¡Viva la Revolución!
Many a traveler departs Cuba wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the world-renowned image of Che Guevara. That doesn’t necessarily indicate a fondness for Communism, or even Che. Still, thousands of visitors do arrive every year to pay homage to, or at least learn about, the revolución.
Whatever your politics, a pilgrimage along the revolutionary trail following the footsteps of Fidel Castro & Co. makes for a fascinating historical journey.
Start the day with a visit to the Museo de la Revolución, housed in the former presidential palace of corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista, whom the Revolution overthrew. Of course, you’ll want to spend some time viewing the other fascinating sites nearby.
In the afternoon, your tour of Habana Vieja should include the Museo Casa Natal de José Martí, birthplace of the national hero whom Fidel Castro named the “intellectual author” of the Revolution; and Museo de la Comandancia de Che, in Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña.
Today, concentrate your sightseeing around Vedado. Must-see sights include the Casa Museo Abel Santamaría, a former apartment that was the secret headquarters for Castro’s 26th of July Movement; the Universidad de la Habana, where the Escalinata (staircase) was a venue for clashes with Batista’s police; Galería 23 y 12, where Castro first announced that Cuba was socialist; and Plaza de la Revolución, the seat of Communist government.
Head west from Havana to Pinar del Río Province to visit Cuevas de los Portales, used as Che Guevara’s command center during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Continue to Viñales to visit the tobacco fields and overnight.
Depart Pinar del Río along the Autopista for the town of Santa Clara, setting for the seminal battle that toppled the Batista regime. Arriving midafternoon, your tour of the town should include the Tren Blindado (a troop train destroyed by Che Guevara’s troops) and the Complejo Escultórico Memorial Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, with an excellent museum devoted to the Argentinian revolutionary, whose remains are interred here.
A long day’s drive today along the Carretera Central to reach Holguín, with time for exploring the colonial heart of the city. Check out the Plaza de la Revolución.
Leaving the city, take Avenida Simón Bolívar, lined with monuments to nationalist and revolutionary heroes, including a pop-art rendition of Che. Your destination is Museo Conjunto Histórico Birán, Fidel Castro’s birthplace and home into adolescence. Afterwards, continue via Palma Soriano, arriving in Santiago de Cuba in the afternoon.
The first stop today is Cuartel Moncada, site of the 1953 attack that launched the Revolution; today the former barracks holds the Museo de la Revolución. Nearby is the Museo Abel Santamaría, named for a prominent revolutionary tortured to death following the failed attack.
This afternoon, tour the historic town center, including Parque Céspedes (where Fidel Castro gave his victory speech after Batista was toppled); the Colegio Jesuita Dolores, where Fidel attended school; and the Museo Lucha Clandestina, recalling the clandestine war in the cities.
Head out to Siboney to visit the farmhouse from where Castro and his revolutionaries set out to attack the Moncada barracks. The route is lined with monuments to those who died in the attack. Afterwards, head into the mountains to Mayarí Arriba and the Museo Comandancia del Segundo Frente (Museum of the Second Front) and the nearby mausoleum, recalling the “Second Front” led by Raúl Castro. Return to Santiago for the evening.
Head west along the coast via Chivírico—a stupendous drive! Beyond Ocujal, visit Museo Comandancia de la Plata, with exhibits detailing the revolutionary war in the mountains. Continue to the Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma, site of the landing of Fidel’s army in 1956. Overnight in Niquero.
Call in at Media Luna to view the Casa Museo Celia Sanchez, birthplace of the revolutionary heroine who ran the secret supply line to Fidel’s army in the Sierra Maestra. In Manzanillo, visit the Monumento Celía Sánchez then continue via Bartolomé Masó to Santo Domingo, where a small museum features a 3-D map of the war in the Sierra Maestra. Overnight in Santo Domingo.
This morning hike to La Comandancia de la Plata, Fidel’s headquarters deep in the Sierra Maestra. In the afternoon, continue via Bayamo, arriving in Las Tunas in early evening.
Prepare for the long drive back to Havana today via the Carretera Central and Autopista. In the morning, transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition