With healthy coral reefs and plenty of sharks in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba is one of the Caribbean most exciting dive destination! Several dive areas are accessible from the shore, while the most remote and pristine can only be reached with a liveaboard.
There are good dive sites to fit every traveler's style, and diving experience in Cuba!
Located about 100 km (60 miles) off shore of Cuba’s southern coast, Jardines de la Reina is one of the country's largest protected area. Six hundred small cays, surrounded by coral systems and mangroves, cover a distance of 150 km.
Christopher Columbus had named these reefs ‘Gardens of the Queen’, to honour his patron the Queen Isabella I of Spain. Today, the reef system is still incredibly healthy. It is even claimed that Jardines de la Reina is the healthiest coral reef system of the Caribbean.
The area is totally unhabited, and less than three thousand divers are allowed per year. Some cold water brings nutrients from the depths, keeping the corals healthy. As a result, the reef is teeming with life, with colorful soft corals, sponges and sea fans. Plenty of small and medium size fish - barracudas, jacks, and turtles, attract bigger sea life. It is common to see species that have disappeared in other areas of the Carribean, such as silky sharks, and elkhorn corals. Reef sharks, lemon, nurse, blacktip sharks, sometimes even hammerheads, freely approach and investigate divers.
The sites are suited for all levels of divers. Little to sometimes medium currents, warm waters, and an incredible visibility make it a destination of choice for photographs, especially during the dry season. American crocodiles lie motionless in the mangroves - you may have seen one of these incredible shots before.
Due to its remote location, you can only access Jardines de la Reina with a liveaboard
Pipin: a wall dive with many coral canyons and caves, with a usual depth of 15-24 meters (45-80 feet), where jacks, turtles, eagle rays, tarpons are commonly seen, and silky sharks too!
Farallon: a beautiful coral formation between 17-29 meters (55-100 feet), with some impressive tunnels divers can swim through before watching large groupers and reef sharks circling by.
Black Coral I and II: are some of the most exciting sites in Jardines. You'll find plenty of black coral colonies, some beautiful gorgonians, goliath groupers and a resident population of more than 25 reef sharks.
You can dive in Jardines de la Reina at any time of year:
the rainy season - June to August - is the reproduction season, with more fish around
in the dry season - October to May - visibility is exceptional, and this is the best time to go for underwater photography
Fly to Jose Marti International Airport in La Havana (HAV), the capital of Cuba, at least one day before your cruise departs. The next day, the dive operator will pick you up at your hotel in La Havana, and bring you to Juraco harbor. It's a five hours drive.
You can also fly to Jardines del Rey (CCC) international airport, Santa Clara airport (SNU), or Camaguey airport (CMW). Count a three to four hours drive to Juraco.
Remember that you can only access the dive sites with a liveaboard. Be sure to check out our liveaboard trip to Gardens of the Queen in Cuba
It's possible to dive Playa Girón and Playa Larga sites from the shore. It is easily accessible if you prefer to explore Cuba on a road trip, and / or are on a budget. The Bay of Pigs is a two to three hours drive from la Havana.
From the shore, you can swim along some beautiful coral formations, that attract some schools of fish. Punta Perdiz especially is a beautiful wall dive, not to be missed. The Jaruco is a purpose-sunk wreck in the area, on which you can do a deep dive. Finally, you can also dive in a cenote, where you can see some cavern wildlife and some incredible rock formations.
Punta Perdiz: located half an hour from Playa Larga, Punta Perdiz is a beautiful wall on which there are two sites. Relax between dives on the beach right in front of it. Most often explored on a deep dive, the wall starts at a 10 meters depth (33 feet), and then goes down to a 300 meters depth (1000 feet).
El Jaruco: another deep dive, accessible from the shore, during which you'll get to swim along a small wreck. Nurse sharks sometimes hang out there.
Fly La Havana, hop on a bus or rent a car and drive to Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs.
Contact a local dive club. Bring your own equipment if possible as the gear maintenance is not always thorough. Each dive will cost $25 (about ... EUR)
It is said that Diego Velazquez named this group of cays as Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King), honouring Fernand The Catholic, King of Spain, as a reference to Christopher Columbus' Gardens of the Queen.
Off Cayo Coco and Guillermo, Jardines del Rey offers a 10 kilometers (6 miles) long reef, with a depth of 10 to 30 meters (30 to 100 feet). Close to the Bahamas channel, the sites have some healthy coral reefs, with beautiful gorgonians, colorful sponges, and plenty of fish - jacks, groupers, barracudas and more.
The topography includes some tunnels and caverns, and the various depth of the sites make it suitable for all levels of divers.
La Jaula: with four sites at a 17 to 30 meters (55 to 100 feet) depth, this area is full of life, with groupers, sting and eagle rays, snappers, and often some reef sharks too.
Las Coloradas: is a shallow site on which there are plenty of sea fans and gorgonians. The topography is beautiful with small caves and tunnels. Fish life is diverse with some jacks, tarpons, parrotfish, angelfish, and some yellowtail.
Los Tiburones: is one of the most famous sites in Jardines del Rey. Some tunnels and narrow channels on the reef give way to medium-size fish. It's common to see some reef sharks around.
Fly to Jardines del Rey International Airport (CCC). Most flights come from Canada.
Contact a local dive shop. There are several in Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. Some of them are inside of the all-inclusive hotels.
The liveaboards in Cuba generally have new or well-maintained gear for hire, however, it might not be the case with local dive shops. We always recommend to have your own dive gear, you'll feel safer and more comfortable.
Light and compact dive gear is particularly well-suited for travel.
Finally, remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen not to damage Cuba's beautiful reefs!