Isla de la Juventud: Snorkeling and Castro’s Abandoned Prison

Isla de la Juventud is so cool that I felt like it needed it’s own post. If you haven’t already read my previous post on Cuba travel tips, well then, you’re missing out. Read it after this post or go and come back. For the lazy ones, in that post, I noted that you should check travel restrictions before you go, especially if you’re from the US, as the state of US tourism in Cuba is still in flux. This trip was taken in April 2017 during a small window of time that we were able to travel to Cuba.

Getting There

As I was saying, Isla de la Juventud is a 20-minute flight from Havana. We were able to book tickets online before we left the US and everything worked out fine. One weird thing that happened to us was that once we got to the airport, we were locked inside for what seemed like an hour waiting for our luggage. We found out later that it was because the rain made it impossible for them to unload our luggage from the plane, so they had to wait for the rain to pass. Oh, and one more weird thing. As we were leaving the airport, they took all our names and temperatures — which in the post-COVID era seems kinda normal. Maybe they were still paranoid from another, smaller pandemic. Once we exited the airport, we were able to get a taxi to our homestay with no issue.

Where to Stay Isla de la Juventud

We tried to stay at Hotel El Colony on the west side of the island, but after we booked our stay, they cancelled the reservation a couple weeks out. There were only a couple of other small hotels on the island that were booked, so we got a friend to call around to see what we could do. She got us two home stays in the town of Nueva Gerona, which were legit, but you couldn’t even find them online if you tried. Our host Mary fed us a homemade Cuban dinner overnight. I wish I recalled how much the stay cost, but I remember that it was cheap. Nueva Gerona, located on the north side, is the biggest town on the island.

What do to on Isla de la Juventud

One of the benefits of almost staying at Hotel El Colony is that we booked a trip with El Colony International Diving Center of Puertosol near the hotel. We showed up for the diving reservation without knowing if the place was even open — it was! There was only one other person that showed up, so we essentially had the boat to ourselves.

Snorkeling – We set sail into the Caribbean Sea toward another small island. Sadly, I can’t remember it’s name, but it was stunning. Along the way, we stopped to go snorkeling, our guides went diving for lobster and cooked us an amazing lunch. And we lived happily ever after… (until we had to come back).

Presidio Modelo – According to Wikipedia, which holds only truths and totally isn’t editable by anyone on the internet, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were imprisoned at Presidio Model from 1953 to 1955. This place a massive and the day we were there, no one else was around. It was amazing to have this entire place to ourselves. I don’t have photos of Fidel’s cell because we didn’t want to pay for filming rights.

Ex-Communist School – Big shout of to my friend Danielle for not only suggesting Isla de la Juventud, but also finding the background on this school. The story is that it was once a destination for communist countries from around the world and used to teach students from North Korea from 1986 to 1997. It’s now an agriculture school for Cuban children. Such an interesting history.

Waiting for “Communist High School 2” to drop.

Final thoughts on Isla de la Juventud? It’s definitely off the beaten path. First, it’s not ideal to take a flight to another island. Second, the hotel situation is tough. And most people choose to go to a beach town like Varadero. However, if you’re looking for an adventure, add this place to your list. It is an unforgettable experience.

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