Mural at Plaza de la Patria

Bayamo Travel Guide: Birthplace of Cuban Independence

In City Guides, Cuba by SheenaLeave a Comment

The revolutionary spirit is alive & well in Bayamo – learn about the legacy of 4 major events that took place in this historic city & what to see & do in our Bayamo Travel Guide.

Bayamo Travel Guide: History

Let us here at DIY Travel HQ start with a little history lesson Bayamo in Cuba!

Bayamo is the capital of Granma province, itself renamed after the boat that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara & a scruffy army of rebel soldiers back from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to join the rebellion.

But Bayamo’s role in Cuba’s long history of revolutionary struggles began almost a century earlier.

In 1868 Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, a local lawyer turned revolutionary, freed his slaves & proclaimed Cuba’s independence for the first time.

City Hall in Parque Vidal in Bayamo

City Hall, where Cespedes proclaimed Cuba’s independence for the first time

Cespedes’ liberation was fleeting but for the townspeople, the revolutionary spark was ignited – literally. As the Spanish regrouped & prepared to take back Bayamo, the locals set the city on fire, preferring to see it burn than fall back into enemy hands.

Perucho Figueredo, composer of the Cuban national anthem, was born in Bayamo in 1818.

The anthem is patriotically called “La Bayamesa” (The Bayamese) & the opening line declares, “Al combate corred, bayameses” (Run to battle, people of Bayamo).

The anthem was first sung in a square in the heart of Bayamo in 1868.

Bust of Figueredo in Parque Cespedes

A bust of Figueredo along with the words of his national anthem on Parque Cespedes

Fast forward 150 years to the most recent, significant occasion – Castro’s last speech, given in Bayamo’s Plaza de la Patria in 2006. Within days, he was overcome by illness & promptly handed over power to his brother Raul.

Bayamo jump-started the Revolution with Cespedes in 1868 – time will tell whether things will come full circle, with the pending death of Castro and, perhaps, the Revolution.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre?!

Colourful streets of Bayamo

The colourful streets of Bayamo

Bayamo Travel Guide: Attractions

  • Parque Cespedes

Parque Cespedes is home to City Hall, the place where Cespedes, the hero of the First War of Independence, first declared Cuba’s independence.

Officially known as Plaza de la Revolucion, it also features a bronze statue of Cespedes. On the opposite side of the square stands a marble bust of Figueredo with the national anthem carved on it.

Cespedes & Figueredo in Parque Céspedes

Cespedes & Figueredo face off in the centre of Parque Cespedes

  • Iglesia Parroquial Mayor de San Salvador

The church dates predominately from 1919 as much of it was destroyed in the great fire of 1869.

It stands on Plaza del Himno Nacional, where the national anthem was sung for the first time in 1868.

Sunday mass at church in Bayamo

Inside Sunday mass

  • Casa Natal de Carlos Manuel Cespedes

This is where Cespedes was born & spent the first 12 years of his life.

The two-storey colonial house is now a museum with Cespedes memorabilia & period furniture. It’s one of few buildings in Bayamo not destroyed by the 1869 fire.

  • Museo Provincial

Museo Provincial is also on Parque Cespedes, next to Cespedes’s ex-residence.

There are a couple of rare pieces inside: a document from 1567 & a photograph of Bayamo immediately after the 1869 fire.

Museo Provincial & Casa Natal Céspedes

Museo Provincial on the left, Casa Natal Cespedes on the right

  • Paseo Bayames

Officially named Calle General Garcia, this is Bayamo’s main shopping strip.

Among small peso cafes & restaurants selling local Cuban food, there are several department stores with amusing 1950’s window displays:

1950's window displays in Cuba

Window displays stuck in time!

While the window displays are stuck in time, the rest of the street has moved with the times.

It’s been pedestrianized since the 1990’s & cool paint tubes & public art works line the boulevard.

Funky paint tubes along Paseo Bayames

Funky paint tubes line the main street!

  • Museo de Cera

This Cuban mini-version of Madame Tussaud’s is also on Paseo Bayames.

We spotted Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the front left, elsewhere you should also be able to find Hugo Chavez & other Cuban celebrities.

Entry is CUC$3, with photos CUC$5.

* Bayamo Travel Guide Top Tip: Museo de Cera is just one small room so just take some sneaky snaps from the entrance.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in wax museum

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the wax museum

  • Torre de San Juan Evangelista

This tower marked the entrance to Cuba’s first cemetery – it was destroyed in 1940 but the tower remained.

The tower marks an important intersection

The tower marks an important intersection

  • Plaza de la Patria

In 2006, at his annual “Triumph of the Revolution” address, Castro gave his last speech before unexpectedly transferring power to his brother Raul.

It’s a huge, cold concrete space with one single monument – the carved mural features the only depiction of Castro in Cuba.

He stands alongside Manual Cespedes, Perucho Figuerdo, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez & other Cuban icons.

Plaza de la Patria in Bayamo

The huge plaza outside of the city centre where Fidel Castro gave his last speech

  • Museo Nico Lopez

The grounds of this former garrison are a lot more impressive than the yellow museum inside it – mainly because everything’s in Spanish.

The Spanish military barracks were attacked by 25 rebels led by Nico Lopez in 1853.

Lopez escaped to Guatemala & was the first Cuban to meet Che Guevara but he was killed shortly after the Granma landed.

Museo Nico Lopez in Bayamo

Nice architecture & grounds at Museo Nico Lopez – museum only in Spanish

  • Fabrica de los Coches

Nicknamed “ciudad de los coches”, city of horse carts, apparently 40% of the population in Bayamo still uses them everyday – we find this hard to believe.

We saw more goat carts than horse carts:

Goat cart around Bayamo

Don’t be surprised to see a few children’s goat carts around the city!

Even the horse cart factory was closed – but if you do visit on a Sunday, you can still look inside & walk around for free.

There are pieces in different stages of production.

This is the only place in Cuba where horse carts are still handcrafted, each one taking up to 3 months to complete.

These days, most are made from metal.

Horse Cart factory in Bayamo

See traditional horse carts in various stages of production

  • Parque Chapuzon

Get back to nature on the outskirts of the city – here, there are gazebo-shaped stalls selling snacks & refreshments alongside a lush green riverbank & a concrete playground.

Concrete playground in Parque Chapuzon

Bizarre concrete playground & sculptures in Parque Chapuzon

  • Fiesta de la Cubania

We initially came to Bayamo for their famous Saturday night street party but like many things in Cuba, it proved to be a disappointment.

There are some family-friendly shows in Plaza de la Revolucion & performances featuring antiquated street organs on Paseo Bayames.

Street organ performance Bayamo

A performance featuring antiquated street organs on Saturday night in Bayamo

There are chess boards set up on tables on Paseo Bayames too, with people sitting around but not many actually playing.

There was little singing or dancing and no roast pork or ostiones – we did find the oyster drink the next day (on street off Paseo Bayames, only in the morning) & it was surprisingly delicious!

* Bayamo Travel Guide Top Tip: For a real party, head to the Las Tunas street festival instead!

Parque Céspedes Saturday night party

Saturday night street party in Parque Cespedes

Bayamo Travel Guide: Accommodation

We stayed on the rooftop of Casa Vivian for CUC$15, with a huge room with ensuite, air-conditioning & fridge. It also included breakfast!

Casa Vivian is on Donato Marmol, one street behind Paseo Bayames & Parque Cespedes.

It was being advertised for sale so unfortunately it may not be a casa for much longer – see our guide on budget casa particulates in Cuba for tips on what to look for.

Room at Casa Vivian in Bayamo

Our huge room on the rooftop of Casa Vivian for CUC$15

How to Get to Bayamo

We took 3 camiones then 1 bus (a Cubans-only Transnacional bus!) to get from Ciego de Avila to Bayamo.

It took all day & we almost missed the Saturday night street party we were coming for but we made it in the end:

  • Ciego de Avila – Camaguey: 20 pesos, 2 hours
  • Camaguey – Guimaro: 10 pesos, 1.5 hours
  • Guimaro – Las Tunas: 5 pesos?, 45 minutes
  • Las Tunas – Bayamo: CUC$2.5, 1.5 hours

Find out which of these places made our list of the top places to visit in Cuba!

Bus terminal at Guimara

A lot of traffic stops at the Guimara terminal but of course nothing direct to Bayamo

How to Get Out of Bayamo

* Bayamo Travel Guide Top Tip: Camiones are irregular from Bayamo.

We were told there was a truck to Santiago de Cuba at 5pm, we waited 3 hours before finding out it wasn’t running that day.

We hitchhiked on the main road going out of the city towards Santiago de Cuba & were very fortunate to be picked up by a passing camion packed with military students returning home from the weekend. The ride cost 25 pesos.

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*** The Final Word – Don’t come for the Saturday night street party, come for the history & culture ***

 What’s your favourite historical city?

5 Shovels-2

Super easy DIY travel around city centres

Visited in June 2016

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