Discover Maria La Gorda, Cuba (February 2018)

Historically, Maria La Gorda was once a Caribbean pirates’ base, and pretty Maria was their host and attendant. She cooked, served drinks, cared for injured pirates, and comforted the gloomy… As she allegedly was a bit fat, she was called Fat Mary (Maria la Gorda). When she died, she was buried under the tallest palm in the bay, and as a token of their gratitude, the pirates put a magnificent treasure in the grave alongside her body. Although there were many attempts to uncover the treasure, it was never found—and who knows, it may still be waiting for you…

Diving the Guanahacabibes Peninsula

Even if you don’t unearth pirate treasure, it doesn’t mean you won’t discover great fortune—the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, the home of Maria La Gorda, is one of Cuba’s greatest natural treasures. This area of nearly 125,000 acres is a national park, and designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The coral world below the water’s surface and countryside around the coast are one of the most beautiful areas in Cuba.

Captain Bob Huff, Learn Scuba Chicago (LSC) founder, course director and master diver, travelled to Maria La Gorda after the July 2017 LSC trip to scout the area. He reported that the diving was incredible with large schools of fish, sharks, rays, barracuda, eels and more. There were grouper and yellowfin tuna. Dozens of dive sites with depths up to 120-feet line the natural bay. The reef was spectacular with lots of swim-through opportunities.

The resort has a long beautiful white sandy beach and offers deep-sea fishing, kayaking and sailing. There is a massage parlor, sand volleyball court, life size chess board and ping pong table to help keep you entertained while out of the water. Unlike Playa Giron, this resort is ideal to host the non-diving spouse or partner for the trip.

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.

 

The Particulars – 8 Days, 7 Nights

You should plan to meet your colleagues at Havana International Airport at 2:00 PM on February 17. On your return flight home, please plan an afternoon flight on February 24 as the LSC bus will arrive at the airport at 11:00 AM. (You are welcome to arrive to Cuba earlier in the week and stay later. Capt Bob will plans to arrive one day early, on Friday, February 16, and depart one or two days later, on Sunday or Monday.)

Learn Scuba Chicago is a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit organization authorized to travel to Cuba. Our two philanthropic activities will be 1) Gift Giving. We will ask participants to obtain and bring some supplies off a list of approved items to give to the local Cuban families (the list will include OTC medicines, pencils and pens, and toys for children), and 2) Lionfish extraction. We will help control invasive species.

Lionfish in the Caribbean

Like most of the Caribbean, Cuba has been invaded by the Indo-Pacific Lionfish, an invasive predator with great destructive capabilities. All travelers will be trained on how to identify and mark lionfish found on the reefs. Those interested will be taught how to properly and safely extract and then feed the lionfish to local potential predators. You are not required to become a hunter, but if you choose to learn how to extract, you are encouraged to buy the proper tools (spear and knife/scissors) and bring them to Cuba. If you can afford it, you are also encouraged to leave your tools in Cuba with one of the dive guides that will work with you during the week.

  • PLANNING: We have scheduled a mandatory travel planning meetings at the shop the week of January 23, 2018 at 7:oo PM.  We will schedule one or two meetings to best accommodate all our travelers. If necessary, you can remote in by Skype, but in-person attendance is better.
  • DIVE COMPUTERS: 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.  Unfortunately, without a dive computer, you cannot dive with LSC (but snorkeling is beautiful!) LSC matches online prices on all gear of the same make/model.
  • 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. Gear rental at the resort will cost extra, and although the gear looks suitable, it has not been tested. LSC matches online prices on all 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.
  • AIRFARE: Air travel arrangements are the responsibility of each diver. Air transportation to Havana, Cuba is 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 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: Tipping is not expected, 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.

February 17, Sunday – Arrive at Havana International Airport; shuttle to hotel
February 18, Monday – Two-tank dive excursion
February 19, Tuesday – Flexible dive schedule
February 20, Wednesday – Flexible dive schedule
February 21, Thursday – Flexible dive schedule
February 22, Friday – Flexible dive schedule
February 23, Saturday – Check-out of hotel; return to Havana
February 24, Sunday – Fly home

Learn Scuba Chicago will offer three dive packages (eight, ten, and fifteen dives). Airport shuttle, local transport, hotel, and breakfast are included with all packages. Air flight tickets, lunches and dinners are not included in the packages. The resort has a seaside restaurant, and a buffet table serving lunch and dinner for $15 CUC. We encourage our guests to pack snacks and drink.

You can customize your dive activities to fit your lifestyle. The resort offers single tank boat dives at 8:00 AM, 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM daily. You can pick which days and times that you want to dive. LSC will coordinate two night dives, and lion fish identification, marking and extraction training (sorry, extraction tools not included.)

Prices Per Person

Double Occupancy: If you are coming with a friend, partner or spouse, your prices are here.

8 Dives: $1,845
10 Dives: $1,920
15 Dives: $2,108

Single Occupancy: If you are coming alone, your prices are here.

8 Dives: $2,181
10 Dives: $2,256
15 Dives: $2,444

Package includes:

  • Seven nights hotel accommodations
  • Breakfast
  • Beverages
  • Local transportation
  • Eight to fifteen dives

Package Does NOT include:

  • Flight to Cuba and home
  • Entry visa (purchased at Cuban airport upon arrival = $30
  • Lunches and Dinner
  • Gratuities
  • Dive Gear
  • Optional excursions
  • Departure tax