Who did I dive with in Cuba? Avalon Cuban Diving Centers invited me to experience Jardines De La Reina (Gardens of the Queen). Gardens of the Queen is a protected marine area and the number of divers per year is limited to under 1000. It is an area with 150 islands. We dove in the Southern part and expected to see Caribbean reef sharks, Silky sharks, sting rays, nurse sharks and healthy coral reefs which Andersen Cooper called a “Living Time Machine” when he visited for CNN in 2011.
How did I get there? I stayed in Havana and met bus transport at the Parque Central at 5am on the day of the live aboard departure. It was a large bus and 3 dive boats were leaving at the same time. We made two comfort stops along the way. It is about a seven hour ride. Jucaro is about two hours from Trinidad if you want to explore that part of Cuba before or after the dive trip.
How many people are on the boat? I was on the recently renovated Avalon 2 which has 10 staterooms and holds 20 divers. There were 12 divers on my trip. 10 men from Mexico, one Israeli paratrooper and ME!
What did you eat? We were served large fantastic meals family style three times a day and we also had snacks after the 1st dive and pizza and mojitos in the hot tub after our 3rd dive of the day. Breakfast included eggs prepared any way you wish, toast, ham, cheese, croissants, breakfast meats, cereal, yogurt, fruit plate with banana, guayava, pineapple, mango, and many types of marmalade. For lunch we had dorado, chicken with artichoke and pimineto, rice, soup with beans and chicken. There was a variety of food and it was good. I loved eating with my dive buddies and our days and meals were full of laughter. Dinner included fresh grilled fish, homemade pasta and breads, lobster, steak, soup, salad. One night we had paella, langosta, steak, mahi mahi, rice, vegetables, fresh bread. Every night there were giant steaming platters of food that included spaghetti, sashimi and whole fish.
I loved the dinner with fresh grilled steak, kabob skewers with shrimp and veggies, grilled tuna, pasta with garbanzo beans, homemade bread and of course wine and drinks.
Did you set up your gear? I did not touch a fork except to eat and I did not touch my tank except to put my regulator in my mouth. There is no cleaning up, changing over or work of any kind. On this liveaboard, you eat, dive, sleep and repeat. We had hot towels after each dive and were treated like royalty.
How is the diving? What will I see? We saw all types of sharks, damsel fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, brain coral, fan color, tubes, pillar coral and crabs. We saw giant moray eels, lobsters, rays, barracuda, turtles, tarpon, spotted drum, angel fish, dog fish, blue tang and gorgeous colors! These are pristine reefs and the diving is incredible.
What about Nitrox? I did all sixteen of my dives on Nitrox. We had two divemasters with our group of twelve. Please let me know any other questions you have about our dives! I would love to dive again in Cuba. It was my first visit to the country and the 94th country that I have visited.
Did you need a visa? I bought a visa at the airport in Cancun while waiting in line to check my bag for my flight. It was $20usd cash. Leaving Havana my exit visa was included in the price of my ticket back to Cancun. I was in Cuba from Oct 20 – 29, 2016 which was before many of the new flights from the USA to Cuba began this month. Things are changing rapidly now but while I was there you could not use an American based ATM or credit card in Cuba.
Where did you stay in Havana and how did you get there? I stayed in an AirBnB in Havana and I flew in from Cancun. I traveled solo and I loved it. See my adventures and videos here.
Other things I learned along the way traveling with 11 male dive buddies:
The two rules of life:
Rule #1: There are no rules
Rule #2: Do what makes you happy
Tips of what to bring on a live aboard:
Speaker for music from your phone
Extra Conditioner for your hair (3 dives a day!)
Pirate flag (my new dive buddies brought one)
Good friends or good attitude so you can make new friends
Good dive skills
Socks for dive boots
You do not need shoes on a live aboard
and they have great blankets!