Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cemeteries of Cuba: a photo essay

We find cemeteries to be fascinating places to visit – they give an insight into a country’s religion and cultures as well as often containing sculpture and interesting architecture.  All of which makes them great places to take photos.

In Cuba we found cemeteries to be peaceful, hassle-free places to explore, though be warned if you want to follow in our path, there’s rarely any shade and the heat can be brutal in the middle of the day.

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos from the Cuban cemeteries that we visited.

Santa Ifigenia cemeteryThe first cemetery that we visited was Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba, a sea of white marble and palm trees against the blue Caribbean sky

José Martí MausoleumSanta Ifigenia cemetery is the resting place of José Martí, Cuba’s national hero (writer, poet, independence fighter)

Inside José Martí MausoleumInside José Martí’s mausoleum, the casket is draped in a Cuban flag and catches daily shafts of sunlight in response to a line in one of his poems about being buried with his visage facing the sun

Changing of the guard at José Martí MausoleumThere is a twice hourly changing of the guard ceremony at José Martí’s tomb. At 8.30am we were the only ones there, by 10.30am the audience lining the path was large.

Military memorialAll the cemeteries we visited had mausoleums for soldiers killed during the revolutionary fighting, this one honours those who lost their lives during the Moncada Barracks attacks

Santa Ifigenia tomb detailMost of the gravestones at Santa Ifigenia cemetery were white marble but there were a few exceptions like this metal canopy with a cross

Compay Segundo graveCompay Segundo, guitarist and singer in the Buena Vista Social Club is buried in Santiago de Cuba

Baracoa cemeteryThe cemetery in Baracoa was much less grand than the one in Santiago but it had a beautiful setting overlooking the sea

Baracoa cemetery nichesEvery cemetery we visited had huge blocks containing square niches, presumably for ashes (there was usually a crematorium building hidden in a back corner as well). Some were simply decorated with the deceased’s name either handpainted or scratched into the wet cement while others had professional plaques, flowers or other decorations

Camagüey cemeteryThe cemetery in Camagüey was one of my favourites and with barely any other visitors (and no other tourists) we were free to have a good look around. These grand tombs are close to the entrance near the Iglesia de San Cristo de Buen Viaje (Church of St Christopher).

Camagüey cemetery dilapidationFurther into the cemetery more dilapidation was obvious such as this fallen cross

Camagüey cemetery gravePlots often seemed to contain whole families with a crowd of plaques on top of the grave, each carrying a different name

Camagüey cemetery columnsColumns that look as if they’re about to fall apart in Camagüey

Che Guevara MausoleumIn Santa Clara we didn’t visit the cemetery but the city is home to the most famous mausoleum in the country which contains the remains of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and 16 of the 37 fighters who were killed alongside him in Bolivia. Underneath the statue is a peaceful room of remembrance and an interesting museum documenting Che’s life.

Che Guevara Mausoleum DetailFresh flowers are placed below the statue of Che each morning.

Necropolis Cristobal Colon GateThe Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus cemetery) in Havana is enormous and worthy of this imposing entrance gate

Milagrosa plaquesThe most famous grave in the cemetery belongs to Amelia Goyri, also known as La Milagrosa or miracle-worker. She died in childbirth in 1901 and was buried with her son. The story goes that when the grave was opened some years late Amelia’s body was uncorrupted and the baby was found not at her feet but in her arms.  Since then locals have prayed for her to help with their hopes for children, new houses, etc and now several nearby plots have been overtaken with thank you messages from thoses whose wishes have been fulfilled.

Modern graves, Necropolis Cristobal ColonWe enjoyed some of the modern graves in the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (clockwise from top left): a modern take on the Pietà by sculptor Rita Longa; according to the internet (!), Juana Martin died while playing dominoes; the glass doors on the pantheon of the Baró family were designed by Lalique; tomb of Nuñes Gálvez

Marble statue, Necropolis Cristobal ColonBut there is plenty of beautiful white marble as well

Mausoleum of Japanese Colony of CubaThere were a number of mausoleums for societies like this one for the Japanese Colony of Cuba. Inside are walls of square niches.

Tobías GalleryThe Tobías Gallery is a 100m long underground gallery. We couldn’t enter but from what we could see from the doorway it looks to be piled high with small boxes like these which presumably contain bones or ashes

Trinidad cemeteryWe visited the cemetery in Trinidad mainly to have a destination away from the tourist-filled city centre. We were rewarded with this tropically apocalyptic view.

Dried flowers on grave, TrinidadFlowers dry out very quickly in the hot Cuban sun and many graves had fake rather than fresh flowers.

Grave decorations, TrinidadThis grave is topped with a statue of Babaluaye, one of the orishas from Santeria, the religion fused from African animisism and Catholicism. It also holds what I think is the remains of a cigar

Cherub tomb decorationA forlorn and battered cherub tops a tomb in Morón

Cities of Cuba

We’ve just returned from a 6 week long self-organised trip around Cuba. We’ll cover our thoughts about the country as a whole and pick out our highlights in subsequent posts, but for now, here’s our take on the cities and towns we visited:


Good for: Classic car spotting

La Loma de la Cruz, Holguín

La Loma de la Cruz, Holguín

Holguín was our arrival city, direct from Manchester with Thomas Cook (flights only). It’s a flat, easily walkable and navigable city with a renovated square, long pedestrian walking street, nice viewpoint and a disproportionately high number of classic American cars.
Holguín was the only place we’d pre-booked accommodation for from the UK, as we’d read that casa particular owners can help with onward travel plans, and I don’t know if our experience is common but it felt like we struck gold by staying at Casa Oscar. He stayed up past 10pm (twice) calling casas the length of Cuba to reserve our beds! He cooks a mean fish dinner too..


Good for: Arts and street performances

General Garcia (Paseo Bayamés), Bayamo

General Garcia (Paseo Bayamés), Bayamo

Bayamo has a quiet, small-town, artisitic vibe. We arrived in the midst of a literary festival and we left with the feeling that cultural events are de rigueur. We hiked Pico Turquino in the Sierra Maestra, the highest point in Cuba, and Bayamo is the closest base to the park’s main entrance.

Santiago de Cuba

Good for: History and José Martí’s mausoleum

Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba

Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba

We found a lot to see and do in Santiago, and it’s one of our favourite cities of the trip. The 16th century Castillo del Morro UNESCO fort was bereft of other tourists when we visited, the 19th century Cafetal la Isabelica coffee plantation is another significant UNESCO sight we enjoyed visiting and Fidel’s fledgling revolutionary force attacked the city’s Moncada Barracks, which is now a museum. We also spent a lot of time in Santiago’s impressive Santa Ifigenia cemetery which we think rivals the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón in Havana.


Good for: Laid-backness (yes, even more so than the rest of Cuba!)

View of El Yunque (the Anvil) over the rooftops of Baracoa

View of El Yunque (the Anvil) over the rooftops of Baracoa

At the far eastern end of Cuba is the small, sleepy town of Baracoa where we found an even more relaxed pace to the rest of Cuba. We did a little more hiking in the unique environment of Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt, spent an afternoon chilling at the beach and ate a lot of the coconut-based sauce that Baracoa is known for!


Good for: Plazas, market and churches

Parque Ignacio Agramonte, Camagüey

Parque Ignacio Agramonte, Camagüey

We loved wandering the twisty, winding streets between the parks and plazas, a layout which is unique to Camagüey and was designed to thwart looting pirates, admiring the many churches and restored buildings, and of course we had to visit the huge outdoor market where we scored some free cake!

Santa Clara

Good for: The Che Checklist

Che y Niño, Santa Clara

Che y Niño, Santa Clara

For us there’s really only one reason to visit Santa Clara, and that was to get our fill of all things Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. His mausoleum has an excellent museum and we also enjoyed the details in the life-sized statue of Che y Niño on the other side of the city. Even walking between all the sights, we had time to spare so we think at day at most is all we’d recommend in this hassle-heavy city.


Good for: Beaches. Yes, they’re as good you’ve heard

Varadero beach

Varadero beach

A beautiful beach town that doesn’t feel at all like the rest of Cuba – except for the queuing! It’s cleaner, the cars are immaculate and don’t belch black fumes, but the prices are higher as a result of the single-minded tourist focus. But the beaches and that clear, clear, turquoise water..


Good for: Faded grandeur

Puente Sánchez Figueras, Matanzas

Puente Sánchez Figueras, Matanzas

Known as the city of bridges, Matanzas was just what we needed after a few days in Varadero to gently remind us that we were still in Cuba. A good balance of architecture, history and an excellent pharmacy museum.


Good for: The Malecón, Habana Vieja’s rejuvenation (Old Town), Cemetery

Plaza Vieja, Havana

Plaza Vieja, Havana

We spent nearly two weeks in the capital city of Havana – walking the length of the famous sea-wall Malecón, admiring the astounding restoration work of the City Historian’s office in the old town (and seeing how much work they have ahead of them), taking our time in the best art museum in Cuba, the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón cemetery, the Hershey Train, and Fusterlandia are just a handful of our favourite experiences.


Good for: Tranquil landscapes

Tobacco drying house and mogote (steep-sided limestone hill), Viñales

Tobacco drying house and mogote (steep-sided limestone hill), Viñales

Our original plan didn’t include the Valle de Viñales as it’s a full day of travel there and back from Havana, but everyone we met who’d been said it was worth it. They were right – strolling and cycling on our own, seeing more farmers than tourists in the lush, mogote strewn, tobacco growing region of Cuba was a tranquil experience we thoroughly enjoyed.


Good for: Pretty cobbled streets, restored architecture

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Beautiful, picture-postcard and UNESCO appointed Trinidad is a lot smaller than its reputation implies. We loved the quiet cobbled streets, live music and shows just off the main plaza and venturing into the Valle de los Ingenios to learn about Cuba’s sugar producing past.

Sancti Spíritus

Good for: To see Cubans without tourists

Puente Yayabo, Sancti Spíritus

Puente Yayabo, Sancti Spíritus

Known for its pretty little bridge and the invention of the guayabera – a white, 4-pocketed men’s shirt – our brief pause in Sancti Spíritus was a pleasant relief from the heavily touristed Trinidad to experience Cuba as the Cubans do.


Good for: A giant cockerel that crows at 6am!

Us with the 'Gallo' (cockerel), Morón

Us with the ‘Gallo’ (cockerel), Morón

This rural Cuban town is known as the City of the Cockerel – immortalised by a giant bronze statue that greeted our entrance and crows at 6am every morning. We enjoyed looking around the beautiful old train station too.