Bay of Pigs, Zapata Peninsula, Cuba
The Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) got its name from the failed military invasion by a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group in 1961.
What to see: Tropical fish, coral, some wrecks and cenotes (sinkholes) with haloclines between the top freshwater layer and the saltwater below
Diving: Most dive sites can be accessed from shore, the cenotes are located inland
Level: From entry-level in the ocean. Through its sheltered location the bay is calm and the visibility is usually amazing. For more experienced divers the cenotes might be interesting. Make sure that the guides do not take you inside of any caves or narrow tunnels where no more light from outside is visible. For all other caves a special cave diving training is required.
Who should go there: New divers to enjoy amazing visibility and calm seas without strong currents. For the cenotes experienced divers who want to try something new or cave divers to explore part of the 70 km of tunnels stretching under the Zapata Peninsula.
How to get there: Flight to Havanna and transfer, rental car (around 2 1/2 hours) or bus (3 1/2 hours, 13 CUC (1 CUC = 1 USD)) to Playa Larga or Playa Girón. It is also possible to visit on a day trip from Varadero.
Where to stay: At a „Casa Particular“ (Cuban version of Bed and Breakfast, CUC 20 to 30) or one of the hotels Horizontes Playa Larga and Hotel Playa Girón. The hotels are more expensive (CUC 30 to 60) and the food is way better at the Casas.
Where to dive: Both hotels do have dive shops, it is possible to dive with them while staying at a Casa Particular. One dive shop is located in Caleta Buena. It is also possible to find private guides or to have the owners of the Casa organizing a dive guide. One option is the Playa Girón Casa. Most hotels, dive shops and Casas on Cuba still do not have homepages. I would recommend to just get to the Bay of Pigs and then organize everything from there.
Rates: Around CUC 25 to 30 per dive
Climate: Up to 26°C in winter, 32°C in summer. Rainy season from May till October. Hurricane season June to September
Water temperature: 29°C in summer, 24°C in winter
Visibility: 20 to 40 m
Season: Diving is possible all year round, best time is between October and May.
I traveled around Cuba by bus and hopped off in Playa Girón. I stayed at a Casa Particular for CUC 12 as it was low season and all the Casa owners were looking for guests. The owners set me up with a dive shop to plan the diving.
I was not happy with the safety procedures at the dive shop. They took too many divers per instructor on a try dive (DSD) in the ocean. Some of the non-certified guests went as deep as 12 m during their first dive.
On another dive our guide took three of us to a cenote. He took us way too far into the cave while one of the divers was struggling with his buoyancy. The guide was diving with recreational equipment and did not bring any backups (like torches). I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous that was. I only learned about cavern and cave diving when I visited the cenotes in Mexico and later became a cave diver.
Make sure not to swim into the tunnels if you are not a certified cave diver with proper equipment. You are fine to enter large rooms where you can still see the sunlight.
The ocean diving was alright with good visibility, a small wreck, some colorful fish and coral.