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Nueva Gerona Travel Guide, Cuba

Isla de la Juventud is located on the southern coast of Cuba. It is considered to be the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago.

The island has known a variety of names from the Island of a Thousand Names, Isla de Pinos (Isle of Pines) and Parrot Island to the indigenous names: Siguanea and Camarco. After its discovery by Columbus, the island was named La Evangelista. It had been made reference to the island as the Treasure Island; some say that Robert Louis Stevenson took this island as a model for his novel.

The present name of the island Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) comes from the schools and colleges that were built in order to educate the foreign and the Cuban students.

The island’s capital is Nueva Gerona. With a flat relief and the second-largest swamp in Cuba, the island has few people, the majority of them living on the north coast.

Tourists can get to Isla de la Juventud by flight from Havana. There are 4 flights a day so if you miss one there’s no problem. Also aerotaxi assure a daily flight on the rute Havana – Nueva Gerona.

There is also another way to get to the island: by boat. The best way is to reserve the ticket in Havana and in two hours you are on the island.

The economy of the island is centred on grapefruit plantations, cattle breeding, marble deposits and utility pottery. These are the pillars of the island’s economy.

The island was discovered in 1494 by Christopher Colombus who replaced the name given by the natives (Camarco) with La Evangelista. Under the Spanish domination, the island was turned into the colony of Queen Amalia. The capital was set at Nueva Gerona in 1830.

Later it was called Isle of the Exiles; here were sent those who had problems with the law in Spain. Until 1975 the isle was named Isle of Pines, and since then it became Isle of Youth. For more than 300 years the island was the home of the pirates who plundered the waters of the Caribbean Sea.

The history of this territory is very turbulent. The United States were interested in it, Belgium wanted to buy it, while England represented a treath for the island. Beside the natives, the island hosted colonies of Japanese immigrants who founded a villa named Jacksonville on the southeast coast.

The Isle of Youth has several touristic attractions. One famous attraction is that of "El Colony" International Diving Center. Situated in"Punta Francés" Marine National Park along the Pirate Coast, tourists can practice here fishing, scuba diving and underwater photography. The aquatic scenery comprises coral reefs and turtles.

The sightseeing of the best-preserved native cave paintings at Punta del Este in the Caribbean Sea represents another attraction of the place. The cave (Cueva de Punta del Este) is famous for the over 200 rupestrian paintings that are very well preserved. With abstract and geometrical lines, these paintings are thought to be very important from a religious point of view.

One of the best known places on the island is the Presidio Modelo. Situated at 5 km east of Nueva Gerona, the huge prison blocks are today a museum; this is the place where Fidel Castro together with other conspirators were imprisoned after the Moncada raid failed.

Tourists can hang out in Nueva Gerona’s park, or visit the colonial church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. If you go to the east, you will see a black-and-white ferry, El Pinero, that was transformed into a monument after it carried Fidel Castro and its rebels in the Moncada raid.

Interested in shopping? Then you should go to the only pedestrian street that exists in Nueva Gerona. There you’ll find the majority of shops, bars and restaurants in town. It is the spot where all the action takes place. For those who have as a hobby history, there is Museo Provisional. Here are exhibited glimpses from the history of these places dating back to the pre-Columbian era.

At 27 km south of Isla de la Juventud’s capital tourists can visit La Jungla de Jones, a botanical garden with a beautiful collection of tropical flora. There is also Criadero de Cocodrilos, a place for crocodile breeding.

Among all these, there are beaches were you can relax and enjoy sun.

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