exploring Cuba’s second largest city: Santiago de Cuba

A visit to Eastern Cuba would not be complete without a visit to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest city located 134 kilometres southwest of Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin. Santiago de Cuba (‘Santiago’ to Cubans) is known for a myriad of things, but the two that stand out is that it was home to Compay Segundo, founder of the Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba’s best known contemporary music collective) and it was also here in Santiago that Fidel Castro launched his War of Independence–the Cuban Revolution–in 1953.

I stopped by Castro’s grave at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. It is unpretentious, but always adorned with fresh flowers from the Cuban people who still love and adore him. A visit to this cemetery is highly recommended as there is a ceremonious changing of the guards which is quite spellbinding to witness.

santiago-de-cuba

It was quite something to witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the cemetery in Santiago de Cuba where Fidel Castro is buried.

At the Museo 26 de Julio (named in honour of the 26th of July in 1953 when Fidel Castro led a team of communist rebels to topple the Batista government) I learned all about the revolution and Castro himself. That is a young and quite dapper Fidel Castro pictured above.

santiago-de-cuba

The Museo 26 de Julio in Santiago de Cuba shows bullet wounds from the battle of 1953 that launched the Cuban Revolution.

I enjoyed learning about young Fidel and the early days of his revolution that led to a 50-year rule of Cuba (from 1961 to 2011) as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, 15th President and 16th Prime Minister. Fidel Castro groomed his brother Raúl for leadership of the country, who succeeded Fidel in 2008 (until 2018) as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and 16th President of the country.

santiago-de-cuba

The downtown central plaza of Santiago de Cuba is quite beautiful.

But Santiago isn’t all about the revolution. It is extremely proud of its vibrant cultural scene of music, arts, and culture. I loved visiting Casa de la Trova, a small whole in the wall gathering place where locals come to listen to and perform live music, sing along, have a drink, and dance. All are welcome to participate in any way they choose!

a visit to casa de la trova is a must for music lovers in santiago de cuba

santiago-de-cuba

Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba is a terrific place to learn about Cuban music, feel the music, and learn to dance!

santiago-de-cuba

santiago-de-cuba

It was amazing visiting Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (also known as El Morro Fort) built in 1638 to protect Santiago de Cuba. The setting is breathtaking! And I really enjoyed lunch at the adjacent El Morro Restaurante Palmares that has terrific food accompanied by live music, magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea, the fort, and the port.

santiago-de-cuba

The views from El Morro Restaurante (located next to the fort) are truly breathtaking.

On my previous two trips to Cuba, I’d spent more time on the beaches and in resorts than I did on the streets learning about the local culture. I’d like to express my gratitude to the Cuban Tourist Board for covering the costs of my visit to Santiago de Cuba and other points in Eastern Cuba.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

46 Responses

  1. Beverly says:

    Thanks, Doreen, for so successfully describing all there is to see and do while visiting Santiago de Cuba. The food sounds delicious!

  2. Oh how I want to go back to Cuba! We rented a car and drove around the western half of the island — never got to Santiago de Cuba. Your post makes me want to pack my bags right now!

    • Thanks, Patti. Yes, I, too, enjoyed touring the western part of Cuba, with Havana & Varadero as the highlights. But my experience in Eastern Cuba was so much more authentic as the amount of tourism & outside influence to their culture is considerably less noticeable.

  3. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    Like your earlier visits, most of my time in Cuba was spent on the beach and at the resort. I’d love to go back and explore more of the culture. Santiago de Cuba looks like a great place to do that.

  4. Janet says:

    That view from the El Morro fort looks amazing. Thank you for sharing this post about Santiago de Cuba with us.

  5. THe architecture looks great, too!

  6. Thanks for this very interesting post, especially the bit about Fidel Castro. Good you were able to participate in the local scene. Your tour of Cuba must have been very satisfying,

  7. Love this! I spent two months in Havana in the 1990s for work but sadly didn’t make it out of the region… I missed out visiting Santiago and now see just how much I’ve missed. Cuba is still on my ‘need to go back’ list and Santiago will top that list. thanks for the eye-opener!

  8. The photo of a young Fidel Castro is amazing. I have only ever seen photos of him in jungle greens and a beard.

  9. I’m excited to read that travel restrictions to Cuba will again ease up for Americans. Looking forward to a return visit!

  10. Cuba hasn’t been high on my post 50 travel bucket list. But reading all about your visit makes me want to consider it. I’ve heard that it’s best to go on tours when you go to Cuba. Your thoughts?

  11. Thank you for giving us an insight into Cuba. There is so much history in Cuba. When I think of Cuba I picture bright pink cars, dancing in the streets, exotic drinks and tasty food. It is definitely on my list of countries to visit.

  12. I love history. I cannot imagine anyone visiting Cuba without visiting this city and learning more about Fidel Castro. The other activities look like so much fun too!! Great article; very interesting.

    • Thx so much, Marilyn. Yes, as tourists, people get drawn in to visiting the all-inclusive resorts. And so many times, they see nothing other than this. But travelling independently, and to non-beach resorts, give travellers the opportunity to experience the real and fascinating #AutenticaCuba.

  13. Santiago looks like a fantastic place to learn about the recent history of Cuba. And wonderful scenery too!

  14. First time I was introduced to the country via this old film named “Soy Cuba”. Would love to visit the country some day. Great pictures!

  15. I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba and hope to get there next year. The history is so rich, but it’s the music and the food that really attract me!

  16. Jackie Smith
    Twitter:
    says:

    Never been to Cuba and would like to go before tourism turns it into something different than what it is. BTW, saw your note on Boomer Bloggers and just wanted to say that sometimes travel — and in Greece, storms and power outages for long stretches of time that result in no internet access — make it difficult to get to everyone’s posts in a timely manner. Sometimes you just don’t have the time or access, even if you want to stay in touch with everyone. Great post and you’ve only encouraged my desire to go to Cuba one day.

  17. Abhinav Singh
    Twitter:
    says:

    Cuba is such an exotic destination. Thanks for showing us a Cuba beyond the cigar and vintage cars. So little is known about this unique country. Castillo de San Pedro de la Rocais so pretty. I don’t mind spending all day here. And look at that picturesque El Morro Restaurante. Wonderful!

  18. Sandy N Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    Santiago de Cuba does not hog the limelight like Havana, but this city seems to have its own subdued char. The fact that Fidel Castro’s grave is here and also this was the place where the Cuban revolution started makes the place historic. The museum too looks like a rich resource to learn the history of the place.

  19. S.K. Puri says:

    Your tour of Cuba must have been very satisfying. Santiago looks fascinating.

  20. Pamper Hamper says:

    Santiago looks like a fantastic place to learn about the recent history of Cuba. And wonderful scenery too!

  21. Kemkem
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow! Castro was definitely a dapper young man like you said. It must have been an awesome trip. I love Buena Vista Social Club collectives and were a staple in my rotation for the longest time so l’m sure l would love the music. One of these days, I will make it to Cuba.

  22. So interesting to read about Cuba from this American’s point of view–with the whole country being off limits for almost my entire life. Thanks for the eye-opener.

  23. A very enjoyable read – thanks, Doreen! Many travellers to Cuba visit only Havana and the western part of the island. As this post and other recent posts of yours have highlighted, Cuba’s east has lots to offer as well – history, culture, food, sights and lots of great live music! Indeed, Cuba’s east is the cradle of today’s salsa. And for music lovers, Santiago de Cuba is a must in early July for the “Festival del Caribe” and end of July for one of the most lively carnivals in the Caribbean! Needless to say, a visit to Santiago de Cuba should be rounded up with a stay in Baracoa – Cuba’s cacao heartland and an amazing nature travel destination! Thanks again, Doreen for all these superb posts about Eastern Cuba, we’ve enjoyed each one very much!

  24. Bola
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for the insight and those views are lovely. Would love to dance to the live music one day.

  25. Thanks for your comment, Bola. I have a brief video I took of that live music in Santiago. With any luck, I’ll figure out how to post it at some time in the future.

  26. pyush sharma says:

    Nice blog about Santiago de Cuba and visiting Cuba’s second largest city. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge