The islands

The Isla de la Juventud, or Isla, as it is known, looks as though it belongs on a scorched-edged pirates' map of old parchment bearing a single cross indicating buried gold. Apparently such tales of treasures still abound as it was once a lair for British and French
. Its history as a temporary home for Castro (in prison), for Martí (in exile), for the US Navy (another naval base) and for residents from other communist countries (as students) makes the island a curious destination for the traveller keen to get off the beaten track. Its modern-day appeal lies in the exceptional diving off the west coast, the ancient caves and its natural setting.

As a one-time prison island, there has been very little development, and what there is has been concentrated around Nueva Gerona, its main town, and the port area. The island was badly affected by the hurricanes of 2008 and was low on the priority list for rebuilding. There are few reasons to stay here if you are not interested in diving, as the swimming is poor compared with other Cuban beaches. The island is a good place to go for a weekend out of Havana, although if you plan to see the whole island you will need more than one weekend.

Cayo Largo, on the other hand, is a sun, sea and sand destination, where all-inclusive is the order of the day and you are totally isolated from the rest of Cuba. It is so little a part of Cuba that Cuban pesos are invisible. Everyone comes here on a package deal, for one day, two days or a week, for no other reason than to enjoy the idyllic beaches with pale golden sand and perfect conditions for swimming, sailing and other watersports.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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