As a yacht charter destination, the island country of Cuba is hard to beat. Blessed with amazing weather, fantastic amenities and a breathtaking natural landscape, Cuba also delights with a rich cultural heritage. Despite the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in late 2017, Cuba recovered well and eagerly greets visitors to its shores.
When to visit
Cuba has a tropical climate with two seasons. The summer – or wet season – lasts from May to October. The winter – or dry season – runs from November to April. Unsurprisingly the dry season is the most popular with travellers; the wet season also brings with it the risk of hurricanes.
The transitional months are often regarded as the optimum in terms of weather; you escape the risk of heavy rains and the temperatures aren’t at their uncomfortable highest. Between December and February the humidity is low and is accompanied by temperatures of 16 to 20 degrees Celsius.
Cuba’s climate is partially governed by the North Atlantic high pressure zone, the Azores High. The trade winds generate consistent north-easterlies and south-easterlies depending on the time of year. Wind speed hovers around the 5 – 10 kn on an average day.
Going bareboat or crewed
Cuba and its nearby islands pose unique challenges for tourists considering a barebones yacht charter. The tides are low all year round and there are expanses of shallows which can catch out the unwary skipper. Part of the enjoyment of sailing these waters is to be able to visit the surrounding islands. But the distance between them can be over 50 NM, no mean navigational feat for an inexperienced pilot. These points are worth bearing in mind when considering your options.
Whether you opt for a bareboat or crewed yacht charter you have a wide range of vessels to choose from. Bareboat charters include catamarans: Nautitech Open 40, Lagoon 450 and – at the upper price point – the Lagoon 620 and Nautitech 82. If you’re looking for monohulls then the Oceanis 41.1 to Oceanis 44 models may appeal. Crewed options include the Lagoon 620 too, the Dream 60 and the Sunreef 70. A yacht charter aboard a Sun Odyssey 54 DS makes for a great experience. Not only is it very modern and spacious – five cabins and ten berths – it can accommodate ten people overnight which is a great choice for families and large groups.
Docks and marinas
Cuba has many mooring fields dotted around the coast. Around 20 marinas host yacht charters and there are amenities, including sailing services, scuba rental, eateries and schools to cater for your every need. Taking the region as a whole with the archipelagos and you have hundreds of mooring fields to choose from.
Marine wildlife spotting
Cuba has an impressively diverse array of marine life, some 700 species of fish and crustaceans live in its coral reef (Les Jardines de la Reina/Gardens of the Queen). The reef is one of the largest in the world and the waters are protected by law. The fish checklist includes grouper, angel fish, red hind, barracuda, lionfish and yellowtail goatfish. Speaking of fish, Cuba is renowned for its diversity of shark species; over half found in the Caribbean are here. Other animals of interest around the Cuban islands include the West Indian manatee, spiny lobsters and long-spine sea urchins to name but a few. You may be lucky enough to see endangered hawksbill turtles, risso and spinner dolphins and the impressively large whale sharks.
Where to go in Cuba
Aside from the fantastic marine life, the heritage of Cuba is an attraction in itself. It’s a melange of Native American, Latin American, French, Spanish, African and colonial influences. Geographically, the whole coast with its many white sandy beaches and ancient creeks are open to travellers with the exception of the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs). The noted European explorer, Christopher Columbus, is quoted as saying it was the most beautiful land he had ever seen. It’s little wonder that many yacht charter users finish their holiday by stopping off on the island for an extended land-based break. Let’s take a look at some locations to whet your appetite.
As one of the country’s most prosperous cities, Cienfuegos has a thriving tourist industry. It boasts several marinas, the Marlin Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos and the Bella Perla Marina with enough moorings to accommodate 30 to 50 boats.
Jardines de Reina Marine Park
For scuba diving and snorkelling, head east from Cienfuegos to reach this nature reserve. Here you will be awed by Cuba’s amazing biodiversity around this coral reef. There are guided tours ran by well-established diving centres should you wish to benefit from teachers and locals who know where all the best sights are to be found. On the land you’ll see flamingos, pelicans and iguanas too!
Cayo Largo del Sur
If you leave Cienfuegos and head west, you’ll find this small resort island. The popular, long stretches of beach include the Playa Paraiso, Sirena Beach, and Playa mal Tiempo. The Playa mal Tiempo is fun for diving around; there are many species of starfish, rays and even jellyfish to see. There isn’t much in the way of cover so if you are going to sunbathe or spend time on the Playa mal Tiempo sands be sure to use plenty of sun-block and to cover up. The Playa Tortuga is where turtles lay their eggs. There is a turtle conservation centre (Centro de Rescate de Tortugas Marinas) here where you can see baby turtles and learn more about their habitat, lives and ecosystem.
This beautiful beach near the city of Trinidad on Cuba’s southern coast is great to spend half a day. There are rows of free sunshade umbrellas which are essential if you are to enjoy the sun and heat. It’s advisable to wear sea shoes for walking on the beach as the white sand can be a bit rough to go about barefoot. The view from the beach is stunning; crystal clear waters segue into turquoise sea and sky.
Cuba and its surrounding archipelagos are a fantastic yacht charter destination. Try to go for at least two weeks – you’ll really notice the benefit of the extra time as you voyage further afield!