Ocean Doctor January 2014 Trip to Gardens of the Queen, Cuba
After meeting the Ocean Doctor representative/trip leader (Erika Bergman) at the check-in counter in Miami we checked our bags, paid overweight fees, and boarded the AA 737 charter flight to Havana. After the 40 minute flight and clearing customs we were met by the representative of Avalon (Ruxandra Perez Talaba) who escorted us to our hotel in downtown Old Havana, assisted us in check, and took us to one of the new restaurants located in a private home for a great "Cuban" meal.
The next morning we met our local tour guide and spent the day driving and walking around Havana along with a short visit with the staff at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation of Nature and Man. To say the least the time spent in Havana was interesting and fascinating. With the old American cars from the 1950's, the great old Architecture, the street artists, the monuments from the "Revolution", and the famous bars and restaurants (all were evidently the favorite of Earnest Hemmingway) it was great day of touring.
The second day we visited the community of Las Terrazas, about 30 miles from Havana. The scenery was great and the history of this area was interesting. Walks through the forest and zip lines across several lakes added to the fun of the day.
The next day we had an early start (4:00 am) and a six hour bus ride to the small village of Jucaro. We boarded the boat (Georgiana) and headed out to Gardens of the Queen, about a four hour trip. The Georgiana was a self-contained boat with six cabins and its own compressor. We did three dives a day, one after breakfast around 8:00 am, another around 10:00 am and the third around 3:00 pm. Most dives had two guides, one for die hard photographers and one for the rest of us. Dives were never hurried and there was always something to stop and see. The water temperature was 79-80 and the visibility was usually 100+ on the morning dives and 30-60 in the afternoon as the tide turned.
Now to the diving, as I said if you don't like sharks, Don't Go. You will have sharks on virtually every dive. Silkies, Gray Reef and Nurse sharks, sometimes all three on a single dive. You will find yourself surrounded by up to 30 sharks on some dives. Is this a great place or what? Even on the afternoon dives when the visibility was down you would look out and sure enough a shark would appear out of the mist to check things out.
There are lots of other things to see besides the sharks, the reef is by far in the most pristine condition of any in the Caribbean and teaming with life. On any given dive you could see Stingrays, Eagle Rays, Barracudas, Tarpons, Goliath, Nassau, and Black Grouper, Eels, Dog Snapper, Nudibranchs, Black Coral, etc., etc. And more Sharks.
A couple of side trips included snorkeling over pristine Elkhorn coral, snorkeling with 5' crocodiles and a beach visit to see local iguanas and the large native rodent, the Jutia. The boat crew was friendly and attentive and the meals were outstanding. Avalon, the dive operator had their act together, with good equipment and trained experienced personnel.
To sum things up, Gardens of the Queen is a dives destination not to be missed. I hope I have the opportunity to visit again.