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Do the Dive Drive I

Also Recommended for: Scuba Diving , Hiking/Trekking , Beaches, Cigars & Tobacco, Driving, People

Water, water everywhere: Cuba is a huge island encircled by the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. For explorers, merchants, pirates, and adventurers, the waters surrounding Cuba have always provided opportunities for work and play. Some even found inspiration: Ernest Hemingway, who may have spent more time on Cuban waters than on Cuban soil, wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” based on his experiences here.

Scuba diving really took off in Cuba in the mid-20th century as a way to promote protection of maritime habitats.

As divers are nature lovers in general, this route has been designed to unite the best of Cuba’s natural beauty on land and in the sea. But, as with some of the most memorable Cuban adventures, this one starts in Havana.

Itinerary

Day 1. Welcome to Havana

The arrivals area of José Martí International Airport provides a taste of how Cuba lifts the human spirit: you’ll see Cuban families awaiting, embracing and reuniting with loved ones and ecstatic Cuban émigrés and students returning to their beloved homeland from abroad. In case you have arranged a transfer with us, you will also see Maykeem - our representative - waiting to greet and guide you to your pre-booked taxi or bus.

(Consider a booked transfer; it means you hit the ground running and don’t have to worry about changing money, getting a taxi and negotiating a fare).

Cuba is a destination full of surprises, beginning on the 25-minute drive from the airport to the city center. It’s a refreshingly pastoral ride over lightly trafficked roads bordered by tropical vegetation most of the way to the heart of Havana and to Havana's seafront promenade ¨El Malecón¨.

Although close, Hotel Terral is not in Havana Vieja, the colonial heart of Havana, but fits well with this dive drive for its maritime character and impressive sea views.

Other Travel Ideas focus more extensively on what to do in this intriguing city; for this trip, however, Havana functions as a setting off point.

• Travel Suggestion: If you want to hit the road early, consider picking up your rental car in the afternoon of your first day around 04.00pm. Then, you can take off immediately after breakfast the next day. (Prepare a small lunch box). Alternatively, you can pick up your car in the morning of your second day, but it means hitting the road later.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Terral  4  from US$209

Morris Garage MG5

Day 1. Welcome to Havana

Day 2. Havana - Las Terrazas - Viñales (approx. 180km)

After breakfast, head out of town on the highway (A4) towards Pinar del Río (A4). You’ll drive an hour, more or less, on this wide, almost traffic-free highway, before seeing the turnoff to Las Terrazas (at Km 52.5). Turn right here and you’ll head into the impressive Sierra del Rosario, an area of 25,000ha with tropical forests, plants, and wild orchids (declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO). The region is a nature lover’s delight – consider drinking a cup of coffee in the quaint village of Las Terrazas or going for a walk or hike.

See more about Las Terrazas

Carrying on further west, the first part of the highway (monotonous in its way) becomes more interesting, with cultivated fields and a wooden homestead here and there. On the approach to Pinar del Río, a small, peaceful provincial town with classic architecture, the landscape turns hilly and green.

After Pinar del Río city, the road winds towards Viñales. The scenery is stunning: the bright green tobacco fields here are flanked by fertile, vermilion earth and interspersed with dark green cedars and towering palm trees. Meanwhile, farmers plow fields with oxen alongside iconic tobacco drying houses watched over by majestic "mogotes"; the characteristic karst formations giving this area its unique charm. You can take it all in from your balcony at Los Jazmines.

See more about Vinales

We recommend:

Hotel Los Jazmines  3  from US$74

Day 2. Havana - Las Terrazas - Viñales (approx. 180km)

Day 3. Cruising to Cayo Levisa (Viñales - Cayo Levisa approx. 50km)

Early or late start: it’s your choice, since access to beautiful Cayo Levisa is by boat transfer from the Palma Rubia seaport with three daily departures at 10.00am, 02.00 and 6.00pm. (Tickets are included if you have made a reservation for Hotel Cayo Levisa, otherwise they can be purchased on location - cost CUC 15.00 per person/one way, subject to change).

The distance from Viñales is only 50km. Heading north, you’ll pass Rancho San Vicente, La Palma and Manuel Sanguily before reaching the little harbor of Palma Rubia, from where the ferry leaves. The car will stay here at a guarded parking lot.

The 35 minute boat trip is a pleasant journey with wonderful views of sea and mangroves before your destination – a speck of pearl white sand – comes into sight.

If you’re anxious to dig your toes into the sand and splash in the temperate blue waters, take the morning (10.00am) ferry. Alternatively, you can explore Viñales at your leisure, going for a walk, hike or horseback ride and hop on the 06.00pm ferry. The day trippers will have left the island by the time you arrive – just in time for dinner.

Hotel Cayo Levisa (the only construction on the island) is a true paradise for lovers of nature and nautical sports, especially scuba diving and snorkeling.

See more about Cayo Levisa

We recommend:

Hotel Cayo Levisa  2  from US$142

Day 3. Cruising to Cayo Levisa (Viñales - Cayo Levisa approx. 50km)

Day 4. Cayo Levisa Dive or Laze

With 5,476 km of coastline and over 4,000 small islands, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and is considered a diving paradise. The reasons why are no secret: the waters are crystal-clear with favorable temperatures all year round, and underwater visibility is typically 30m. What’s more, the coral reefs and numerous offshore islands (cayos) here block strong currents from reaching the coast. These are perfect conditions for appreciating the plentiful, multicolored underwater flora and fauna.

Cayo Levisa is part of the Archipiélago de los Colorados. The coral reef off the coast is inhabited by more than 120 species of fish, 200 species of sponges and many other marine animals.

Here, there’s no truer slogan than “life’s a beach and then you dive”.

From this beach, the daily dive/snorkel boat leaves at 11.30am. Reservations can be made at the hotel desk and international diving center. Scuba divers can choose to explore one or more of Cayo Levisa’s 23 dive sites. If lying on the beach is more your speed, you have three kilometers of white, shell-strewn beach fronting a boundless turquoise sea to choose from.
Excursions are also available to Playa Punta Arenas, where there’s a colony of starfish.

See more about Cayo Levisa

We recommend:

Hotel Cayo Levisa  2  from US$142

Day 4. Cayo Levisa  Dive or Laze

Day 5. Bay of Pigs (Palma Rubia - Playa Larga approx. 309km)

The return ferry from Cayo Levisa leaves daily at 09.00am (and at 12.20 and 05.00pm).
Once ashore in Palma Rubia, take the main road east to Bahia Honda, continuing to Mariel - Guanajay (where it becomes the Autopista A1). Skirt Havana’s periphery, staying on the highway (A1); Autopista Nacional, also designated as just "Nacional".
You’ll soon enter Matanzas province, a rather flat area, characterized by sugarcane fields and mills.

You’ll be forgiven if you feel like you’re King of the Road driving on the Autopista Nacional, where traffic can be non-existent.
Keep going until Jagüey Grande, where you’ll turn right, passing Guamá, before continuing to Playa Larga or Playa Girón, (34 kilometers further south) both on the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs).

Scuba divers of all levels come here for the superlative diving (and snorkeling). These are shore dives – dozens of them – negating the need for (and additional cost of) boats.

Halfway between Playa Girón and Playa Larga is Cueva de los Peces. Teeming with an impressive variety of tropical fish, this is a cenote – a geological formation created when the roof of an underground river collapses.

Playa Girón became famous when it was the site of the ill-fated, American-backed landing in 1961.

Hotel Playa Larga (Continental Plan) and Playa Girón (All-Inclusive) are basic two and three star hotels respectively, originally built for local recreation, before the influx of international tourists. For prestigious and luxurious hotels, you’re better off heading to Varadero, in the north of Matanzas province.

See more about Bay of Pigs

We recommend:

Hotel Playa Girón  3  from US$68 --> US$54

Hotel Playa Larga  2  from US$74 --> US$54

Day 5. Bay of Pigs (Palma Rubia - Playa Larga approx. 309km)

Day 6. Diving in the Bay of Pigs

The Peninsula Zapata - locally referred to as Ciénaga de Zapata - has become one of Cuba’s foremost dive destinations. It’s no surprise: the conditions for both diving and snorkeling off the Ciénaga de Zapata coast are considered to be among the island’s best.

There are 11 dive sites, all accessible from land, negating the need for a boat and rendering dives more affordable. Ciénaga de Zapata is a perfect destination for multilevel dives, as you descend slowly from the coast to depths of 30 meters or more. Depending on the duration and maximum depth of your dives, multiple immersions can be made in one day. Underwater visibility ranges between 25 and 30 meters. Average land temperatures in the summer are 32 degrees, 27 degrees Celsius in the winter.

Without exception, these dive centers employ qualified staff with years of professional experience. Each dive instructor is accredited by at least one of the major international diving associations like SSI, ACUC, or CMAS. Dive excursions are generally offered in Spanish, English, French, Italian and Russian.

See more about Bay of Pigs

We recommend:

Hotel Playa Girón  3  from US$68 --> US$54

Hotel Playa Larga  2  from US$74 --> US$54

Day 6. Diving in the Bay of Pigs

Day 7. Options

Here our detailed itinerary guidance ends, since independent travelers always have a bucket list from which they pluck and design their own adventures.

Maybe you’re ready to laze on a classically gorgeous Caribbean beach or are itching to immerse yourself in Havana’s history and culture. If it’s the former, may we suggest Hotel Royal Hicacos, an all-inclusive paradise in Varadero, including Scuba Dive facilities. See more about Hotel Royal Hicacos

Regardless of your preference – city or beach – you’ll have to return to Jagüey Grande. From there you can decide to go straight north to the beaches of Varadero, turn west to Havana, or keep on driving east to Santa Clara, Remedios and Caibarién from where the 48 km causeway starts towards Cayo Santa María.

Upon arrival, you can drop your car at the rental office in your chosen destination. We hope you enjoy your stay wherever you end up finalizing your trip, but you may want to plan ahead your transfer to the airport.

See more about Cayo Santa María
See more about Old Havana

See more about Bay of Pigs

Day 7. Options
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