Jardines de la Reina Dive Sites
The dive sites of Jardines de la Reina are one of the few places in the world where you can not only dive with sharks but also snorkel with crocodiles.
The dive sites of Cuba and especially the protected area of Jardines de la Reina are very special.
Most divers visiting Cuba are attracted to the area by the almost guaranteed sightings of sharks. There can be up to six species that can be spotted in one dive. This is especially amazing when put together with sightings of giant groupers and whale sharks. The reefs are pristine and visibility is amazing, dive sites are relatively easy and open to all certification levels. There is also the option to go snorkelling with crocodiles. Put everything together and it makes Cuba’s archipelago an attractive destination.
The considerable lack of tourism and the protection of a long established marine reserve have both contributed to the well-preserved nature of Jardines de la Reina. It is truly one of the last remaining virgin reefs in the world.
Take a look at the Liveaboard Cruise options below.
Jardines de la Reina Dive Sites - 4 LIVEABOARDS
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Tortuga Liveaboard in Cuba
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The diving in Jardines de la Reina takes place on the fringing reefs of the reserve’s fifteen coral atolls. There are over 80 sites; some of the highlights are below.
Black Coral I and II
The best shark dives in the Jardines de la Reina are at these sites. They both offer numerous sightings of both nurse and Caribbean reef sharks.
The reef meets a sandy bottom after sloping down to 30m where channels are leading to a drop-off. Here there can be around 30 resident Caribbean reef sharks, they have had very little interaction with divers and pass close by harmlessly. Nurse sharks also join in here along with large Nassau and goliath groupers and in the blue, eagle rays and oceanic triggerfish can be seen.
After the shark interaction divers go onto the reef area in the shallower water, this is sandy channels and coral formations. Black coral is found here and stingrays in the sand, schooling jackfish, moray eels and turtles.
Pipín is a drop off wall dive with canyons that was named after the fervid Pipin Ferreras. The site starts at 15m and has coral covered canyons running to 24m where there is a drop-off. Groups of up to 15 Silky sharks and Caribbean reef sharks are found here along with turtles, eagle rays, jacks and snappers.
Schools of Tarpon can be found in this area, and a single hammerhead shark has been known to make a brief appearance.
The site has big colonies of black corals, and other marine life includes angelfish, groupers and arrow crabs.
Also known as the cliffs in English, here the coral formation reaches 10m in height sitting in a sandy bottom site at 30m. There are ruptures in the corals creating tunnels that allow light to filter through. These tunnels can be up to 30m in length, 3m wide and 10m deep allowing divers to explore them.
Black coral and sponges cover the structures, and it is an excellent place to see the silky sharks and Caribbean reef sharks of the area. The marine life includes groupers, snappers, turtles and rays.
Vicente is a vertical wall down to 45m with large colonies of black coral interspersed with other corals and sponge life. Here you can find green morays, nudibranchs, butterfly and angelfish. Larger pelagics can also pass by such as hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, wahoo, jacks and silky sharks.
El Galeon has an old galleon and also a fishing boat wreck close by, so two dive sites in one. The Galleon is encrusted with corals and sea life. Brain corals are home lobsters and crabs, angelfish, parrotfish and many juveniles frequent the wreck. Feather dusters and flower coral are home to macro life, and the site is suitable for night dives with many crustaceans and invertebrates.
La Boca de Anclitas
La Boca de Anclitas is a shallow site at 17m of depth that has a beautiful and varied reef with canyons and tunnels covered in sponges, corals and Christmas tree worms. Plentiful macro life can be found in the cracks and crevices with lobster, arrow crabs, morays and drums.
Tarpons, groupers, barracuda, Porgy and southern stingrays are common here along with the lionfish that was accidentally introduced to the Caribbean.
Cabeza de la Cubera
The name means 'snapper’s head’. It does have many snappers of different varieties on the reef, giant groupers and Caribbean reef sharks are also commonplace here.
There are coral bommies on a sandy bottom at 18m that leads to a shallow wall where a big school of tarpon are found. Look for turtles and stingrays here.
The Five Seas
The depth is a maximum of 24m and it has a wreck after which the site was named. At 15m of length, the pilot boat was intentionally scuttled and is now covered with sponge and corals with jacks and moray eels found around her.
On the sandy bottom there are stingrays and Caribbean reef sharks, underneath the coral overhangs are soapfish and tarpon hang out over the wreck itself. Whip corals and sea fans have partner shrimps and arrow crabs, and there is a substantial growth of black corals here.
Pio is a great macro site and nursery ground for fish like the spotted drum. Christmas tree worms, morays, barrel sponges and brain corals are all common here.
La Finca de Pepe
La Finca De Pepe is a shallow site at a depth of 18m where feeding Nassau and massive groupers can be found in large numbers, showing the health of the Jardines de la Reina reef eco-system. Individual species of up to 180 kilos can be seen exhibiting territorial behaviour and dominance over other of his species in the school.
La Cueva del Pulpa
The name means The Octopus Cave. It is a site with large pillar corals that can reach 2.5m in height acting as cleaning stations for the smaller reef fish like butterfly and triggerfish. The depth is shallow, and there is a cave at 5m that runs horizontally for 70m in length, only the entrance can be explored due to a narrowing of the structure. The cave houses, borstals, or blind fish that can only be seen at night, decorator crabs and sea slugs.
Turtles, stingrays and reef sharks are here along with angelfish, grunts and porgies.
Snapper Point is unique as divers can swim with 0.5m schooling dogtooth snapper. They school in huge numbers thriving in the protected waters with strict controls on fishing.
Cabezo de la Raya
Cabezo de la Raya is a circular formation with bands of coral in the sandy bottom. Home to nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and a variety of groupers, this is a shallow site at 5 to 20m. Schools of mackerel and barracuda mingle with angelfish, tangs, grunts and turtles.
Russian Mountain is a drop-off wall with canyons that house groupers, snappers, jacks and turtles. Caribbean, silky and even hammerhead sharks can be seen here.
Avalon is a reef wall at 22 to 33m with many black coral colonies, sponges and gorgonian seafans. Silky and Caribbean reef sharks are in the blue water with the occasional hammerhead also sighted. There are some canyons in the deeper water.
Swimming with Crocodiles
The Jardines de la Reina has mangrove and seabed systems acting as a nursery between the coral atolls. Reef fish and shark juveniles reside here, and green turtles use this as a feeding ground and nesting area. The liveaboards transit guests through this area when visiting different dive locations.
The top predator in the area is the American crocodile, and it is possible to snorkel with two that are around 3m in length.
The guides will encourage them to enter the water by whistling, as they approach the boat they are fed chicken so they remain in the area. Guests can snorkel with them after gently entering the water so as not to startle the creatures, sudden moves or noises can alert the crocodiles, and they should not be touched.
This is one of the few places in the world where encounters at this close range can happen creating a unique experience.
There are beach and island visits with the liveaboard tenders during your stay on board.
Marine Park and Conservation in Cuba's Jardines de la Reina
The Jardines de la Reina used to suffer from overfishing and also from Soviet fertilisers released in previous years. The archipelago became a favourite site of Castro who was a diver himself. Commercial fishing and industries were prohibited in the area which was declared a protected national park in 1996. The park is 2,170 km square and one of the largest marine parks in the Caribbean.
Today there is a significant (30%) increase in the fish population and divers in the park are limited to only 500.