Jardines de la Reina is the name of an archipelago lying 50 miles south of Cuba and 80 miles north of the Cayman Islands. The name means Queen’s gardens and was invented by Christopher Columbus who discovered them in 1492 and named them in honour of the Queen of Spain, Isabella of Castile. The archipelago, which is sometimes called as THE GALAPAGOS OF THE CARIBBEAN, is composed of 230 small isles, and is about 150 miles long. In 1996, a marine reserve was established there, and now it is the most extensive protected area in the Caribbean Sea. The area is entirely closed - zero number of permanent population, commercial fishing prohibited, only one base allowed, entry only with a special permit, and strictly limited number of visitors. Detailed information about the base, accommodation possibilities and the AVALON fleet is available HERE.
As the area is closed, we can see the Caribbean as it was during Christopher Columbus times: undamaged reefs full of life and no other divers far and wide, just you and the sea. We can safely enjoy there, from very close range, 15-30m deep, Caribbean reef shark 1.5-3m long, close to the surface their somewhat bigger relatives, silky shark, and those who are lucky may run into whale sharks 7-12m long.
Caribbean reef shark, also called Peréz shark (Carcharhinus perezi). These beautiful creatures reach a length up to 3m and a weight up to 60kg. When diving, we can normally be 50cm from it or closer, so we can watch its ocular membranes (similar to our eyelids) with which it protects its eyes at the moment of attacking its fish victim. It apparently looks as if it closes its eyes as a gourmet when eating.
The second most frequent shark in Jardines de la Reina is silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Unlike Caribbean reef shark, it prefers areas close to the water surface so we most often meet it at the beginning and end of diving, so it makes our safety breaks more enjoyable (and nobody wants to put an end to them).
Whale shark(Rhincodon typus) is the biggest currently living species of shark. It reaches an average length about seven meters, and lives on plankton and small fish. Whale shark travels in the Jardines de la Reina Archipelago in the summer season and in the tern of November and December.
The biggest creature so far seen in the Jardines de la Reina Archipelago was a 10m-long young sperm whale(Physeter sp.) waiting on the surface for its parents. Adult sperm whale - as it is known - dive for food (giant octopus) down to kilometre depths, and they can survive without breathing for 45 minutes.
Nurse shark(Ginglymostoma cirratum) is a night predator so when diving during a day we meet it mostly asleep and hidden somewhere on the bottom. It eats slow creatures living on the bottom - rock lobster, snail, clam, octopus, squid, bony fish and ray. When fighting for food, they can easily beat even Caribbean reef shark.
If you are lucky, in some of the localities you can snorkel with young American crocodile(Crocodylus acutus) at the end of a dive. However, you have to be very cautious as baby animals are shy creatures, and they immediately run away when disturbed. When adult, they reach an average length of 4m, and we only recommend going in the water with a crocodile shorter than 2 m.
JARDINES de la REINA
Besides diving with sharks, enjoyable experiences include seeing local giant grouper (called there jewfish(Epinephelus Itajara) weighing about 200kg. In addition to these giants, you can see there wonderful Atlantic tarpon(Megalops sp.).
...relaxing ray(Dasyatis americana) and other classic species of the Caribbean, for instance tortoise, green moray, barracuda and plenty of small creatures. The localities are of two types: deep reefs where you particularly go to see Caribbean reef shark, and shallow coral reefs - gardens..
The local shallow reefs are particularly composed of brain coral, stony coral, gorgonian and large sponge typical of the Caribbean. Among them, there are schools of snapper, grunt and other coral fish sometimes creating fantastic "fish soups".
On the foot of these shallow reefs, over the sand bottom, we can watch tortoise, ray, and the current biggest sea snail - queen conch (Strombus giga - attention, a protected species. If customs officials find its shell in your luggage, you will have a big problem).
The operational centre of the AVALON diving base is located in the Tortuga floating hotel, safely anchored in a protected mangrove bay. A daily schedule usually contains one or two deep dives first, and the third dive means a relaxation in a shallow garden.
Thanks to the strict protection of the Jardines de la Reina National Park and strong control of entries of visitors, it looks almost like in Christopher Columbus times. Only you and the sea!
Have you ever received a 100% shark warranty? We will provide you with it. If you don’t run into shark during diving in Jardines de la Reina, AVALONS will give you back all money you have invested in your holiday - including the air ticket and spending at bars...