Bayamo: An Inland Culture in Cuba’s Southern Tier
Bayamo was the second of seven cities founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Founded on November 5, 1513, Bayamo was the explorer’s first inland settlement. As such, it did not fall prey to pirate attacks that characterized other coastal cities like Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.
Many People-to-People Cuba tours concentrate on the high profile cities and beach resorts further north. But, Bayamo and Granma Province in particular are filled with compelling history and surrounded by rather incredible natural habitat.
Bayamo’s avenue to the sea was the Cauto River. Like most destinations in Granma, the Sierra Maestra always looms large and provides a natural barrier against inland invasions. The Cauto River allowed ships carrying as much as 200 tons of produce through Manzanillo.
Bayamo thrived as a center for contraband through the 17th century. Buoyed by innovative growers, the city became one of Cuba’s foremost trading centers.
The rich soil around the settlement was home to some of the most profitable plantations on the island. And, without attacks from the many prates that terrorized the West Indies islands, Bayamo attracted some of Cuba’s wealthiest growers.
In 1540, Francisco Iznaga was elected mayor of the city. The family was one of the wealthiest on the western coast of Cuba and quickly established itself as a political power. Iznaga eventually settled in Trinidad, where the family name remained influential into the 20th century.
Bayamo has had a longstanding history of freedom fighters. One of the country’s most revered freedom fighters, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819–1874), the hero of the Ten Years War, was born in Bayamo. A statue in his honor marks the city’s central square. Perucho Figueredo (1818-1870) the composer of Cuba’s national anthem, was also born and raised in Bayamo as was Tomas Estrada Palma, Cuba’s first president.
The Cauto River was encumbered by a brutal hurricane in 161 that tied the city’s commerce up for a year. During this time, goods were carried by horse carts to Manzanillo and shipped illegally to Curacao, Jamaica and other foreign markets. The entrepreneurs of Bayamo were not to be denied and they maintained these markets well into the 18th century.
Today, Bayamo is home to about 225,000 residents. The UN recognized Bayamo as one of the most sustainable in the world, much less in Cuba. Only about 15 percent of the population relies upon motorize transport. The city boasts more than 500 licensed horse-drawn carriages. The rest of the city’s traffic is bicycles or bicycle taxis.
Outside Bayamo, one of the pivotal battles of the Ten Years War was fought. The devastation led to the destruction of the surrounding area and to certain parts of the city in 1878. Very few People-to-People Cuba tours encompass Cuba’s southern tier. But, this is where it all began.
Between Bayamo, Baracoa, Pilon and Santiago de Cuba, travelers can get a very different view of Cuba and the culture of the south, which is different than the big city and beach culture to the north. Want to learn more? Contact Info@travelguidecuba.com.
Travelguidcuba.com is not a licensed People-to-People tour provider but works closely with licensed providers. Complete Cuba People-to-People tour is licensed (CT-2013-299822-1) by the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to engage, organize and conduct authorized people-to-people travel to Cuba that engages participants in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.