Cafetal La Isabelica

At the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at the end of a short hike from Gran Piedra (Santiago de Cuba), Cafetal La Isabelica is an open air museum dedicated to Cuba's important coffee production. Learn how French farmers fleeting Haiti turned Cuba's south-eastern provinces into the main coffee growing region of the island.

Commercial coffee plantations were first established during the colonial era on the island of Cuba. In the mid-18th century, coffee production was augmented in the south-eastern provinces by the arrival of French coffee planters fleeing the revolution in Haiti.

A unique social heritage

The development of this form of agriculture in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains during the 19th and early 20th centuries is perceived to have led to the creation of a unique cultural, social and agricultural landscape. This fact was officially recognised by UNESCO in 2000, when Santiago and Guantanamo Provinces, South-Eastern Region were added to the registry of World Heritage Sites. Although coffee production has fallen in the 20th and 21st centuries, around 90% of Cuban coffee is still produced in this region. Since 2003, Cuba has certified over 4,000 hectares of organic coffee plantations which mainly serve a European export market.

The coffee plantations

The Cafetal La Isabélica is the hub of the UNESCO site and was the scene of great celebration and ceremony at the inauguration in 2000. Today, it makes a pleasant day trip into the countryside to glimpse how Cuban coffee was planted, harvested, roasted and traded by the French farmers and to learn about the enduring importance of coffee for Cuba today.

Cafetal La Isabélica is a museum housed in a striking two-story stone manor house, featuring three large coffee-drying platforms. The house was built in the early 19th century by French émigrés from Haiti. At that time there were around 60 similar such farms in the area. The house is decorated with furniture and artefacts as it would have been when it was at the centre of a working plantation. Visitors can also see the drying platforms, fields, workshops, tools and artefacts of the plantation. There are limited signs, so it's worth hiring a guide to explain the history. Visitors can wander around the grounds unhindered and enjoy the pine forests that surround it.

The museum is reached via a 2km trek from La Gran Piedra (the Big Rock), which makes it easily combinable as part of an excursion to both.

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