Santa Ifigenia Cemetery | Travel Series S:1 E:5
FE Active is more than just a camping gear company. We're proud to be a company run by travellers, adventurers, and people "living the lifestyle" we promote through our products. One such employee had the opportunity to backpack across Cuba in early 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic, and in this Cuban blog series, will recount the adventures experienced along this amazing journey.
"Cemeteries may not typically make it on your list of "Must-See" attractions, but visiting Santa Ifigenia will not only connect you with history, you'll also get a unique experience - if you time it right!"
Santa Ifigenia is perhaps Cuba's most important cemetery. Located in the city of Santiago de Cuba, this is the final resting place of two important Cuba's: Jose Marti and Fidel Castro.
Built in 1868, the cemetery is filled in intricate statues honouring their dead. Wandering through the rows and rows of headstones and impressive statues, it's instilled that you're in a tropical location with the stark white monuments, the warm tropical breezes, and the palm trees swaying against the pale blue skies.
Each gravesite has a story of it's own, but the tomb of Jose Marti is by far the most impressive structure. You'll know it when you see it as seen in the video below.
Here, three guards will always be on watch. You can go the monument to look at the statue of Marti inside, and peer down at the tomb itself, but going in is forbidden.
Location and Rules
Finding Santa Ifigenia is, understandably, pretty easy to find. Located in the North West corner of the city, the cemetery is located just off a main road. Although there are numerous ways to get there (taxi, public transit) we decided to walk from our casa particular in the city.
We found Santiago de Cuba (as a whole) pretty walkable, and we enjoyed the scenery as we went. It took us a leisurely 40 minutes as we walked through the city and past the waterfront "Cuba" sign where we took pictures and looked out over the harbor.
When you arrive, don't be surprised when you have to pay to enter. Although cheap (3 CUC or so) the cost is well worth it. I would imagine the funds go toward keeping the grounds clean and paying the handful of guards that work there.
As you're going through, you'll need to be respective. No loud voices, no music, to fooling around. As expected, in a cemetery filled with Cuba's most famous residents, they take this very seriously.
One of the "unknown" rules we learned while visiting is you can't place anything on the benches - besides yourself. Don't be caught placing a water bottle down, for example, or you'll be told to pick it right back up. We learned this the hard way.
Changing of the Guards
One of the most impressive parts of the cemetery is the changing of the guard. Multiple time a day a full-on changing of the guards ceremony is underwent. We didn't know this existed, but we fortunate to be there at the right time. You can see part of the ceremony toward the end of the video.
During the event, you'll be allowed to take photos and videos, but you'll be confined to certain areas as the cemetery takes places along multiple routes surrounding the gravesites of Marti and Castro at the same time.
Santa Ifigenia was a pleasant surprise. When we looked at going we enjoyed the idea of paying respects to the people that helped Cuba become a free country.
We were surprised with the size, the intricate statues and of course the changing of the guards.
Spending time in Santiago de Cuba would be incomplete without taking a few moments to see this location, pay your respects, and simply admire the beauty found within.