About Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen
Gardens of the Queen was named by Christopher Columbus to honor the Queen of Spain and the area remains as spectacularly beautiful and wild as when Columbus experienced it centuries ago. Today, it is the largest no-take marine reserve in the Caribbean and among the healthiest marine ecosystems in the region. Unlike other parts of the Caribbean, countless coral and fish populations are thriving at the Gardens. You’ll see massive stands of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), which has diminished by nearly 95 percent in the Caribbean during the last 40 years.
The robust fish populations that call the Gardens home include bonefish, Cubera snapper, and the critically endangered Nassau and Goliath grouper. Covering more than 837 square miles, the Gardens also harbors an abundant shark population, including silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and whale sharks. But there’s more — the area has spectacularly healthy mangrove islands and shallow bays that teem with juvenile species, including rare crocodiles and the jutia, a native rodent.
In a world where many of the ocean’s corals and fish populations are decline, the marine life of Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen – the largest no-take marine reserve in the Caribbean – is thriving. The massive and strikingly beautiful Gardens of the Queen National Park is located 60 miles off the southern coast of Cuba, an archipelago comprising a chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands extending along 75 miles of turquoise waters. Gardens of the Queen was recently featured on an award-winning segment of the CBS news program, 60 Minutes, hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Due to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, it has been virtually impossible for Americans to legally visit Cuba and the Gardens of the Queen for more than 50 years. Now, however, you have an opportunity to see this pristine ecosystem for yourself and to do so legally. Under a license from the U.S. Treasury Department, the Washington, DC-based nonprofit conservation organization, Ocean Doctor, is now running the first-ever educational trips to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen. Avalon Cuba Diving Centers is proud to provide all in-Cuba travel services – including of course, scuba diving services – for participants in this unique educational program.
This unique educational journey examines the relationship of Cuban citizens with their natural environment, including burgeoning socioeconomic and cultural issues brought about by Cuba’s growing ecotourism industry. The exchange also represents an opportunity to explore with our Cuban colleagues important environmental issues that impact the marine waters that both nations share. The environment, and particularly the marine environment, is something that both biologically and culturally joins Cuba and the U.S. and the exchanges build upon the strong relationships Ocean Doctor has forged through since 2000 through its scientific research and conservation programs in Cuba. Visitors will meet with Cuban scientists, resource managers, ecotourism professionals and community members.
Six days of this 11-day/10-night trip will be spent aboard a floating hotel or liveaboard dive vessel in the heart of Cuba's Gardens of the Queen National Park, where much of the story lies underwater. U.S. visitors will accompany Cuban specialists and be able to scuba dive in one of the healthiest marine ecosystems remaining in the Caribbean.
Visitors will spend four nights at a 5-star hotel in Havana, visiting a variety of Cuba institutions and meeting with a range of Cuban professionals and community members.
Throughout the trip, you’ll meet Cuban scientists, educators and students from organizations playing a key role in Cuba’s conservation efforts. You’ll be able learn about their ongoing marine research undertakings, including collaboration with U.S. institutions.
When traveling from destination to destination by ground transport, you’ll take in Cuba’s countryside as you pass through Mantazas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Soritus and CiegoDe Avila provinces, learning about Cuba’s agricultural sector and rural communities.
Avalon Cuban Diving Centers is a group of ecotourism professionals united by its passion for the oceans. We run a low-impact operation whose goal is to share the beauty of Gardens of the Queen with others, with an emphasis on environmentalism, conservation and safety.
Ocean Doctor is a nonprofit organization led by Dr. David E. Guggenheim. Through its Cuba Conservancy program, the organization is focused on ensuring long-lasting, locally-supported study and conservation of Cuba’s marine ecosystem, as well as forging long-term collaborations between the U.S. and Cuba.
In Gardens of the Queen, participants may choose to stay aboard one of three liveaboard vessels or the Tortuga floating hotel.
• Avalon I, is a modern liveaboard that can sleep 16 in 8 staterooms. It is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
• Avalon II is a brand-new state-of-the-art vessel, larger than Avalon I with 10 staterooms. It is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
• Georgiana is a smaller liveaboard with 6 staterooms, air conditioned with private bathrooms.
• Tortuga is a small floating hotel with 8 staterooms that accommodate 2 or 3 guests each (for a total of 16-21 guests). It is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
Space is Limited
Cuban regulations strictly limit the number of visitors to this wilderness each year, and, as you can imagine, there is strong American demand to participate in this one-of-a-kind program. If you or your group is interested in an educational visit to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen, please visit OceanDoctor.org/Gardens to learn more.