Near the top of Cuba's celebrated list of dive sites you'll find Los Jardines de la Reina, an archipelago so beautiful Christopher Columbus felt inspired to name it after his benefactor Queen Isabella I of Spain. Unlike much of the Caribbean, the reefs, mangrove forests and cays that make up "The Queen's Gardens" have changed little since the late 15th century, thanks in large part to Cuba's robust efforts to protect its marine ecosystems and the country's general lack of mass-tourism. This means that, should you be lucky enough to constitute one of the roughly 1,000 visitors permitted here annually, you should come prepped for a unique and fantastic diving experience.
Getting to the Jardines is half the battle. Located 87 km off Cuba's southern coastline, you'll have to first huff it to the small port town of Júcaro and from there make the journey via liveaboard to the archipelago. Once there, however, you'll have the opportunity (50 of them, actually) to experience the kind of marine life that has earned these islands the nickname "The Galapagos of the Caribbean." We're talking sponges, hard coral, lobsters, stingrays, sea turtles, Goliath grouper and American crocodiles just to name a few, not to mention more shark species than you can shake a stick at (Reefs, Bulls, Nurses, Hammerheads, Whales, Leopards, etc.). All this isolation admittedly comes with a sizable price tag compared to other sites around Cuba, but when it comes to one-of-a-kind Caribbean dive experiences sometimes it pays to, well, pay.