Isla de la Juventud’s only sizeable town, NUEVA GERONA lies in the lee of the Sierra de las Casas, on the bank of the Río Las Casas. Whether you travel by plane or boat, this is where you’ll arrive and where you’re likely to be based. According to an 1819 census, the population stood at just under two hundred and it boasted just “four guano huts and a church of the same”. While the town has certainly moved on since then, it’s still a small and quirky place, with a cosiness more suited to a village than an island capital, and a sleepy peacefulness offset by the hub of action around the central streets. Even half a day here breeds a sense of familiarity, and much of the town’s attraction lies in wandering its relaxed streets, where the local appetite for pestering tourists has not developed to the same levels as in other towns in Cuba. Basing yourself here and exploring the hillsides, beaches and museums around Nueva Gerona can easily keep you occupied for a couple of days.
Architecturally, Nueva Gerona floats in a no-man’s-land between old-style colonial buildings and modern urbanity. Many of its concrete one- and two-storey buildings are painted in pastel colours, and its few older buildings, complete with stately colonnades and red-tiled roofs, add a colonial touch.
Nueva Gerona’s heart lies on Calle José Martí (also known as Calle 39 and often referred to simply as Martí), the amiable central street that gives the town its defining character and which holds the majority of shops and restaurants. It’s a good-looking strip, with the verandas of the low buildings offering welcome respite from the sun. At the northern end of the pedestrianized section, sometimes referred to as Boulevard, is a small park called the Parque de las Cotorras.