Gardens of the Queen, Cuba

I have very good memories of all the places in the world that, during the last twenty years, I have been lucky enough to visit with the excuse of scuba diving. Amazing places I never thought would exist and animals I never thought I’d share space with. Today is one of those days that if I start to remember, the “Niño” comes to mind. A crocodile …

Gardens of the Queen is the most virgin archipelago of those surrounding the Cuban island. It is located in the Southern coast of the island, in the Antilles Sea.

Gardens of the Queen is a space shaped by mangroves, in the middle of the sea. A unique place full of life.

As always, the purpose of the trip was to dive with sharks. There were many sharks. It is one of the places with the highest concentration of sharks I have visited. Sometimes we had to work miracles to return to the boat, as they would surround it, being so curious about that strange artifact floating in the water.

Adrenaline was a constant in every dive but nothing like the “Niño” effect.


One day, returning to the calm waters of the interior of the mangroves to spend the afternoon until the night, the captain went out on the deck and went to call out the name “Niño”.

After a minute, two eyes appeared on the surface and slowly moved closer. It was a crocodile! It reminded me of the scene in Peter Pan, where the crocodile sneaks up to the ship, only his eyes on the surface, to see if he catches Captain Hook. After giving him a piece of chicken, the captain said to us: “Come on, jump in the water and swim with him.” What? With a crocodile? He’s gone crazy, we thought …

But well, little by little, we cheered ourselves up and jumped into the water.

It is very difficult to explain the feeling you get when you are in front of a wild saltwater crocodile. Unlike sharks, the crocodile doesn’t express anything, it doesn’t move, it just looks at you. You constantly have the feeling that if you lose your way, you will be swallowed up.

Even so, the “Niño” let himself be photographed like a star of the park. We swam around him, gave him more chicken and some of us touched his head.

How to put sharks to sleep

After swimming with the crocodile, we thought nothing could beat that experience. We were wrong. The next day, we were presented with another challenge: learning to put sharks to sleep, even though the main premise of every diver is not to interfere with marine life, starting with not touching any animal.

Sharks have openings in their noses called ampoules of Lorenzini, which are electroreceptor sensory organs that help them detect the electromagnetic vibrations around them. If we know how to hold them by the nose with one hand, while with the other we press the tip of their caudal fin, the shark falls asleep instantly.

Again, it’s hard to describe the feeling of having the most feared predator of the oceans in your hands, completely still. You think that at any moment he will wake up and eat you immediately.

I held on for ten seconds with the sleeping shark and when I saw that its weight was causing me to fall to the bottom (not swimming the shark fell under its weight). I let it go.

The shark immediately awoke and left quietly. There was no sign of hostility or aggression. The shark is not as bad as the cinema tells us …

Gardens of the Queen were an incredible and surely unrepeatable experience. It was one of those experiences you remember for the rest of your life. And after so much adrenaline, it was necessary to ask for a good mojito. Or… two!

By Lluis Manel Montoro