Cuba's Jardines de la Reina or 'Gardens of the Queen' was named by Christopher Columbus to honor Queen Isabella of Spain. It is located 60 miles off the southeastern coast of Cuba and is the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean. In 1996, the area was declared a National Park and has been protected and managed for conservation ever since. The Gardens of the Queen National Park encompases a chain of 250 pristine coral and mangrove islands extending along 75 miles of clear, turquoise water. It is also widely recognized to represent one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the Carribean.
Due to the intact connectivity of the extensive seagrass beds, desnse mangrove forests, and robust coral reefs, the remoteness of the area, and the history of protection from coastal development, the Gardens of the Queen represents a “baseline” for a nearly pristine Caribbean marine ecosystem; an ecosystem that includes healthy populations of apex predators like sharks and groupers, important grazers like Rainbow parrotfish and long-spine sea urchins, and recovering endangered species like elkhorn coral and hawksbill sea turtles.
In the waters of the park, visitors can expect to see pristine coral reefs, steep walls dropping from the reef crest to the abyss, large populations of fish including Goliath grouper weighing up to 400 lbs, large schools of multiple snapper species, large rainbow and midnight parrotfishes, eagle rays, sea turtles and much more. Additionally, several species of sharks are commonly seen including; silky, Caribbean reef, blacktips, lemons, hammerhead, and nurse sharks, plus the occaisional whale shark.
On the islands, visitors may encounter native hutia, the only indigenous land mammal in the Caribbean, large native iguanas, and nesting hawksbill sea turtles, seasonally. The dense mangroves also provide roosting and seasonal nesting sites for magnificent frigate birds, osprey, and many species of herons.
Learn More About the Dive Sites in Gardens of the Queen
Learn More About the Snorkel Sites in the Gardens of the Queen