Gardens of the Queen dive trip Cuba

Gardens of the Queen

  • Master Class: Photography with a Purpose

  • Diving in the Gardens of the Queen

December 30, 2017 – January 6, 2018

  • Where: Gardens of the Queen
  • Duration: Cuba 8 Days / 8 nights
  • Max No. of Guests: 16
  • Pricing: Please Inquire Below
  • Activities: Educational exchange activities including diving, snorkeling and photography
  • OFAC License: Educational Activities (515.565)


Updates, Trip Reports, Special Offers

– We will pick you up and bring you directly to the Jucaro, 2 1/2 hours drive where is the Avalon fleet is operated from. As soon as everyone is onboard, the vessel will depart on the 5 to 6 hours cruise to the Gardens of the Queen.
DAY 2 – 6 SUNDAY 12/31 THRU THURSDAY 01/04
– Breakfast, lunch and dinner (included) and 22 dives (6am to 9pm) 4 dives per day X 5 days and 2 dive on Friday Jan. 6
– Meet with marine experts to gain insight into the conservation measures that Cuba is taking to preserve their delicate aquatic ecosystem in the Gardens of the Queen. “Jardines de la Reina was declared a Marine Park in 1996 – and with the support and management of Avalon, along with the Research Center for Coastal Ecosystems in Ciego de Avila and the Fisheries Control Department, this area has been preserved for future generations as an intricate network of untouched marine ecosystems that have been regarded by many knowledgeable scientists and organizations as a bench mark of the original status of coral reefs as found by Christopher Columbus in the early years of his discovery.”
DAY 7 FRIDAY 01/05
– After Breakfast we make two or three dives today time permitting and depart the gardens, for arrival on the next morning to Jucaro dinner onboard.
– Breakfast (included) (8am)
– Depart the vessel and the crew at 09:30
– Havana extension is possible under private arrangements.


Jardines de la Reina, the best underwater studio in the world, is the perfect location to learn and practice photography of large, toothy sharks and crocodiles in Cuba’s first ever marine protected area.  Warm, crystal clear waters full of wildlife to capture safely await you.


Imagine a place where you can spend the morning diving healthy, robust reefs overflowing with Caribbean reef and nurse sharks, the afternoon in the sunlit mangroves photographing crocodiles, and the sunset interacting with silky sharks at the water’s surface. This may sound like a location only to be seen in your dreams, but it is very much real and will surpass your expectations. This is a typical day in Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen. Apex predators abound in this marine life haven, an idyllic spot that has been protected from unsustainable coastal development, overfishing, and aggressive tourism for the last 60 years. If you would like to experience this jewel of the Caribbean while perfecting your big animal photography techniques, join us in Jardines de la Reina for our Shark and Crocodile Photography Master Class with Amanda Cotton.

When you decide to take photos of apex predators, you are no longer just snapping captures of your dive trip, but you are engaging in conservation photography. It is wildlife photography for the purpose of furthering public understanding and environmental conservation. Both sharks and crocodiles are greatly feared, misunderstood, and unappreciated. The brutal practice of shark finning claims the lives of tens of millions of sharks annually for use in shark fin soup, while crocodiles, despite being covered by CITES, are still often illegally taken and fall victim to the trade in exotic skins. By creating images that emphasize the beauty and uniqueness of these animals, each one of us can play a part in changing people’s minds all over the world about the true nature and importance of these creatures. By participating in this Master Class, you will not only have the privilege of sharing the water with sharks and crocodiles, but will also develop the tools you need to capture images that can change minds, attitudes, and maybe even behaviors.

Gardens of the Queen is the perfect place for this BigAnimals Master Class. The abundance of large, toothy subjects is obviously a plus, but the water conditions are flawless for our purposes. The waters of Jardines are warm, blue, calm and clear, the precise parameters necessary for honing your photography skills. It is easy to concentrate on your subject and be creative when you never get cold and don’t have to worry about poor visibility or heavy currents.

Cuba is a remarkable diving destination full of splendor and mystery. Its most glorious attribute is its abundance of sharks in both volume and species diversity. It is a protected hotspot for Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and more. There are few places where a diver can experience these animals up close on every single dive; regardless of dive site, Cuba offers this. Amanda Cotton is thrilled to be teaching a workshop where participants can systematically and reliably capture images of sharks in different environments and shooting scenarios.

The crocodiles that inhabit the mangroves and shallow seagrass beds that border the dive sites of Jardines, are accustomed to the presence of people and are surprisingly docile. As with sharks, they generally tend to be represented in a way that does not accurately reflect their true nature. In Cuba, these reptiles freely roam through the mangroves where we will be able to snorkel with them and photograph their prehistoric beauty and intimidating smiles.

Gardens of the Queen sets the stage to allow divers ample opportunity to practice shooting different species of sharks in low light/nighttime and dusk, on seascape/reef, in schools or large numbers, and in ambient and deep reef environments. This gives photographers the chance to practice a wide variety of underwater photography techniques including wide-angle, ambient light, strobe filled, and even macro settings. The same can be said for the photographic opportunities with the crocodiles where several hours can be spent in the water with them trying out different exposures, strobe settings, and even lenses.

Photographers will capture images after detailed instructions for the optimum style for each particular dive site, followed by critique and instruction on improvement and daily post production/photo editing sessions.

Participants are invited to get involved in each session both in the water and in the classroom as much or as little as they desire. One-on-one and customized assistance will be provided for all individuals.


A twp year old, 110’ long vessel that can accommodate 16 people in eight ensuite double cabins. Fully air conditioned, the boat has a large diving deck, good rental diving gear, Nitrox, a parlor, dining room, and bar. Even a Jacuzzi is waiting for us on the top deck.

Meals are superb with pasta, lobster, shrimp, and salads combined with plentiful fresh tropical fruit like guava, pineapple and pa- paya. English speaking guides, as well as some of the crew are very experienced and accommodating.


President Obama opened the door to reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba on 17 December, 2014. While there is still an embargo and tourist travel is prohibited, Americans who wish to experience the culture and dive in Cuba may do so on a people- to-people trip where they will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities and experience meaningful interaction with the Cuban people.


When we receive your deposit, we will send you a comprehensive and detailed Trip Preparation Bulletin about the experience and the destination. All trip costs are subject to change without prior notice until your reservation is confirmed.

  • A deposit of 33% of the total trip price is required to secure space on the trip.
  • Full payment is due no later than 90 days before departure.
  • We reserve the right to sell any space that is not paid in full by 60 days before departure.
  • Cancellation Policy
    • Must be made in writing.
    • More than 90 days before trip: Deposit will be refunded in full.
    • 90 days or less before trip: Deposit will be refunded if space is sold, less unrecoverable costs of sales, and administration costs.
    • No refund is made for unused part of the itinerary.
  • The following are subject to change:
    • Cost of services which are not included in the expedition price
    • Flight time and schedule
    • Weather, water temperature, and animal behavior

Insurance: you MUST provide proof of travel and diving insurance

Question — how can we help?


Amanda Cotton Expedition Leader

Amanda Cotton

Expedition Leader

An expert guide and professional Nikon Photographer specializing in underwater imagery, Amanda’s photos have been published in major publications and news sources worldwide including National Geographic, Discovery, Times Publishing, CNN, and Science Daily.

In addition to being an expert underwater photographer, she is also an excellent coach who will happily work one-on-one with you to ensure you get the best possible shots of the sharks.

Amanda is honored to be a member of of The Women Divers Hall of Fame, The Explorers Club, a member of OAS (Ocean Artists Society), and a recognized shark expert, who’s gentle and friendly style is appreciated by both sharks and guests alike.

Ron Watkins Expedition Leader

Ron Watkins

Expedition Leader

Ron Watkins is a professional photographer, writer, explorer, trip leader and photography instructor specializing in underwater and topside nature photography. Through his imagery, Ron is committed to raising awareness of the challenges facing our fragile ecosystems and threatened marine life in hopes of promoting conservation.

Whether helping his clients capture a once in a lifetime photo of a transient pod of orcas in the Galapagos, crocodiles in Cuba, giant Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez, or rare salmon sharks in Alaska, Ron always has a focus on safety, organization, education, conservation and adventure.

Ron most recently received the prestigious Underwater Photographer of the Year, Our World Underwater, World Shootout and Ocean Art photography competitions.





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