Cuba is a fascinating country. If you venture out of the all-inclusive resorts, you’ll discover a nation all in contrast: mountains and swamps, people riding bicycles and riding horses, sugar cane fields and solar panel fields. It’s a country with a particular history too, unlike any other place I’ve been to.
And if history (and agriculture) interests you, I recommend a stop at the Museo de la Agroindustria Azucarera near Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara. This museum, dedicated to the agricultural industry of Cuba, is located in a former sugar mill.
The history of this museum is interesting. Cuba has long been the largest sugar producer in the world (at the beginning of the 20th century, the country exported more than 5 million tons per year). In Villa Clara province alone, there was over 40 sugar mills. The Reforma mill (now home to the museum) was one of the largest in the area and shipped its sugar by train to the port city of Caibarién.
Although the embargo of the United States after the Cuban Revolution complicated things for the sugar industry, it was the fall of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s that gave a deadly blow to the Cuban economy. Cuba lost its main export market. And with the US embargo, it was difficult to get parts to repair the old mills’ machinery. Several of them had to close, including the Reforma mill (it was decommissioned in 1998).
The machinery of the sugar mill is now very quiet. It is now used to illustrate the process of refining sugar to tourists.
The Museo de la Agroindustria Azucarera also includes an exhibition on the history of the sugar industry in Cuba, from the time of slavery to today. There is also a café, where you can enjoy sugar cane juice, Cuban coffee or rum, or learn more about cigar making.
The museum is especially known for its collection of steam locomotives (those that previously shipped sugar to Caibarién). One of them still makes the daily return trip between the mill and the city of Remedios not far away. Unfortunately for us, when we were there, the locomotive had some mechanical problems and we couldn’t make the ride.
To console us, we were able to visit the gigantic on-site warehouse that is used to store the rum of Muleta company. I admit that it was rather impressive to see these hundreds of barrels that will remain in the dark for a few years. The barrels are eventually sent to a local factory, the rum is bottled and then shipped around the world. The sugar industry in Cuba may have slowed down considerably in recent decades, but it still remains an important part of the country’s economy.
The entrance ticket costs 3CUC (a little more if you want to take a train ride). The museum is located on the road between Remedios and the touristy area of Cayo Santa Maria.