Cuba's Valley of the Sugar Mills Offers a Glimpse of History

October 15, 2012
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Cuba is a country filled with cultural and historical significance, and one of the prime examples is the island's Valley of the Sugar Mills. Along with the neighboring city of Trinidad, this region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and now serves as an intriguing archaeological site for visitors to explore in Cuba.

During your time in Cuba, you'll likely come to realize that most of the country's history is closely tied into the economic standing, and the Valley of the Sugar Mills is no different. The sugar mills and plantations in this area are a relic from years gone past, when the country's sugar production was at an all time-high. If you visit this area, you'll have the opportunity to tour these structures, many of which are still standing.

The Valley of the Sugar Mills is known as Valle de los Ingenios to the Cuban people and technically is comprised of three different valleys — Meyer, San Luis and Santa Rosa. This region of the country extends more than 100 square miles and contains more than 70 former sugar mills.

The Cuban sugar empire lasted from the late 18th to the late 19th century. At its peak, 50 sugar mills were concurrently in operation, producing 140,000 sugar cane arrobas per 32 acres. Part of the reason the Valley of the Sugar Mills was ultimately named a UNESCO World Heritage Site is because these sugar plantations were closely tied in with the slave trade that was rampant at the time. It's estimated that some 30,000 Africans were brought to Cuba to work specifically on these sugar-producing farms during that time period.

Today, there are not many signs of the bustling production that once dominated the landscape. Many of the former plantations and factories are still standing and available for visitors to the island to tour. There are numerous sites within the valley to visit, but the absolute must-see is unquestionably the grounds of former sugar magnate Manacas Iznaga. Iznaga's house and much of his farms are preserved today, but the most striking feature of his property is the tall tower that bears his name. According to Cuban legend, Iznaga built the tower so he could overlook his lands and keep watch of the many slaves who worked his fields. Your people-to-people Cuba program with International Expeditions includes an opportunity to chat with villagers in Manaca Iznaga while enjoying a glass of cold sugar cane or mango juice.