Photo feature by Luis Rondon Paz and Doug Townsend

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s Isle of Youth (formerly the Isle of Pines) is one of the largest in the Caribbean. Located roughly 60 kilometers from the Batabano port and 142 kilometers from Havana, it has a total land surface of 2,400 square kilometers and is surrounded by more than 600 keys and small isles (making up the Canarreos archipelago in Cuba’s south-western region).

Known as a special municipality (because of its relatively small size), its reduced population and the fact it is an island, it is directly subordinate to the central government in Havana. Its most densely-populated cities are Nueva Gerona, the head municipality, Santa Fe and La Demajagua. There are smaller towns, such as the Delio Chacon, Jose Marti, La Patria and La Victoria districts. The latter is highly popular owing to the story surrounding Cuba’s once-famous super-cow, Ubre Blanca (“White Udder”), which has a monument at the entrance of town to this day.

Some of the island’s highlights are the International Scuba Diving Center, the Model Prison, the Colony Hotel, the black sands of the Bibijagua beach, the Largo del Sur Key and Cayo Largo del Sur Marina, the El Abra ranch (where Jose Marti was once confined), the Cienaga de Lanier National Park and Reserve and others.

A cultural heritage center.

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One thought on “Cuba’s Nueva Gerona, on the Island of Many Names

  • Thanks for your fotos, Luis and Doug! I remember staying at the Hotel Colony in 1970. The beach was unique; once you entered the water, you could walk out on this smooth, white, wrinkly sand for hundreds of years and still be only calf- or knee-deep. Unbeknownst to me, there were sea urchins beneath these sands who gave nasty stings. Fortunately, I avoided their barbs. Looks like the dock was taken out–or maybe just rotted away. The motel was in good shape then, only ten or twelve years old, having been completed just before the Triumph of the Revolution. It must have been rehabbed since then, as it is now known as an international dive center. To get to the Isla de Juventud, we took the Pinero from Batabano to Nueva Gerona. This was the same boat that brought Fidel and the other Moncada prisoners to-and-fro the “Model” Prison in the early- and mid-1950’s. Later, I hear the Pinero got crunched in a hurricane and, besides aeroplanes, there are a couple of passenger hydrofoils that ply the route between the mainland and the island. Still have some old snap-shots of my own of our (Feb.1970) visits to the the beach at Bibijuagua, the “Model” Prison, The Colony, our trip on the Pinero, volunteering in the grapefruit orchards, visiting the “schools-to-the-countryside,” (and also, as school that was teaching young women to drive and maintain tractors), etc. Years later, in So. Florida, I got to know a former U.S. citizen (Maria Mitchell) who lived on the island. She and her husband moved there in the late 1940’s to retire. He died sometime in the 1950’s, but she stayed on all the way ’til the mid-1960’s, long after most other U.S. citizens had left. When I knew her in the 1970’s she was supporting herself by making trips to Mexico and Guatemala, buying wall hangings and woven blouses, etc. and reselling them to retail outlets in the States. She is no longer with us, since she was already in her early 70’s in the 1970’s. Even though I’ve been back to Cuba many times during the last fifteen years, I haven’t been back since my one-and-only trip there in 1970, but hope to return again. I believe at least one other poster at the Havana Times used to escape the Canadian winters each year during the 1990’s until recently. Maybe he can update us on more recent changes in the island. He writes many posts over at Lonely Planet’s unofficial Thorntree site, Cuba branch.

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