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Diving in Jardines de la Reina

With the third largest reef in the world, guaranteed shark sightings and mighty crocodiles, the Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) in Cuba is a destination seemingly created for divers.

Diving in Jardines de la Reina

Quick facts

Diving in Jardines de la Reina is exciting on many levels. From circling sharks to pristine reefs, there’s a bit of something for every type of diver. In addition, diving in the Gardens of the Queen is pretty easy. You can expect almost no current, warm water averaging from 79 °F (26 °C) to 84 °F (29 °C), and amazing visibility of 100 feet (30 meters) or more. Dives in the area are generally split into two categories: shark dives and reef dives.

As you may have already guessed, many of the divers in the Jardines de la Reina are attracted by the nearly guaranteed shark sightings. There are some dive sites in the area where you will enjoy more than 30 sharks circling above and below you at one time. Common shark species include large, 10-foot (3-meter) Caribbean reef sharks and silky sharks. Because these waters have been protected for a length of time, the sharks are not afraid of divers, often approaching out of curiosity rather than malice. You should not fear them. Simply sit back and enjoy this spectacular show. Popular shark dive sites include Pipín, Black Coral I and II, and Five Seas.

While the sharks might be what everyone is talking about, the area’s pristine reefs fall into a close second. Much like the name suggests, the Gardens of the Queen host a healthy garden of soft corals, sponges and sea fans. The colors may not be as vibrant as you’ll find in the Maldives or the Red Sea, but the size and health of the reef system is still impressive. You can take in these picturesque scenes at dive sites like Farallón and Vicente.

Because of the tropical location of the Jardines de la Reina, diving is possible throughout the year. Although the diving varies only slightly between seasons, the best time to dive is technically December to April. November to April is the dry season, while May to October is the rainy time of year. Furthermore, October carries the highest risk of hurricanes, although this risk is still minimal. At any rate, the Gardens of the Queen are a fantastic dive destination if you are seeking guaranteed pelagic action with gorgeous underwater scenery.

When to go

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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USD 3,040Per trip
USD 1,950Per trip
USD 2,310Per trip

What to see

The main attraction in the Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) are the sharks. You’re practically guaranteed sightings of large Caribbean reef sharks and silky sharks. It’s also possible to encounter lemon, hammerhead, nurse and blacktip sharks depending on the time of year. Other marine life species in the area include massive groupers, loggerhead turtles, hawksbill turtles, green turtles, queen conchs, snappers, jewfish up to 400 pounds and American crocodiles. Black corals, staghorn corals and elkhorn corals are also found throughout the marine park.

Calendar

For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Area

The Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen in English) is a complex ecosystem of small virgin islands and mangrove forests. This archipelago is located 50 miles (80km) off southern, central Cuba and extends for 93 miles (150 km) with an area of 840 square miles (2,170 km2), making the Gardens of the Queen one of the largest protected areas in the Caribbean. The archipelago runs parallel to the Cuban coast from Cayo Breton to Cayos Mordazo and spans both the Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila provinces. Because of its location and size, the Jardines de la Reina is only accessible by boat from the port of Jucaro.

First discovered by Christopher Columbus, the Jardines de la Reina was named in honor of his patron queen. Throughout the years, the area suffered the perils of over fishing and Soviet-era fertilizers. As luck would have it, the archipelago became a favorite fishing haunt of Fidel Castro’s. After significant research by the World Wildlife Federation, the area was declared a protected national park in 1996. Since then, fishing in the area has been limited and local industry in the surrounding mainland has been highly regulated.

Today, the Jardines de la Reina has seen a significant increase in fish population. Stocks have improved by 30 per cent. Furthermore, the Gardens of the Queen are home to a huge number of endangered or vulnerable species, including 6 of the 10 resident shark species. In order to maintain the improving quality of this reef, only 500 lucky divers get to indulge in this healthy habitat each year. Will you be one of them?

Other attractions

Because the Jardines de la Reina are only accessible by liveaboard, you will enjoy a more structured excursion experience. One of the crowd favorite activities is snorkelling with crocodiles. During your surface intervals in the mangroves, you might come across one of these mighty beasts. If the guide consents, you’ll be able to slowly slip into the water and observe the crocodile in its natural habitat. Don’t forget your camera! Other excursions in the national park include sunbathing on pristine beaches and exploring dense mangroves while observing fascinating local species. There’s never a dull moment in the Gardens of the Queen.

Getting there

The Jardines de la Reina is accessible by boat only from the small port town of Jucaro in the Ciego de Ávila province of Cuba. Depending on the weather conditions, the boat ride can take between two and a half and five hours.

Currently, there is only one company operating dive trips in the Gardens of the Queen. To dive in the area, you’ll need to book yourself on one of their five liveaboards (the Avalon I, Avalon II, Halcón, La Reina and Georgiana) or their floating hotel called Tortuga. Each of these options service the same area, meaning the diving is the same no matter which you choose. Most dive sites will be within a 20 minute boat ride of your accommodation in the Jardines de la Reina.

UTC-05:00

Time zone

CUP

Currency

+53

Calling code

110 V / 220 V

Electric volt

A, 

B, 

C, 

L

Plug type

Spanish; Castilian

English

Languages

HAV

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.