Santiago de Cuba

Why you should visit Santiago de Cuba

  • Start your holiday by soaking up some great traditional music and excellent mojitos at the Casa de la Trova
  • Visit Moncada Barracks, site of Castro’s ill-fated first attempt to overthrow Batista in 1953
  • Explore historic Casa Velazquez, Cuba’s oldest existing building, constructed in 1515
  • Marvel at El Morro Castle, built to defend the city from pirates but ransacked by Henry Morgan
  • Pay your respects to poet and revolutionary hero Jose Marti, at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

Our Specialists ‘Must Do’

Like music? You’ll be in heaven here. While a huge variety of music can be heard throughout the city at all times of day and night, if there’s one place you have to visit, its Santiago de Cuba’s Casa de la Trova. This music hall is located just off Parque Cespedes in the city centre and the quality of musicianship is consistently high. It’s likely that you’ll be treated to some great traditional Cuban tunes, performed with gusto and supreme craftsmanship. They also serve a decent mojito!

A little more about Santiago de Cuba

One of the oldest cities in the country, Santiago de Cuba is located at the base of the Sierra Maestra Mountains with formidable fortified sea walls facing its large natural bay that looks south to Jamaica and east to Haiti. The city was forged from fire and revolution. The original settlement was burnt down and rebuilt in 1516. Subsequently attacked by the British and French, the city saw an influx of French immigrants, many of whom came from Haiti following the slave rebellion of 1791. In 1898 the Spanish were defeated at the Battle of San Juan Hill and shortly after surrendered to America. Mid twentieth century saw Cuban revolutionary, Frank Pais, drum up an urban resistance that allied with Castro’s guerrilla force to defeat the Batista government. On the 1st January 1959, Fidel appeared on the balcony of Santiago de Cuba’s city hall, overlooking Parque Cespedes, to declare the Cuban Revolution victorious.

A holiday to Santiago has a grittier feel than Havana. There’s more of an Afro-Caribbean influence and a distinct sense of 'separateness' from the government capital of Havana, 540 miles to the west. It is a bustling and cultural city with a variety of architectural styles. Many famous musicians hail from Santiago, including Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Eliades Ochoa, all of whom featured in The Buena Vista Social Club. The city seems to breathe music. Santiago is the spiritual home of 'son', a distinctly Afro-Cuban music style from which salsa derives and that is tied closely to the creation of Cuban cultural and national identity.

Santiago hosts lots of cultural events throughout the year but the mother of all festivals and parties is carnival in July. Conga drums reverberate around the city as Santiago de Cuba devotes itself to two weeks of dancing and drinking.

Did you know?

The first Bacardi distillery was established in Santiago de Cuba in 1862 and it was the fruit bats living in the wooden rafters of the building that inspired the logo. While the company has traded on its Cuban heritage, the business assets were seized immediately following the Revolution and today you cannot buy Bacardi rum in Cuba. However you can visit the extraordinary Bacardi Building that is now a museum displaying a fine art collection and exhibits relating to the history and culture of the Americas.

When to go

November to May is a good time to visit Santiago de Cuba. It’s warm and generally the driest season, August to October can be very hot, humid and wet with the threat of hurricanes.

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