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First Coffee Plantations

First Coffee Plantations

The Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba forms a unique testimony of agricultural exploitation for coffee production.

The plantations are located in the mountain valleys of the Sierra Maestra.

The designated zone contains the remains of 171 historic coffee plantations. They were established in the 19th and early 20th century, by French colonial plantation owners who had fled Haiti after independence.

Map of First Coffee Plantations


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Alexander Barabanov Russia - 25-Aug-18 -

First Coffee Plantations by Alexander Barabanov

Visited La Isabelica in May 2018.

This coffee plantation (cafetal) is the only easily accessible and preserved site of this group. While inscription dossier tells about 171 plantations, we haven’t identified en route any indications or directions for other sites. As we understood they're completely ruined and accessible only with unmarked hiking trails. So, this most famous cafetal La Isabelica (constructed in the second half of 19th century by a Frenchman migrated from Haiti) provides best synthesis of this serial site. There is 2-km walking hike from La Gran Piedra (huge rock formation on top of the mountain) with some stunning views up to the sea. The entrance fee is 2 CUCs and the guy provided overview of the house and surrounding coffee constructions plus described briefly the whole process of coffee cultivation. On the ground floor, there is also exhibition of various torture instruments for the slaves. The French owner (who married slave woman) lived on the first flow and there is carefully reconstructed interior. The most impressive external constructions are secadero (drying surface in front of the cafetal) and grinding mill for the primary processing of the beans (on the foto). Position on the slope of the mountains of Sierra Maestra (La Isabelica is located somewhere 1100 meters over sea level) provided best humid and cool climate for the coffee growth.  

Interesting site providing insight on history of probably the most used beverage in the world (or tea is number one?). However, for the future would be good to have a couple of other cafetals restored. We also purchased locally grown coffee for 10 CUCs, but not tried it yet, so can't provide recommendation.

Iain Jackson Scotland UK - 23-Jan-10

This site lies within a taxi ride of Santiago, Cuba's second city. When I visited, on a pleasant, sunny day in February 2001, the site had only been inscribed for a few months, and perhaps that was the reason I found it almost impossible to get information about it.

UNESCO tells us that the site is in 7 parts. I don't know if any (or all) are contiguous nor how many of these parts I have actually set foot in.

On my visit, because of the condition of the road the taxi driver would go no further than La Gran Piedra, a huge perched rock at an altitude of about 1200m. After that I continued walking uphill for maybe 3kms until I came to La Isabelica. Here the house and plantation of a former coffee grower have been turned into a museum.

The house, once owned by a French planter who, along with a number of his compatriots, moved to Cuba when life in Haiti became difficult, is not lavish but is attractive and has been well restored and furnished. Access to the first floor living areas is only by way of a narrow bridge over the deep trench dug to surround the house.

It was not clear to me where the plantation labourers (were they still slaves at that time?) lived. Perhaps their (presumably less substantial) dwellings have since been reclaimed by the forest.

The ground floor of the building seemed to be occupied solely by utility rooms and a lot of tool storage space. Adjoining the house was the secadero, the large hard- surfaced flat area on which the beans were laid out to dry.

I understand that, to provide shade, the coffee was inter-planted, often with citrus and other fruit trees and although the steep hill slopes down from the house have been largely reclaimed by the forests it is still possible to see remains of this practice.Is this the Cultural Landscape to which UNESCO refers?

I would like to have learned more of this aspect of Cuba's history (perhaps, in the last few years better, fuller site interpretation has been provided) but at least I left with a souvenir,which I still have, a now dried out twig from a coffee bush complete with beans and leaves.

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Community Rating

Community Rating 2.57. Based on 7 votes.

Site Info

Full name: Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba

Unesco ID: 1008

Inscribed: 2000

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 3   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2000 - Inscribed 


The site has 7 locations.

  • First Coffee Plantations: Dos Palmas Contramaestre
  • First Coffee Plantations: El Cobre
  • First Coffee Plantations: El Salvador
  • First Coffee Plantations: Guantanamo
  • First Coffee Plantations: La Gran Piedra
  • First Coffee Plantations: Niceto P
  • First Coffee Plantations: Yateras


The site has 10 connections.


  • Aqueduct: Elaborate channels, often built as arcaded aqueducts (as at San Luís de Jacas) (Long Description)



  • Slavery: The coffee plantations were owned by French, who had fled from Haiti accompanied by many of their African slaves

Human Activity

Individual People

  • Che Guevara: Sierra Maestra mountains, where he and a small group of revolutionaries survived to re-group


  • Built in the 19th Century: "Coffee production was established in the island of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola) by French settlers in the 18th century. The uprisings from 1790 onwards, culminating in the establishment of the independent state of Haiti in 1804, resulted in the flight of French plantation owners, accompanied by many of their African slaves, to the neighbouring island of Cuba, then under Spanish rule. They were granted lands in the south-eastern part of the island in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, at that time largely not settled and eminently suitable for coffee growing" (AB)


World Heritage Process

  • No Buffer Zone: Insc 2000 without buffer zone. "Given the strong legislative protection in force in the region, and in particular in the Sierra Maestra Grand National Park, it therefore appeared to ICOMOS that it would be desirable for the entire area to be inscribed on the List, without a buffer zone" (AB eval)