Before list the places of interest in Santiago it’s important to introduce some interesting facts about Santiago to our possible guests and visitors to this site who may not have been in our city.
Santiago de Cuba, is not just the second city of Cuba, it’s also the most welcoming and vibrant city, a historical & cultural treasure. Situated on the eastern side of Cuba facing a bay off the Caribbean sea & founded in 1515 by the Spanish conqueror Diego Velazquez, the city carried more than 500 years of History making it one of the oldest in Cuba, in fact the oldest house still standing in Cuba is in the historical center of this city considered the born place of the revolution & the popular musical genre the Son. With it’s unique colonial architecture, it’s contagious music, it’s African-Spanish heritage & it’s beautiful geography surrounded by the highest mountains of the country, natural parks & the warm waters of the Caribbean sea, the city is without doubt an attractive destination. Santiago is also the only city in the island with the tittle of City Hero of Cuba, granted by the government to honor it’s bravery during war time.
Sites of interest
- Natural attractions
- Sierra Maestra National Park: The most extensive & important mountainous region of Cuba. It has great variety of climates & soils, a high average of rainfall, large water basins that create a wide river system, a remarkable diversity of landscapes with intra mountainous valleys, altitudes of more than 1900 meters above sea level, and counts in turn with the deepest caverns of the country, as well as a rich, exuberant and diverse endemic flora & fauna.
- Pico Turquino National Park : Part of the Sierra Maestra Nat Park & Cuba highest peak composed by more than 17 peaks. The Real peak with 1974 m above the sea level, the Cuba peak with 1 872 m & the Sweden peak with 1734 meters above the sea. This area is habitat of plants & more than 600 animal species that are exclusive of the region.
- Baconao National Park: It’s a large park region with a surface of 848.57 km2. Located at 20 km of the city. Declared World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Withing it’s attractions is the Prehistory Valley with real size stone’s sculptures resembling dinosaurs & other species that inhabit our planet million years ago. Other of the attractions is the Baconao Lagoon, habitat of mangroves & exuberant vegetation & tropical birds & where visitors can take boat tours around it & also visit a replica of an aboriginal village or have lunch on a restaurant at the site.
- The Great Stone National Park: A large rock of volcanic origin measuring 51 m long and weighing 63 000 ton. It’s located at a top of a mountain at 1 225 m above the sea level. Habitat of exclusive flora with 22 varieties of ferns, 352 of orchids & other unique plants and animal species. There is a botanical garden & a natural viewer with amazing views of the whole Sierra Maestra mountainous group.
- The Ferns Garden (Jardín de los helechos): This is beautiful botanical garden with a unique setting for an internationally important collection of 3,000 tropical ferns. A must see garden for those who love nature. The garden has a collection of more than 1, 000 other species of plants, including some endemics & exotic plants from different places in Cuba. The garden is a research establishment. They offer short technical lecture to visitors.
- Marina Marlin: Located in the coastal village of Punta Gorda is ideal for those who love nature & are looking for nautical activities & want to enjoy the breeze of the Caribbean sea & the wonderful views of Santiago bay, the Granma Key, & San Pedro de la Roca castle. Also visitor can have a delicious seafood or a Cuban cuisine lunch or snack in the restaurant at the Marina looking to the ocean or in the welcoming terrace of the hotel Punta Gorda.
- Puerto de Boniato: Built in 1901 by the Americans & sited between mountains & at two thousand feet above the sea level, there are obviously fantastic views of Santiago de Cuba and the Sierra Maestra mountainous group from the balconies of this park.
2. Historical sites, museums & worship places
- San Pedro de la Roca Castle: This is a multi-level stone fortress known as El Morro. Built on a rocky promontory in 1638 to protect Santiago’s bay and the city from the attacks of pirates and commercials & political rivals. The castle is a great example of military engineering of principles of Renaissance . Considered of an outstanding universal value it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. From here visitors can enjoy amazing views of Santiago’s bay and Cayo Granma (small key in the middle of the bay) & at just few steps there is a colonial style restaurant & bar & also an old lighthouse.
- Diego Velazquez Museum: This museum is the oldest house standing in Cuba. It was the house of the Spanish conqueror, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, who also was the first governor and founder of the first seven villages in Cuba, including Santiago de Cuba. This house built in 1515 is considered an architectural jewel.
- Santiago de Cuba City Hall: The City Hall of Santiago is a real symbol of the city for its elegance & it’s considered as the first one in the history of Cuba & in fact the second of the whole America. It’s well known by most of the Cubans because it was the place from where Fidel Castro spoke for the first time to the population on January 1 of 1959, Day of the Victory of the Revolution in Cuba. It is from this place, where it is also awarded to the city of Santiago de Cuba, the Honorary Title of Hero City of Cuba.
- San Juan Heights Park: This historical park situated on the east side of the city on a hill with the same name from where overlooks the valley and the river San Juan was on July 1 of 1988 the place of the decisive battle of the Spanish-American war.
- The 26 of July Museum: Also known as Moncada Barracks. This famous museum was the second most important military garrison before the revolution and it’s earned immortality on July 26, 1953 when more than 100 revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro assaulted Batista’s troops. After the revolution, the barracks were converted into school & a museum was installed near the gate 3.
- Casa natal de Jose Maria Heredia: A colonial small house which was the birthplace of one of Cuba’s greatest romantic poets & the man after whom the street is named, José María Heredia y Heredia (1803–39). Heredia’s most notable work, ‘Ode to Niagara’, is inscribed outside. Due to his pro-independence ideas he was forced into exile by the colonial authorities, dying in Mexico in 1839.
- Museo de la Clandestinidad: A colonial style yellow house built between 1813 & 1824 and declared National Monument in 1979. It’s since 1976 a museum with a permanent exhibition of the underground struggle against the tyrant government of Batista. The museum is located in a historic street Loma del Intendente in the neighborhood El Tivoli, founded by French immigrants at the end of XVIII century.
- Emilio Bacardi museum: This beautiful building with an eclectic facade & neo-classic elements is a most visit museum because is the first institution of it’s kind opened in Cuba & founded by then mayor of the city Emilio Bacardí Moreau on February 12, 1899. The museum treasures valuables samples of the pre-Columbian culture, national art & of Cuban’s history. Among it’s attractions there are mommies from Peru & an Egyptian mommy from the ancient Thebas.
- The Rum museum: Located in the downtown in the intersection of San Basilio and Callejón de Carnicería, this is a place no visitor want to miss. It is a residential mansion built in 1889 with a neo-classical facade. The museum exhibit through a collection of artifacts and illustrative panels the history of rum making.
- National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Charity (Santuario Nacional de nuestra sra de la Caridad del Cobre): Built in 1926 in the village of El Cobre about 12 miles west of Santiago de Cuba is without doubt the biggest site of veneration in Cuba. The virgin of Charity was named Patroness of Cuba in 1916 by the Pope Benedict XV. This 3 aisle church is situated on the hill “Cerro de la Cantera” and is linked to the village by a flight of 254 steps. It has a central bell tower & two side towers crowned by red-brick domes.
- Cathedral Basilica of our Lady of the Assumption(better known as Catedral de Santiago de Cuba). Situated on the heart of Santiago de Cuba city center, right at few steps of the Céspedes Park and built in 1522 but finished in 1526, this cathedral is without doubt one of the major attractions of the city. Considered an Architectural jewel not always has had the actual facade because has been rebuilt due to the considerable damages caused by the attack of pirates and the earthquakes of 1678, 1766, 1852 & 1932.
3. City parks & squares
- Dolores square: This pleasant and shady square located in the downtown is the second more important in the city & it was a former marketplace from the early 17th century dominated by the Our Lady of Dolores Church. Around the square there are some buildings with colonial & eclectic architectural style that are now restaurants & cafeterias that transfers visitors to another time.
- Frank País Park: This beautiful and relaxing park is located on a hill on the entrance of Santiago de Cuba bay in the coastal village of Punta Gorda. The park was built to honor the memory of Santiago’s city hero Frank País García. This was the place that he often visited to meditate and plan in front of the ocean & the Sierra Maestra mountains the future of his homeland.
- Parque Céspedes: The heart and the soul of Santiago de Cuba city and the most important social, cultural, political and administrative center. It was built in the XVI century to use it as Square of Weapons for the military exercises & parades of the Spanish soldiers. Located around the park are the City Hall, the Diego Velázquez Museum (the oldest house standing in Cuba, house of the first governor of the city & founder of the first seven villages of Cuba), the Casa Granda Hotel, and the Basilica Cathedral Our Lady of Assumption.
- Plaza de Marte (square): This historical square also called the Square of Freedom, it’s one of the most populous and higher points of the city. I was built at the end of the XVIII century and was the place where the troops of the metropolis trained, and so its name of Campo de Marte (in allusion to the God of the war in the Greek mythology). By 1799 was used for the execution of the convicts to death. In 1860 it was conformed like square for popular amusement and celebration of cultural and political activities, local fairs, etc.
- The Revolution Square(Plaza de la Revolución): The Antonio Maceo Revolution Square is considered the most outstanding monumental in the XX century executed in the city. It is located to the entrance of Santiago. In this place is erected with 16 meters height the highest statue in Cuba in honor to the hero Antonio Maceo. The square also has the area of the Eternal Flame & the Living room of Protocol, with their showy stained glass , & a room of Holographic Exhibition, in which personal objects of General Antonio can be appreciated next to maps, documents & pictures.
4. Music, theaters and cultural spots
- Casa del Caribe: This cultural center has a full schedule of music events & other goings-on starting at 8 pm every night of the week. The program starts slow, early in the week, with boleros & usually move to Afro-Cuban music & dance on Thursday, then Caribbean & Latin American folk dance on Friday. On Saturday the program is Haitian or Afro-Cuban, beginning at 6 pm. Concerts are held on two leafy outdoor patios. There are also cultural conferences and workshops.
- Casa Dranguet: Located in the historic center of the city, the Casa Dranguet is a center for research and dissemination of the coffee culture and the coffee plantation properties declared World Heritage sites in 2000. Here visitors can know the history of the coffee tradition in Santiago through it’s exhibition rooms.
- Casa de las tradiciones: It’s not well known as it’s la Casa de la Trova but not tourist should miss this place if they really want to enjoy Santiago. Its fantastic program changes every day: boleros, son, traditional trova, folklore, poetic circles & expositions of fine arts. This old house (called “La Casona” by locals) in the Tívoli section of the city is loaded with character & decorated with dozens of paintings & photos on the walls. This is definitely a place to go.
- Casa de la trova: This place located in the historical part of the city, at just few steps away from Céspedes Park has become an institution in Cuba. Nobody goes to Santiago without visiting this place. Most of the best singers & son groups of the island use to perform here. The Casa de la Trova is constantly mentioned in novels, poems, magazines… & well known for its recordings of life concerts. Open in the morning & at night, the offers of their program are outstanding.
- Heredia theater: Unique installation in Cuba that works like center of conventions, specialized in artistic, cultural shows & international events. Inside the building it is the café “Niagara”, where it show up music, dance and poetry shows, of Thursday to Sunday with artists of the region. The Theater Heredia, is among the best facilities in its type in Latin America & Cuba, non alone pride for the Santiagueros but for all the Cubans.
- El Tivolí: Charming neighborhood built in 1899 under the auspice of the major Emilio Bacardí and situated on the famous Padre Pico steps, was once the most fashionable place to live in Santiago. It belongs to the French memories of this side of Cuba. The Museo de la Clandestinidad(Museum of Underground Struggle) are at just few steps away.
- Patio Artex: This delightful inner yard, situated in the historic part of the city is another “must” for those who love good music and Santiago nights. Life music performances alternate with records. People there laugh, talk & dance while having a glass of Cuban rum.
- Dolores Concert Hall:
- Teatro Martí(Performing Arts Theater): Named before Irigoa & inaugurated in 1884, was very popular thanks to the performing of it’s Buffoons Programs & it’s centrical location. It was the scene of public dances, zarzuelas, vaudeviles, circus shows & the premiere in Cuba of the opera The Boheme by Giacomo Puccini , also counted with the performance of the famous Spanish Calvalcade Group and the musical master Rodrigo Prats. In 1900 was renamed with the actual name. After 40 years closed, finally was restored and reopen to the public on Feb 24, 2014.
5. Restaurants, cabarets, cafes & bars
- El Barracón restaurant
- La Casona restaurant
- El Criollo restaurant
- El Madrileño restaurant
- Jardines restaurant
- Matamoros restaurant: This restaurant-cafe located on the centrical Dolores square combines the best of the creole cuisine with the history of the music of Santiago. Decorated with the style of the fifties, the attractive interior recreate the history of the famous Santiago’s trio Matamoros.
- El Morro Restaurant: Located at just few steps of the fortress San Pedro de la Roca, this restaurant with it’s colonial decoration & style with clay slab floors, Spanish furniture, it’s mug pitchers will make everyone remember remote times in Santiago. The ambient, the delicious traditional Cuban plates & the awesome views of Santiago de Cuba bay will make all visitors have a wonderful time.
- Paladar Terraza
- St Pauli restaurant: One of the best privately operate restaurant. Food is delicious, ambient very nice & clean, courteous manners, good service, and the best of all is the location & the affordable prices. Locates at just few steps of the well known Plaza de Marte (Marte Square).
- Salon Tropical restaurant(Paladar)
- Zunzun restaurant: This is a delightful period style house on a beautiful tree-lined road about 2 km out from the city center. To get there you need to take a taxi. Excellent friendly service in a quiet environment. Good range to choose from and nicely prepared.
- Cabaret Disco San Pedro del Mar: Located on a hill dominating Santiago de Cuba bay it is this disco music cabaret with animated with dancers and singers. Affordable admission and nice and elegant ambient.
- Tropicana Cabaret: Located at just 7 min by car of Apartment Valia & other of our homes this cabaret styled on the Tropicana original, with it’s feathers and baubles Las Vegas style floor show is heavily advertise by all the city’s tour agencies. The Havana’s show is twice the price, but no way twice as good. This one is located near Heredia theater, so a taxi or car rental are the only independent transport option. The Saturday-night show is superior. Anything Havana can do, Santiago can do better or at least cheaper.
5.2 Cafes & Bars
- Bello Bar: This sedate bar is at less than 5 min by car of some of our rental homes & it occupies the entire 15th floor of the Meliá Santiago hotel. There are stunning views in all directions through the wraparound windows, and there’s even an open-air catwalk around the outside of the bar for fresh air-viewing and romantic interludes.
- Club 300 ( bar): Modern slick bar/club in the downtown. Nice and air conditioned with full drink services, snacks, good cocktails in a cool dark atmosphere.
- Hotel Casa Granda Terrace Bar
- Iris Jazz Club: Excellent place to have a enjoyable night listening live music performance. Good service as well as drinks and price affordable.
- Santiago Cafe Nightclub: Very popular night spot in Santiago on Saturday’s nights. The evening usually start with live music and a fashion/dance show.
- Cafe Mama Ines: A taste of real Cuban coffee located across the well known Plaza de Marte, and also the closest one can get to experiencing a chic Cuban coffee culture experience in the country. The place is ideal for a breather on a hot afternoon in Santiago. It’s air-conditioned!
- Cafeteria La Isabelica: This coffee cafeteria is a nice place in the center of Santiago & has been over the years a very coveted space where daily gatherings are held while enjoying the best coffee of the city, a pure coffee that grows in the mountains around the city. The place is decorated with nice images of the best preserved coffee plantation with the same name sited in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
- Chocolatería La Fraternidad (Chocolate House)
- Rock Cafe
- Rumba Cafe: A little abroad from the center this cafe is the perfect place to have a short rest from the noise. They offer Cuban and Italian light meals with drinks, desserts, etc. Nice ambient.
6. Other sites of interest
- Casa del Habano: Located inside the Melia Santiago Hotel, visitors may find the international recognized Cuban tobacco brands as COHIBA, PARTAGÁS, MONTECRISTO , R Y J, TRINIDAD, HOYO DE MONTERREY, H. UPMANN, BOLIVAR among others. As in all franchise chain, they keep the highest conservation & quality standards for the visitors enjoy the genuine Habanos´s flavor and smell together with a a complete cocktail, coffee, and vary liquors in any of it’s saloons.
- Centro Casa de la moda La Maison: Beautiful building with neoclassic influence with a fine clothing boutique which offer fashion shows & cultural activities and where it’s a nice restaurant with a beautiful terrace and gardens.
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