Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), is situated about 100km off the south coast of mainland Cuba, is home to some of Cuba’s most important agricultural farmland and is a key producer of citrus fruits for export. The standard of living is generally higher, largely due to the preponderance of well cultivated, arable land which makes the problem of food shortages less pronounced than on the mainland.
The Isle of Parrots, The Isle of Pirates, The Isle of Treasure, The Isle of Pines and nowadays, The Isle of Youth are the different names that this island has received. Columbus discovered it on his second journey to the New World.
From 1953 to 1955, Cuban leader Fidel Castro was imprisoned in the Presidio Modelo on the Isla de la Juventud by the regime of Fulgencio Batista after leading the failed July 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks in the Oriente Province.
The island is split into two fairly distinct topographical sections, north and south, and is dissected by a large swamp which runs from the southeast coast to the southwest coast. The north is generally flat and dry although there are a few marble hills near Nueva Gerona and the area is heavily farmed for citrus fruits. The harvesting of the grapefruit in January is marked by one of the country’s biggest and best festivals.
The beaches in the north are black sand and generally disappointing, in the south there are some superb white sand beaches, so if you want a holiday centred around palmfringed beaches and calm crystal-blue seas then the south coast of the Isle of Youth is a good a place as any.
Cayo Largo del Sur
Cayo Largo del Sur, also known simply as Cayo Largo, although only a relatively small 17 miles (27 Km) long island it is blessed with an almost continuous stretch of pretty beach, notably along its south coast. There are six beaches all of which will be able to satisfy your sun and sand lust: Playa Sirena, Playa Lindaman, Playa Blanca, Playa los Cocos, Playa Tortuga and Playa Luna.
But as if surrounding it with fine white sands was not enough. Cayo Largo was given the gift of being eternally caressed by clear and gentle water of incredible hues of blue. When you finally arrive in Cayo Largo you will be surprised to find a natural environment that practically has not changed at all since the world began.
There is an abundance of natural wildlife including iguanas and giant sea turtles. Close by is a small group of islets, the best known of which is Cayo Iguana. The protected coral reef around the island makes for good diving, the reef itself stretches for more than 30km and includes the rare and protected black coral.
It is the capital of the island and the only thing that constitutes anything remotely resembling a town,
It is a busy and relatively prosperous town and the small but colourful streets have a provinvial Latin America, rather than distinctly Cuban, feel about them. Many of the African students who study on the island are based here and the town has a more cosmopolitan atmosphere than most other towns and cities outside Havana. Also they contribute towards the island's citrus fruit industry.
Parque Central on Calle 39 is the place where many of Nueva Gerona's young congregate. At weekends it is also home to some excellent live salsa and if you are visiting the city this is a good place to start, it is also home to the local tourist information office and to the most of the town's cafes and restaurants.
Outside Nueva Gerona you can find Model Prison, El Abra Museum, Beach of Black Sand and Punta del Este Caves....
Siguanea Beach is located on the shores of Siguanea Bay, on the central western coast of the Island of Youth. It is just 5 minutes away from Siguanea’s small airport and 35 minutes from Havana by plane. It is a 25 mile drive from Nueva Gerona brings.
On the beach is situated El Colony Hotel, with 77 air conditioned rooms, bathroom and TV. Restaurants, snack bar, sea bar and night club. Swimming pool, sport areas and watersports. Medical services. Telephone and international fax: Rent a Car. Horse riding and other activities are available.
Cuba's International Scuba-Diving Centre is located on a small Marina in Ensenada de la Siguanea. A multilock hyperbaric chamber is available at the Diving Center. A physician specialized in hyperbaric medicine is ready to provide preventive services and diving diseases treatment.
El Colony diving zone is located within the limits of the breath-taking paradise of Punta Frances Marine National Park. This comprises of 6 km. (4 miles) of coast, between Punta Pedernales and Punta Frances. The zone is very well protected with a remarkable environmental stability, thus having an exuberant reef development.
There are 56 attractive diving sites, some of them in areas of dense and colorful populations of corals, gorgonians and sponges. Others are located where the drop-off falls sharply, also more than 20 caves, passages and tunnels, coral hillocks and valleys are included.
The kind of fish varies from one site to another, so we can find schools of tarpons, spadefish, jacks, grunts, schoolmasters and yellowtail snappers. Nassau groupers, black groupers and barracudas are frequently found, also there are turtles, eagle rays and sometimes sharks. Among the most spectacular sites you can find are: Pared de Coral Negro, Tunel del Amor, Cueva Azul, El Pasaje Escondido, Cueva de los Sabalos, Piedra de Coral, EL Salto, Ancla del Pirata, Paraiso de las Levisas and Pequeno Reino.
Others diving zones are Los Barcos Hundidos, which are remains of sunken ships scattered on an extensive are between 6 and 9 meters (20 or 30 feet) deep, with many school of fish, including barracudas and stingrays, and a numerous sessile fauna attached to the ships. Los Indios, known for its vertical walls and big coral hillocks with sand beds, and Fuera de Limite, a peculiar place where the coral reef grows from the coast and falls into 15 meters (49 feet) deep, with big rocks full of corals, gorgonians, sponges and many coral fish.