Cuba, a fast-growing tourist destination in the Caribbean region, boasts one-of-a-kind attractions, including the breathtaking underwater beauty that surrounds the island nation.
The Cuban archipelago, which is in an enviable geographic location, has more than 70,000 kilometer of marine platform and some 5,000 kilometers of coastline.
Nearly 6,500 varieties of fish, crustaceans, sponges and mollusks, as well as many species of corals, turn the Caribbean Island into one of the region's best-preserved marine ecosystems.
About 30 diving centers operate in the country, where vacationers can take initiation courses and dive in coral reefs and caverns, following international standards for that sports activity.
Diving enthusiasts also benefit from an average water temperature of more than 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), and a horizontal visibility of about 30 meters.
In Cuba's westernmost province, Pinar del Río, the International Diving Center at María La Gorda offers up to 40 diving sites and one of the largest colonies of black corals in the island.
In addition, another 32 diving sites await divers in an area between the Bay of Matanzas and the western end of Jardines del Rey (King's Gardens). That zone includes very attractive sites such as the Ojo del Mégano cavern and the Cayo Piedras del Norte Marine Park, which is the only one of its kind in the Cuban archipelago.
Moreover, there are unique coral reefs off the south coast of Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), where vacationers can enjoy the natural wonders of the Punta Francés National Marine Park.
In Punta Francés, tourists can dive in 56 sites, many of which are inhabited by large colonies of corals and sponges. That zone also offers caves, passages and tunnels.
Experts have noted the spectacular beauty of such diving sites as Pared de Coral Negro, Túnel del Amor, Cueva Azul, El Pasaje Escondido, Cueva de los Sábalos, Piedra de Coral, El Salto, Ancla del Pirata, Paraíso de las Levisas and Pequeño Reino.
Besides, the flooded caves in Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp) are excellent for cave diving, while the world-famous six-meter-tall coral column known as Notre Dame, because it resembles the cathedral of the same name in France, is in the central province of Cienfuegos.
The world's second largest coral reef, which runs for 400 kilometers parallel to the keys Sabinal, Guajaba, Romano and Cruz, gets closer to Cuba's north coast in Santa Lucía beach. The coral reef is a safe haven for 200 species of sponges, 500 of fish and even the remains of 27 sunken ships.
Also in eastern Cuba are the beaches Esmeralda and Guardalavaca, where water sports are combined with underwater activities and tourist can visit the Bahía de Naranjo Natural Park.
In Santiago de Cuba, divers can visit the area where the Spanish fleet sank in the late 19th century.