Isla de la Juventud. Visitors are captivated by the beauty of the Cuban island, alleged to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Boasting long stretches of white, sandy beaches surrounded by overhanging palms, crystal-clear waterglobally-renowned for spectacular scuba diving and an abundance of both aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, Isla de la Juventud unsurprisingly remains a favorite amongst Cuban tourists. Located 94km off the southwestern coast of mainland Cuba and the largest of Canarreos Archipelago’s 350 keys and islets, the remote, yet historically rich, "Isle of Youth" can be reached either by hopping on one of Havana’s rapid planes or by taking a more scenic route on Batabanó’s numerous high-speed catamaran ferries. Modes of transport aside, every visitor is sure to be captivated by the sheer natural beauty of an island alleged to have inspired one of the greatest adventure novels of all time— Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
- Seemingly a newly-discovered island, given its sparse population and unspoilt scenery, Isla de la Juventud was actually chanced upon by Columbus himself back in 1494 on his second journey to the New World.
- Responsible for the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in the Oriente Province, notorious Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was imprisoned in the island’s Presidio Modelo penitentiary from 1953 to 1955.
Equally known as “the island of a thousand names” owing to the numerous names it has been given since Columbus’ arrival six centuries ago, Isla de la Juventud is most celebrated foroffering the adventurous traveller and marine animal lover an undeniably unforgettable scuba diving experience. From endless expanses of colorful coral reefs, gorgonians and sponges to an incredible array of fish species including spadefish, moray eels and barracudas to a multitude of limestone caves and sunken shipwrecked boats, visitors to Isla de la Juventud will be truly astounded by the breathtaking marine world lying beneath the Caribbean Sea’s surface. In fact, so exceptionally beautiful are the deep-water sights that the International Underwater Photography Contest is held on the island every year. Away from the sea and back on dry land, wildlife enthusiasts should next take a trip to neighboring island Cayo Largo del Sur. Not only can visitors set their eyes on respectively comical and proud-looking pelicans and iguanas, but they can equally watch in wonder at the sight of thousands of sea turtle hatchlings being released into their natural marine habitat.
For those tourists more interested in learning about thesurprisingly extensive history or curious cultural traditions of such a small island however, a thorough exploration of Isla de la Juventud’s intriguing museums or participation in its annual grapefruitfestival may be more enticing. Frightening, and perhaps unconventional, as it may sound to visit prison buildings while on holiday, the El Abra prison, which once held Cuban revolutionary José Martí captive, is actually housed in a charming hacienda and the Presidio Modelo prison is equally fascinating as it invites tourists to walk along the same corridors as Fidel Castro did himself almost sixty years ago. Possibly in need of a more lighthearted atmosphere at this point, visitors will certainly be put in a celebratory mood if fortunate enough to experience Isla de la Juventud’s Fiesta de la Toronja. Held annually in February over a five day period, this bizarre, yet undoubtedly enjoyable, festival celebrates the end of the citrus crop and, amongst other things, entertains natives and visitors alike with rodeo shows, conga sets and puppet performances.
Isolated the Isla de la Juventud may be, but the splendor of its coastal setting, richness of its biodiversity and uniqueness of its history make it a must-see destination for the avid Latin American traveller.