The province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba’s westernmost region, is best known for its fine tobacco, but eco-tourism continues to grow. It’s hard to believe that a short 90 miles from the insanity of bustling Havana, along the island’s north coast road, exists a tiny coral key with a few dozen rooms of varying quality.
Currently, the only way to see this pristine tropical paradise is to catch a boat near the small village of Palma Rubia. The 30-minute boat ride takes visitors to Cayo Levisa, one of many sandy specks in the Archipelago de los Colorados that dot the horizon of the Gulf of Mexico. Several kilometers of white sand beaches and more than 20 dive sites attract both casual snorkelers as well as expert divers.
Most travelers agree that despite the island’s stunning beauty, the place has not been overrun by hordes of tourists like Cuba’s version of Cancun, which is Varadero. A very well-known American used to hang out in this area many years before the Cuban Revolution. Ernest Hemingway, aboard his storied vessel, the Pilar, had a fish camp about six miles east of Cayo Levisa. The official name of the island is Cayo Mégano de Casiguas. Hemingway renamed it for himself calling it Cayo Paraiso, or Paradise Key.
In 2006, I finally made it out to Cayo Levisa just to scratch it off my list. I’m very glad I did. The place is gorgeous, and, of course, I met another half-dozen incredibly warm and welcoming Cuban people.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to check out Ernie’s isle, but if Cayo Paraiso is anything like Cayo Levisa, his choice of words was right on the money. Go figure.