Discover Cuban Diving and Culture (May 2017)
Cuba Travel Details, May 20 – 27, 2017 (SOLD OUT!)
Two and a half hours drive southeast from Cuba’s Capital city, Havana, is a tranquil beach town made famous by the failed American attempt to ”rescue” a nation known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion—Playa Giron. This very beach is also one of Cuba’s top scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. Clear, calm, and warm Caribbean waters offer coral outcrops, ship wrecks, abysmal sea walls, and cave dives. The main all-inclusive resort where we are staying, the Hotel Playa Giron, is situated directly on the beach, and just five minutes’ walk to the famous Playa Los Cocos beach. (map)
As an educational non-profit organization, Learn Scuba Chicago (LSC) was granted travel rights to Cuba for the purposes of assessing local diving reef conditions and existing conservation practices. Findings and recommendations will be shared with the local scuba industry in anticipation of an expected mass increase in scuba tourism given the recent availability to the American market.
The Bay of Pigs is a deep water bay. The water temperature is comfortable and shows little surf. Shore entry can be a little tricky. There is a gradual descent for about a hundred yards into about 40 feet, then a sudden wall drop. Visibility is excellent. There is plenty of life including lion fish, grouper, eels, rays, anemones.
Capt Bob Huff, LSC Founder
Rick Correa, LSC Board of Directors
Traveling in Cuba is like stepping back in time—the prevalence of old American cars makes you feel like you walked onto a movie set of the Happy Days. You will be surrounded by Fords, GMs and even Chryslers from the 40s, 50s and 60s. There will be many other cars around – but the majority of the cars on the road—working –are older than most of our divers! Some are in mint condition – inside and out, most are nicer on the outside than the inside. All of them make great photos.
On the flip side, the image created of Cuba in the movies of a developing nation is exaggerated. From my observations, Cuba is a third world, underdeveloped, country. As we traveled, we were surprised to find no “middle class’’ as we know it. There is poor and very poor. Some of the shacks you will pass do not have indoor plumbing. We have found you nice accommodations, but they are far from the luxurious villas that we usually secure. You will have air conditioning, king or twin sized beds, a full bathroom with hot water, and 110V outlets.
- PLANNING: The pre-trip meetings are March 28 and April 1st to discuss the details of the trip, answer questions, and set expectations. It is mandatory that all participants attend at least one of these meetings.
- GEAR: Plan on bringing your own scuba gear including a BCD, dive computer, regulator, mask, scuba-fins, snorkel, safety signal sausage, and optional wetsuit. LSC will rent BCD, regulator & shorty wetsuit package ($150 weekly rate) to anyone interested in postponing the purchase of their equipment. Functioning dive computers are required on each and every dive. Divers should be able to demonstrate they know how to use their dive computer at the pre-trip meeting(s). No computer, no diving (but snorkeling is beautiful!) *Jan 15-May 20 buy a dive computer from LSC, get a free rashguard (valued at $55). LSC matches online prices on gear of the same make/model.
- PHONE SERVICE: Communications from Cuba to the United States is restricted. There are no American cellular service companies like Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. This means there is no free access to placing phone calls and texting. Public phone service requires the purchase of prepaid phone cards.
- INTERNET: Our hotel indicates that it has Internet access, however, country wide, access to the Internet is also restricted and available only in public areas and at a rate of approximately $5 for 60 minutes of online time. Services like Gmail and Hotmail are monitored by the state, although Facebook should work, and we believe Skype also works.
- THE HOTEL: Has 287 cabins on the beach. The chalets are colorful, though rather basic with functional furnishing. All including air conditioner, safe & satellite TV. The chalets are old & need renovation but they are spacious & well looked after by friendly maids.
- AIRFARE: Air travel arrangements are the responsibility of each diver. Air transportation to Havana, Cuba is or will be available through Southwest Air, Delta, American Airlines, and other international airlines by searching Cheap Air.
- CURRENCY: Plan on bringing cash for incidental payments of food, gifts, and drinks. Although news outlets such as CNN Money indicate that American Express and MasterCard credit cards are or will be accepted in Cuba, the US Embassy in Havana says they are not.
- There are two Cuban currencies. $CUC for tourists, and $CUP for Cubans. The US dollar is also often accepted and less valuable than the CUC – so a price change may occur. Currently, $1 US is equal to $0.95 CUC.
- TIPPING: Not required, but not uncommon. Any amount will be appreciated. We encourage you to leave a little something for housekeeping and the dive staff who accompany us on all dives. Small gifts such as “American brand” key-chains, stickers, and T-shirts are also very well received.
Please align your travel plans to arrive at the Jose Marin International Airport in Havana, Cuba between noon and 2:00 PM Eastern time. We have a 2.5 to 3 hour journey by bus to the south side of the island, and want to arrive in time for dinner. The LSC package includes meals, drinks, and local transportation. The cabana style hotel is located on the beach. A short distance up the beach is palm tree lined Playa Los Cocos beach with unobstructed views of the horizon.
Sunday (May 21, 2017)
Divers will begin the day with a one tank shore dive by the resort. A second tank dive is planned at night. Your LSC package includes two tanks for the day, but additional tanks are available for $25. During the day, we recommend winding down and relaxing. Guests may visit the beaches, wander around the village, and lay by the pool. It’s worth taking in some of the region’s famous history.
Monday (May 22, 2017)
We will hop on the bus and join our resort based dive team for a dive from a different shore. On the way back we will stop for a second dive at an open cave. Depending on your nitrogen level, a second tank at the cave can be added for $40.
Tuesday (May 23, 2017)
We drive to the Wall today. Unfortunately only 10 divers can participate in today’s dive as we will be renting a small outboard engine rowboat to take five of us to the wall. (Only advanced divers who are physically fit qualify to join us on this dive. The physical challenge will be to climb back onto the rowboat in a wet suit—something we don’t often have a need to practice in Chicago. Weights must be integrated into your BCD.) The second group of five will do a shallow dive that leads back to shore. Shore diving is available to the remainder of our divers, although snorkeling is more prevalent at this location.
The rest of the travelers will spend their day resting by the shores of the nature park which includes a natural pool, snorkeling, all you can eat and drink (optional $15), beach combing, and a beautiful atmosphere. Check out the pictures! And after a well-deserved siesta, we will dive in the waters around the bay that night.
Wednesday (May 24, 2017)
Similar to our schedule on Monday, we will join our dive guides nearby our resort. There are about 20 different shore diving launch points in the vicinity. We will hit different spots each day, then either do a cave dive or a night dive.
Thursday (May 25, 2017)
FREE DAY! If you want to return to the water, simply organize a few friends to get involved, and Capt Bob will send you in one of our vans with one of a crew member. This side of the country does not offer tour buses yet, but a car rental business sits steps away. Today is a good day to sit back and relax.
Friday (May 26, 2017)
Today we say goodbye to Hotel Playa Giron and head back northwest to Havana. The departure time is 8:30 AM. We will spend a night at the famous Hotel Plaza in Havana in the historic district near the Museum of Fine Arts, the Bar Floridita, the Capitolio, Central Park and more of Havana’s top sights. You are welcome to book a tour or grab a buddy and simply go explore. Please do not wander out alone. Friday afternoon is entirely yours to do with as you wish, and after the day, we will meet for the traditional end of trip meeting and dinner.
Saturday (May 27, 2017)
We have scheduled one shuttle to the airport to leave at 8:00 AM and arrive by 9:00 AM. If you want to stay on in Cuba, you are on your own.
NOTIFICATION AS OF October 30, 2016: This Trip to Cuba is Sold Out. Please contact Sera at LSC (773) 599-3483 to submit down payment for the July 2017.
(For double-occupancy the fee is slightly reduced per person, $1,500). Since most Cuban dive excursions are live aboard based, the average costs for one week is exceedingly more expensive, $3,900 to $5,000. We think this dive package will sell out, so please secure your place on the roster by contacting Learn Scuba Chicago today.