Cuba History Holidays

Follow the road to revolution in Cuba, retracing the story of the rebel armed struggle that dramatically shaped the fate of the sunshine socialist state.

From the secret bases and hidden bays used by the rebels to illustrious monuments and fascinating museums charting the armed struggle, you can experience the incredible story of Cuba's gripping revolutionary past and retrace the steps of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other iconic revolutionary figures on a tour of this unique country. Learn more about the history of Cuba's revolution and which places to go to experience it.

From £1389 per person

One of the world's last remaining bastions of communism, Cuba has a unique revolutionary history that has radically shaped the country. More than half a century ago in 1959, Fidel Castro proclaimed victory. Today its Leninist-Marxist slogans and propaganda posters are still everywhere and one of the Cuban revolution's most enduring images – the silhouetted face of rebel icon Che Guevara – is omnipresent in the country, appearing on everything from Peso banknotes to hillside billboards.

To get a taste of the Cuban revolution you don't need to head to a museum or do a specific tour. Revolution is everywhere in Cuba; you'll find it in public buildings with large signs displaying an evoking message or quote from the icons of the revolution (Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos), you'll find it painted on street walls or in the discipline of uniformed school children as they sing the national anthem while saluting the national flag. The revolution is an intrinsic part of Cuban society and you simply cannot miss it, wherever you go.

But getting a glimpse of the revolution by just walking the city streets is like seeing the tip of the iceberg; if you want to dig dip in its history and learn more about how it developed, then there are places you can go to in order to get a full immersion into the Cuban revolution. For travellers following the revolutionary trail, this important part of Cuba's history has been carefully documented and preserved throughout the entire country. There's no shortage of memorials and museums in Cuba that bring this fascinating piece of history to life. You can take a scenic walk to the hidden bay near Las Coloradas where the revolutionaries once snuck ashore and trek to the Sierra Maestra mountain hideout of Castro's guerrilla movement. You can also spend time exploring the places most associated with the coup – the rebel hotbed of Santiago de Cuba and the site of the last battle of the revolution in Santa Clara.

Following the path of Cuba's inspiring Revolution

From Havana's huge Revolution Square to the lofty rebel lookout of Loma del Capiro in Santa Clara, you can take an exciting tour of an extraordinary heritage. In fact, starting in the rebel heartlands of the east and heading west to the Cuban capital of Havana, it's possible to chart the revolution from its birth to its eventual realisation by visiting the destinations and attractions associated with its biggest battles and icons.

Rebel heart – Santiago de Cuba

The east of Cuba is considered the Cradle of the Revolution, where Fidel and his allies found most support during the uprising. Its locals played an important part in the underground struggle against the regime of former dictator Batista. There are several museums detailing this enthralling history in the city. Museo de la Lucha Clandestina (Museum of the Resistance Fighters) is stuffed with fascinating pre-revolutionary exhibits including photographs and collections from the final years of Batista's regime, showing the atmosphere of turbulence and fear that existed in Cuba in the 1950s.

Around Santiago's main square, Parque Cespedes, there are a clutch of historic buildings, but the most interesting for travellers following the revolutionary trail is El Ayuntamiento (the Town Hall). This gleaming arch-fronted and tiled town hall is where Fidel Castro gave a triumphant speech from the balcony on New Year's Day 1959. In fact, Castro lived and studied in Santiago de Cuba and you can take a walking tour that passes his former home and school.

A short jaunt east of the city centre are the Moncada Barracks, a former base for Batista's much-maligned army and the scene of a failed attack by Castro and the revolutionaries on 26th July 1953, which nevertheless galvanised the underground rebel movement in Cuba and garnered support for Castro. Fidel named his rebel group the 26th of July Movement after the battle and created the Museo Historico 26 de Julio (Historical Museum 26th July) in the former barracks; which you can now visit. Also around Santiago, the Santa Ifigenia cemetery is the final resting place of revolutionary heroes, where you can stroll around to view the mausoleums and dedications to the revered rebels.

The road to revolution – Las Coloradas

Cuba's south-eastern province of Granma was named after the small yacht that secretly carried Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and 80 of their comrades back into Cuba in December 1956, following Castro's exile by Batista. They came ashore at a remote beach near Las Coloradas in the far south-west of the province, and the area is now a shrine to their struggle and an unmissable stop on any pilgrimage though revolutionary Cuba. Part of the Park Nacional Desembarco del Granma, the region of dramatic limestone terraces and thick mangroves is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with stunning scenery.

Visitors can walk along the snaking 1.3km path that marks the revolutionaries' route inland from Playa Las Coloradas and guided tours are accompanied by a fascinating commentary on the rebel's escapades. The Monumento Portada de la Libertad celebrates Granma's landing point, and from here it's easy to see why the revolutionaries chose this completely hidden shoreline to arrive undetected. The events of that day are brought to life with a full-scale copy of the rebel's boat Granma – a cabin cruiser built for 12 people that almost capsized under the weight of 82 – plus a small museum detailing the routes taken by the revolutionaries into the Sierra Maestra mountains.

Mountain guerrillas – the Sierra Maestra

The Sierra Maestra mountain range – a wilderness of craggy forested peaks and deep ravines – hugs Cuba's southern coast from Granma to Santiago de Cuba province. In the late fifties, it provided the ideal hideout for Castro and his group of rebels while they plotted the overthrow of Batista's regime and it was here that they established their permanent headquarters – La Comandancia de la Plata. Today, the mountains are popular with hikers and you can walk in the footsteps of the revolutionary army along a forested ridge to the former guerrilla base in Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra.

Visiting the camp, which has been preserved in its original form, is a hugely evocative experience. From the gateway to the park at Alto del Naranjo, it's a 6km trek amid steep terrain to the first of three sites that includes a small medical centre set up by Che Guevara and a museum detailing the fascinating story of the rebel base. Camouflaged among the trees, you can also see the small cedarwood huts that were once the living quarters of the rebels.

The final battleground – Santa Clara

Right in the centre of Cuba, Santa Clara was the scene of the last battle and the revolution's most celebrated victory, leading to the regime's demise and Batista's flight from the island. The city is littered with monuments that tell the incredible tale of the Battle of Santa Clara when, on New Year's Eve 1958, a contingent of 300 rebels led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos defeated 3,000 of Batista's troops. The three peaks overlooking the city, known as Loma del Capiro, that Che Guevara chose as a strategic lookout from which to attack the city, is now an official National Historic Site of Cuba with the preserved trenches dug by the rebels surrounding a monument to the revolution.

Similarly, the armoured train bringing reinforcements that Che Guevara capsized during the battle, has been turned into a reminder of the guerrilla's improbable victory – the memorial Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado. To get to grips with the Guevara cult that has found devotees around the world, you can visit the Che Guevara Museum and the memorial to him, which is an absolute must. Guevara was laid to rest in the city and his mausoleum, along with 16 other revolutionaries, sits beneath this striking monument.

Capital without capitalism – Havana

Following the Battle of Santa Clara, Batista abandoned his opulent palace in Havana, which Castro's government later transformed into the extensive Museum of the Revolution. Offering a complete overview of the rebel struggle from its early days to its final realisation, this museum is the perfect place to complete a tour of revolutionary Cuba. Among its many big exhibits, outside the museum is the original Granma yacht that carried Castro and his comrades back to Cuba from exile.

After the overthrow of Batista's regime, Fidel embarked on a victory march across the country, finally arriving in Havana on January 8th 1959 and forming a new government that would set about a total reformation of the country. The city's imposing Plaza de la Revolucion, built on a monolithic scale, is now overlooked by symbols of the rebel victory. One of these is the huge bronze silhouette of Che Guevara with his famous quote "Hasta la victoria siempre" which roughly translates to "Towards victory always" or "Ever onward toward victory" while the other is an oversized iron image of rebel leader Camilo Cienfuegos, accompanied by the phrase "Vas bien Fidel" – meaning "You are on the right track Fidel" – his words to Fidel Castro during his first speech after he arrived in Havana following the defeat of Batista's forces. The square is still the venue for political marches and events. It's the place from which Fidel gave his famous speeches and acts as the ceremonial stage to commemorate special dates, marching protests and celebrations.

David versus Goliath – Playa Giron

The story of the Cuban revolution is incredible, but it doesn't end there. Prior to the revolution, the U.S. had a lucrative stake in Cuba that halted when Castro's government started nationalising major American companies on the island a few years after he took seat as president. American dissatisfaction was such that the CIA trained Cuban exiles and with John F. Kennedy's consent, backed an invasion in 1961 with the intention of overthrowing the new government. But Fidel and the revolutionaries were ready for them. As a prelude to the invasion, the Cuban-American mercenaries carried out a series of attacks using planes with false banners from the Cuban Air Force and bombarded three air bases in western Cuba and one airport in Santiago de Cuba. The final and main battle unfolded in the early hours of the morning of the 17th April when the invaders landed on the Bay of Pigs, a south-central coastal area in Cuba, not far from Havana and Varadero. The beautiful beaches of Playa Giron and Playa Larga (both situated on the Bay of Pigs) were the unlikely scene of the attempted invasion that ended in an unexpected defeat. Whilst the enemy's aggression initially overwhelmed the local revolutionary militia, the tables soon turned in favour of the underdog.

The CIA-sponsored group, who went under the name of Brigade 2506 was divided into five powerful infantry battalions with a total of 1500 paramilitaries. Cuban revolutionaries were clearly outnumbered in means, fire guns and man force, yet under the direct command of Fidel Castro himself, the valiant Cuban troops defeated the enemy in three days, forcing the invaders to ultimately surrender. Around 1,000 of these were captured as prisoners and they were later returned to the U.S. in exchange of baby food in the form of compote jars.

Cuba had scored a major David versus Goliath-style triumph against its much more powerful adversary. Today, visitors to the Bay of Pigs will find little physical evidence of the battle, except for a museum – the Museo de Playa Giron – which offers an in-depth insight into the fascinating events of those few days, including pictures taken in the heat of the battle as well, weapons, clothes belonging to the revolutionaries who fought to defend their homeland and anecdotal notes in dedication of the 150 Cuban lives lost in the battle. Outside the museum is one of the fighter planes used to defend the island from the Cuban-American invasion as well as the tank from which Fidel Castro was famously photographed as he jumped out of it.

The riveting journey of learning about Cuba's Revolution

Exploring the history of Cuba's remarkable revolution is fascinating to say the least. By visiting the many emblematic places, sites and museums we suggest, you can learn more about the memorable battles that took place, the iconic figures that rapidly became worldwide-famous heroes and the struggle of the people in search of independence. Yes, the history of the revolution is full of contradictions, triumphs and failures but it's a vital piece in the puzzle that explains Cuba's peculiar present. Sink into a world of student rebels and extraordinary bravery as you see the whole history come to life and envelop you as you grow to admire the valiant people who fought Hasta la Victoria Siempre.

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