Santiago de Cuba is the second biggest city after Havana and plays a very important role in Cuba’s history and culture. This is the place where the Cuban Revolution started and again this is the place where almost all Cuban Music genres were born.
Walking around this busy city can be challenging thanks to its steep narrow streets. Even though I loved Santiago de Cuba’s lively and busy streets which offer a different facade of Cuba, I’d recommend you to think twice before adding Santiago de Cuba to your Cuba itinerary. The reason I’m saying this is only because Santiago de Cuba is located simply too far away, well it is at the other end of the island. You need to ask yourself if the 15 hours bus drive is worth it.
Here are my tips for things to do in Santiago de Cuba
This is the place where you will start your day in Santiago de Cuba. Parque Cespedes is the heart of the city and here you can eat, drink, and visit the most important buildings of the city, like Casa de Diego Velazquez, Balcón de Velazquez, and the Catedral de Nuestra de Señora de la Asuncion, just to name some. Even though it is in the middle of the city it is the best place to escape the busy streets and the crowds. Go to Hotel Casa Granda’s terrace bar, just like Graham Greene, order a cold drink and spend some time here while people watching and listening to the street musicians.
Padre Pico Stairs
Did I mention that Santiago de Cuba’s streets are steep. Almost all of them… In some of these streets steps are built to make going up and down easier. Well, Padre Pico is one of those streets which is made of steps completely. When you’re in Santiago de Cuba you have to walk up and down one of those streets surrounded by colourful buildings.
Bacardí Rum Factory
Do you know why Bacardi has a bat as its logo? Yes, because the founder found a huge family of bats in the rafters of his rum factory. The Bacardí family doesn’t live in Cuba anymore but the Cuban government kept the production of traditional rum here.
If you want to buy Cuban rum as souvenir this is the right place for it. Go to La Barrita de Ron Havana Club, a bar and selling point next to the factory and choose one of the famous Cuban brands such as Ron Varadero, Ron Santiago, Ron Caney or Havana Club. Here you also have a wide choice of cigars. It might look weird to drink rum and smoke a Cuban cigar in the middle of the day but, if not here and now, where else?
Plaza de Dolores
This square is my personal favourite place in Santiago de Cuba. I came here to chill in the shadows during midday to escape the burning sun. There are many restaurants and cafes around the Square “Plaza de Dolores” which is not far from Parque Cespedes. If you tend to buy art from Cuban artists, you can find them here. Better said, they’ll find you here. Here in Plaza de Dolores, I met that funny guy from the video who claimed to have traveled the world when he was young and a successful athlete. Now he shows his “magic” tricks to tourists 🙂
Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum
Bacardi Museum is the oldest one in Cuba, which opened its doors in 1927. It is famous for its collection from around the world. There are many prehistoric artefacts, and also many from the Spanish Conquest, Slavery, and Cuban Revolution. There is even a mummy which Emilio Bacardi purchased in Egypt personally.
Castillo del Morro
San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Castle (the official name) 10 kilometres away from Santiago de Cuba, is supposedly one of the best preserved fortresses dating back 17th century. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than visiting the fortress I enjoyed the beautiful views of the Bay of Santiago and Sierra Maestra.
Round trip taxi ride from the city centre costs approx. 15 CUC. There is also a bus line, 212 driving up there, but you'll need to walk the last part for about 20-30 min.
How to go to Santiago de Cuba?
The bus drive with Viazul or Transtur from Havana takes 15 hours and from Trinidad it takes 8 hours. You could also take a flight from Havana.
Where to stay in Santiago de Cuba?
I stayed at La Casona de San Jeronimo near to city centre. Asela and her mother were excellent hosts. They prepared yummy breakfast and dinner. I felt comfy here and would recommend to everyone. The double room per night costs 20 CUC. Breakfast costs 3 CUC. The taxi ride from the bus station costs 2 CUC. To book a room write Asela an e-mail directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
By the way, AirBnB recently enabled their services for Cuba.
Annoyances in Santiago de Cuba
Everywhere in Cuba is very safe and so it is in Santiago de Cuba. Same as in Havana, also here there are many so called “jiñeteros” who is not dangerous but will annoy to get you to their “favourite” cafes, bars or restaurants. The bill will be higher than expected. It won’t harm you but you’ll feel fooled. To avoid it, you need to learn to say “no” firmly but remember to stay friendly.
The countless scooters and loud motorcycles annoyed me personally the most. Even though Havana is a bigger city somehow the traffic seemed to be more relaxed than in Santiago de Cuba.
Read my personal Travel Guide to Cuba for everything you need to know before going to Cuba. For more insights I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Cuba.
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