Santiago de Cuba Travel Guide
Introduction to Santiago de Cuba
The second largest city in the country and the defacto capital of Eastern Cuba, Santiago de Cuba has much to offer the cultural traveler.
After all, it was in the mountains to the Northeast where Fidel Castro planned the insurrection that would eventually take down the Batista government.
Within the city limits, Fidel’s first attempt at starting the Cuban Revolution took place, as he unsuccessfully launched an assault on the military barracks located there in 1953.
Given that Santiago has played a big role in much of Cuba‘s recent history, those heading to Cuba on an extended trip should definitely make solid plans to visit this interesting city.
Cultural Attractions in Santiago de Cuba
Start your cultural exploration of Santiago de Cuba by visiting San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Castle. Impressively restored and sitting atop a 60 meter high coastal promontory overlooking the city of Santiago and the ocean beyond, this fortress provided badly needed protection against marauding pirates.
In the present day, this place is home to a pirate museum that details the history of the Santiago area and its encounters with these ruthless raiders.
If you visit around sunset, you will get to watch as soldiers dressed up in period uniforms fire off its cannons, so be sure to save this attraction for later in the day.
One distinct difference between the Latin countries of the Americas and northern nations like the United States and Canada lies in the elaborate design of its cemeteries.
While the resting places in the latter countries tend to be sober and reserved in nature, graveyards in places like Cuba are built like Necropoli, or Cities of the Dead.
Cementerio Santa Ifigenia celebrates the lives of many prominent Cubans with mausoleums befitting of their status.
First built in 1868 to house the victims of a yellow fever outbreak and the Cuban War of Independence, its most significant inhabitant of this beautiful place is national hero Jose Marti.
Built so that a beam of sunlight enters his tomb once per day (as per his request), be sure to also stick around long enough to catch The Changing of the Guard, which occurs once every half hour.
In the downtown core of Santiago lies the Moncada Barracks, which was the subject of Fidel Castro’s first attempt at jumpstarting the Cuban Revolution.
A rebel raid against it was planned to take place before dawn after one of the biggest fiestas of the year; however, due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, the assault failed to take advantage of the element of surprise and project the kind of force that Raul and Fidel thought they would be able to achieve.
After the Cuban Revolution, these barracks were turned into a museum dedicated to the rebels that fell in this failed raid, complete with reconstructed bullet holes that had been cemented over by Batista’s troops after the attack.
Other Attractions in Santiago de Cuba
Those wanting a great view from above Santiago will want to head to the top of La Gran Piedra. A massive Granite monolith Standing thousands of feet above the humid Coastal lowlands, a trip up here will be a refreshing break from the oppressive heat that reigns on the streets of Santiago below.
There is more to do here then enjoy the view though, as botanical gardens and coffee plantations are located nearby.
The latter was set up by Gallic immigrants in the 19th century, and it has garnered UNESCO world heritage site recognition for being the first coffee plantation on the island of Cuba.
Named after one of the fathers of Cuban Independence in the 19th century, Cespedes Park is the perfect place in all of Santiago de Cuba for those that wish to eavesdrop on daily life in this colorful city.
Home to many street buskers, public gatherings, and art exhibitions throughout the year, this public spaces is the perfect spot to collect yourself after several hours of sightseeing.
With many excellent examples of colonial architecture surrounding the square, there is also much to see here, so don’t be in a rush to leave.
Those wanting a rare opportunity to see where ordinary Cubans live will want to hop on the ferry to Granma Island during their time in Santiago de Cuba.
Home to countless thatched roof homes, many of which are set on stilts over the water, those seeking cultural experiences on their travels will be on a high during the several hours that they will spend walking the streets of this island community.
If you travel there during lunch or dinner hours, be sure to have a meal at the local restaurant, as freshly caught lobster and ground fish make frequent appearances on the menu here.