Have you visited all of Cuba's most popular tourism destinations and felt burnt out? Want to get away from it all and have a more raw and natural adventure? Isla de la Juventud, also known as the "Island of Pirates," is a biodiverse location worth visiting. Many rare and vulnerable species of flora and fauna call this comma-shaped arc of palm and pine trees, citrus plantations, and marble hills home.
A three-hour ferry journey from the port of Batabanó, 56 kilometers south of Havana, or a seat on one of the sporadic flights, is required to reach this far-flung island. However, getting there is well worth it because Cienfuegos is so distinct from Havana.
Stay at the island's lone motel and then travel to the southwest corner to scuba dive at Punta Francés. The panopticon prison, Presidio Modelo, now a haunting museum where Cuba's late Communist leader Fidel Castro was incarcerated in 1953, is another option for those interested in the island's fascinating past. Nonetheless, the island's sugary beaches, distinct culture and history, and safe havens for native animals provide visitors with a genuine Cuban experience beyond the realm of tourist traps.
Formerly a haven for Caribbean pirates, the island is now part of a 1,455-square-kilometer nature sanctuary known as the South of the Isle of Youth Protected Area of Managed Resources (APRM). The Cuban crocodile, which was nearly extinct in the 20th century but is now being returned to the Lanier swamp, is a popular attraction for visitors.
Newborn endangered green turtles can be found on the southern shore at Guanal Beach. Their survival is in jeopardy as a result of climate change, which is causing a decline in male birthrates. The sand can be cooled and protected from the sun by planting plants, for example.
Cocodrilo is the most remote inhabited spot in Cuba, and conservationist Reinaldo Borrego Hernández operates a tourism and conservation project there under the name Consytur, so visitors can have a genuinely one-of-a-kind experience there. He uses the money from guests at his B&B, Villa Arrecife, to plant new branches of severely endangered staghorn coral, grow and release invasive lionfish, and clean up beaches.
Visitors with a concern for the environment, along with Cuban scientists and activists, are helping Isla de la Juventud become a model for protecting and preserving wild places. So if you want to see something truly special in Cuba, come to the biodiverse hotspot of Isla de la Juventud and discover the natural riches that await you.