Visit Cuba’s Spectacular Gardens of the Queen
Ocean Doctor’s educational trips to Cuba, including Cuba’s spectacular Gardens of the Queen, are now available for booking. Travel to Cuba under this program is legal for U.S. citizens and residents. Ocean Doctor is licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department for educational programs to Cuba and we work to ensure that all activities are in full compliance with U.S. Treasury regulations. Under the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens for tourism is prohibited. However, licensed “people-to-people” educational visits are permitted.
Ocean Doctor’s Cuba Travel Program 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 important environmental issues that impact the marine waters that both nations share through face-to-face interaction. 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 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 (Jardines de la Reina) National Park, 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. Gardens of the Queen is Cuba’s first marine park and the largest no-take marine reserve in the Caribbean, 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. Space is limited. Visitation to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen is limited to only 1,000 divers per year by the Cuban government. Ocean Doctor’s Cuba Travel Program is in partnership with our travel providers, Avalon Cuban Diving Centers and Marazul Charters. All trips are led by Dr. David E. Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor and Cuba Conservancy director and/or experienced Ocean Doctor representatives. Your travel helps support our work!
Our trip to Havana and The Gardens of the Queen exceeded my expectations! The Cuban people were warm and welcoming to us all. Our educational programs totally raised my awareness of the beauty and importance of keeping our reefs healthy. To be able to dive in pristine and virginal waters opened my eyes further to how we can improve the reefs throughout the world. I hope that David and Ocean Doctor can continue these programs to others. The story truly lies underwater! Thank youSANDY DRISCOLL
Any trepidation I had about traveling to Cuba from the United States soon evaporated when I arrived in Havana and was warmly greeted by Ruxandra, our representative from Avalon travel. She was the first of many who had a role in making the trip so memorable. We checked into our comfortable hotel in Old Havana. From my room’s balcony window I could watch the famous old cars cruise by. As an educational tour we were able to take advantage of the connections generated by the founder of Ocean Doctor who was traveling with us on his 70th trip to Cuba. We spent time with the scientists, dive operators and environmentalists who were working to preserve the Cuban marine environment. They shared their knowledge and passion during discussions and over meals together. A picture was forming as to how the Gardens of the Queen became such a remarkable marine preserve and what challenges there are to keep it that way. Our time in Havana passed quickly as we enjoyed the sites and sounds of this historic old city. Visits to Hemingway’s hangouts rounded out our stay in Havana. As an avid diver, instructor, and tour leader for 40 years I have seen the changes that have occurred to our reefs in the Caribbean. I was overjoyed by the health, diversity, and beauty of the Garden of the Queens reef system. There is very little (if any) diving left in the Caribbean that can compare to the diving at these sites. Adding to the sense of wonder was that we were the only boat in sight at any of our dive sites. I will be going back soon because I spent so much time watching the reef sharks, tarpon, goliath grouper and other big fish that I missed the little stuff like nudibranchs and other favorites. I highly recommend this trip to all divers. It will recharge your sense of wonder and hope for the Caribbean reefs.TOM PEDERSONInstructor & Travel Guru Scuba Center (Minneapolis, MN)
1. The Ocean Doctor facilitation of U.S. divers in conjunction with Avalon and the Cuban ministry of tourism was a seamless coordination which made the entire experience an educational and diving treat. 2. Cuba and it's people are a safe and striving community. There is no danger to visitors and tourists are welcomed and respected. None of us felt threatened despite our gender or the hour while exploring Havana. 3. Want a little safe adventure in your life? Do it.PETER W. KING, DVM
I was on the first "people to people" trip with diving to Gardens of the Queen with David and some of the finest dive industry experts. This 11 day/10 night program is an excellent combination of education, diving and culture. The interaction with the top Cuban Marine biologists and conservationists was very informative. The diving at Gardens of the Queen is the finest Caribbean diving with unique, up close shark interactions and huge quantities of fish living in a balanced and fully protected marine eco system. And the touring of Havana and other parts of Cuba was memorable and eye opening. The Avalon II live aboard will be finished in March, 2014 and appears to be on track to be one of the finest floating hotels in Cuba if not the world.RICHARD WOULFE
This trip was absolutely worth every cent. We loved our time in Havana, with the guides and walking around and the restaurants. Food was surprisingly quite good. The diving was absolutely far and away the best in the Caribbean (and we have been almost everywhere that's easily accessible) and the Avalon dive operation was professional, on time and first rate. We would go back in a minute!CATHY MACK
I have had the privilege of traveling 153 countries of the world, per the “Travelers’ Century Club.”Cuba last week was country No. 154, to which I had the many, many year-awaited pleasure of visiting legally, as this was the only manner in which I had ever planned to visit Cuba. As a foreign policy & economics ‘student of developing countries,’ I had the inconceivable privilege of visiting Cuba with Dr. David Guggenheim and his Ocean Doctor NGO, and its education program specialty of marine biology, and the interchange and lectures and programs with the ultimate marine biologists and all aspects of marine protective leaders in Cuba. Speaking the Spanish language was a huge added bonus with regard to the Educational (Marine Preservation) and “People to People” aspects of our U. S. Treasury Department-authorized (1,000% LEGAL) trip! But, the added opportunity to spend five (5) golden/precious/incredible/glorious days of diving Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), with Italian-owned, Avalon Cuban Diving Services, as an avid global scuba diver, made my Ocean Doctor trip one of the ultimate all-around, international trips of my lifetime at age 74!! Along with my previous, one and only Holy Grail of global scuba diving, I have now added my 2nd Holy Grail of diving uponPlanet Earth, Jardines de la Reina in Cuba. As a life time, Boutique, Exclusive scuba diving travel agency owner, I cannot wait to return to fabulous Cuba & Jardines with dive buddies who will relish & appreciate the privilege of visiting and scuba diving Cuba legally, as honorable Americans!!SIDNEY M. ROSENPresident Nafta Travel Services (Phoenix, AZ)
Just returned from Ocean Doctor's People-to-People expedition to Cuba, and what a great experience!! The people were friendly and open. We had unlimited access to marine biologists, researchers, and environmental economists, who all gave excellent presentations on Cuba's marine environment. And the diving in Gardens of the Queen was absolutely outstanding. Can't remember the last time I saw such prolific schools of fish and tarpon. There were sharks (caribbean reef, silkys, nurse) on every dive and the staff and crew were fabulous!! Thank you David G. for all your hard work in opening up this beautiful country and it's marine environment to us!!DORIS PFISTERSales Consultant Caradonna Dive Adventures
Cuba lingers...in your heart and soul......! A most memorable and amazing journey to a land where time has stood still. it was so refreshing to see and interact with a vibrant, energized and happy but hard working people willing to share with you their stories, their art, their passions, their hopes for the future. The sight of horse drawn carriages in the countryside and '50s vintage cars in the city was such a delight! It was equally wonderful not to see western franchises, commercial billboards, people talking or texting on cellphones. Instead, there was music everywhere and lovely people willing to share their experiences in engaging conversation. What a novel concept! Thanks to Ocean Doctor for making this possible and for Erika, who was the most fearless of leaders! She is an amazing woman who was professional, competent, fun & funny, and fluent in spanish (which helped us immensely in understanding the hopes and concerns of the people). She went the extra mile and had answers for all of our questions.....we were in excellent hands! Our guides in Habana were knowledgeable and friendly. Our staff on Georgiana was fantastic! They catered to our every need by providing us with wonderful food, drinks, accommodations, cool refreshing face towels after a dive, beautifully shaped towels/sheets of various sea creatures in our room.... and the ever present smile! You could tell there was a lot of love and care put in everything they did. The competent and very knowledgeable avalon managers/divemasters provided us with underwater and land experiences that will not be soon forgotten! I have traveled around the world and few places have touched me as deeply as Cuba and its smiling, generous, resourceful and kind people. It is a unique place that awakens all the senses, touches the soul, and puts you back in touch with humanity. i would return in a heart beat!TERESA GREENWAY
I was honored to be invited along on the first trip to Cuba that Ocean Doctor now conducts as a person-to-person, cultural and educational program. I must say that the journey fulfilled all three of those criteria, allowing us to meet and converse with a wide range of Cuban citizens and learn about their history, daily lives and their work to conserve both the marine and land environments. The diving we were privileged to experience in The Gardens of the Queen was simply phenomenal. I've dived all over the Caribbean but have never seen the health and diversity in the total marine environment than I saw there. Cuba and Ocean Doctor are doing amazing things to preserve our oceans for future generations.MARK J. ROBERTSFounder DiVentures (Omaha, NE)
Book Your Trip
Our Cuba trips run throughout the year, based on demand. Prospective travelers and groups submit their preferred dates of travel and we do our best to schedule a trip around those dates, depending upon the availability of vessel space and establishing a minimum group size. Please take a moment to complete our online booking request form below. We recommend that you book early as space is limited. We’ll follow up with you to confirm your request, arrange for deposits, etc. Visitation to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen is limited to only 1,000 divers per year by the Cuban government.We look forward to working with you to create a memorable and meaningful trip to Cuba! And remember, your travel helps support our work!
Our trips are 11 days/10 nights in duration, departing on Wednesdays and returning on Saturdays via direct flights between Miami and Havana. During our journey, we will visit Havana and vicinity, the Sierra del Rosario mountain range — a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve — in Pinar del Río Province, the Cuban countryside, the fishing village of Jucaro and Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) and learn from Cuban scientists and experts about the important marine research and conservation efforts underway, including collaborative efforts with U.S. institutions. We will also learn about the management of Gardens of the Queen — Cuba’s first marine reserve and today the largest “no-take” marine reserve in the Caribbean — and observe how ecotourism activities, including scuba and catch-and-release fly fishing, are managed in the park. We will have the opportunity to visit research sites throughout Gardens of the Queen, both above and below the water.
While in Havana, participants will enjoy 5-star hotel accommodations and Havana’s finest cuisine.In most cases, our travelers will be booked at Havana’s Parque Central Hotel, in the heart of Old Havana. 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 which can sleep 16 in 8 state rooms. It is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
- Avalon II is the newest, most spacious and luxurious vessel in the Avalon fleet, placed into service in April 2014. It has 10 state rooms and is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
- Georgiana is a smaller liveaboard with 6 state rooms, air conditioned with private bathrooms.
- Tortuga is a small floating hotel with 8 state rooms that accommodate 2 or 3 guests each (for a total of 16-21 guests). It is air conditioned with private bathrooms.
Avalon II Schematics (559.0 KiB)
About Gardens of the Queen
Los Jardines de la Reina or the “Gardens of the Queen” was named by Christopher Columbus to honor Queen Isabel of Spain and the area remains as spectacularly beautiful and wild as when Columbus experienced it over 500 years ago. Covering more than 837 square miles, Jardines de la Reina is one of the largest marine parks in the Caribbean and among the healthiest Caribbean marine ecosystems. Coral and fish populations appear remarkably healthy and abundant here in sharp contrast to other parts of the Caribbean. Myriads of robust fish populations include black grouper, bonefish and Cubera snapper. Even the critically endangered Nassau grouper and Goliath grouper are found in large numbers here. The area also harbors an abundant shark population, including silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and whale sharks.
Cuba Conservancy is working with the Cuban Center for the Study of Coastal Ecosystems (Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeros, CIEC) and the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) to study this unique ecosystem and its surrounding “life support systems,” such as the virtually unexplored Gulf of Ana Maria, in order to better understand why these marine ecosystems have been able to thrive in a world of corals that are dead and dying. We are also working with our Cuban partners to assess the economic and social value of such a healthy ecosystem. Finally, we are working to research and protect the unique and pristine ecosystems of Jardines de la Reina in order to ensure that these protections will endure in perpetuity, serve as a compelling model for marine protected areas worldwide, dramatically advance human understanding of how healthy coral reef ecosystems function, and yield critical insights to inform management decisions for protecting coral reefs globally.
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Cuba Conservancy, an Ocean Doctor program, is built on more than 13 years of work of Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim, who directs the program. At the core of Cuba Conservancy’s mission is to establish sustained collaboration between Cuba and the United States to:
- ensure enduring, locally-supported marine research and conservation programs in Cuba.
- contribute to major advances in the scientific understanding of Cuba’s natural resources.
- achieve meaningful, long-lasting conservation for Cuba’s marine ecosystems and shared ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico.
- forge long-term collaborative relationships with our Cuban colleagues.
- help train the next generation of Cuban marine scientists.
The Program builds upon a strong foundation of scientific research. Research not only serves the purpose of advancing science and informing conservation policy efforts, but also helps forge strong, long-term collaborative relationships and credibility, facilitating efforts in the policy arena. Further, collaborative scientific research is a long-supported activity by both the Cuban and U.S. governments, presenting fewer political hurdles for licensing, approvals and permits.
Our Travel Partners
I don't see a schedule of trips. How often are trips run?
Are you planning any FAM trips? If so, when?
Yes. We are conducting FAM (familiarization) trips for travel agents, dive shops, etc. throughout the year. Please contact us for details regarding pricing, etc.
Is there a different pricing structure for travel agents, travel wholesalers, dive shops, etc?
Absolutely. We also offer commissions/referral fees and/or FOC trips for the Gardens of the Queen portion of the trip. Please note that commissions and referral fees are not determined by Ocean Doctor but by our Travel Service Provider, Avalon Cuban Diving Services. Please contact us for details.
How much scuba diving can we expect? How difficult?
Will there be the possibility of adding additional dives for an extra fee?
Is this program suited for non-divers, too? Is there a different price for non-divers?
Should we bring our own scuba gear or can we rent it once we're there?
It’s best to travel light, especially since you could end up paying a fair amount in excess baggage fees. For a small fee you can rent everything you need from Avalon Cuban Diving Centers once you arrive. Avalon rents new, modern equipment, primarily from Cressi, including wetsuits, masks, fins, snorkels, regulators, etc. Current prices are as follows:
Rental Charge per Day ($USD), Payable in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)
|Underwater Light (Isotta)||$6|
|Underwater Light (Lucilla)||$2|
Prices are subject to change without notice.
Is Nitrox available?
What's the best time of year to visit Gardens of the Queen?
We look forward to participating in the trip! We'd like to take a side trip in Cuba on our own before or after the official trip -- is that possible?
I work for a governmental agency and/or have a security clearance. Can I travel with your program without jeopardizing my job/clearance?
I'm traveling solo. Is there a single supplement surcharge?
How do the flights work? Do we fly to Cuba directly from the U.S?
Yes. We will be flying direct to Havana from Miami on a special charter flight through licensed Travel Service Provider, Marazul Charters in New Jersey. When available, we provide Priority Check-in for all of our travelers. Travelers are responsible for making their domestic flight reservations. Because of the early check-in time, you will probably need to overnight in Miami for the outbound flight. The cost of your trip includes round-trip airfare to Havana from Miami. Below are the flights we will be using for most groups. Note that the schedule is subject to change without notice. Wednesday Charter via American Airlines – Flight AA 9440 Depart MIA 11:00am Arrive HAV 12:00pm Check-in at 8:00am – Con. D – 2nd floor Saturday Charter via American Airlines – Flight AA 9471 Depart HAV 3:40 PM Arrive MIA 4:45pm Check-in at 11:40AM – Term# 2 – José Martí
This isn't an inexpensive trip. Can you explain some of the costs that affect the price?
What about insurance. Are we covered traveling to Cuba?
Included in the price of the trip is Cuban health insurance coverage for the duration of your stay. We recommend that you check with your own health insurance company regarding coverage while you are in Cuba. A hyperbaric chamber is located in Havana. We recommend travelers purchase travel insurance, including travel cancellation, travel interruption, baggage loss, etc. A number of U.S. travelers to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen have recommended Squaremouth, a highly-rated website that helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance products from every major U.S. travel insurance provider. Established in 2006, Squaremouth is headquartered in St. Petersburg, FL, with offices in Fort Wayne, IN.Squaremouth allows customers to investigate and compare travel insurance policies. The comparison engine provides an unbiased platform based on price and benefits.
I have DAN (Divers Alert Network) insurance. Am I covered in Cuba?
Here’s what DAN says: “Due to the embargo the US imposed on Cuba, we would not be able to pay/settle any claims for accidents while actually in Cuba. However, we would be able to evacuate a member from Cuba and transport them to a medical facility in which we would be able to pay claims as stipulated by the policy. If you have specific in depth questions, please feel free to contact our claims department. You may reach them at 1-800-292-8381 during office hours.
Do U.S. credit/debit/ATM cards work in Cuba?
Due to the U.S.-imposed economic embargo against Cuba, there are no banking relationships between the U.S. and Cuba. Therefore, U.S. credit, debit and ATM cards will not work in Cuba. This means that you need to bring cash for incidentals, such as tips and souvenirs. We cover this and many other topics in detail in our Cuba Travel Handbook, which you will receive after you are registered.
Can we access the Internet in Cuba? Will our mobile phones work? What about bringing our electronics into Cuba?
Due to the economic embargo, U.S. mobile phones do not function on the Cubacel network. Wifi is available for a fee at our hotel and at no charge aboard the Tortuga Floating Hotel. You can use your smart phone’s wifi functions to send/receive email/messages. It is fine to bring mobile phones, laptops and tablets into Cuba for your own use. We cover this and many other topics in detail in our Cuba Travel Handbook, which you will receive after you are registered.
Our international team can best answer your questions via email. Please use the contact form below and we’ll reply as soon as possible. If you haven’t already consulted the FAQ section of this page, many of your questions can be answered there. Please also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to receive updates on our Cuba travel program. You may also call us at: +1 (202) 695-2550.