(Update October 2018)
Most of the travellers that I met on my trip across Cuba visited only the western part – from Viñales to Trinidad. I did that, too – but then I got to the less explored and visited east – and just loved it.
Good morning, Santiago! Walking in the wee hours to the Viazul bus station.
Although Santiago de Cuba is not only the isle’s second largest city but also the country’s second capital from 1522 till 1589; the first one was Baracoa – we’ll get there later; literally.
Santiago has a certain artsy vibe to it, and I felt very comfortable here.
Here, the central park is called Parque Céspedes and it’s the perfect central point for exploring the city.
|Overlooking Santiago de Cuba from the Casa Granda’s rooftop bar.|
To get a first good view of the city, just go up to the roof bar of the hotel Casa Granda (this is not a typo, it’s actually Grand-a).
While regarding service it’s annoying that employees at public, governmental businesses don’t give a damn, there is an advantage to it: They don’t care if you use the bathroom without buying or consuming something, they are completely unconcerned if you use the facilities although you’re not a guest or customer – that’s really good.
Next to the Casa Granda, on the square’s southern side, is the Santa Basílica Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral, Santiago’s majestic cathedral.
|The two beautiful towers of Santiago’s cathedral can be spotted even from the side streets.|
On the square’s west side is the Casa de Diego Velazquez, a Spanish conquistador’s former residence. The building, completed in the early 1600the century, will probably be one of the oldest Cuban residences. Today, it houses the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano.
While the upstairs used to be the residential part, the lower level was a gold foundry and you can still admire the furnace that was used for melting gold.
|From the Casa Granda, the Casa de Diego Velazquez deems almost humble: it’s the building with the black balconies right across the square.|
Leaving the parque to the east, there are some museums you shouldn’t miss: On calle Francisco Vincente Aguilera is the Museo Emilio Bacardí Moreau – and the name Bacardí rings a bell for a reason. He did bring good to the world – as a rum manufacturer, as Santiago’s mayor, and as an art collector.
|A museum since 1899.|
His rich collection can be seen at the
Emilio Bacardí Moreau Museo
Francisco Vincencte Aguilera
Santiago de Cuba
Phone: + 53 – 22 – 628402
The museum is open daily from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.
|Masks and everything a wild carnival is all about.|
Just one block down south at the next corner is another jewel, focusing pretty much on the Afro Cuban heritage and the carnival.
Museo del Carnaval
Calle Heredia 301
Santiago de Cuba
Phone: +53 22 626955
The museum is open daily from 8 a. m. to 4 p. m., but when I was there, it was closed for an hour; well, it’s Cuba, so you might have to adjust your schedule here and there.
The competition between Havana and Santiago starts already with Cuba’s national treasure, the rum. If you haven’t visited a rum factory or museum before, here is – yet another – chance; whereby it’s probably not the most complete and impressive exhibition.
Museo del Ron
Calle San Basilio 358 (Calle Bartolomé Maso)
Santiago de Cuba
A crazy thing in Santiago is that names of streets differ. You get an address – and google maps shows you a spot with a completely different name. It drives me nuts, but don’t worry, it’s ok – they just changed names, so go where google sends you. If you want to make sure, just type both names in google search and you’ll see that it’s the same street – like here with San Basilio and Bartolomé Maso = same street.
It’s very relaxing that in Santiago there is not only a lot to see, but also a lot where to sit: There are various small squares where you can just sit on a bench in the shade of a tropical tree watching people and time passing by.
Oh – and at the Plaza de Marte, you have excellent Wifi.
|Plaza de Dolores – with a statue of freedom fighter Francisco Vicente Aguilera…..|
|….and Plaza de Marte – with a phrygian cap in honor of Cuban veterans.
In the front, José Marti is turning his back on us.
What makes Santiago even a bit more picturesque than all the other already very quaint cities is the fact that it’s hilly. You have a bit of an aerial view from many spots around town – you only have to do a little climbing.
|The Padre Pico Steps.|
And on every hill, they put a little motivation for you: Getting up the Padre Pico Steps five blocks southwest of Parque Céspedes, you’ll reach the Museo de la Clandestinidad. Basically, it’s only a different name for an exhibition of the revolution in 1956 – and what they show is pretty much what you get to see at the Museo de la Revolución in Havana. Only the location is more spectacular – and well chosen since it’s on top of the Loma del Intendente. It was inaugurated in 1976 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the armed uprising in Santiago in November 1956.
|Abel Santamaria Monument – in honor of the martyr Abel Santamaria who at the age of 25 was murdered in prison after being tortured by police to reveal where the other revolutionaries were hiding.|
Another revolutionary lookout is the Cuartel Moncada with the Museo Historico 26 de Julio. Here you are lectured about more heroic activities – but that’s not the reason why the best part comes as you leave – the views down the roads towards the harbor are; only the views.
|Obviously, the spirit of the revolution lives on.|
If you have time, a visit to the Cemeterio de Santa Ifigenia, a cemetery located about two miles west of the Parque Céspedes, is worth a visit: At this graveyard are resting many great Cubans such as Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Emilio Bacardi, and Frank Pais; and since 2003 also Señor Compay Segundo, since to this date famous people are buried here. Every thirty minutes, there is a changing of the guards. A guided tour of the place is a good option.
Another very popular trip takes you to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a fortress from 1700, located about six miles southwest of the city center. From here, the views of the bay are just spectacular.
This map should show you all the places worth visiting and mentioned in this post:
Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba?