Santo Domingo, Cuba
The small town of Santo Domingo lies amidst the forested Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba. The setting – with tall mountains, lush forests, and clear streams – is lovely, and the area is home to Fidel’s rebel headquarters at La Comandancia de la Plata.
The tiny community of Santo Domingo was the setting for major battles in the push to overthrow Batista, particularly from June–July in 1958. Fidel’s headquarters were located nearby—from here he commanded rebel units across the country, and put out secret daily radio communications to the citizens of Cuba. Local campesinos helped supply and protect his hideout.
Santo Domingo is located along the banks of the Río Yara near the entrance to the Pico Turquino National Park. Santo Domingo is a smaller destination, but it’s one of the best places in Cuba for a real outdoor experience. Travelers can spend their days exploring forests and mountains, and spend their nights watching the stars emerge in the dark sky above. The air up here is fresh and crisp and a nice break from Cuba’s hot lowlands. The town’s single hotel is pleasant and borders the river. There are a handful of casa particulares as well, some of which have pleasant balconies where you can watch the sunset fall over the mountains.
Most travelers come here to hike the tallest mountain in Cuba, Pico Turquino, or to visit Fidel’s hideout. Aside from these two attractions, however, travelers can enjoy ecotourism activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and birding. And after a day of exploring, take a dip into the cool pools of the Río Yara.
Fidel’s rebel hideout, La Comandancia de la Plata, is set within the Pico Turquino National Park. The hike to the hideout passes through dense forest and takes about 45 minutes. La Comandancia de la Plata is made up of 16 wooden buildings set along a ridge. You can see Fidel’s small house – equipped with the bed and refrigerator he used – and the simple hut where Che practiced medicine. Guides are required.
The Pico Turquino National Park is also home to Pico Turquino, the highest mountain in Cuba. The trail up this 6,476-foot (1,974-m) mountain is 8 miles (13 km) long, and fairly steep and challenging. It’s required to take a guide, and most tours summit the mountain on the first day and then spend the night in a cabin, finishing the rest of the hike the next morning. The cloud forests that blanket the upper slopes of this park are home to orchids, bromeliads, and ferns.
The drive from Bayamo to Santo Domingo is gorgeous, winding through pastoral fields before ascending into the mountains. Do note, however, that the road gets quite steep towards Santo Domingo. If you’re in a rental car, it might not be able to make it all the way—better to book a shuttle or cab from Bayamo.