Diving in the Jardines De La Reina in Cuba! Shark diving in Cuba at it’s best!!

On my trip to Cuba in August 2015, I was able to visit the Jardines De La Reina (Gardens of the Queen) for a week of diving aboard the Avalon II.  I’ve gone diving in some pretty sharky places but this was really something to behold!!

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It was refreshing to dive in a protected area that the marine animals and shark are totally at ease with the divers.  You can really see what protection does for the coral and fish life, too.   It was stunningly beautiful!  The Avalon II is a really nice liveaboard dive boat.  All diving is done from a skiff and there is a permanent installation in the mangroves there.  It includes a floating hotel called the Tortuga, a dive shop where the tanks are filled, a research station and staff quarters.

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The dive masters are great.  You see shark on nearly every dive.  They feed on some if you like or not if you don’t like that.  You see several shark on all dives whether they feed them or not.  You see mainly reef shark but there are a couple of areas that have a large number of silky sharks too.  On those dives you go to the bottom & see the grey reef shark, fish and other creatures of the reef and when you ascend for your safety stop, there are dozens of silky sharks waiting for you to come play.  As you can see from the photo above, you literally ascend through to sharks to the skiff.  It was a really fun adventure!!

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There are huge schools of fish and more grouper than I have ever seen in one place.  We even got to see a goliath grouper that weighed in a about 250 lbs.  If you take the time to look, you can also see some little critters.

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This dive trip will be one I remember forever!!  I felt very lucky to be there before the masses arrive.  That said, we were the only boat of divers and there were only a few people at Tortuga.  Mostly fishermen but a couple of divers joined us for our dives.  Avalon has several liveaboards so we were fortunate that we were the only boat there.   It was low season because of hurricane season.  Since then, the Aggressor Fleet has begun service to the Gardens.  There is only one license for diving in the Jardines De La Reina so they have partnered with the owner of Avalon to make it possible.  It gives Americans a familiar name to go diving with but the Avalon boats and crew were as good as any I have gone diving with!!  I would highly recommend them.

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Meet one of the famous crocs that are in the mangroves here.  The more friendly local croc “Nino” was not in residence while we were there.  He was off looking for love…  Too bad, I really wanted to snorkel with him!!

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The Avalon II had a feature I’ve never seen before on a liveaboard dive boat.  It had a slide!!  As you can see, we had to try it…totally a kick in the butt!  The food was fabulous too.  After the days diving you are met with a Cubra Libra or a Mojito & fresh baked pizza for a snack.  The food was varied and delish!  You are allotted a number of drinks per day included in the price and wine with dinner.  If you exceed that, there was a charge but I never got close.  The rooms were the pretty standard bunk with a double bottom and twin top and there was an ensuite in each room.  It was a very comfortable boat layout with an open top deck including a hot tub.  There was a lounge area inside with a media library and a seating area outside in the rear of the middle deck.  That is the same deck as the galley and dining area.  The dive deck was roomy and had benches to suit up.  There was a camera area.  It was adequate but not huge.  I never had a problem with finding room.

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The sunsets were spectacular over the mangroves.  I believe the prices for this type of trip will eventually come down but if you want to beat the masses, you will pay a premium price because of the novelty surrounding a trip to Cuba!!  If you would like more information on diving in Cuba, contact me at sunkeytravel@gmail.com.

 

 

Traveling to Cuba, finally!! It’s legal but there are hoops to jump through!

In August 2015, I was fortunate enough to be invited on an experimental visit to Cuba for a people to people trip that included diving!!  What an experience, to say the least!!  Travel restrictions have been relaxed but not lifted entirely so you really have to jump through a few hoops to qualify for legal travel.  Luckily, there are some bills in Congress to remove the travel restrictions.  Fingers crossed!!  However, as of today, you still can’t go as a tourist.  As a travel agent in a country that is free to travel to nearly any country, that is very hard to explain.  Everyone heard that you can go to Cuba but they don’t realize how many restrictions there are to do that.  You have to qualify under one of 12 types of trips and the people to people type is the easiest.  I will be doing a few posts about traveling to this historic and beautiful country.

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I have traveled to a lot of countries but this one of the most unusual.  First, your credit cards & debits are no good there so you have to bring cash and convert it to Cuban Cuc’s when you get there.  There is a 10% penalty on American Dollars but you have to have local currency and as of now, you can’t convert it before you leave.  We tried an experiment by changing some to Euro’s before leaving and then exchanging it in Cuba without the penalty, it ended up almost exactly the same after you pay two exchange fees.  One update, Florida’s Stonegate Bank recently became the first US bank to issue a credit card to use in Cuba.

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Next is a large language barrier.  English is not widely spoken so it would be very good to have someone with you that speaks Spanish.  Our tour guides spoke English but the language problem is really was more pronounced here than in say Mexico.  Havana is a busy, beautiful, historic city.  There are incredible old buildings dating from as early as the 1700’s! (and probably earlier)  We’ve all heard about the old cars, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer number of them and the variety.  It was simply amazing!!  The above two were our taxi’s on a tour of the city.

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There are many buildings that were associated with Hemmingway.  Many others were in the process of being restored and many more were waiting.  Old Havana is a tour that is a must do when you go to Cuba.

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The above building is a mission dedicated to St Francis of Asisi.  Incredible history.  Below is a monastery complete with bronze monks.

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One of the most interesting things to see in Havana is Revolution Square where Fidel made most of his speeches.  The statue & tower above are at the top of the platform where the speeches were made and the metal sculptures below are on the buildings nearby.

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All in all, visiting Havana was like entering a time warp and it was an experience I highly recommend.  Hopefully, Congress will do the right thing and finally remove all travel restrictions so Americans can freely travel to this beautiful and friendly country.

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