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)

Additional land-based programme covering multiple UNESCO Heritage sites, including Havana, Viñales Valley and Trinidad starts from 28 February for additional 20,000 Kč or £750.

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.


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.


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.


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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Gallery of Palau Photographs

Gallery of Palau Photographs

Healthy coral growth is one of the hallmarks of Palawian diving.
Photograph © 2018 Josef Litt

Diving Palau, the archipelago full of mushroom-like islets covered with lush vegetation above the water and stunning coral reef underwater, was on my bucket list since I started to dive. Finally, we made the dream came true with All4Dive, our favourite dive club from Prague in the Czech Republic.

As a preparation, I made a list of animals I’d like to encounter and places I’d want to visit. Mantas, sharks, nautilus, aeroplane wrecks, the Chandelier cave and the Jellyfish lake, belong to the unmissable attractions. The chains of islands itself are a spectacular view, best enjoyed from the air.

I could have hardly seen all this beauty during one week of liveaboard diving. Also, the weather was not the best during our trip and caused some lousy visibility at the beginning of the journey. We saw mantas, but I did not have a good enough photographic opportunity to capture their majesty.

Despite the weather, we had a great time aboard Ocean Hunter III, and I was able to bring back some images. There are so many aspects of Palau we did not explore. We will be back and report.

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures from the last trip.

Join me on one of my trips and bring back your own photos!

Freezing for Galapagos Wildlife

Freezing for Galapagos Wildlife

Island Wolf. Aerial view with the Anchorage dive site to the right.
Photograph © 2016 Kevin Hanson

Varied underwater environments in different parts of the archipelago offer stunning encounters with Galapagos wildlife in both, warm and cold waters.

The night settled on Wolf Island in the Galapagos. My teeth chatter, and there is nothing I can do with my whole body shivering in the pitch-black underwater darkness. The sandy bottom, thirty meters under the surface, is as empty as beach chairs in Greenland. You can pretend you are a fur seal. But it will not help you in 13°C degrees water which in my numb mind is just above freezing point. I would love to sit in the boat lounge with hot tea in my hand. But I am down here as cold as a frozen herring, and my lamp flickers in search of the elusive red-lipped batfish, Ogcocephalus darwini, a quirky representative of peculiar Galapagos wildlife.

The book I am writing about the Galapagos would utterly fail without a photograph of the batfish. And, I will run out of the air in the next fifteen minutes. Ah, but wait! Something just moved on the sand in front of me!

Red-lipped batfish. There was only a little exaggeration when I compared the batfish to my grandma.
Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt
Fishing boat at Wolf Island. This image was taken in 2011 when local fishermen could visit Darwin and Wolf island. Ecuador pronounced the northern expanse of the Galapagos Marine Reserve a sanctuary in 2015, where no fishing is allowed.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

What do you see looking at the batfish? I imagine my grandma after a heavy night. The night when she did her makeup by herself – without a mirror and while thinking about mass extinction. She was not a conservationist, but her gentle hand helped many unlucky farm animals back on feet. When her hand did not help, her colourful swearing certainly did.

The bottom-dwelling batfish spend their life crawling more than swimming, using their modified pectoral fins to walk. When disturbed, they swim in a comical waddling movement. Although it is strange-looking, this species is harmless to humans – unlike my grandma. Batfish are anglers, using a particular body part called an illicium, which extends outward above their head to lure prey. I believe this species is also proof that water absorbs the colour red first. Otherwise, this example of Galapagos wildlife would starve to death, because no self-appreciating fish would come close to that hungry, bright red mouth.

“I imagine my grandma after a heavy night. The night when she did her makeup by herself – without a mirror and while thinking about mass extinction.”

Panorama of Punta Vicente Roca. The penguins and the cormorants inhabit the small beach to the right. The tip of the rocky outcrop to the left marks the dive site to spot the sunfish.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

5 AM, two days later

Still dark, only small waves splashing against the volcanic rock of Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela. We repeat in low voices the rules for an encounter with Mola alexandrini, the Southern Ocean sunfish: Wait until the sunfish comes to the cleaning station near a platform at 30 m depth. Do not use strobes until the cleaning starts.

The cold oceanic Cromwell Current upwells on the western side of Isabela, bringing from the depths nutrition to a whole food web of fish and marine animals. As a result, Punta Vicente Roca brims with life and even hosts a colony of Galapagos penguins, Spheniscus mendiculus. Did I mention the Cromwell Current is cold? Well, it is penguin-cold!

Harlequin Wrasse. These spectacular wrasses are frequently seen at Punta Vicente Roca.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

We descend to 30 m and wait for the sunfish to appear from the depths. The visibility is poor, maybe five or six meters. The dawn is rising, and there is no sun to speak of. Depth and cold quickly kill our determination. After twenty minutes of idle waiting, my buddies start leaving one by one, either because of hypothermia or running out of the air. But I stay put.

Suddenly two flecks below us take on a darker shade of blueish-green. Two sunfish rise to the cleaning station and let the Mexican hogfish perform their cleaning duty, picking parasites from their skin.

No, we did not stick to the rules. Being excited, cold, and intoxicated with nitrogen, we did not wait for the sunfish to settle and we fired our strobes too early. Both animals disappeared in a few seconds. Only a single viable image remained from this encounter with this elusive specimen of Galapagos wildlife.

Southern Ocean sunfish. It is a challenge to differentiate between the oceanic and the southern sunfish species without an x-ray or a dissection. I believe that it was the Southern Ocean sunfish, Mola alexandrini, we encountered at a small platform at 30 metres (100 feet) depth at Punta Vicente Roca early in the morning.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

Writing a well-illustrated book about Galapagos took me to the islands multiple times. I travelled twice to photograph the underwater scenery and fauna of the northern islands, Darwin and Wolf. On another occasion, I visited thirteen islands during a two-week trip. I would recommend extending each trip with a stay on one of the main islands, Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal. Both offer a plethora of snorkelling and Galapagos wildlife spotting opportunities.

Galapagos offer one lesson. Despite being on the equator, their unique climate means that one is cold more often than desired.

Excuse me for now, please. Defrosted, I got to go and apologise to my grandma.

Sold Out: Galapagos Diving Expedition aboard Pingüino Explorer

Sold Out: Galapagos Diving Expedition aboard Pingüino Explorer

World-class Galapagos diving with hammerheads and whale sharks at Wolf and Darwin Island, and also with marine iguanas at Fernandina. Seven nights aboard the economy-class yacht Pingüino Explorer. The expedition is led by Josef Litt, author and photographer.

Find out more about the islands and Josef’s book GALÁPAGOS, the best travel guide to the archipelago ever written.

04–13 November 2019

Organised by SPARK AIRTICKETS, s.r.o., Prague, Czech Republic.

Price: 135,000 Kč (approx. £4,700)

Includes flights from Prague or a nearby airport.

Destination Details

Galapagos diving

The Galapagos have earned a strong reputation as one of the ultimate liveaboard diving destinations and not without reason. This low-lying volcanic chain was not only Darwin’s inspiration. It is home to diving the like of which you cannot find elsewhere on the planet. The marine life is unique with sharks, rays, sea lions, iguanas, penguins. Watch tuna, salema, snapper, rainbow runners and sail fins dart around the reef – if you can tear your eyes off the ocean’s larger inhabitants. This is every diver’s wish list come true before your eyes. Set your sights on some of the best liveaboard diving you will ever encounter and sail into the intoxicating world of diving in the Galapagos.

There are three distinctive types of underwater environment in the Galapagos Islands. It’s almost as if you were in three different dive destinations.

The Humboldt Current from the South washes the southern and central islands with pretty cold but reasonably clear and blue water (23–24 °C). Expect stunning dive sites such as Cousin Rock and Cabo Marshall, with eagle rays, mobulas and huge mantas, as well as endless large schools of brightly coloured surgeonfish and snappers, and of course the ever-present playful sea lions.

The cold Cromwell Current upwells at the western side of Isabela. Here the water is quite chilly (18–22 °C) and green. Explore the fumaroles (thermal vents) at Roca Redonda. Punta Vicente Roca is another fantastic dive site in that area with a sunfish cleaning station in 30 m depths. Dive with feeding marine iguanas at Cabo Douglas on Fernandina.

But the massive Galapagos diving action is in the north at Darwin and Wolf. Here the water can be 26-27 °C as these islands are warmed by the equatorial Panama current. Before you even get in the water, there is a chance of encountering dolphins and orcas from your liveaboard. Diving under the iconic Darwin Arch is thrilling. Rocky and unwelcoming above the water line, beneath awaits a truly inspiring scene. Three full days are spent at these two islands, getting to grips with every nook and cranny. Hammerheads are the first and foremost attraction, schooling in vast numbers around the submerged pinnacles of Wolf and Darwin. Galapagos sharks are common too, slinky and svelte nipping in and out of the reef life. White-tips hide in the reef from the larger predators. If you like your fish even bigger, whale sharks are seasonally seen in the blue, munching on plankton along with manta, mobula and eagle rays. Look out for a tiger shark in the shallows!

The itineraries may be subject to minor changes at short notice by the Marine Park Authorities. However, a substantial part of every trip is spent at Wolf and Darwin and some dives in the other areas.

Every diver should certainly experience the Galapagos diving for themselves, but the diving is not suited to novice divers. Wolf and Darwin are the furthest points on the itinerary and divers need to be comfortable in currents and zodiac diving. Thermoclines are common, but these are what draw the overwhelming numbers of big fish closer. Dive guides are experts in their fields – not only do they know how to make sure you have a safe and excellent dive trip, but they are also hugely knowledgeable about the marine life and eager to share! Please check with your Galapagos diving travel consultant about the required safety equipment.

The Galapagos is a once in a lifetime trip, and the best diving can only be accessed from liveaboards on either 7 or 10-night liveaboard options. This is the only way to travel and dive in comfort, visiting all the hot spots and highlights of this remarkable corner of the globe. Sail the oceans blue and prepare to be left breathless.

Boat Details

The Galapagos diving boat Pingüino Explorer owes its existence to the conservation initiative of the Galapagos National Park Directorate which encourages fishermen to switch from fishing to tourism. The owner of Pingüino Explorer is a former Galapagos fisherman. Nowadays he runs a boat with the support of his family and a professional team.

The 27-meter-long boat accommodates sixteen guests, eight crew members and two guides licensed by the Galapagos National Park. Divers use two zodiacs to reach the dive sites. Nitrox is available for a fee. The dive deck accommodates 34 twelve-liter aluminum tanks and features a camera table, fresh water tank and two showers with hot and cold water. After diving, snacks and cold or hot drinks are offered depending on the weather.

The four cabins inside the hull and on the main deck feature double beds with an additional bunk bed. The four cabins on the upper deck have bunk beds only.

Food is served buffet-style in a restaurant with four tables with a capacity for all the guests. The bar offers beer, red wine, white wine, and cocktails. The comfortable lounge features an audio/video equipment and a library. Guests can enjoy locally produced fragrant Galapagos coffee. There is also a hot and cold water dispenser, with tea and milk available.

Typical Itinerary

Galapagos Diving Itinerary

Day Early A.M. Late A.M. Early P.M. Late P.M.
Tuesday Arrival to Baltra Check-dive and dive near Baltra
Wednesday Bartolomé Island Cousin’s Rock Cousin’s Rock
Thursday Wolf Island Wolf Island Wolf Island Wolf Island
Friday Darwin Island Darwin Island Darwin Island Darwin Island
Saturday Wolf Island Wolf Island Wolf Island
Sunday Punta Vicente Roca Punta Vicente Roca Cabo Douglas
Monday Roca Blanca Pinzón Island Free afternoon Free afternoon
Tuesday Arrival to Santa Cruz Departure/flights

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