Cuba Trip Report 2023 - Bluewater Dive Travel
Cuba Trip Report 2023

Cuba Trip Report 2023

CUBA Trip Report 2023


Images by Romona Robbins Reynolds
Video by Shane Reynolds


Just 103 miles south of Florida is Cuba, a neighboring country so close but yet not so easy to visit, if you are an American.  Cuba has been on my bucket list for so long, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance.  It's not every day that an opportunity such as this comes a-knockin', so my husband and I opted to do a Havana Land tour as a pre-packaged travel deal to our liveaboard trip organized by Bluewater Travel.  


 cuba culture tour dancer cuba landscape architecture cuba landscape architecture


Upon arriving at the Havana Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), we were greeted at the gate with a welcome sign from an airport attendant. She led us to the VIP room and offered us refreshing Mojitos and snacks while we waited for our other guests to arrive. After a full day of traveling, it was so nice to have expedited VIP Arrival services awaiting us.  Once everyone from the land tour arrived safely, we made our way out of the airport to find beautiful smiles and a warm welcome from our tour guide, Mabel, and our driver, Daniel.  We loaded up all our luggage into the taxi and hit the ground running.  Our Cultural Cuba Tour was just a two-day tour before boarding the Avalon IV Liveaboard.  There was so much to take in, yet so little time.  We didn't even have much time to enjoy our stay at the new Havana Lux Hotel with its rooftop pool (Cuba is quite HOT in October).   In those two days, we did a walking tour through old Havana, visited a cigar factory, had a post-dinner rum tasting, visited an authentic dance school, had lunch with an extremely interesting and knowledgeable Cuban Professor, explored the arts and nightlife of Havana, and--my favorite--a classic convertible tour with a professional photographer. Yes, we did ALL this in just two days!


cuba culture tour cuba cultural tour guests cuba car cultural tour


The history of Cuba is rich, and this is an understatement.  It truly is a time capsule.  The energy of the Cuban people is beautiful and vivacious. The food was delicious too. There was so much information in so little time that I felt like my brain would implode.   I wish we had more time to see more of Cuba, and have time to digest its culture and history.  Perhaps on a future trip!


cuba dive briefing cuba avalon liveaboard cuba diving underwater photography set-up


On Saturday morning, we met with other BWT divers who had flown into HAV. We embarked on a 7-hour bus journey from Havana to Jucaro.  This was a great way to see the landscape of Cuba.  When we arrived at the Avalon IV, we met up with the rest of our BWT group.  We had a solar eclipse during our 4-hour boat ride to the Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina, JDR) as we got settled into our home for the week. The Avalon IV is essentially a floating hotel.  The rooms were spacious and comfortable.  The crew was absolutely "FINTASTIC".  Every single one of them. I already miss, "HOT TOWELS"... and the food...lobster for days.  But now I want to dive into the diving...


cuba mangroves cuba avalon food cuba mangroves


Here is a brief history of JDR.  JDR is an archipelago in the southeastern part of Cuba, in the provinces of Camaguey and Ceigo de Avila.  It is one of the last protected marine areas in the Caribbean.  Jardines de la Reina was named after Queen Isabella I by Christopher Columbus. The archipelago spans an area of about 684,000 hectares, and it is peppered with healthy mangroves. It is known for having one of the most pristine reefs in the world.


cuba shark reefscape cuba grouper diving cuba shark


On the first day of embarkment (Saturday), the Avalon crew welcomed us and gave us a presentation on the history and conservation plans of JDR. We were given an assignment by our Avalon Manager, Byron.  Our job was to notate an assigned species of our choice from a list of species and document how many times we spotted that particular species from each dive and jot it down on the whiteboard (S=single, F=Few, M=many).


cuba fish reefscape cuba dive cuba shark reefscape


We did our first checkout dive on Sunday morning.  During the rest of the week, we did a total of 21 dives, this included one night dive.  We split the divers into two tenders (12 divers and 2 DMs on each tender). Each tender went to a different dive site. We would have had the option to do two-night dives, but we had inclement weather.  Keep in mind that October is still hurricane season for this side of the world.


cuba reef cuba diver with grouper cuba reefscape


The bathymetry of each dive site was unique.  We saw schooling tarpon, yellowtail snapper, tons of hogfish, creole wrasse, gray angelfish, green moray, horse-eye jack, drummers, stingrays, spiny lobster, cuttlefish, moon jellies, lionfish, barracuda, Pederson and banded shrimp, blue tang, conch, hermit crabs, basslet fish, butterfly fish, a hawksbill turtle, a couple of nurse sharks, several reef sharks, a couple of silkies, and--my favorite--several species of grouper.  I fell in love with a goliath and a Nassau grouper on this trip...and grouper is now officially off of my menu! These groupers were photo-bombing us; they were extremely curious and friendly. 

For five days straight we tried to find Nino the crocodile.  Unfortunately, he never came around.  We did get to visit the adorable hutias (a giant rodent endemic to Cuba) who have a fondness for papaya. Hermit crabs, iguanas, and squeaky hutias were our grand welcoming committee when we visited the island during our surface interval and after our many attempts to find Nino.   Mother Nature was working against us on this trip.  We had tons of wind and rain, and I'm certain this kept us from meeting our star, Nino.  

 cuba hutias cuba hutias cuba guest with hutias


As for the photo/video workshop, I couldn't ask for a better group of divers.  They all were so dedicated and passionate about learning underwater photography and videography.  We did daily workshops after lunch and nightly image reviews (my absolute favorite).  I got to watch these talented shutterbugs hone in and evolve on their craft.  There is nothing more rewarding than that!


cuba photo workshops cuba underwater photographer cuba bluewater travel guest


I try to be an optimistic person, but it was disheartening to see the significant impact of climate change on one of the most well-known reefs in the world. Due to extremely high temperatures over the summer months, JDR took a massive hit.  There was extensive coral bleaching, even at greater depths.  But despite Mother Nature and climate change, we had a trip of a lifetime.  The divers onboard, the Avalon crew, and the adorable groupers made the trip!


Looking for similar trips?

Check out our upcoming Cozumel 2024 Underwater Photo Workshop - May 2024

or join us in Belize for our Belize Underwater Photo Workshop - March 2025



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