Isla de la Juventud

The Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) is in the Gulf of Batabanó, 97 km from the main island. Much of the island is flat, with a large area taken up with swamp in the Ciénaga de Lanier in the southern half of the island. The northern half is more hospitable and here there are marble hills near the capital, Nueva Gerona, and the slate hills of Sierra del Cañada in the west. The area around the Presidio (Model Prison) is particularly beautiful, with its low green hills and citrus plantations. Mangroves line much of the coast, a haven for wildlife and migrating birds. Some of the south coast's white-sand beaches are inaccessible because of a military zone, but others may be reached with appropriate permits. There is, so far, no infrastructure in the area and roads are virtually non-existent. The beaches on the west coast have black sand.

Ins and outs

Getting there

The Rafael Cabrera Mustelier airport (GER) is nearly 5 km from town and there are three scheduled 40-minute
flights
a day from Havana. A testing way of getting to the island is by the passenger
ferry
from Surgidero de Batabanó on the mainland south coast. It takes one to three hours depending on which boat. It is usually crowded and the a/c is very cold. Do not even think about visiting the Isla without booking your transport off the island again. The plane and ferry are oversubscribed.

Getting around

Travel to anywhere on the island can be difficult although nearly every car will turn into a taxi
on request. The best way to see the island is to hire a
private car
with a driver/guide. It is worthwhile renting a car and driver/guide simply for the drive as there are some particularly beautiful areas with green rolling hills and citrus plantations. A good day's sightseeing will take in the Model Prison, the crocodile farm and the
Hotel El Colony
, where you can hire a kayak for an hour. If you hope to see the whole island, plan to spend more than a weekend, particularly if you want to see all the caves. Roads are generally in good condition.
You can hire motorbikes from the hotels.
Local transport is often by horse and cart
 (recommended for short distances), the drivers are willing to show you the sights and give you an impromptu history lesson. You cannot drive south of Cayo Piedra into the military exclusion zone without a permit, which can be obtained from
Ecotur
and other locations including the Buró de Turismo at Hotel Villa Isla, at car hire offices and at the Ministry of the Interior, Calle 16 at the harbour.
Ecotur
, is recommended as a means of getting around the island, with trips to the south and chances of spotting a wild orchid that smells like chocolate.

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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