If you look back at the history of Cuba, it seems like the island was destined to be in the very middle of revolutionary times.
It was the first major island on which Columbus set foot, and the first Spanish settlement in the whole American continent.
In the last Century, it was home to revolutionary minds like Hemingway or Che Guevara, and its music dominated dance floors across the world ever since it was popularized.
When art, literature, architecture, and ethnicities mix in Cuba, the result is always revolutionary. Here are some places that are definitely worth a visit, to plunge in the island’s rebellious atmosphere.
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana
Sitting atop La Cabana hill, this has been the largest fort the Spanish had ever built for a long time, as well as the most costly. Following the British occupation, the Spanish set about building this imposing fort, which dominates the entrance to the Bay of Havana.
During the Batista regime, La Cabana was used as a military prison, and later became the headquarters of Che Guevara during the Revolution. Today, the fort houses a few museums. The most impressive is the Museo de Comandancia del Che, with the office of Che Guevara preserved as it was during his time here. Some of his personal items are also on display. During the day, the fort offers splendid views over the city and the sea. Don’t miss out on the Ceremonia del Cañonazo, with actors clad in 19th-century costumes performing a cannon-firing ceremony at 9pm each evening.
The Plaza de la Revolucion has been the stage for so many historical events in Cuba. Millions gathered here for Castro’s speeches, and in 1998, during a ground-breaking visit to Cuba, John Paul II celebrated mass right there.
Overlooking the square is the Jose Marti Memorial with a 109-meter gray tower and white marble statue of the Cuban national hero. You can browse the small museum or just take the lift up the tower for panoramic city views: the huge Che Guevara image you’ll see is the one adorning the Ministry of the Interior building.
Housed in a former presidential palace, the Museo de la Revolucion is worth seeing even if only from the outside. The old presidential palace was designed by the Belgian architect Paul Belau and was built in the early part of the 20th century in a sumptuous version of neo-Classical architecture.
Inside, everything is a dedication to Cuba’s struggle for independence, including life-size wax figures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Behind the museum is an interesting display of the yacht Granma, the boat that brought Fidel Castro and his pack to Cuba from Mexico.
Also on display is a plane shot down during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.
A Revolution that began with a loss
Stick a pin in a map of Oriente, the eastern third of the island of Cuba, and you're almost bound to hit somewhere with revolutionary associations.
A trail could start at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, a former stronghold of Batista's army that was the subject of a guerrilla attack led by Castro in 1953.
The museum housed in part of the old barracks tells the story of the attack, which was a military failure but a political success, as Batista's brutal reaction generated overwhelming sympathy for the revolutionary cause.
Che Guevara Monument
Save the best for last, visiting the Che Guevara Monument in
Plaza de la Revolución.
There, his remains lie in a mausoleum with other South American guerrilla fighters, and crowds gather daily to mourn and honor him.
Habanos Cigar Factory
When you think of Che Guevara or Ernest Hemingway, you can’t picture him without a cigar in his mouth.
Indeed, cigars are a Cuban national pride, and they have are still a forbidden object of desire in the U.S. (as long as the embargo lasts.)
Make sure you visit a local cigar factory during one of our field trips, it is truly a sensorial experience.
This is the place where so many fantasies and masterpieces took shape in the head of Ernest Hemingway.
Since his death, his house had become a museum treasuring his dearest belongings, such as his boat Pilar.
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