My first visit to the Isla de la Juventud was in 1996 and I have gone there many times since. It is Cuba’s largest island and is 2200 square kilometres. The capital is Nueva Gerona where marble hills can be easily spotted. This island has no sugar cane but is known for citrus fruits and marble. The locals sigh when they hear of Isla de la Juventud, “Ahh, La Isla es muy bonita”.
“La Isla” is the least populated region of Cuba. Gerona has a population of about 14,000 and La Fe about 9000, and people are scattered amongst the small farms and towns. Scuba diving along the ‘Pirate Coast’, Indian cave paintings at Punta del Este, Presidio Modelo built under Batista, capable of holding 6000 prisoners and where Fidel was once imprisoned; the black beach and unspoiled coral keys are some of the highlights of this island.
Getting there is for the adventurous! Cubana flies an Anatov aircraft from Havana to Nueva Gerona a few times a day; it is a 30 minute flight. As well, there is a hydrofoil that takes about two hours and leaves from a port near Havana.
Casa Particulares are a good option and food is good; as well, there are a few small hotels nearby.
Horse and cart and bicycle taxis are still important modes of transportation.
Hurricanes have caused devastation to homes and crops over the years. On my last visit two years ago, I saw the devastation caused by the most recent hurricane with roofs destroyed, crops uprooted, the local post office destroyed and the roof of the stadium completely gone. We watched a baseball game, shaded by umbrellas from the hot 30 degree sun! The latest visit in 2011 allowed me to see the determination of the Cubans on La Isla with the construction of new homes in Sierra Caballo, near Gerona, built with aid from Venezeula (these are typical models built by the state in Venezuela). In Gerona there were other homes being constructed.
People on the Isla are easy going and friendly. I have friends whom I met on my first visit in 1996. I have been to the Isla about 25 times over the years, including once on May Day; La Isla is nearly always on my list of “things to do in Cuba”.
Enjoy the photos!