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Isla de la Juventud (Special Municipality)

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© Lonely Planet Publications
179

Isla de la Juventud
(Special Municipality)
Siguanea, Juan El Evangelista, Parrot Island, Isla de Pinos – Isla de la Juventud has had more
incarnations than Fidel Castro has had policy u-turns. A veritable no-man’s-land compared
with the more popular tourist haunts on the Cuban ‘mainland’, La Isla – as locals affectionately call it – is an engaging blend of sleepy Cuban backwater and untamed ecological
wilderness.
The island’s most celebrated attraction is its underwater coral formations and scuba
divers flock here for what are considered to be the most impressive collections of dropoffs, wrecks, caves and marine life in the Caribbean. But, for those more at home on dry
land, there’s plenty of quieter corners in which to slow down, put your feet up, and get
to know the locals.

The island has served as a prison, with such infamous dissidents as Fidel Castro and José
Martí banished here. Cuba’s alternative Alcatraz can be viewed in a cluster of grotesque
circular buildings known collectively as Presidio Modelo. Situated 114km to the east, brilliant Cayo Largo del Sur is Cuba’s most ‘exclusive’ all-inclusive resort. In dramatic contrast
to the humdrum pace and underlying Cuban character of La Isla, the atmosphere here is
plush, foreign and ruthlessly professional, though the beaches are pristine and the cluster
of high-ranking hotels as good as you’ll find anywhere.
HIGHLIGHTS
Getting There
Cross the Golfo de Batabanó in a speedy
hydrofoil or lumbering on the ferry (p186)
Jail Break
Explore the eerily empty Presidio Modelo
(p187), where Fidel Castro and other
Moncada Barracks rebels were imprisoned

Golfo de
Batabanó
Presidio Modelo
Cayo Largo
del Sur

Punta
Francés
Cueva de
Punta del Este

Indigenous Art
Admire the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of primitive cave paintings in Cueva de Punta del Este (p189)
Going Deep
Wrecks, walls, coral gardens and caves; Punta Francés (p188) is the best place to dive in Cuba
Beach Comb
Relax on the white, soft sands of Playa Sirena (p189) on Cayo Largo del Sur
TELEPHONE CODE: 46

POPULATION: 80,625

AREA: 2398 SQ KM

ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD
( S P E C I A L M U N I C I PA L I T Y )

Nueva Gerona is the best place to start, the island’s cheerful capital, an architectural hotchpotch of old and new that feels as if it fell asleep in 1945 and woke up 60 years later. Other
curiosities include the indigenous cave paintings in Cueva Punta del Este, a turtle breeding
center on the isolated south coast and the botani...
ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD
(SPECIAL MUNICIPALITY)
179
Siguanea, Juan El Evangelista, Parrot Island, Isla de Pinos – Isla de la Juventud has had more
incarnations than Fidel Castro has had policy u-turns. A veritable no-man’s-land compared
with the more popular tourist haunts on the Cuban ‘mainland’, La Isla – as locals affection-
ately call it – is an engaging blend of sleepy Cuban backwater and untamed ecological
wilderness.
The island’s most celebrated attraction is its underwater coral formations and scuba
divers flock here for what are considered to be the most impressive collections of drop-
offs, wrecks, caves and marine life in the Caribbean. But, for those more at home on dry
land, there’s plenty of quieter corners in which to slow down, put your feet up, and get
to know the locals.
Nueva Gerona is the best place to start, the island’s cheerful capital, an architectural hotch-
potch of old and new that feels as if it fell asleep in 1945 and woke up 60 years later. Other
curiosities include the indigenous cave paintings in Cueva Punta del Este, a turtle breeding
center on the isolated south coast and the botanical gardens of La Jungla de Jones.
The island has served as a prison, with such infamous dissidents as Fidel Castro and José
Martí banished here. Cuba’s alternative Alcatraz can be viewed in a cluster of grotesque
circular buildings known collectively as Presidio Modelo. Situated 114km to the east, bril-
liant Cayo Largo del Sur is Cuba’s most ‘exclusive’ all-inclusive resort. In dramatic contrast
to the humdrum pace and underlying Cuban character of La Isla, the atmosphere here is
plush, foreign and ruthlessly professional, though the beaches are pristine and the cluster
of high-ranking hotels as good as you’ll find anywhere.
Isla de la Juventud
(Special Municipality)
HIGHLIGHTS
Getting There
Cross the Golfo de Batabanó in a speedy
hydrofoil or lumbering on the ferry ( p186 )
Jail Break
Explore the eerily empty Presidio Modelo
( p187 ), where Fidel Castro and other
Moncada Barracks rebels were imprisoned
Indigenous Art
Admire the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of primitive cave paintings in Cueva de Punta del Este ( p189 )
Going Deep
Wrecks, walls, coral gardens and caves; Punta Francés ( p188 ) is the best place to dive in Cuba
Beach Comb
Relax on the white, soft sands of Playa Sirena ( p189 ) on Cayo Largo del Sur
TELEPHONE CODE: 46 POPULATION: 80,625 AREA: 2398 SQ KM
Francés
Punta
del Sur
Cayo Largo
Punta del Este
Cueva de
Batabanó
Golfo de
Presidio Modelo
© Lonely Planet Publications
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Isla de la Juventud (Special Municipality) 9 10 392