Santiago de Cuba is known as the “Cradle of the Revolution.” The southern city holds a claim to fame in Cuba for being the staging area for Fidel Castro’s raid on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Although the raid led to Castro’s arrest, it is accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
With this nationalist framework, Baconao Park 20 km from Santiago de Cuba has developed as a microcosm of Cuba’s history and culture. Although at times the attractions in the park seem unrelated and even a little bizarre, they all recall one of the glories of Cuba’s past and they start from the very beginning. One of the main highlights of the park is the Valle de Prehistoria, a few acres of tropical vegetation complete with 200 roaming dinosaurs of the Jurassic Period. Adding to the strangeness of the exhibit, the dinosaurs were all constructed by inmates from a local prison.
Moving chronologically through history, the park also features a lush lagoon and a typical village of the Taino, a pre-Colombian Caribbean people. Visitors can pull up to the Taino village and grab drinks at the bar before taking a dip at the beach nearby. Along with a range of natural history, Baconao also has a collection of 2,500 miniature car models and a museum dedicated to the attack on Moncada.
Although the attractions scattered over 330 square miles draw many visitors, Baconao’s focus is always the revolution. Granjita Siboney, a small farm on the land, is the very place where Fidel and his rebels planned their July 26th movement. The farm includes artifacts from the rebels such as weapons, uniforms and what Santiago de Cuba’s tourist website describes as “countless memories of those days.”
Baconao is filled with untold mystery and a strong Cuban pride and sense of nationalism. How these ideas exactly relate to miniature cars and models of dinosaurs is unclear, but thousands of visitors from across Cuba seem to understand well enough.