Separated from the Isla de la Juventud by 100km of sea, Cayo Largo, a narrow, low-lying spit of land fringed with powdery beaches and no permanent local population, is geared entirely to package holiday-makers. The tiny islet, measuring just 25km from tip to beachy tip, caters to a steady flow of international tourists who flock here to enjoy its excellent watersports, diving and all-inclusive hotels. For a holiday cut adrift from responsibilities and the outside world, this is as good a choice as any. But while Cayo Largo is undoubtedly the stuff of exotic holiday fantasy, it’s not a place to meet Cubans. There are no born-and-bred locals and the hotel staff only live on the island in shifts, so though people are as friendly as elsewhere in Cuba, the atmosphere is more than a little contrived.
Development of the cay began in 1977 when the state, capitalizing on its extensive white sands and offshore coral reefs, built the first of the small set of hotels that currently line the western and southern shores. Construction has suffered several setbacks over the last decade as the cay has been ravaged by a series of hurricanes, forcing a couple of the smaller hotels to close altogether. Although the cay is being steadily developed, it has a long way to go before being spoilt; indeed, the infrastructure away from the hotels is so sparse that for some the cay won’t actually be developed enough, relying too heavily on the hotels themselves for entertainment and eating options. There is a small artificial “village” on the west of the island, which has a distinctly spurious air, consisting of just a shop, restaurants, a museum, a bank and, behind the tourist facade, blocks of workers’ accommodation. The interior is a mixture of grassland, rocky scrub and crops of pine trees, but there is not much to see.