So If you don’t have much time in Santiago de Cuba, here’s what you shouldn’t miss:
If you don’t have much time to visit the city, here is a selection of places to visit in the center of Santiago
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Surrounded by colonial architecture, this square is a permanent spectacle, day and night.
Here you will find all the diversity and beauty of Cuban culture coming together to chat, play music or just watch the world go by.
Habits have now evolved and there is less talk than before because of the arrival of the wi-fi signal.
In the centre of the park is a large statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, whose Grito de Yara declared Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1868 and the beginning of the Ten Years War.
In Cespedes Park we also find the finest collection of Jineteros.
(hustlers) from Santiago. Each of them is specialized in a particular field and they watch the tourists to ask them for soap, money, clothes, change of clothes, etc…
Although the square is a must in Santiago, it is difficult to sit quietly there.
Do not miss the folklore groups that pass by on Sunday morning, as well as the Santiago orchestra that comes to play there on Saturday or Sunday evening around 7pm.
Parc Cespedes Hurricane Sandy uprooted most of the trees in the park in 2012; the inhabitants here are waiting patiently for the vegetation to grow back.
Buildings in Place Cespedes
The Parque Céspedes is dominated by its cathedral with two towers.
A basilica was built here in 1528, but what you see was rebuilt in the early 19th century after a series of earthquakes and fires.
Many of the city’s most venerable buildings stand in the square, many of which were repaired and renovated in 2013-14, in part to mark the 55th anniversary of the Revolution.
The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Although it was first built on this site in 1523, the present building dates mainly from 1922.
The church was restored inside and out for the fifteenth anniversary of Santiago in 2015.
Expect to see intricate ceiling frescoes, hand-carved choir stalls and a polished altar in honor of the venerated Virgen de la Caridad.
A two-room museum near the entrance displays objects relating to the history of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
The remains of the first colonial governor, Diego Velázquez, are believed to be buried underneath.
The City Hall
Just in front of the cathedral stands a splendid white building with blue doors: it is the Town Hall.
The Ayuntamiento, in neoclassical style, was erected in the 1950s based on a drawing from 1783 and was the seat of Hernán Cortés’ Town Hall.
Fidel Castro appeared on the balcony of the present building on the night of 2 January 1959, trumpeting the triumph of the Revolution.
La Casa Granda
The elegant Casa Granda Hotel is also located in the square.
The interior, restored in the mid-1990s, has an air of faded grandeur and it is pleasant to have a drink on the roof terrace at sunset.
The hotel used to be a high society place where the Cuban elite would gather on the roof terrace to sip rum, dance and smoke cigars.
Famous guests included many movie stars, singers and sports champions, including baseball legend Babe Ruth.
However, in the 1950s, the place became sinister and teeming with American spies and Cuban rebels.
Enjoying a drink on the roof terrace at sunset is still enjoyable, while a drink, snack or lunch at the ground floor café is a good way to look out over the square without being disturbed.
Casa de Diego Velázquez
This house, built between 1516 and 1530, is considered the oldest house in Cuba.
Restored at the end of the 1960s, the Andalusian-style façade with fine wooden lattice windows was inaugurated as a museum in 1970.
It is one of the most visited places in Santiago.
In the 16th century it was the official residence of the first governor of the island, and founder of Santiago: Diego Velázquez.
It is a massive stone structure with Moorish-style balconies, glorious cedar ceilings (alfarjes), floor-to-ceiling shutters and two beautiful courtyards,. ceramics and antiques.
Inside you will find period beds, desks, chests and other furniture, as well as a patio with its well and container, the “tinajón”, which is used to collect rain.
On the first floor there is a gold foundry.
An adjacent house is filled with antiques designed to convey the French and English decorative message and architectural influences – such as the radial stained glass window above the courtyard doors – at the end of the 19th century.
Peñas (musical performances) are sometimes held here, and musicians can often be heard practicing in the courtyards.
- Entrance: 2 Cuc
- Telephone: 22 65 2 6 52
- Hours: 9am-5pm Monday to Sunday
- Guides: multilingual tour
- Camera fees
The music never stops on Heredia Street.
It is THE nerve center of art and music in Santiago:
Here you can see some of the best musicians in Cuba, and in the world.
Buildings in Heredia Street:
- Casa de la Trova
- Artex Patio
- Casa de la Cultura
- La Trovita
- Carnival Museum
- Casa del Queso
- Casa Granda
Balcón de Velázquez
This terrace is all that remains of a fort and was once used by the Spaniards to monitor ship traffic.
This balcony offers a magnificent view of the port and the tiled roofs of the Tivoli district.
Ideal place to take pictures at sunset.
Small concerts and other events are often held here, especially on weekend evenings.
- Price: Free Admission
- Photo Permit: 1 Cuc
- Video License: 5 Cuc
- Hours: 9H00-21H00 from Tuesday to Sunday
Tivoli & Calle Padre Pico
This old French quarter was once colonized by rich families fleeing the slave revolution in Haiti in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Its inhabitants gather on its shady edges to chat or play dominoes.
Calle Padre Pico
In the heart of the Tivoli district, Calle Padre Pico has one of the most famous staircases in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
Climbing the stone steps of this street will reward you with one of the most beautiful views of the city.
For the anecdote
When Emilio Bacardí was mayor, he had the street and its steps renovated and baptized them with the name of Bernardo del Pico, a priest who had helped the poor. Fidel Castro used their strategic location to fire on Batista’s forces during the Revolution.
Plaza de Dolores
This pleasant shady square is surrounded by cafés and open-air restaurants.
Formerly an old market square, it takes its name from the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores church that dominates it, which has been renovated and turned into a concert hall.
It is one of the busiest areas in the historic centre.
In the centre, on a high pedestal of Carrara marble, stands a statue of the entire body of independence fighter Francisco Vicente Aguilera, a native of the nearby town of Bayamo.
The emblematic Enramada street is a shopkeeper who has become a pedestrian in recent years.
It crosses the historic centre, joining the high area of Plaza de Marte with Paseo Alameda, on the seafront.
Here you can enjoy the timeless splendour of the city with its hotels, cinemas, department stores and restaurants.
Bordered by a pleasant shade, the street is very busy during the day by the Santiagueros who stroll through its shops and restaurants.
Walking up and down the street is a spectacle in its own right.
Take the time to stroll around, taste an ice cream, watch a game of dominoes, have a coffee in Marylin, or a local pizza, served ecologically on a piece of recycled cardboard.
To make your stroll more pleasant, make a detour to the pedestrian street “Callejon del Carmen”, a three-block area between Felix Peña and Pío Rosado where you will find craft and souvenir stands.
Plaza de Marte
Guarding the entrance to the casco histórico, this 5000m2 square is one of the Santiagueros’ favourites and the most authentic in the city.
If you want to capture the real life of Santiago, meet on weekends from 18h there is often a fair (feria) and local entertainment, children’s rides, candy vendors and others.
It has a public wi-fi signal.
The solemn column topped with a Phrygian hat symbolizes freedom.
It’s also a great place to take natural pictures of life scenes.
Learn more about it
The Plaza de Marte, once served as a macabre parade ground for the Spaniards in the 19th century, where prisoners were publicly executed for revolutionary activities.
Like most city squares, most of the trees here were uprooted by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Replanting has begun, but it will take some time before the park regains its cool shade.
Malecón and Parque Alameda
The new malecón is a pleasant place to walk or sit by the water.
This district was elegantly renovated and redeveloped in 2015 by the Chinese to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the city’s foundation.
You can also admire the old clock tower, the aduana (customs) and the cigar factory.
You will also find a playground, shaded areas and public wi-fi.
It is an ideal place to walk around.
To get there you just have to go straight down the Enramada street that goes from the Plaza de Marte to the sea.
Fábrica de Ron Caney
The oldest rum distillery in Cuba, the former Bacardí family business, today produces Caney, Santiago and Varadero brand rums. The shop has a bar, live music and free samples. Unfortunately, there are no factory tours. Address: Av. Jesús Menéndez y Calle Gonzalo de Quesada
- Tel: 26 62 55 76
- Price: Free
- Hours: 9am – 6pm Monday – Saturday
- Bacardí Rum Factory
Recommendation of the chief
Don’t hesitate to drink a draft beer or enjoy a good meal at the Cerverceria Puerto del rey.
If you are interested in everything revolutionary, it is imperative to visit the Cuartel de Moncada, because that is where the whole Cuban revolution began.
On July 26, 1953, Castro and 100 men attempted to storm this former army barracks.It is one of the country’s most complete museums of revolutionary history.
Tip: To better understand and feel the history of this place, take a local guide available at the entrance of the museum…
- Address: Av. General Portuondo (Trinidad) y Av. Moncada, Reparto Sueño
- Tel: 22 66 11 57
- Price: 2 Cuc
- Hours: 9am-8pm Tuesday to Saturday, 9am-1pm on Sunday
More info : History of the Cuartel Moncada
Casa Natal de José María HerediaThis Spanish colonial house is the birthplace of the poet José María Heredia, one of the first Cuban poets to defend national independence.
Like many defenders of Cuban independence, Heredia was forced into exile and died in Mexico in 1839 at the age of 36.The house displays period objects, furniture and some of the poet’s works and possessions.Poetry workshops are held occasionally in the courtyard.
- Address: Calle Heredia
- Price: 1 Cuc
- Hours: 9am – 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, 9am – 1pm Sunday
Museo Provincial Bacardí Moreau.
A must-see in Santiago de Cuba.Founded in 1899, the museum houses a vast collection of art and curiosities gathered by the Bacardi family.
Emilio Bacardí Moreau, was the former mayor of Santiago whose family of rum makers took refuge in Puerto Rico after the Revolution.
On the first floor, colonial artefacts are on display, antique weapons and brutal remains of the slave trade are especially thought-provoking.
Attention,Although the museum is called Bacardí, it is not the Rum Museum of Santiago.
- Address: Calle Pío Rosado (Carnicería) y Calle Aguilera
- Tel : 22 62 84 02
- Price: 2 Cuc
- Timetable :13h – 16h30 Monday, 09h – 16h30 Tuesday – Saturday, 9h – 12h30 Sunday
This cultural institution was created in 1983 with the aim of showing the traditions and memories of the carnivals that are celebrated every year in July in the city.
The evolution of this event is shown here through photographic sequences with explanatory texts, chronologies, objects and musical instruments used for its realization.
One can admire beautiful costumes and cabezudos (big-headed carnival figures) as well as faded photographs illustrating the history of the carnival.
In the inner courtyard, you can attend Afro-Cuban music and dance sessions every day (except Saturdays) at 4 pm.
- Tel: 22 62 69 55
- Address: Heredia No. 303
- Price : 1 Cuc – 5 Cuc photo permit
- Hours: 09h – 17h
Museum of Clandestine Wrestling
Every Cuban city, regardless of its size, has a museum dedicated to the Revolution.
This being said, this Museo de la Lucha Clandestina is one of the best in the country, being housed in a beautifully restored colonial mansion, with magnificent views of the Bay of Santiago.
Dedicated to the heroes of the July 26th Movement, you will get a complete overview of the struggle.
The museum was actually a former police station attacked by M-26-7 militants on 30 November 1956, to distract attention from the arrival of the late yacht Granma, carrying Fidel Castro and 81 other people.
- Adress : Calle General Jesús Rabí 1
- Tel: 22 62 46 89
- Price: 1 Cuc
- Opening hours: 09h – 17h Tuesday – Saturday, 9h – 12h Sunday
Maqueta de la Ciudad
Cuba is obsessed with model cities and Santiago, with this incredibly detailed model, is no exception.Interesting historical and architectural information is presented on illustrated wall panels and you can climb up a mezzanine gallery to get a real overview.
- Address: Mariano Corona no. 704
- Price: 1 Cuc
- Timetable: 9am-5pm Monday – Saturday
Museo de la Imagen
A short but fascinating journey through the history of Cuban photography, from Kodak to Korda, with small CIA spy cameras and many old and contemporary photos.The museum also houses a library of rare films and documentaries.
- Tel: 22 64 22 34
- Address: Calle 8 No 106
- Price: Cuc
- Hours : 9h 17h, Monday to Friday , 14h-17h Saturday to Sunday
Plaza de la Revolución
Almost every town on the island has a Revolution Square.
This one is presided over by two monumental sets of prestigious local artists: the equestrian statue of Lieutenant General Antonio Maceo, a remarkable Cuban independentist of all contests against the Spanish colonial regime, work of the sculptor Alberto Lezcay and, accompanying the hero, 23 enormous steel machetes, work of the plastic artist Guarionex Ferrer.
Beneath the giant mound is a small holographic museum about the life and work of the so-called Bronze Titan.
Other noteworthy buildings lining the square include the Teatro José María Heredia and the National Bus Station.
Loma de San Juan
It was here that the last battle of the Spanish-Cuban-American War took place, with the bloodiest actions recorded in June and July 1898.
Today it is a park, in the Reparto San Juan neighborhood, covered by the monuments left by the American and Cuban military, dedicated to the battle.
It is a beautiful passive place, with structures for small children in the Parque de Diversiones – identifiable by their big wheel – at the foot of the hill.
To know more about it : History of Loma de San Juan
If you want to discover the real Santiago, head towards Avenida Victoria de Garzón. It is one of the main streets of the city.There are more activities and stalls on weekends, but it is also worth a visit during the week.Recommendations: Try street food such as roast suckling pig, ice cream or pizza.
Cementerio Santa Ifigenia
Created in 1868 to house the victims of the War of Independence and a simultaneous epidemic of yellow fever, Santa Ifigenia counts among its more than 8,000 tombs many great historical figures, including the mausoleum of José Martí and the final resting place of Fidel Castro.
Once separated by colour and social class, the cemetery has both massive mausoleums and unpretentious tombs.
Neighbouring that of José Marti, the tomb that attracts the most visitors today is that of Fidel Castro Ruz (1926-2016),Nestled peacefully at the western end of the city, the best way to get there is a bici-taxi from Alameda Avenue, or a regular taxi.
Horse carts also run along the avenue to the cemetery for 1 Cuban peso MN.
Good to KnowAlthough the entrance is technically free, you can only enter with a guide, which you have to pay for.
You will also have to pay a high photo fee, whether you take pictures or videos.
- Address: Av. Crombet, Reparto Santa Ifigenia
- Tel: 22 63 27 23
- Hours: 8am-6pm
- Price : Free (but only with a guide) | guide, 1 Cuc
- Photo permit: $10 Cuc
To know more about it : History of the Cementerio Ifigenia and Fidel Castro’s Tomb
Jardín de los Helechos
This peaceful garden is a lush haven of 350 types of ferns and 90 types of orchids.The former private collection of the santiaguero Manuel Caluff, donated in 1984 to the Academia de Ciencias de Cuba (Cuban Academy of Sciences), continues to make this 3,000 square meter garden bloom in a psychedelic way.For orchids, the best period is from November to January.The bus 5 (20 centavos) from Plaza de Marte, in the centre of Santiago, passes by here, or you can rent a taxi.It is 2 km from the center of Santiago de Cuba, on the road to El Caney.
- Tel: 22 60 83 35
- Address: Carretera de El Caney No. 129
- Price: 2 Cuc
- Hours: 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday
Fábrica de Ron Caney
The oldest rum distillery in Cuba, the former Bacardí family business, today produces Caney, Santiago and Varadero brand rums.The shop has a bar, live music and free samples.Unfortunately, there are no factory tours.Address: Av. Jesús Menéndez y Calle Gonzalo de Quesada
- Tel: 26 62 55 76
- Price: Free
- Hours: 9am – 6pm Monday – Saturday
- Bacardí Rum Factory
Although not as chic as its modern headquarters in Bermuda, the original Bacardí factory, opened in 1868, breathes history.
Spanish-born founder Don Facundo came up with the world-famous Bacardí bat symbol after discovering a colony of bats in the rafters of the factory.The Cuban government continues to make traditional rum there – the emblematic brand of Ron Caney, Ron Santiago and Ron Varadero.
The Bacardí family fled the island after the Revolution.In total, the factory produces nine million litres of rum a year, 70% of which is exported.There are currently no tours of the factory, but the Barrita de Ron Havana Club, a tourist bar attached to the factory, offers rum sales and tastings.
- Tel: 22 65 12 12
- Address: Av Jesús Menéndez, in front of the station
- Schedule: 09h-18h
Vista Alegre neighbourhood
This elegant mansion district is a place of historical splendour.French-inspired plantation houses, majestic Spanish colonial mansions, even the jewels of Art Deco decay beautifully amidst lush vegetation under the clear Caribbean sun.
Chevy Bel Airs and Cadillacs of the late 1950s take place in the wide, quiet streets where time seems to have stood still four decades ago, just before the Revolution.The neighborhood, framed in bougainvillea and hibiscus, resembles the Vedado of Havana and more the residential areas of Miami.
You like sports?Direction: Estadio Guillermón Moncada baseball stadium, home town stadium of the Santiago Orientales team.
- Tel: 22 64 10 90
- Address: Av. de las Américas, Reparto Sueño
- Season: March to November. Games on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm,
- Saturday at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 1:30 pm.
Best things to do in Santiago in 1, 2, 3 or 4 Days
- 1 day in Santiago de Cuba : stroll in Cespedes Park, Enramada Street, have a Mojito at the Artex patio, visit the Tivoli neighborhood, enjoy a sunset on the roof of Casa Granda, and see a concert at La Trova in Calle Heredia.
- 2 days : Go to see a concert at the Casa de las Tradiciones, Ifigenia cemetery, stroll on the port Alameda, the Plaza de Marte, el Castillo del Moro…
- 3 days: del Moro, the Gran Piedra, the Virgen del Cobre, the Cartel de Moncada, the Revolution Square, Ferry to Cayo Granma, or the Casa del Caribe.
- 4 days : you are ready to marry a Cuban 😉
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