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Cuba and El Cobre Mine

by sue and john eyre

In May of 2017, John and I visited several cities in Cuba as part of a “People-to-People” tour on board the Fathom cruise ship Adonia.  As always, we try to find points of interest which include our love of geology.  Cuba had been on our bucket list for quite a while, we are both glad that we got this trip in before things closed down

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The people of Cuba were most welcoming to us as visitors.  We saw many US flags on cars and pedi-cabs as we drove around the cities we visited.  One of the most asked questions we still get regarding our trip, is about the old cars.  They were unbelievable.  We ended up making a separate picture file with just pictures of the cars—we saw at least 500 old and interesting cars during the week we were visiting.

We got to see many interesting sites during our visit.  One day out of Havana, we took a tour that followed the steps of Hemmingway.  We visited his home outside of Havana and also had lunch at his favorite restaurant by the harbor where he kept his fishing boat.  The restaurant keeps his favorite table set and ready just in case he would come back to life and walk in. The walls of the restaurant were adorned with photos of Hemmingway, including one of him fishing with Castro.

We had an overnight in Havana, which gave us time to take in a Cabana Show at the National Hotel.  There must have been at least 100 performers in the show and their costumes were remarkable.

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el cobre mine

santiago de cuba province, cuba


el cobre mine

In one of our ports of call, Santiago de Cuba, we signed up for an optional excursion that took us up in the mountains to the copper mining town of El Cobre.  Mining ended here in 2001.  The main attraction here for most visitors was our stop at the Cathedral where the Pope said Mass on his recent visit to Cuba. 

The old copper mine was clearly visible from the Cathedral.  I went inside to take the required pictures of Another Beautiful Church (ABC tour or if in Germany, it could be Another Beautiful Castle) while John stayed outside and searched the ground for traces of copper.  We also attended a steel band concert by the group who actually played their drums at the Mass for the Pope.

The town of El Cobre has a copper statue dedicated to the miners of the town.  Along the roadside were numerous stands that sold flowers, statues and small bags of pyrite for visitors to place at the graves of loved ones who were buried in the cemetery next to the Cathedral.

From El Cobre, we made our way back into the city of Santiago de Cuba for lunch and a visit to San Juan Hill, or as the Cuban’s call it San Juan Heights.  All of the signage at San Juan Hill was in both Spanish and English.   We were equally surprised to see all of the walkways decorated with copper specimens.

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Statue Honoring the Miners in the town of El Cobre, Cuba

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Copper specimens decorate the walkways at San Juan Hill

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Copper samples John picked up in the gravel around the Cathedral in El Cobre

[Editor's note: These appear to be azurite, a copper secondary mineral formed by oxidation of copper - SJG]

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El Cobre Mine in 1902.  Photo from

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El Cobre Mine in 1955.  Photo from

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El Cobre in 2017, taken by the Eyres from the Cathedral in El Cobre, Cuba

[Editor's Note:]  The El Cobre Mine is located in the south of Cuba and was mined from 1532 until about 1998.  It is considered the oldest of New World copper mines.  It was first mined by the Spanish who exploited local people for slave labor.  In the 1800s, it was acquired by a British mining company and used Cornish miners and steam pumps to further work the deposits.  In the early 1900s, it was owned by an American company, but was later nationalized by the state during the Cuban Revolution.  With copper prices falling and the reserves being found only at deeper and deeper levels, the cost vs value of the ore was not profitable.  The mine was closed between 1998 and 2001 when the land was reclaimed as a lake and park.

The deposit is a volcanogenic Cu-Zn-Pb-Au deposit of the Paleogene Volcanic Arc that stretches along the south of cuba.  The ore is found near cross cutting veins of pyrite and chalcopyrite.  Very few specimens from this historic mine ever came to market and John's photos of the specimens in the walkway are probably the most specimens ever seen by foreigners. hosts about 10 specimens (of all types) from this mine which are posted by enthusiasts from all over the world.

                                                                 -Shannon Graewin

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