First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains and sprawled out over 81,000 hectares valley lies the remains of Southeast Cuba's first coffee plantations. Run by French and Haitian owners in the 19th and early 20th century, the site allows visitors to see how Cuba's now famous coffee was processed, while learning more about the slave trade that made mass production possible.

Cuba is famous for its coffee and just a short taxi journey from Santiago is the site of one of its first plantations.

The Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba
offer an intriguing insight into Cuba’s original coffee growing plantations and production methods, while also proving a stark reminder of the island’s once substantial slave trade.

Coffee production in the Caribbean region began on the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti) in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. However, after a slave uprising, the island’s French settlers fled and set their sights on Cuba. In the 19th century, they began to establish coffee plantations in the Southeast area of the country.

However, by the early 20th century, more advanced forms of coffee production started to be used around the island, which resulted in the closure of the plantations. Today, visitors can enjoy a fascinating glimpse into early production methods. It’s still possible to see the impressive network of aqueducts that were employed by the plantation’s owners, along with the series of viaducts, cisterns and mills that were used in the labour intensive process of grinding coffee berries.

In total, the property takes up an area of 81,475 hectares and there are 171 coffee plantations – also known as cafetales, which have been abandoned since the early 20th century. Owned by French and Haitian settlers, this archaeological landscape includes a former property - La Isabelica farm estate, which is one of the plantation’s main attractions. The two-storey estate mansion was converted into a museum in the mid-1970s and allows visitors the chance to envisage how life might have been for its former occupant – French settler Victor Constantin. His portrait now hangs in the mansion’s main room.

The tools and equipment used in the production process by the plantation’s slaves are scattered throughout the ground floor. A warehouse and a series of carpentry stores contain various working tools while the shackles of the slaves can also be seen – a reminder of the hardships once endured by those who were forced to toil for their wealthy masters.

For those who wish to learn more about an important aspect of Cuba’s historical and cultural past, The First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba offers a fascinating insight.


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