If you take a trip out to Cuba, one island you will not want to miss is the Isle of Youth, which is the largest Cuban island outside of Cuba proper. Originally the island was called the Isle of Pines, but was renamed in 1978. The island has a population of approximately 100,000 with the largest city being the capital, Nueva Gerona, followed by Santa Fe.
The island was discovered by Columbus in 1494 and quickly became a vacation and rest area for the Spanish military. The island also became a popular hang out for pirates. After the Spanish-American war ended in 1898, both the United States and Cuba claimed the Isle of Youth for their own. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1907 that the island did not belong to the United States. In 1925, Cuba signed a treaty with the U.S. to claim the island as its own.
Up until the 1960’s, much of the land on the island was owned by U.S. citizens and it became a very popular vacation spot for those from the United States. Even today, the beach of Bibijagua has remained a popular vacation spot.
The Isle of Youth became the inspiration for books such as Peter Pan and Treasure Island. Both authors used accounts of the island from the pirate inhabitants, to the ways of the indigenous people, to the great American crocodile that inhabited the island to create their stories.
The island is mainly comprised of pine forests, promoting a strong lumber industry. Other popular industries on the island include fishing and agriculture, citrus fruit and vegetables in particular. They also have many mineral springs to offer.
The island is also home to a black sand beach which was formed by a volcano. The Isle of Youth has become a popular tourist attraction thanks to its mild climate and great beach resorts. They are, however, susceptible to frequent hurricanes.
The easiest and most popular ways to get to the Isle of Youth is by boat or aircraft. Hydrofoils and motorized catamarans are able to make the trip from the main island in two to three hours. If you are on a tight budget you can take a cargo ferry, which will make the trip in approximately six hours but is much cheaper than other options.
The Isle of Youth is also known for its prisons. Between the years of 1953 to 1955, the current president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was imprisoned at the Presidio Modelo, one of the islands prisons. He was sent there by the president of the time, Fulgencio Batista, after he failed in a 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks. After coming to power, Castro himself used that same prison to house counterrevolutionaries and dissidents.
The prison has since closed and is currently being used as a museum. There are currently five other prisons on the island including: Prison El Guayabo, Center for Reeducation of Minors, Correctional Los Colonos, Paquito Rosales Cueto, and Prison la Columbia.