Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen: An Unforgettable Learning Adventure
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.
cean 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 work in Cuba’s “Gardens of the Queen” was featured on an award-winning segment of the CBS news program, 60 Minutes hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Book Your Trip!
Space is extremely limited for our trips, so we encourage you to submit a no-obligation booking request as soon as possible.
Upcoming scheduled trips:
- September 23 – October 3, 2015: Gardens of the Queen aboard Avalon I Live-Aboard
- December 23, 2015 – January 2, 2016: Gardens of the Queen aboard Avalon II Live-Aboard
- March 31 – April 9, 2016: How Cuba Went Green (with Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation)
- December 1-10, 2016: How Cuba Went Green (with Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation)
These dates don’t work for you? You can also submit a request for other dates using our booking form below.
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Not ready to submit a booking request? Have questions? If you haven’t already consulted the FAQ section of this page, many of your questions can be answered there. Otherwise, please contact us using the form below (click to display it) or you may call us at: +1 (202) 695-2550. Please also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to receive updates on our Cuba Travel Program.
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While in Havana, participants will enjoy quality hotel accommodations and Havana’s finest cuisine. 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)
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.
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The following prices apply to our trips to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen. Other trips (such as our trips with Cross Cultural Journeys), are priced differently. Discounts, commissions and/or free spaces are available for groups, travel agents and wholesalers.
|*Plus a $250 conservation & research fee supporting Ocean Doctor's collaborative conservation and research activities in Cuba to help ensure the health and lasting protection of Cuba's marine ecosystems.
Prices are subject to change without notice. All prices are per person, quoted in U.S. dollars. Prices include round trip airfare from Miami to Havana, all transfers/ground transportation, hotel/vessel accommodations, meals, excursions, inscription fees, fuel surcharges and air fills and tank rentals for scuba portion of program.
Please read our Payment and Deposit Policies
Please contact us for details on pricing for wholesalers, dive shops, etc.
A word about prices: We realize this is not an inexpensive trip. Here’s why: Our program is designed for legal travel by U.S. citizens and residents. Because of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, there are many additional expenses required to comply with U.S. regulations. Tourism by U.S. citizens and residents in Cuba is prohibited by the U.S. government. Our program complies with U.S. regulations because it includes an educational component that promotes “meaningful interaction” with the Cuban people. Developing and running such an educational component requires additional staff and costs. We are also required to have a trained Ocean Doctor representative accompany all groups. There are additional costs associated with licensing including recordkeeping/administrative and legal costs.Since there is no regular commercial air service to Cuba, we are limited to regulated charter flights from the U.S. or costly trips through third countries. On the positive side, our program delivers rich content with top-notch accommodations and service. Finally, a portion of the travel fee supports Ocean Doctor’s research and conservation work in Cuba.
Ocean Doctor is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC dedicated to protecting and sustaining our oceans. Our Cuba Conservancy Program is built on more than 15 years of work of Ocean Doctor founder and 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.
Our Ocean Doctor sponsored trip to Gardens of the Queen in Cuba exceeded all expectations. Lodging and transportation arrangements In Havana along with the educational component and guided tours made the land based days interesting and well worth while. The diving experience was almost beyond belief! Imagine what Caribbean marine life was like 50 or 100 years ago, that’s what you’ll see in the Gardens of the Queen.
As the icy Cold War between the USA and Cuba begins to thaw, we feel very privileged to have traveled with Ocean Doctor to Havana and Garden of the Queens. Every person we met — hosts, land and sea guides, guests speakers — evidenced a great measure of knowledge, kindness and care. The commentary by the tour guides, the discussions with speakers, and of course, the diving, all exceeded our expectations. Hope to return again as soon as time and tides allow.
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 you
- 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.
- 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.
- Want a little safe adventure in your life? Do it.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!!
I just wanted to personally thank you for organizing and leading our group to Cuba. Larry and I had such a memorable time, getting to see and interact with the Cubans and diving the Jardines de la Reina. This was the trip of a lifetime for us, and I am so impressed with your knowledge and commitment to making the experience so enjoyable. Your passion to Cuba and our future with them is extraordinary!