The Sierra Maestra is Cuba's largest mountain range, and a symbolic point of reference for the Cuban nation, since the area served as refuge and campground to Cuban rebels dating back to Hatuey (killed in 1511), three wars of independence against Spain in the1800's, and a revolutionary war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
During the Ten Year War (1868-78), the Little War (1880) and the War of Independence (1895-98) the Sierra Maestra was an active center of operations and rebel camps.
A spectacular showcase of flora and fauna, and a great diversity of unusually colorful birdlife, is encountered in Sierra Maestra, including pygmy owls, thumbnail-sized frogs, and an assortment of life forms that exist only in Cuba, such as butterflies with invisible wings. The mountain range features the highest points of the island, with Pico Turquino standing proud at 6,580 feet (1,973 meters).
The Sierra Maestra is located in the Santiago de Cuba province, bordering on the Granma province. The surrounding area was the heart of the insurrectionary movement against Spain, and became part of contemporary Cuban lore when the Castro brothers and a handful of others escaped into the lush greenery and fog to organize the revolution.
Many intense battles took place in and around the mountain range during this time, but Castro was able to form the Comandancia de La Plata, which served as permanent headquarters for the war against Batista.
The town of El Cobre, located in a high valley within the mountain range, features a shrine to Cuba's patron saint Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre).
Not far from the Sierra Maestra is Yara, which also features prominently in Cuban history. It was here that Carlos Manuel de Céspedes gave the historic "Cry of Yara." Also not far is Dos Rios, where Martí fell to his death in 1895, and the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay.
Much of the Sierra Maestra remains wild and untamed, and has become a popular hiking ground in recent years.
A 9-piece band from Havana calls itelf Sierra Maestra. They specialize in the Cuban dance music of the 20's and 30's known as Son.
Photo of the Sierra Maestra (above) by Shawna Scherbarth