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. 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. Santiago is the spiritual home of ‘son’, a distinctly Afro-Cuban music style from which salsa derives, tied closely to the creation of Cuban cultural and national identity.
Santiago hosts lots of cultural events but the mother of all festivals and parties is the carnival in July. Conga drums reverberate around the city as Santiago de Cuba devotes itself to two weeks of dancing and drinking.