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Isle of Youth, Cuba

Tourism Information

The Isle of Youth (Spanish: Isla de la Juventud) is the largest island of Cuba after Cuba proper. The island is 3,056 km (1,180 miles) and lies 100 km to the southwest of mainland Cuba, almost directly south of Havana and separated by the Bataban? Gulf. The island is a special municipality (municipio especial) of the Province of Havana and the largest of the 672 islands in the Canarreos Archipelago. The population is around 100,000. The largest city and capital is Nueva Gerona in the north. Until 1978, the island was called the Isle of Pines (Spanish: Isla de Pinos).

The island was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War of 1898, and because its name was omitted from the Platt Amendment, which defined Cuba's boundaries, it was claimed by the United States as well as by Cuba. Finally, in 1907, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the island did not belong to the United States. A treaty was finally signed between the United States and Cuba in 1925.

Much of the island is covered in pine forests, which is the source of the island's large lumber industry. The northern region of the island has low ridges from which marble is quarried, while the southern region is an elevated plain. Agriculture and fishing are the island's main industries, with citrus fruit and vegetables being grown.

The island has a mild climate, but is known for being hit by hurricanes. It is a popular tourist destination, with many beaches and resorts, including Bibijagua Beach. Until the U.S. embargo on Cuba levied in the early 1960s, much land was owned by Americans.

The main transportation to the island is by boat or aircraft. Hydrofoils (kometas) and motorized catamarans will make the trip in between two and three hours. A much slower and larger cargo ferry takes around six hours to make the crossing, but is cheaper. The province has only one municipality, also named Isla de la Juventud.

From 1953 to 1955, Cuban leader Fidel Castro was imprisoned in the Presidio Modelo on the Isle of Youth by the regime of Fulgencio Batista after leading the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in the Oriente province in July 1953. Later, Castro would use this same facility to imprison, execute and allegedly torture "counterrevolutionaries" and dissidents.