MORE IDYL­LIC IS­LAND ES­CAPES

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Isla de la Ju­ven­tud, Cuba: Cuba’s sec­ond largest is­land lies di­rectly south of Ha­vana. This so-called Isle of Youth is fa­mously friendly and it’s easy to get off the beaten track. Punta Frances is a top scubadiv­ing spot and there are swaths of wilder­ness in the south­ern half of the is­land. Ho­tels on Isla de la Ju­ven­tud are lim­ited so it’s best to use one of the home­s­tays, or in the cap­i­tal, Nueva Gerona. Lo­cal air­line Cubana flies from Ha­vana. A two-hour cata­ma­ran trip from Bata­bano, 70km south of Ha­vana, costs $US50 ($53) re­turn. More: www.cubana.cu. For ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, www.cas­apartic­u­lar.com.

Puerto Rico: Since the US em­bargo on tourism in Cuba, Puerto Rico has been mid­dle-class Amer­ica’s main Span­ish Caribbean op­tion. The cap­i­tal, San Juan, is a vi­brant city with a pretty colo­nial core and while it has plenty of shop­ping cen­tres, lux­ury ho­tels and glitzy casi­nos, it also has cool restau­rants and great nightlife. In the in­te­rior, there are crum­bling colo­nial towns, cof­fee plan­ta­tions and trop­i­cal rain­forests, while the coast is full of dive sites. More: www.wel­come­top­uer­torico.org.

Isla Mu­jeres, Mex­ico: Ac­cord­ing to Mayan leg­end, this beau­ti­ful lit­tle is­land a short ferry ride from Can­cun was used for fer­til­ity cer­e­monies. There are some good seafood and fish restau­rants and lovely crushed-coral beaches. Day vis­i­tors leave about 5pm, when it gets far calmer and lo­cal shops be­gin to close. Ex­press fer­ries take 15 min­utes from Puerto Juarez and Gran Puerto Can­cun (30 and 60-minute taxi rides re­spec­tively from the air­port). More: www.isla-mu­jeres.net.

Am­ber­gris Caye, Belize: It’s nowhere near as gritty or edgy as the main­land but this minia­ture, palm­fronded par­adise can be a wel­come re­treat. Speed­boats go from Belize City and the tiny cap­i­tal, San Pe­dro Town, has some great guest­houses, as well as cheesy themed re­sorts. There’s not much to do but kick back in a ham­mock, ride around in a golf cart and take the short boat trip out to one of the world’s great­est coral reefs for scuba div­ing or snorkelling. Maya Is­land Air flies daily from Belize City. More: www.ma­yare­gional.com. Wa­ter taxis to San Pe­dro run daily for $US20 re­turn. Chris Moss al­ways try­ing to buy the land here, so they can build multi-storey ho­tels and flash re­sorts, but we are fight­ing to keep them out. It’s not easy, but we want to man­age this at our own pace, in our own way.’’

Prov­i­den­cia is all about pace. I re­ally don’t re­mem­ber the last time I switched off to such a de­gree. Imag­ine a place with no mo­bile phone re­cep­tion, no in­ter­net cafe other than in the main ur­ban area, no shops, no chains of any kind, no chefs, no tele­vi­sions in the bed­rooms. Less is more, noth­ing is ev­ery­thing. Prov­i­den­cia by name and by na­ture. Colom­bia be­ing off the map for so many years has en­sured this is­land’s iso­la­tion from Latin Amer­ica’s anx­ious, of­ten half-baked urge for Euro­peanstyle de­vel­op­ment.

On my fi­nal morn­ing the wind­fall man­goes wake me and Fed comes to drive me to the air­port. To my small bag of T-shirts and bathers I have added a pot of trop­i­cal fruit jam. In Madrid air­port on the way to Lon­don, a Cus­toms of­fi­cer takes my jam off me. She is the sort of Span­ish bu­reau­crat that built Latin Amer­ica. They never got Old Prov­i­dence, though, and now I toast that gor­geous lit­tle is­land, as well as Henry Mor­gan’s head and but­tocks, ev­ery time I pour a rum and Coke. The Ob­server

Check­list

Qan­tas, LAN and Aero­lin­eas fly from Aus­tralia to South Amer­ica. Aerore­pub­lica, Avianca and Satena fly sev­eral flights daily from Colom­bia’s main cities to San Andes. Satena flies from San An­dres to Prov­i­den­cia twice a week.

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