. The diving centers on the peninsula will offer you a safe and fun introduction dive (after pool lessons, but without hours of theory).

What better place to do that than in these pristine waters, where you have the best visibility and light?

Contact one of the diving centers directly before your trip, or book a scuba diving day or dive packages via your hotel when you get there.

Related blog posts:

Best Things To Do In Cuba Solo By An Expert

Is Female Solo Travel In Cuba Safe? A Local Woman’s Advice

Cuba Trips From US: How To Travel To Cuba From US

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