The practice of diving is one of the most popular activities within the wide range of recreational options offered by the island of Cuba. From Havana to the most exotic cays, it provides 5,700 kilometers of coastline and a place to dive in almost every one of them.
In addition, if we add the nearly 4,200 islets, the Caribbean island becomes a paradise without equal for lovers of the sea.
The fact that Cuba lies on a large coral reef automatically makes it one of the best places in the world to dive.
This is why the archipelago attracts thousands of divers each year, especially for its light tides and the fact that there are no strong currents.
Any time of the year is favorable, as the tropical climate and an average water temperature of 26 degrees make it the ideal setting for brand new lycra or swimsuits only three millimeters thick.
But ... what if, in addition to enjoying the wonderful experience of diving, we could delve into the history of sunken ships?
An dive in history
The mixture of history, nature and enjoyment make up a trio that adrenaline seekers in the aquatic environment cannot reject. Precisely this experience is offered by the beaches of the northern coastal area of Havana, known as Playas del Este, specifically those of Bacuranao and Boca Ciega, located 15 km and 25 km respectively from the capital.
Although there are many perfect places for diving in Cuba, the aforementioned spots offer many advantages. Among them the proximity to the capital, since any traveler who goes to the island for a short time will also have the opportunity to practice scuba diving without getting too far from Havana. And the historical component is an addition to consider.
The field trip on a sunken ship offers the charm of coming into direct contact with the remnants of history. The ruins of a ship keep the memory of those who inhabited it; and they allow the explorer to dive into it and become, for a few moments, a marine archaeologist.
Underwater features increase the appeal of the trip. The edge of the marine platform is surrounded by coral reefs where you can find countless tropical fish, crustaceans, sponges and starfish.
From Havana to the "SS Olivette" or the "City of Alexandria"
The trip is made enjoyable due to the landscape offered by the north coast of Havana. The sea breeze accompanies the entire journey, and the enthusiasm for the trip is the component that stimulates the desire to arrive.
Depending on the climate and the abilities of the travelers, we decide wich beach to go. Both with crystal clear waters and fine sand, they retain the charm of their respective sunken ships. After diving we will enter the history of the shipwrecks, which occurred a century ago.
A brief talk will allow the traveler to enter the context which he/she will later feel with their own hands. In an incredible natural-historical adventure, you will be able to see how the “City of Alexandria” was launched from the shipyards in Chester, Pennsylvania, in the year 1879. It transported passengers and cargo from New York to Havana and other places in Cuba.
And on this date, it suffered a serious fire that quickly expanded due to his load of brandy. His shipwreck was due to dynamite charges that had been hidden in the ship.
Once we dive we can appreciate its three sections, of which the stern has become a refuge for various species of fish and an ideal surface for the development of corals, hydrozoans, vivalves, sponges and algae.
Already mastering the historical component we will get down to work. Firstly on the beach we will do physical exercises to warm our bodies and we will discuss the safety rules at sea.
We will check the comfort of all travelers with marine activities, since safety is an absolute priority. If necessary, we will teach basic freediving techniques, and then we will swim 350/700 meters - depending on the boat - on the coral reef, until we reach the sunken ship, with depths between three and twelve meters respectively.
On the way you can enjoy the seabed and its life in the transparent Caribbean waters. And for lovers of underwater photography, this is the ideal moment to take the most intrepid snapshots of both the boat and the marine fauna and flora.
Sometimes, due to the transparency of the sea, the remains of the boats can be seen from the surface. This is the right moment where we can train freediving, although there is normally perfect visibility from the surface.
Then begins the adventure in the depths, which becomes a fascinating navigation through cozy natural lodges. There they will find that perfect balance between flora, fauna, caverns and sunken ships inhabited by lots of different fishes.
The communion between man and nature is summed up in these shipwrecks. They are boats buried forever in the flattened mud bottoms that propitiate that great plurality of species that coexist in all that area of sand and shallow clay.
Undoubtedly, you will discover a charming place, with large sandy dunes, full of coconut trees and grapes, where a healthy and pleasant climate predominates.
Returning from paradise
History lovers and ecological friendly tourists will enjoy this unspoiled spot.
In addition to having the accompaniment of a guide who will guide you throughout the tour, you can taste the delights of the sea in a restaurant where the house specialty is local seafood.
After an intense physical and emotional day, enjoying a meal by the sea, made by locals and with the authentic marine flavor, becomes the finishing touch for the excursion. Outdoor activities, good company and a good atmosphere summarize an intense day where part of the coral reef, the best preserved ecosystem in the country, becomes the protagonist.
Returning is always an option, hence it is not surprising that we have not yet left and we are already thinking about when to return.
Julienne López Hernández
Degree in History of Art