The Jardines del Rey archipelago is a ribbon of practically untouched islands and islets which lie 20 to 60 km from the Cuban mainland, on the islands northern coast, spanning 250 miles (400KM) all along Cuba’s north coast. Essentially, the reef begins at Cayo Blancos, Varadero and ends at Cayo Sabinal in the Sabana-Camaguey archipelagos. The part of the reef pertaining exclusively to Jardines del Rey is 125 miles (200km) long.
As the world’s second largest barrier reef, trumped only by the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland Australia, its gigantic extension of coral reefs has been both a peril to ships for over two centuries and, a unique attraction for divers and leisure enthusiasts since 1993, when the first hotel was built on Cayo Guillermo. Shipwrecks, underwater caves and amazing marine life abound throughout the whole reef. The areas between the beach and the beginning of the reef are typically shallow waters, naturally protected by the reef wall on the Atlantic side, ideal for snorkelers exploring the coastal side of the reef and scuba divers on the deeper Atlantic side of the reef. Smaller fish and, those species in breeding season, will move across into the shallower waters for protection, making the spectacle for snorkelers absolutely unique. The Atlantic side of the reef is typically populated by larger fish and sea mammals such as whales and dolphins.
Common to most of the Caribbean, the reefs are teeming with life and vibrant corals, making any snorkeling or diving experience unforgettable. The reef serves as a wall of protection, not only for the beaches but, also bathers in the area, quelling high seas and waves as it acts as natural breakwater while also keeping larger fish and predators out of the shallower coastal side of the Reef. Larger fish, sharks and mantas that attempt to cross from the Atlantic side into the shallower coastal waters find themselves either impaled on the fast petrifying coral or slashed by its razor like edges as they traverse. It is not uncommon to see the smaller fish feeding off these dead carcasses of larger fish that have made the fatal mistake of trying to pursue a meal that little too far over the reefs ledge, finding it impossible to switch back and invariably being cut and succumbing to the wounds on the coastal side.