What do you think of when you hear Bay of Pigs? For me, it has always been the failed US attack on Cuba back when our relationship went south. Never would I have thought that it would be home to beautiful beaches and great shipwreck scuba diving. Now when I think of the Bay of Pigs, or Bahía de los Cochinos in Spanish, I think of that quintessential place on every trip that you wind up staying longer than planned. Not because of anything particularly spectacular, but because of everything; because of how it all fits and works together to create a massive breath of fresh air and relaxation. Bay of Pigs was the place in Cuba where I felt most at home, the most relaxed and the freest. And that’s how most of the other travelers that I met there felt too. Unless you scuba dive, it likely will not be on your radar. It is not a common stop on the tourist trail, nor is it home to any one thing of any magnitude. But the people couldn’t be friendlier, the drinks are cheap, the water is crystal-clear and the town is small enough that you will see the same smiling faces over and over.
My time began there by stepping off of a bus and seeing a few people waiting for travelers to try to lure them to staying in their casas. Having had a bad experience with these people before, I was reluctant to give any of them a chance. After they cleared out, one older man remained. He flashed a half-toothless smile and asked me if I needed a place to stay. Reluctantly, I told him I did but that I’d only be staying a night to dive in the morning and then leave. He said that was okay and we walked a few minutes to his wife’s family home. This man, Ventura, would wind up being one of the kindest people I’ve met in my whole life, let alone Cuba. His wife made some of the best meals I had in a country where the food is often bland, and their family some of the greatest conversations I had. They very generously offered me three delicious meals per day plus my air-conditioned room for only $22. After I had my first meal and settled in by sitting on their porch, talking to them and learning about the kind of people they were, I realized that one night would not do. They organized diving for me in the morning at no extra cost and then pointed me in the direction of the best beaches within walking distance, Playa Girón and Playa Los Cocos.
The beaches are small and a bit crowded, but nice. Locals seem to spend a lot of time at them as life doesn’t seem too busy in Bay of Pigs. You will likely get invited to sip on some rum and listen to music in one of the many circles that form on the beach. The walk between the two beaches is pretty amazing, featuring the ruins of their malecón (oceanside concrete walkway and barrier) struck by at least one unforgiving hurricane.
That night, I came back to my casa to a delicious meal of fish caught right off the shore where I had just gone for a swim. I told Ventura and Olga that I’d decided to stay another night. Knowing well that their home is truly a hidden gem, they did not seem surprised.
The next morning, I got up early, had a great breakfast from Olga, and walked to the corner with Ventura where a scuba bus passed by to pick up everyone planning to dive. If you plan to dive any day here, you have to do is wait on the main stretch and the bus toting a dive flag will stop and pick you up!
The dive site, called cenote mar (not a cenote) was my first shipwreck. We swam right from the shore to the site. Although the wreck was small, the coral growing off of it and reef surrounding it was pristine. We did two nice dives here, swimming right off the shore. We saw a decent variety of fish, including a massive crab, lion fish and some type of color changing camo fish, and some very colorful coral including bright red fire coral. The visibility was great, my only complaint is that the group was big and a lot of the divers were not great at conserving their oxygen. I almost could have done both dives on only one tank due to this!
That night, I walked the malecón one last time, this time testing out the far right side only to find out that I had a leap of faith ahead of me to get to the other side. I went for it only to find a small climb to get down to the water on the other side (not worth it)! I finished my time off with some $3 mojitos at a bar right next to my casa with some new dive friends and then caught an early morning bus to Trinidad (after another delicious breakfast, of course).
I easily could have spent another day diving and lounging around here. There are some great national parks within biking distance from Playa Girón and other beaches that may be worth a day trip as well, especially if you can get your hands on a mask and snorkel. With the laid back atmosphere, nice ocean and smiles aplenty, Bay of Pigs is truly the hidden gem that it’s residents know it to be.