You can’t think of Cuba without thinking of Fidel Castro and the Revolution that toppled ruthless U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and sent Cuba spinning off into Soviet orbit. It’s not enough to simply buy a T-shirt emblazoned with Che’s mugshot. To get a sense for la revolución, set out on a pilgrimage to the major sites associated with this epochal event.
Your journey will take you throughout the isle, end to end.
Begin, appropriately, in Havana with a visit to the Museo de la Revolución. Laid out on three floors in Batista’s former presidential palace, it tells the complete history of events leading up to the evil dictator’s downfall. Don’t miss the Granma, the vessel that brought Fidel Castro and his Rebel Army from Mexico to Cuba to launch the revolution; it’s enshrined in glass to the museum’s rear, alongside mementoes from the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis.
Before leaving town, head to the Plaza de la Revolución to photograph the icon five-story-tall visage of Che Guevara, and peruse the Museo de José Martí dedicated to the national hero who inspired Fidel. And you might check out Casa-Museo de Che, in Che Guevara’s former headquarters at the east end of the Parque Histórico-Militar Morro Cabaña. Nearby, the Área Depósito Crisis de Octubre displays missiles and anti-aircraft batteries from the Cuban Missile Crisis.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Crisis de Octubre, to Cubans), Che Guevara—as Commander of the Western Army—set up his headquarters in Cuevas de los Portales. His rudimentary office and bedroom are still there within this soaring cavern full of dripstone formations.
True aficionados of revolutionary history might then hop a flight (or ferry) to Isla de la Juventud to visit Presidio Modelo, the prison where Fidel and Raúl Castro were imprisoned in 1953 after the failed attack on Moncada.
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Speaking of Che, it was he who led the rebel group that seized the city of Santa Clara, causing Batista to give up the ghost and flee Cuba. Here don’t miss the Tren Blindado, a derailed troop train; and the Complejo Escultórico Memorial Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, where beneath a dramatic monument you’ll find a museum plus a mausoleum where Che’s remains are interred.
No way could the USA tolerate Fidel’s socialist revolution… hence the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Visit the landing site at Playa Girón, where a museum gives Cuba’s version of ‘La Victoria’ over “yankee imperialism.”
This is the heartland of the Revolution. The logical starting point is Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel and fellow revolutionaries set out on 26 July 1953 from Granjita Siboney to attack Cuartel Moncada. Today the former barracks hosts a museum to that fatal day, considered as the launch of the revolution.
Feeling adventurous? Then head to Cuba’s southwest corner and Parque Nacional Desambarcado del Granma, where in 1956 Fidel & Co. landed aboard the Granma. Then hike the Sierra Maestra to Fidel’s former guerrilla headquarters: La Comandancia de la Plata.
One could claim that it all began at Finca Manacas, where Fidel Castro Ruz was born in 1926. Today, the site near Holguín is preserved as Museo Complejo Histórico Birán.