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Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba

Che Guevara, the world's most famous revolutionary, died 50 years ago this October in the Bolivian jungle. The Argentine doctor turned Cuban Revolution commander died in Bolivia's remote south in 1967.

His unsuccessful attempt, with a small band of guerrillas, to launch a revolution in the South American country ended in death. Guevara was executed by CIA-trained Bolivian army soldiers on October 9th 1967 and buried in an unmarked grave in the town of Vallegrande.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba.

His remains were discovered in 1995 and eventually laid to rest inside his monumental mausoleum, topped by a towering statue, in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1997.

Here we take you on the Che Guevara Route through Cuba. Follow in Comandante Che Guevara's footsteps across the island as Cuba commemorates 50 years since his execution. Che spent the late 1950s fighting for Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement until he left Cuba to foment rebellion in the Congo in 1965; and later, in '66, in Bolivia.

A meeting of minds - Che first meets Fidel and Raul Castro in Mexico

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba.

In 1955, Che met Fidel Castro, and his younger brother Raul, when they were both in exile in Mexico, plotting to overthrow the regime of Cuba's then president Fulgencio Batista. In late November 1956, 82 men including Fidel, Raul and Che, boarded the yacht Granma in Mexico and headed for the coast of Cuba in today's eastern Granma province.

The intention had been to land clandestinely at Playa Las Coloradas, a scallop of golden sand backed by sea grape, 75 kilometres south of Manzanillo town on the Gulf of Guacanayabo, but the cabin cruiser ran aground. As Che Guevara famously said:

"It was less a landing than a shipwreck."

Che joins Fidel's expedition to launch the Cuban Revolution

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - a replica of the Granma.

The "landing spot", south of Playa Las Coloradas, today forms part of the Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma (Daily; CUC$5). There's a tiny museum, a replica of the Granma, a reconstruction of the thatched hut of farmer Angel Perez, who helped the rebels on arrival, and a restored 300-metre trail out into the mangroves to the landing area, giving you an idea of how treacherous it was to beach amid the mud and mangrove roots.

The guide will regale you with stories bringing to life the event which changed the course of Cuba's history. To the south there are walking trails through limestone caves and cactus.

How to do it: There's one casa particular at Playas Las Coloradas, and one hotel at nearby Niquero. The Campismo Playa Las Coloradas is not open to foreigners.

Visit Fidel and Che's rebel hideout in eastern Cuba

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Sierra Maestra Mountains.

After the rebels were scattered by Batista's aerial bombing, 16 men survived, but by they time they had regrouped, and made their way deep into the Sierra Maestra Mountains, only 12 men with eight rifles between them remained. Fidel's secret mountain base - La Comandancia de la Plata near the village of Santo Domingo - was the July 26th Movement's mountain headquarters for eight months in 1958. The sky-high woody trail, through the Sierra Maestra Mountains, is beautiful amid the thick forest, and birds chirruping under the Caribbean sun.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Casa de Fidel.

The reward, at the end of the moderate hike, is to tour the collection of 16 huts - still in situ - which made up the rebel base. See Che Guevara's hospital building, Fidel Castro's bedroom, a small museum in the guard's post, and the Radio Rebelde outpost. It was during the rebels' stay at La Comandancia that Che was promoted to commander by Castro.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - La Comandancia.

How to do it: The walk starts from Santo Domingo village, south of Bayamo. There are a couple of B&Bs (casas particulares), and the Hotel Santo Domingo. Trekking is organised through Ecotur guides found at the park's control post next to the Hotel Santo Domingo. It's a moderate five-hour return trek and costs from CUC27/£21. It costs CUC$5 extra to take pictures. Most travellers head first to Bayamo city to organise onward private transport.

Che's solitary outpost

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Casa de Che La Otilia.

Off-the-beaten-track, and only for true Che aficionados, is the Comandancia de Che at La Otilia, a small cluster of homes southwest of Bayamo. Hike uphill past campesinos to this remote wooden outpost where Che was based for a few months before he was ordered to march up country to Villa Clara province in 1958 as the guerrillas gained ground and popularity. The small Casa Museo La Otilia (daily; CUC$1) exhibits a small number of artefacts.

Che marches up country to Villa Clara

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Sierra de Escambray.

In August 1958, Fidel ordered Che 500 kilometres up country to Villa Clara province in the centre of the island. Here, in the Guamuhaya Mountains, part of the Sierra de Escambray, he struck camp at the Caballete de Casa outpost. The area is home to wild forest, orchids, waterfalls with lush pools to swim in, and tropical birdlife so is the perfect base for off-the-beaten-track exploration. At the Sabina Biological Station scientists study an incredible array of plants in the area, some endemic to Cuba.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - tropical waterfall at Sierra de Escambray.

How to do it: Treks to this remote base can be made from the Planta Cantu cabins and campsite, close to the River Cayajana in the Alturas de Banao, some 50 kilometres north from Trinidad, and 17 kilometres west of Sancti Spiritus. You can also stay in accommodation at the Banao park headquarters at Jarico, off the main Trinidad-Sancti Spiritus highway, or six kilometres away on a trek in the accommodation at the Sabina Biological Station.

The battle for Santa Clara and a triumphant Che

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado in Santa Clara.

In Cuba's Revolution lore, Santa Clara is famous for staging the last pivotal battle of the Cuban Revolution, as well as being known as the last resting place of Che Guevara.

Guevara and his troops staged an attack on a train carrying Batista's troops on the night of 28 December 1958. Using a bulldozer (now exhibited on a plinth) they tampered with the tracks causing the train to derail. The toppled carriages are now on display, next to the railway tracks, with an exhibition inside.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - a bulldozer exhibited at the Monument in Santa Clara.

Just a stone's throw from this memorial spot - known as the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado (closed Sundays) - is the perfectly positioned Revolution Cafe (Calle Independencia 313) part cafe, part museum. Owned and run by a Spaniard who has lived in Cuba for years, it's a treasure trove of photos, mementoes, and documents relating to the 1959 Cuban Revolution offering up delicious ice cream, coffee and cocktails while you wander around his fascinating collection.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado Santa Clara.

The final battle for Santa Clara encroached upon the city's pretty central park. The art deco-influenced Hotel Santa Clara Libre's facade still bears the scars of bullet holes from the battle which took place between December 28th and 31st 1958.

Che's last resting place

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Complejo Monumental Ernesto Che Guevara Plaza de la Revolucion Santa Clara.

The Complejo Monumental Ernesto Che Guevara dominates Santa Clara's Plaza de la Revolucion. Towering over the huge, oblong plinth, covered in bas-reliefs, is a bronze statue of Che by sculptor Jose Delarra. Beneath the memorial is a small museum dedicated to Che exhibiting objects from his childhood. In the neighbouring area is Che's mausoleum where his remains are interred along with those who died with him in the Bolivia campaign (closed Mondays).

Che commands Havana's La Cabana fortress

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Casa del Che in Havana.

The rebel leaders claimed victory on January 1st 1959 and headed in a convoy to Havana. Under the new revolutionary government, Che was appointed commander of the Cabana fortress and in charge of training troops. (He was later appointed head of the national bank, and Minster of Industries.) The house where he lived - the Centro Cultural Casa del Che - displays a small number of artefacts from the Bolivia campaign, and various personal belongings (Daily).

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Portrait of Che Guevara on the façade in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion.

In Havana, you can also admire the huge iron sculptural relief portrait of Che Guevara by Cuban artist Enrique Avila on the facade of the Interior Ministry facing the vast Plaza de la Revolucion. The original Granma boat is under glass, alongside military hardware, in the grounds of Havana's Museum of the Revolution (Daily). Inside the museum is a curious life-size Che and Camilo Cienfuegos wax work tableau.

Following in the footsteps of Che Guevara in Cuba - Portrait of Che Guevara on the façade of the Interior Ministry.

Che's Cuban Missile Crisis HQ

During the 1962 Missile crisis which brought the world to the edge of nuclear war, Che Guevara was despatched to a command post, west of Havana, in the Sierra de los Organos Mountains in Pinar del Rio province. Today, the Cueva de los Portales is a small museum (daily) and can be visited via the Parque La Guira, or driving north of the central carretera at Entronque de Herradura.

How to do it: You'll need private transport. The Campismo Cueva de los Portales offers small cabins for international and Cuban visitors.

The ultimate tour, though, would be to ride with Che Guevara's youngest son Ernesto, on a Harley Davidson through Cuba taking in Che Guevara sites. La Poderosa Tours offers 7- or 9-night tours using a modern fleet of Harleys.

Claire Boobbyer

Claire Boobbyer

Claire Boobbyer

Cultural Explorer

A self-confessed wanderluster and devoted culture lover, Claire writes about her frequent travels...

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