Must see sites in Cuba for history buffs
A visit to Cuba is an outstanding opportunity to view over 500 years of time. From the vintage 1950’s cars on the streets of Havana to 9 UNESCO heritage sites, from the Bay of Pigs to revolutionary times Cuba is a mecca for visiting history fanatics.
Cuba’s history is that of revolutions, dictatorships, culture, dance, music and art. Although is can be difficult for citizens of some countries to visit Cuba it is well worth the effort. Canadians have been traveling and vacationing in Cuba for the past 20 years and have a very different perspective on the country from Americans.
If you are interested in the history of the Americas and the impact of Cuba on international relations, or if you simply want to visit some fascinating sights, then you should definitely check out some of the most interesting historical sites in Cuba.
Many tourist visit Cuba for the glorious beaches and all inclusive resorts – particularly Canadians because an all inclusive holiday for a week in Cuba gets them out of the snowbelt. But Cuba is much more than beaches and rum punch. Every corner of the Island has a historic past that is not compromised or dominated by Western corporate culture.
Here you won’t find a Starbucks of McDonalds on every corner. Occasionally you may wish there was but once you move beyond that mindset you can enjoy Cuba’s fascinating history and enjoy meeting Cuba’s people and hearing what they have to say.
Cuban History and Historic sites you must visit
1 Santa Clara – central Cuba, and Cuba’s 5th largest City
For revolutionary history buffs, Santa Clara is a must visit. The most important battle in the Cuban Revolution was fought and won at Santa Clara. The City also contains Che Guevara’s mausoleum and the memorial to this charismatic rebel.
Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara
Visit the mausoleum containing the remains of famous revolutionary and the other guerillas that were killed during the Bolivian revolution attempt. The site also hosts a monument and museum dedicated to Che Guevara’s life.
2 Ernest Hemingway’s House – Finca Vigia is located in the small, working-class town of San Francisco de Paula about 10 miles east of Havana
Ernest Hemingway lived at Lookout House in Cuba for more than 20 years, writing many of his novels there, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. It’s now a museum featuring Hemingway’s original furniture, artwork, 9,000 of his books and memorabilia.
3 Casa Velázquez (Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano), Santiago de Cuba
Built in the early 16th century to serve as the official residence of the island’s first governor, the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez, this is the oldest house still standing in Cuba—and one of the oldest in the Americas. The magnificently preserved building now houses the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano, a museum of decorations and furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century, as well as former gold foundry on the first floor.
3 Playa Girón – Southern Cuba, Matanzas, The Bay of Pigs
Although Americans and most Europeans will forever associate the Bay of Pigs with the disastrous CIA backed invasion of 1961 which resulted in President Kennedy nearly hitting the nuclear buttons. For Cubans Playa Giron is a favourite beach vacation spot. Playa Giron is a beautiful beach area for scuba diving and snorkeling.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Cuba’s 9 World Heritage Sites
4 Old Havana and its Fortification System
Habana Vieja was awarded UNESCO status in 1982. Here you can walk through squares surrounded by impressive baroque and neoclassic-style buildings, which have made Havana one of the most historically significant cities in the Americas. You must take a tour of the city seated in a classic antique American car, follow in the steps of Hemingway and have a daiquiri at El Floridita. Study the fantastic neo-classical and baroque architecture, Doric columns, ornate plasterwork, incredible wrought iron gates and window grilles. Take a peek into the inner courtyards of these centuries old residences of Havana’s Spanish elite now turned into museums.
Highlights include the baroque Catedral de San Cristóbal (one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas, and once home to the remains of Christopher Columbus) and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza (the oldest extant colonial fortress in the Americas). UNESCO has designated all of Old Havana a World Heritage site, alongside its vast network of centuries-old defensive installations—which include some of the biggest and the oldest stone fortifications still standing anywhere in the Americas
4 Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios
In the 16th century Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios were names in honour of the Holy Trinity. The sugar trade became the business of wealth and large mansions were built to display that wealth. In the Valle De Los Ingenios (“Valley of the Sugar Mills”) you will see the ruins of the sugar mills and fincas that once formed the backbone of the country’s wealth. Trinidad itself is a phenomenal example of colonial architecture and was the central hub for the sugar trade. Tour the beautiful homes turned into museums and check out the music scene were you can hear authentic Cuban music nearly every night of the week.
5 San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba
Rivalry tore through the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, which made the fortifications of San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba one of the region’s most important defense points. This majestic fort still stands proudly today as a shining example of Spanish-America military architecture. It’s one of the most historically significant sites in Cuba’s rich history, added to the UNESCO list in 1997. Some of the best views in all of Santiago de Cuba can be found atop the castle walls, looking out over the ocean. There’s also a small museum inside the fort where visitors can learn a little more about its history.
6 Desembarco del Granma National Park
A true wonder of nature at Granma you can see limestone cliffs and terraces formed by tectonic plate shifts millions of years ago. Plummeting waterfalls stream over the most impressive cliffs in the Western Atlantic and those same cliffs are home to canyons, caves and gigantic sinkholes. Named after the yacht that brought the Castro’s and Che to Mexico after the battle in 1956 that began the revolution. UNESCO says that while the area is recognized primarily for the landscape and geology of the area it also contains an impressive biodiversity of flora and fauna. Over 500 plant species have been recorded, twelve of which are only to be found here. There are 13 mammals, 110 birds, 44 reptiles and seven amphibians. Nearly 90% of these species are only found in this area.
7 Viñales Valley
Surrounded by mountains the Vinales Valley is a throwback to a time when farming was still done by hand and the land is full of small towns and villages whose economy and lifestyle is dependent on agriculture. Named a UNESCO site for precisely this reason the authentic and original tobacco and coffee farming lands are one of Cuba’s most well known exports.
8 Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba
UNESCO says of this site that “It includes not only the architectural and archaeological material evidence of 171 old coffee plantations or cafetales, but also the infrastructure for irrigation and water management, and the transportation network of mountain roads and bridges connecting the plantations internally and with coffee export points. The topography, dominated by the steep and rugged slopes of the Sierra Maestra foothills, speaks to the plantation owners’ (primarily of French and Haitian origin) ingenuity in their exploitation of the natural environment through the sweat and blood of their African slaves.
9 Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
UNESCO states that the complexity of the ecosystems in the park are unmatched in the Caribbean and one of the most biologically diverse tropical sites on earth. Since many of the underlying land and rocks are toxic to plants they have had to evolve to suit the environment. This area is considered one of the most important sites in the western hemisphere.
10 Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos
“The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the town first developed in the neoclassical style. It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape. Among buildings of particular interest are the Government Palace (City Hall), San Lorenzo School, the Bishopric, the Ferrer Palace, the former lyceum, and some residential houses. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.
11 Historic Centre of Camagüey
“One of the first seven villages founded by the Spaniards in Cuba, Camagüey played a prominent role as the urban centre of an inland territory dedicated to cattle breeding and the sugar industry. Settled in its current location in 1528, the town developed on the basis of an irregular urban pattern that contains a system of large and minor squares, serpentine streets, alleys and irregular urban blocks, highly exceptional for Latin American colonial towns located in plain territories. The 54 ha Historic Centre of Camagüey constitutes an exceptional example of a traditional urban settlement relatively isolated from main trade routes. The Spanish colonizers followed medieval European influences in terms of urban layout and traditional construction techniques brought to the Americas by their masons and construction masters. The property reflects the influence of numerous styles through the ages: neoclassical, eclectic, Art Deco, Neo-colonial as well as some Art Nouveau and rationalism.
It’s pretty obvious then if you love history you need to visit Cuba as soon as you can, since it may be opening up to corporate interests soon you should get there while you can.
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