Cementerio Santa Ifigenia

Top choice cemetery in Santiago de Cuba

Nestled peacefully on the city's western extremity, the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia is second only to Havana's Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón in its importance and grandiosity. Created in 1868 to accommodate the victims of the War of Independence and a simultaneous yellow-fever outbreak, the Santa Ifigenia includes many great historical figures among its 8000-plus tombs, notably the mausoleum of José Martí and final resting place of Fidel Castro.

Names to look out for include Tomás Estrada Palma (1835–1908), Cuba's now disgraced first president; Emilio Bacardí y Moreau (1844–1922) of the famous rum dynasty; María Grajales, the widow of independence hero Antonio Maceo; and Mariana Grajales, Maceo's mother; 11 of the 31 generals of the independence struggles; the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill and Caney; the 'martyrs' of the 1953 Moncada Barracks attack; M-26-7 activists Frank and Josué País; father of Cuban independence, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819–74); and international celebrity-cum-popular-musical-rake, Compay Segundo (1907–2003) of Buena Vista Social Club fame.

Many visitors come to pay homage at the quasi-religious mausoleum to national hero José Martí (1853–95). Erected in 1951 during the Batista era, the imposing hexagonal structure is positioned so that Martí's wooden casket (draped solemnly in a Cuban flag) receives daily shafts of sunlight. This is in response to a comment Martí made in one of his poems that he would like to die not as a traitor in darkness, but with his visage facing the sun. A round-the-clock guard of the mausoleum is changed, amid much pomp and ceremony, every 30 minutes.

Now, the cemetery's most famous resident is a recent arrival, situated alongside his hero, José Martí. After a cross-country procession that re-created the revolutionary's 1959 victory march in reverse, the ashes of Fidel Castro Ruz (1926–2016) were interred here on December 4, 2016. The private ceremony featured a 21-gun salute and no speeches. Castro has famously insisted that he wanted no tributes, statues or honors in his name. This simple monument takes the form of an enormous boulder bearing a plaque with just the name Fidel.

Horse carts go along Av Jesús Menéndez, from Parque Alameda to Cementerio Santa Ifigenia; otherwise, it's a hearty, leg-stretching walk.