The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba
The Carribean is one of the most popular scuba diving areas for American travelers, with easy access to attractive locations in the Cayman Islands, Belize, the Mexican coast and Honduras, among many others. There is a large concentration of famous dive sites with a variety of diving styles and marine life, including encounters with large marine creatures, world-known wrecks, and cave and cavern diving. Naturally, there are many interesting dives for underwater photographers.
But there is one area which is still virgin, and that is Cuba. There are two main reasons for this. First, it is sort of a “black area” for American divers for political reasons, and second, it is still not easy to reach for European or Asian divers. As a European diver, I had been exploring the possibility of diving in Cuba for a few years, and after checking some YouTube clips from Jardines de la Reina, I decided to see it for myself. The diving in the videos was too tempting to pass up.
A Caribbean reef shark passes by in the rich waters of Jardines de la Reina.
Jardines offers many close encounters for those willing to seek out the diving.
About Jardines de la Reina
Jardines de la Reina is a remote and uninhabited part of southern Cuba, some 50 miles offshore (do not confuse it with “Jardines del Rey”, which is further north). This area is heavily protected by the Cuban goverment, so only scuba diving and some “light” big game fishing are allowed here (thanks to Castro, who was a diver himself and wanted to preserve the area). Cuba is slowly starting to open the gates to tourism, and now we are blessed with the opportunity to dive in this fantastic area.
There is one single, goverment controlled but “joint venture," Cuban-Italian operator conducting scuba activities, Avalon Diving. The area is reachable only by liveaboard, but Avalon Diving made an interesting “floating hotel." It's essentially a big boat converted into a convenient mid-category dive facility anchored in the middle of Jardines, and can accomodate up to 20-25 people living there at a time. Each day divers are transferred to the dive locations with light, speedy boats that we are used to seeing in the rest of Caribbean. The other option is to book a “classic” liveaboard – a 7 day cruise around Jardines. I found the floating hotel to be most effective.
Some of the silky sharks are more than 3 meters long!
A 7 day diving package consists of 5 diving days with three dives a day, since you loose the first and last day on transfers to/from Jardines. It's the only con for this trip. Also, you have to arrive in Havana (where the transfer is organised) one day before the booked trip, and stay in Havana one day afterwards. This presents a great opportunity to explore the city for a few days after your dive trip.
The Diving - Sharks!
The diving itself is something trully different. The water is very clear, and during every dive you are treated to close encounters with dozens of sharks... for the entire dive. I've had the oportunity to dive throughout the world and have seen many sharks before, but never in this fashion. They even started to get a little boring! If I was the operator there, I might even dare to say, “Sharks guaranteed or money back!” This is definitelly the place to go if you are a shark lover. Divers will most frequently encounter groups of silky and carribean reef sharks cruising around in close proximity, giving you many amazing photo options. Most of the sharks, if not every shark, are bigger then 2 metres, few bigger than 3m. The dive guides, who are very competent, know exactly where and when to take you, but it also seems that sharks congregate around the mooring buoys as soon as they hear the boat engines, expecting few pieces of fish after the dive (which they receive). The sharks are not agressive, but courious about the divers so there was never any sense of danger or threatening behavior. Of course, wide angle photography and close-focus wide-angle are common techiques here, so i never even bothered to try macro shooting.
The caribbean reef sharks are often found patrolling near the bottom of the reef.
At some of the dive sites in Jardines de la Reina you'll find dozens of Lionfish.
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