In January 2015 we headed to Cuba to dive Jardines de la Reina (in English – Gardens of the Queen), a remote reef and mangrove system famed for its Shark and Crocodile encounters! First stop on this trip was Havana, where after a quick night’s rest we were picked up for the 10-12 hours journey by land and sea to Jardines de la Reina. Only 500 divers a year are currently permitted to dive Jardines de la Reina and this limited exposure keeps the reefs pristine and sea life abundant.
Our home for the next week would be Avalon II Liveaboard. Avalon II is the flagship vessel of Avalon Fleet, launched in April 2014 she is an impressive yacht, with plenty of space for all guests, a superfast dive tender and onboard Nitrox compressor. From our liveaboard we would have ready access to all of Jardines best dive sites plus we would be close to the mangroves, home to Cuba’s famous American Crocodiles! Each day we would make 3 dives and on some days we would have special surface intervals, either to snorkel with the Crocodiles or visit the beach to see some Cuba’s land creatures, such as Hutia (a very cute rodent), Hermit Crabs and Iguanas.
The dives in Jardines de la Reina were action packed from start to finish, with amazing encounters with large Caribbean Reef Sharks on the reefs and schooling Silky Sharks close to the surface. These sharks provided endless highlights on the trip! Also down on the reefs we found Nurse Sharks, Great Barracuda, large Southern Stingrays, Eagle Ray, Hawksbill Turtles, free-swimming Green Moray Eels, Goliath Grouper, Tarpon, Horse-eye Jacks, Garden Eels, French Angelfish, Triggerfish, Lionfish and colourful reef fish such as Grunt and Snapper. On our last dive as we watched the schooling Silkies at the surface a juvenile Great Hammerhead approached us only to be well and truly chased off by the large adult Silky Sharks! And whilst the Sharks were certainly the stars of our Cuba trip a special mention of course has to go to the American Crocodiles, locally named as Nino Zero, Nino 1 and Nino 2. Nino Zero is the original Crocodile that was photographed in Jardines de la Reina’s mangroves but he is now a little large and so it was Nino 1 or 2 that we photographed and as Nino Zero approached we exited the water – quickly!
With our diving finished we celebrated with Mojitos and Cuban Rum and headed back to Havana for a couple of days photographing this historic city – a great way to end an amazing dive trip to Cuba!