Planning to visit Santiago de Cuba? Check this 10 travel picks!
Its particular history as the former capital of the country, its distinct migration waves and the unique gracefulness of its people distinguish it from other cities in the country.
The most Caribbean city in Cuba and second in size packs loads of opportunities of enjoyment for all liking!
These are some of the things you can do:
Walk around the historical centre
Cespedes Park is the race track and pit stop for the everyday commuter and a perfect spot for visitors to mingle with local residents. There is always something going on around you and it´s a picturesque scene in which to admire different high value artistic and social buildings such as the city hall, museums and the cathedral.
While rambling around might come in handy to catch your breath in the Plaza de Dolores with its gorgeous fountain in the centre, it is situated in front of the church of equal name. In the limits of the historical centre you’ll encounter the emblematic Plaza de Marte with its beautiful sculptures and vast spaces. The Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution square) is a must because it is the epicentre of major political, social, artistic and sports events in town. Here you’ll have the opportunity to visit different exposition rooms related to history.
Last but not least you just have to walk up Enramadas street, the most traversed in town and a fundamental artery of the city packed with businesses, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and others. Its ancient splendour and intense life rhythm has been the muse of local artists.
Climb up La Gran Piedra (The Big Rock)
La Gran Piedra declared as National Monument forms part of the Baconao Park (World Biosphere Reserve) just 16 km from the city of Santiago de Cuba. The crowned jewel is a 63 000 ton rock believed to be of volcanic origin and a Guinness World Record holder as it is the biggest rock of its type at the highest altitude.
There is a viewer from which to admire the fantastic scenery of unparallel beauty from a height of 1234 m over sea level, as it is part of the Sierra Maestra mountain range.
Nature lovers are in for a feast as there are numerous flora and fauna species like orchids, eucalyptol, the Tocororo (national bird), the Greta Cuba butterfly and others.
Watch the cannon shot in San Pedro de la Roca fortress
Every day overlooking the gorgeous bay of Santiago in the grand San Pedro de la Roca fortress a ceremony of great visual impact takes place, “the Cañonazo” (cannon shot).
Instituted in 2001 in honour of the fallen freedom fighters against Spain (mambí) this traditional local ceremony seeks their tribute; it’s a military style ceremony of soldiers dressed with mambí style uniforms that culminates with the shot.
Go to El Cobre
In the highest spot of the Maboa hill 27 km from the city is the El Cobre town in which there is a sanctuary dedicated to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Caridad del Cobre Virgin). She was declared patroness of Cuba in 1916 and crowned by Pope John Paul II in his visit to the island in 1998.
Life in this little town revolves mainly around the sanctuary as it is one of Cuba’s holiest sites, it occupies an eclectic style building built in 1927. The virgin is a Cuban creation and the result of the Afro Cuban cult of Oshun syncretism.
There are various legends regarding the appearance of the deity but one thing for sure is that Cubans bestow on her a profound faith as she is believed to possess miraculous powers.
Drink a cocktail high up in the Meliá Santiago
Placed in the city centre this modern Meliá can be seen from all over. In the roof top you will find the Bello Bar which outbreaks into elegance, style and refinement. The view is an obligation to venerate the wonderful and hospitable city in an open cinema of the capricious combination of sea, mountains, the unbalanced heights of the surrounding area and the asymmetrical layout of streets.
Dance in Cespedes Park during the “Fiesta del Fuego”
This is a warm city, not only in temperature but in the character of the locals; the strong and varied cultural offers at your disposal have gained her the nickname of “Cultural Capital of the Caribbean”.
Santiago’s Carnivals are notoriously famous on the island and the region, they take place in July but they are preceded by the “Fiesta del Fuego”, an international yearly gathering for the sharing of Caribbean culture and rhythms.
Starting off with the “snake parade” locals and visitors seem to get into a collective trance while they sweep away behind the caravan. There is no sleeping for a week during the celebrations and there is ample opportunity to take part in the festivities that take to the streets with its epicentre in the Cespedes park.
The burning of “the Devil” in the waters of the bay marks the end of the festival; it resembles the burning of the bad, paving the way for the next encounter.
This is a once in a lifetime chance to join in and witness the distinct and unquestionable rhythms of Santiago and that of its people, product of 500 years of endless mixing that make both what they are, unmistakably musical and joyful.
Visit the French coffee plantations
Time to erase and rewind all you already know about Santiago and experience some of its history. Coffee plantations were established in the area with the influx of the French along with their slaves, which settled in eastern Cuba in the mountains fleeing the Haitian revolution.
There are around a 100 farms most of which are in Santiago. The plantations have enormous importance as centres of scientific, technical, architectonic and road works. Most of the paved roads you will transit are former pathways built in those days.
The most famous coffee plantation ruins are the Santa Sofia, the Kentucky and La Isabélica farms, this last is in perfect conservation state and houses the ethnographic museum.
In here you’ll find a workshop, different items related to the plantation slaves and ancient furniture.
Taste the Santiago rum in its factory
Santiago rum is the lifework of the maestros and factory workers; it has been blessed with the generosity of its source materials and the weather in Santiago de Cuba.
It carries all the tradition of Cuban rum maestros and it is unique in its flavour, aroma and smoothness.
Visiting the factory is like walking into a Mecca because Santiago rum in Cuba transpires culture and years of accumulated idiosyncrasy. Here you’ll have the opportunity to get to know firsthand how this gift to the world is manufactured in its different tiers.
The recipes for the rums are a closely guarded secret that comprise different elements. A legend has it that the conspicuous “Don Pancho” aging warehouse, known as the “Cathedral of Rum”, is so close to the train tracks that the barrels tremble as trains pass, adding a rather mysterious ingredient to the aging process.
Get to know the Tumba Francesa
The ultra wide spectrum of Cuba’s robust culture just keeps surprising visitors, this time with the ¨Tumba Francesa¨, a tradition exclusive to the eastern provinces, Santiago among them.
It’s a combination of ballroom dance alternated with the bursting beat of African drums in a peculiar performance of men and women wearing elegant 18th century European garments and making canticles and choruses.
The dance serves as a living testament of years of mixing between Spanish, Africans, some Chinese and what was left of native Indians plus the French-Haitian immigrants, who settled mostly in the eastern provinces and the inexorable habit of borrowing foreign traditions, making them their own and generating something authentically Cuban, more particularly eastern Cuban with Santiago as one of its epicentres.
This important dance component left its footprint still preset and manifested today in different aspects of Santiago’s music and traditions.
Visit the Santa Ifigenia cemetery
This is a fantastic example of funerary architecture; inaugurated in 1868 and declared National Monument in 1979 it hosts the remains of outstanding Cuban personalities such as Antonio Maceo (exceptional general of the independence war against Spain), Mariana Grajales, today declared “mother of the homeland” due to her contribution to the fight against Spain embodied in her sons, Antonio Maceo among them who is also buried here. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes’ remains are placed here as he is considered as the “father of the homeland” due to his demonstrated heroism in the colonial period.
Other personalities include Frank País and Josué País, both members of the 26 of July movement. Fidel’s ashes are also here inside a large monolithic rock, Cuba’s national hero’s Jose Marti remains are here as well, situated in a mausoleum.
This is a location of enormous heritage and historical charge that carries the essence of the men and women who shook not only Santiago’s but Cuba’s destiny.