The Cuban Revolution is a source of great intrigue for visitors to Cuba, and while revolutionary rhetoric is echoed in the ubiquitous murals, national newspapers and other daily encounters, there are a few distinct monuments and sites of interest that any history-buff will not want to miss while on holiday in Cuba.
There are two crucial sites relating to Cuba’s revolution in Havana, which give a broad context on the country’s revolutionary heritage. The first is the Revolution Museum in Centro Habana, encased in a striking 1920s building which was once the Presidential Palace. It now houses an interesting exhibition which traces the roots of the revolution all the way through to the victory of 1959 and the subsequent years of revolutionary change. Also on-site is the Granma yacht that brought 82 guerrilla fighters from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 – they landed at Playa Las Coloradas after seven excruciating days at sea.
The second site not to be missed is Revolution Square in Vedado, the setting of many a political rally from the Batista era and where Fidel Castro used to address the public. The Plaza de la Revolución is marked by the distinctive murals of revolutionary heroes, Ernesto Che Guevara and Camillo Cienfuegos, which tower over the huge square, one of the largest in the world. The José Martí Memorial Tower also resides here, the top of which commands spectacular panoramic views of the capital.
This dusty town 280km east of Havana is the place where Cuban guerrilla fighters won the last battle of the revolution in December 1958, led by the national hero, Che Guevara. In 1997 his corpse was brought over to Santa Clara from Bolivia where he was assassinated in 1967 and left in an unmarked grave for three decades. Visitors flock to his mausoleum and adjacent museum to learn about the life of this extraordinary man: from his early life in Buenos Aires (where he was from) as a medic student to his role as one of the three revolutionary figureheads. Here in Santa Clara he led the attack that derailed an armoured train heading down from Havana, bringing Batista to his knees – and victory was theirs.
The Bahia de Cochinos on the southern coast of Cuba is infamous for the botched CIA-backed invasion of 1961 – a failed attempt to overthrow Castro and his communist regime. Anyone with an interest in US-Cuban relations and the Cold War might like to visit this historic spot on a day trip from Havana or the Northern Cayes; while Cienfuegos is an easy hour and a half’s drive away.
Cuba’s second city on the eastern tip of the island is where the revolutionary action all kicked off back in 1953, when Fidel and a hundred followers attacked the Cuartel Moncada (Moncada Barracks), an important military garrison for Batista’s troops, on the 26th of July. The barracks are now home to an interesting museum, Museo de la Lucha Clandestina, which exhibits a range of artefacts along with models of the attack and photographs of the fallen.
West of Santiago de Cuba is the Sierra Maestra mountain range where Fidel and his guerrilla army hid out during the 1950s. They made the difficult terrain of Sierra Maestra their home during this time, and today you can hike 4km up from Alto del Naranjo to the rebel camp of Comandancia de la Plata, which appears almost exactly as it was left in 1959.