Diving Jardines de la Reina in Cuba

Diving Jardines de la Reina in Cuba

Jardines de la Reina in Cuba is the most preserved area in the Caribbean and belongs to the best diving spots in the world. Join Josef Litt aboard Avalon Fleet II and enjoy six days of diving with sharks, crocodiles and giant groupers. Download leaflet.

5 – 15 March 2020

Price: 115,990 Kč (approx. £3,990)

The price includes:

  • Return flight from Prague, Munich or Vienna. The operator will book your flights from anywhere in the world.
  • 7-day trip aboard M/Y Avalon Fleet II, diving Jardines de la Reina
  • Two nights in Havana in the hotel with breakfast
  • Price is based on two people sharing the Standard cabin
  • Full-board with snacks, hot and cold drinks
  • Weights, weight-belts and tanks with air

The price does not include:

  • Additional hotel accommodation if required due to flight schedules
  • Travel and compulsory diving insurance (we recommend DAN)
  • Rental of diving equipment
  • Nitrox €100 for all dives
  • Tips for the crew and guides €250-€300
  • Entry visa to Cuba – must be arranged in advance
  • Other not listed services

Jardines de la Reina Diving Expedition is organised by SPARK AIRTICKETS, s.r.o., Prague, Czech Republic.

Destination Details
Jardines de la Reina was declared a Marine Park in 1996. The Cuban Sciences and Environment Ministry preserved this area for future generations as a complex network of pristine marine ecosystems. Many knowledgeable scientists and organisations have regarded it as a reference of what is the original state of a coral reef; as Christopher Columbus found it in the times of the discovery.

An underwater paradise is all that comes to mind when you first enter the water. Imagine the vertical walls covered with brightly hued sponges, huge Pilar Corals, black corals extending its branches in the blue water — many species of gorgonians, fragile laminar corals showing their beautiful shapes through crevices, canyons and caves. The mangroves provide an incredible nursery area for young fish populations, filtering the water that goes to the reef and in return receiving protection from the energy of open ocean waves; all interconnected in a very fragile network that helps to keep its variety, richness and splendour.

The most significant populations of adult fish in the Caribbean, sharks, snappers and groupers; jewfish up to 400 pounds are an everyday experience. Sharks are one of the main attractions and you can see them everywhere. You can easily dive with six different species: silkies, reef, lemon, black-tip, hammerhead and nurse sharks. From July to November you have a chance to encounter whale sharks. Gardens of the Queen is indeed one of the last virgin reefs known by man. Dive and snorkel sites are well protected from the winds and sea currents. Visibility may reach more than 40 meters. There is a wide variety of fish and corals.

The Gardens of the Queen Marine Park is a beautiful place, both in and out of the water. This protected area is probably the most important group of islands in the Caribbean, integrated by one million-acre wetland. Besides, this marine park acts as a critical refuge for North American birds migrating along the route through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to South America. This wildlife sanctuary hosts more than 68 species of migratory birds.

Boat Details

Jardines Avalon II has ten deluxe comfortable staterooms with air conditioning and individual thermostats. All cabins have private bathrooms and two beds (one full, one twin). The vessel has an overall capacity of 20 passengers and 9 crew members. The design and interior decor give the yacht a touch of intimacy, refinement, a sense of warmth and simplicity. Each space is created to provide its guests with maximum comfort and safety. The boat guarantees all our guests a pleasant, exciting and exclusive cruise through Jardines de la Reina. Each room has panoramic windows to enjoy the breathtaking view of the Caribbean beaches.

There is a spacious and comfortable lounge, dining room and bar area on the boat deck. In cabins and common areas, you will find European and American sockets (220 V and 110 V).

Jardines Avalon II offers a lot of space for dive equipment and photo and video cameras. On the top deck, a Jacuzzi (500-gallon hot tub) offers a panoramic view; an ideal space to drink a mojito after the last dive at sunset.

In Jardines de la Reina, our season is year round. A normal week includes 22 dives from Sunday to Friday ( 4 dives/day + 2 on Friday, night dives are included in the package); return to the mainland is on Saturday. It is possible to book extra dives on request. Nitrox and DIN adaptors are available onboard.

Tipping is widespread in Cuba. Many Cuban workers rely on tips to supplement their basic income and they all work really hard. Tips help them get a better lifestyle. So if you receive good service, it is a very good etiquette to tip accordingly. Avalon Fleet recommends a tip of $400-$450 per person.

We would like to remind you that we do not accept credit cards. You will need cash for any purchases and gratuities. You can easily exchange money at the airport or at any bank for CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). The best currency to bring on your trip to Cuba is Euros. At present, there is a 10% penalty in addition to the exchange rate for US dollars.

Boat specifications

  • Renovated in 2014
  • Length: 40 meters
  • Top speed: 15 knots
  • Cruising speed: 12 knots
  • Max guests: 20
  • Number of cabins with bathrooms: 10
  • Tenders 12 m long with 2 Yamaha 150 hp engines each
  • Non-Diver (snorkeler) friendly

Boat features

  • Leisure deck, shaded diving deck and sun deck
  • Air-conditioned saloon and cabins
  • Outdoor Dining
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Laundry service
  • Audio & video entertainment
  • TV in cabins
  • Warm water showers
  • Separate rinse tank for u/w cameras
  • Hot Tub

Food & Drinks

  • Local, western and vegetarian fine cuisine
  • Beer and selection of wines
  • Snacks all day

Boat navigation, communication and safety features

  • Radar, depth sounder, GPS
  • Radio VHF/DSC/SSB
  • Emergency rafts, life vests
  • Fire Alarm & Fire Extinguishers
  • Fishfinder
  • Bilge pump alarm
  • Engine room CCTV
  • Detroit Diesel power generator with twin generators
  • Twin Bauer air compressors with cascade filling station and a Brownie NitroxMaker™ system with cascade filling station.
  • Oxygen, first aid kits
  • Crew trained in first aid
Typical Itinerary

There are 80 diving spots that have been discovered to date; all well protected from wind and marine currents. Modern skiffs are used to organize excursions to lagoons and boat rides through mangrove channels around the archipelago.

Some of the most prominent dive sites are detailed hereunder.

Pipín

At the mooring buoy, the reef is 15 meters deep, forming impressive canyons and caves that run perpendicular to the coastline until they reach 24 meters of depth at the edge of the drop-off. At this point, the reef is very colourful and alive, with huge schools of grunts patrolling the border of the abyss; many jacks; silver tarpons in groups of 10-50 coming straight at you and then making a swift turn 5 inches away from your mask, along with turtles, eagle rays flying near the wall and sometimes a lonely three-meter-long great hammerhead coming up from the deep to take a quick look at the divers and then disappearing into the blue. In the meantime, as divers go around the canyons, a group of 10-12 silky sharks keep swimming close to the surface near the boat; then, during the safety stop, they come to get an eyeful of the divers.

Farallón

This is one of the best dives in Jardines de la Reina. Farallón is a giant coral mountain 17 meters deep at the top and divided into four parts by tunnels that run across and end at a white sandy bottom of 29 meters. These tunnels are about 30 m. long, 3 m. wide and 10 m. high, with an opening at the top that allows the sunlight to pour through, creating a spectacular show of light and shapes, giving the diver the feeling of flying across another world. Same species as in Pipín plus the reef shark (Carcharinus perezi) swimming close to the bottom.

Vicente

Dive along the drop-off, with coral mountains at the edge descending from 20 m. to 40 m. and then to the abyss (800 m.). Visibility is more than 40 meters. You can find massive black coral colonies in the wall; also, the mysterious and shy great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) sometimes emerges from the blue to show its incredible body shape and elegance.

Black Coral I and II

These two dives are the most exciting! Minimum depth is 24 meters on top of the reef, then a sandy bottom at 30 m. Channels run across the reef perpendicular to the coast, until they reach the drop-off; at this place, there is a resident population of more than 30 reef sharks (Carcharinus perezi) that get very close to the divers (sometimes 10 inches away from the mask). After 15 minutes of breathless watching these creatures, while they swim around, the dive continues close to the coral formations and sandy channels with sleeping stingrays (Dasyatis americana), parrotfish, big black groupers and tons of jacks swimming near divers until the end of the dive.

Josef is a contributor to various publications. In its Spring 2019 issue, DIVE Magazine in the UK printed Josef’s article based on his extensive travel in Cuba.

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Whale Sharks, A-bombs and the Hubble Space Telescope

Whale Sharks, A-bombs and the Hubble Space Telescope

Pregnant whale shark female at Darwin Island in the Galapagos. In 2014, members of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project reported sightings of 27 whale sharks, all females, all but one pregnant around Darwin Island in the Galapagos archipelago.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

We know very little about the biggest bony fish in the oceans, the whale shark.

Whale sharks are the world’s most giant fish, growing up to twenty metres in length – more than a bowling lane and almost as long as a passenger train coach. We don’t know how fast they grow and what is their maximum age. The best estimates are that the big ones may be more than one hundred years old.

The Atomic Bomb Method

Scientists determine the age of sharks by counting growth rings in their vertebrae. This method seems to provide reliable results for younger animals. However, one needs an atomic bomb to make the reading more precise in case of the older sharks. The nuclear tests performed in the 1950s and 1960s increased the amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere. The radioactive material entered the oceans and imprinted a timestamp in the whale sharks vertebrae. Today, this timestamp helps to establish the age of older individuals.

Juvenile whale shark. We encountered this juvenile on top of the shallow platform underneath the Darwin Island in the Galapagos.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

The world is round…
The expectation and anxiety grow on the way to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin in the Galapagos.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

The Hubble Space Telescope Method

To paraphrase Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Whale sharks are big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big they are.’

From that slightly facetious perspective, it is no surprise that the scientists use the Hubble Space Telescope to identify individual whale sharks. The spots behind their gills form an ornament as unique as a fingerprint. Jason Holmberg, the co-founder of WildMe.org, adapted an algorithm used by NASA with the telescope to recognise and compare the patterns. Thanks to that anybody who photographed a whale shark anywhere in the world can upload their images to the Wildbook for Whale Sharks. Almost 8,000 people identified more than 10,000 whale sharks during close to 60,000 sightings. The data give scientists information about the distribution and movement of the gentle giants, hopefully leading to their adequate protection.

‘Whale sharks are big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big they are.’

An evening at San Cristóbal marina, Galapagos The crews are preparing for their journeys to Darwin and Wolf islands.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

million US$ a year

The Value of a Whale Shark

Since 2016, IUCN describes the whale sharks on its Red List as Endangered. The reason is the demand for shark fins in Asia and the nature of whale shark meat, often referred to as ‘tofu shark’. Infuriatingly, despite their size, they also end up as bycatch. Since early 2017, whale sharks enjoy protection as migratory species in more than 125 countries. A number originating from research in 2004 estimates their value to tourism at over USD 47.5 million a year – an amount that is indisputably higher today. Hopefully, governments will realise the species’ importance and enforce the protection they committed to.

Darwin’s Arch a mile away from the Darwin Island. The deep sea surrounding Darwin Island may serve as a breeding ground for whale sharks.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

Magic sunset in the Galapagos

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

The Whale Sharks’ Birthplace

Members of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project in 2014 reported sightings of 27 whale sharks, all females, all but one pregnant around Darwin Island in the Galapagos archipelago – this seems to be a typical situation confirmed by tourists’ observations. Jonathan R. Green, the leader of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, explores a hypothesis that the deep sea surrounding Darwin Island serves as a breeding ground for whale sharks. However, nobody has ever seen a whale shark to give birth or breed.

I heard a fisherman speculate about the reason why the whale shark males avoid the Galápagos. Their little cousins, the silky sharks, frequent the islands waters in search of food. Remoras belong to their favourite staple. An attacked remora would hide among the whale sharks’ claspers to protect itself. The ferocious silky shark will hardly differentiate between a remora and a clasper. The poor male whale sharks are afraid that they may get hurt in such a sensitive place, so they avoid Galápagos at all cost. I wonder whether there is a scientific base to this speculation.

Claspers of an adult male whale shark are formed from the rear end of their pelvic fin. They channel semen into the female’s cloaca during mating.

Photograph Simon Pierce https://www.simonjpierce.com.

Buy GALÁPAGOS on Amazon now.

Ending with a Hairy Story

Whale sharks were never seen feeding at Galapagos, which gives the following story* a whiff of a fairy tale.

‘As with any other animal on the Galápagos, and it should be a good practice anywhere in the world, touching whale sharks is strictly forbidden. This was not a well-observed custom some time ago, perhaps ten or twenty years back when, according to a local legend, one of the naturalist guides nicknamed Zorro Plateado, or Silver Fox, used to ride the whale sharks holding on to their dorsal fin. As if this was not enough, he supposedly dragged himself from the dorsal fin and then plunged headfirst over the animal’s upper lip into its gaping mouth. Disappearing into the poor whale shark’s maw, he was gushed out after a moment in a shroud of his bubbles, in slight disarray, but unharmed. The animal seemed to be unperturbed, it turned slowly and swam away. The diver’s equipment could have easily injured the whale shark, and I indeed believe that such acts would not be tolerated today.’

*A spoiler citation from Litt, Josef. GALÁPAGOS. Mostly Underwater Books. The United Kingdom, 2018.
A similar story was also mentioned in Bantin, John. Amazing Diving Stories. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012.

A diver, small camera and a whale shark. Touching whale sharks is strictly forbidden.

Photograph © 2017 Ivan Jiskra

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