James ArmitageJames first travelled to Cuba in 2007 and was amazed by the wonderful people and smiling faces.
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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. 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.
Explore the site of Castro’s ill-fated first attempt to overthrow Batista in 1953.
Soak up some great traditional music and excellent mojitos at the Casa de la Trova.
Pay your respects to poet and revolutionary hero Jose Marti, at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
Marvel at El Morro Castle, built to defend the city from pirates but ransacked by Henry Morgan.
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