Aboard the Jardines Aggressor II
Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina)
The most pristine reefs in the Caribbean
The Aggressor People to People program is run by the “Oceans for Youth Foundation.” They receive your payments to keep your visit completely legal under the current laws allowing US citizens to travel to Cuba for education. Trumps’s recent changes do not affect this type of travel. Thus, during our 7 nights on board the Jardines Aggressor II biologists and marine experts will host nightly discussions and presentations on the marine environment, conservation, and the importance of this healthy ecosystem.
Photo © Cathy Church
This 2019 Oceans for Youth Foundation program cost $4,400
(Cathy’s services provided as volunteer hours)
- Transfers are included to/from the Santa Clara Airport (Abel Santamaria Airport) or Camaguey (Ignacio Agramonte Airport); (Not from Havana.)
- Accommodations aboard the yacht (per person, based on double occupancy)
- Conservation program with experts on board
- Diving, compressed air tanks, weights & weight belts
- All meals and snacks, non alcoholic beverages, and local beer/wine
- Visa requirements, $100
- Travel insurance is always important for an overseas dive trip
- Diver insurance is required
- Conservation fee: currently $100.00. (100% of the funds is used for preserving the marine parks in Cuba.)
- Port Fee: currently $190
- Nitrox: $150
Every day starts with a cooked to order breakfast then a buffet lunch. Dinner is served with elegant table-side service featuring salads, vegetables, seafood, beef or chicken with a fresh homemade dessert.
Fresh produce is readily available in Cuba, and their menu includes variety to suit all tastes and diets.
Beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are complimentary while onboard.
Sharks are plentiful
Commercial fishing and industries are prohibited, permanent residences are non-existent, and tourism is strictly controlled. This policy was initiated in the 1990’s by Fidel Castro, who himself was a diver and understood the value of protecting marine environments. These reefs demonstrate the result of that care. The spectacular Jardines de la Reina National Park is located 60 miles off the southern coast and hopefully there will always be dive boats to help monitor its protection from fishing boats.
Photograph the amazing shark action, dive with schools of fish over a healthy Caribbean reef covering an area of 385 sq. miles making it the largest protected marine park in the Caribbean.
You will love diving in an ocean the way it was designed to be with a group of like-minded divers and Cathy along to make sure we ALL have a good time and get beautiful photos to show off at home.
AND we ALL leave our politics behind. No Politics or religion will even be mentioned during this trip!! No hint, no comment, no jokes.
The boat and the staterooms
The new 110’ Jardines Aggressor II has 12 crew, 10 deluxe cabins and 2 balcony suites, each with individual air conditioning, en suite facilities and hairdryer. Everything is big on this boat
The Salon is grand, indeed and the dive deck is spacious and unfortunately out of the sun because Cathy got so cold on the ride back in the tenders that she needed a lot of heat to recuperate!! But she did and went back for the next dives every time but ONCE.
Relax in the shade on the sun deck, or on cushioned lounges in the sun, or even in a Jacuzzi!
The photo center has a digital video and still photo-editing computer.
Diving in the Gardens
Like Cayman diving, the depths will range from less than twenty feet to up to 110’ at the lower permissible range of the deep wall drop off. This area between the small islands and the large island of Cuba is well protected and is less susceptible to surge, waves and current than the Cayman Islands are.
The water may be chilly, so bring a wetsuit, hooded vest, hood, whatever you will need to be warm in 73 to 78°F water. When the temperature drops, however, the visibility can be more than 100 feet! (The average in Feb. is a chilly 77º!)
Nitrox & Rental Gear are available (must be prepaid)
There are over 50 dive sites in the large Jardines. Here is a sample that I picked out from a fabulous list
Black Coral I
Depth ranges between 72 and 96 ft. Coral bands that grow higher near the edge of the drop-off are more than 30 ft high over the sand patches in the bottom between them, abundant colonies of black coral, a resident population of more than 20 Caribbean reef sharks, huge black groupers come close to the divers all the time, schools of jacks rubbing their bodies against the sharks to clean parasites away, parrot fish schools, clouds of school masters and yellowtail snappers, also rainbow runners and oceanic triggerfish.
Dive sites typically have hundreds of hungry sharks gathering in schools to be joined by manta rays and bottle-nosed dolphins. We can expect to see plenty of Caribbean reef sharks and silky sharks cruising the reef, hunting on schools of snapper and fusiliers. And, hopefully hammerhead, black tip, tiger and silver tip sharks.
Tiring of shark action, you will still see plenty of Large Groupers, Eagle Rays, turtles, Octopus, Squid, Moray Eels, Balloon fish, Shrimp, Crabs, Nudibranchs and all of the other delightful invertebrates that you have also enjoyed in the Cayman Islands but now they are more plentiful and in a prettier setting.
Now here is something you don’t get anywhere else–a very special opportunity to snorkel with a crocodile. This is a regular event and he has been most co-operative.
You will be picked up from Santa Clara (Abel Santamaria Airport) or Camaguey (Ignacio Agramonte Airport) for transfer by bus 2 1/2 hours from Jucaro to board the Jardines Aggressor II in time for the Saturday evening dinner and program.
Diving at the Gardens of the Queen starts Sunday morning to Friday. We disembark early Saturday morning to transfer to the Santa Clara Airport or Camaguey Airport. Includes a tour and lunch arriving at the airports between noon and 1 pm.
If you wish to fly into Cuba through Havana and do a tour there before you board the Aggressor, you will either need to fly from Havana to Santa Clara or take a 6 1/2 hour bus to get from Havana to the boat in Jacaro. There are more *flights that go directly to Santa Clara from the US and other cities than there are flights from Havana to nearby Santa Clara, so explore your options. There is a two day add-on available through our hosts the Oceans for Youth Foundation, but the price of $1600 for Americans is quite high. It costs closer to $400 for some travelers coming from European countries. Thus, I opted to skip the Havana portion. You are welcome to add it, but you will need to be careful that you can get to Santa Clara in time for a 6 pm pick-up and that may mean going in the day before. It would be better to take the 6-hour bus ride to Jacaro. Regardless of your entry, it must be done through the OYF to be legal.
(* For example, American airlines currently offers a 1h,10m non-stop flight leaving Miami at 3:45 PM and arriving in Santa Clara (SNU) at 4:55 PM, in perfect time for our 6 pm pick-up. Unfortunately, there is currently not a direct flight from Cayman to Santa Clara, so you can’t easily combo these two destinations unless you want to tour by bus from Havana to Jucaro which many people say they enjoyed.)
Aggressor Adventure Travel is an authorized travel provider for this OYF Cuba Travel Program, People to People Direct.
Photography trips with Cathy Church
The best reason to join Cathy on a dive trip is because she brings along EXTRA back-up camera gear in case YOU have a breakdown! The best insurance policy ever! She will contact each guest in advance to find out exactly what you are bringing, and will ask you to send a photo of the assembled system (unless she has already known your system from earlier classes and trips). She can then plan her back-up systems accordingly.
Cathy will be available throughout this trip to answer questions, help with problems, critique as needed to troubleshoot or just to admire your photos. If you have topics in particular that you would like Cathy to do a presentation on, Cathy is quite happy to do that on the boat. However, since there will be several marine biology talks, you may prefer that Cathy not also give a lot of photography lectures, but instead do more critiques and coaching.
Mostly, Cathy is there to make sure that you are getting the care you need, the dives you want, and the services above and underwater that you are expecting. Cathy is also there in case another guest is making you feel uncomfortable or is disrupting your ability to enjoy the trip. Fortunately, Cathy has been called upon to do this only about three times in her more than 50 trips, but Cathy has nipped several issues in the bud before anyone even knew about it.