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?
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.
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.
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