On the very south of the Cuban island lies Santiago de Cuba. This southern city has its special charm and it’s even more laid back than any other city in Cuba. Its carnival stands as the best one after Rio, but even if you’re not traveling in August, Santiago should be on your list when visiting Cuba. One day in Santiago de Cuba may not be much, but you’ll fall under its charm sooner than you think.
What’s the best time to visit Santiago?
The best time to visit Santiago would definitely be during the carnival. Carnival takes its place at the beginning of August and lasts for a couple of days. You don’t even have to wait for the last day of the carnival since there is a parade each night of the Carnival.
August can be unbearably humid with temperature going up to 40 C, with the daily showers and tropical storms. The rainy season actually starts in May and lasts until October. Having that in mind, if you cannot be there around the carnival, better pick the time from November to April.
Few facts about Santiago:
Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and the capital of the Santiago de Cuba Province. It’s located on the bay connected to the Caribbean Sea, which makes it an important sea port.
It was the fifth village founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuél in 1515.
One Day in Santiago Itinerary:
Top things to do in Santiago, Cuba
Start your morning at the Cespedes Park
Cespedes Park is the city’s central park and the meeting point among locals. It’s a nice, urban park lined with many important buildings including the Cathedral and Casa de Diego Velasquez.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was lately fully restored so don’t miss a chance to check out its sky blue interior and light blue exterior.
Visit the Casa de Diego Velasquez
The House of Diego Velasquez is said to be the oldest one in Cuba, built in the 16th century. Since Velasquez was a key figure in Cuba’s colonial history, the house is not just great for its impressive architecture, but also to understand the life in Cuba during the colonial time. There are lots of artifacts and furniture that bring you back in time and you can easily spend an hour exploring all the things inside the house. If you want to learn more about the Cuban colonial history, make sure to book a guide.
Have a breakfast on the terrace overlooking the city
While still on a square, make sure to go up to the roof terrace of Hotel Casa Granda. Not just it’s the terrace with the breathtaking view of the city, but they also serve nice breakfast and have some delicious fresh fruit juices. It’s a bit more pricey comparing to the other cafes, but still pretty affordable.
Stroll around the lively streets
After you’re done with the Cespedes Park, head to the north and stroll the vibrant city’s streets. Make sure to visit Francisco Vicente Aguilera street, and definitely don’t miss Jose Antonio Saco street. Colorful and bright,they’re both lined with shops, bars and pretty much full of locals.
Relax in the Parque del Ajedrez
This tiny urban park is more like an oasis in the bustling streets of Santiago that the real park. Order some juices or cocktails in the bar next to it, relax in the shade and just people watch. If you’re lucky, there will be street musicians performing around the street. Don’t miss their performance.
Walk along the Paseo de alameda
After you’re done with exploring the city center, head west all the way to the sea promenade. Paseo de alameda is a nice promenade to explore, but keep in mind that can it get pretty hot during the day. The great place to take a break and to eat some lunch is Club Nautico. They serve some local meals as well as the pizzas, but keep in mind that it can get pretty crowded during the day.
Visit San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Castle
The citadel San Pedro de la Roca was listed UNESCo World Heritage Site cause it’s the most complete and best preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture, designed on the principles of the Italian Renaissance. The Castle is located a bit far from the city center, but you can reach this place by boat or by taxi. Great structure and the spectacular views really make it a place you shouldn’t miss while visiting Santiago.
Visit the Museum of Rum and taste the best Cuban rum
You’ve probably tried Havana rum by now since it’s the most popular and served in almost each bar around the country. However, when you ask the locals about the best Cuban rum, they will all pretty much say the best rum is the one from Santiago de Cuba. Make sure to visit the Museum of Rum to learn about the history of Cuban rum and how it is made. For an entry price of 2 CUC, you’ll get a shot of rum too. For more tasting, go to the basement in a Rum Bar where they have a nice selection of Cuban rums. They also serve the best mojitos in the city.
Have a dinner at San Francisco Restaurant
San Francisco has everything you like about restaurants. It serves local food, delicious one and it’s also super cheap. They also have a nice terrace where they mostly play some live Cuban music. You won’t find many tourists there, however, it can get crowded at night, so make sure to come a bit earlier.
Nightout at Casa de la Trova
Pretty much the best place in Santiago to enjoy the traditional Trova music and the salsa dancers is Casa de la Trova. Trova music was made popular Worldwide through the music of Buena Vista Social Club, also one of Los trovadores (people who make that kind of music). Since the place still is pretty authentic and atmosphere kind of intimate, you’ll also get a chance to meet many locals.
Extra tips for visiting Santiago:
When visiting Santiago by plane, it’s not uncommon for the flight to be delayed from couple of hours up to a few days (yes, you read it right!). You should be aware of this and not to plan any intercontinental flight on the same day.
Viazul buses are the cheapest and most convenient way of public transport. During the peak season (Christmas time and around the Carnival) you should book your bus tickets a few days in advance otherwise you’ll surely be left without one.
In case you have more than just One Day in Santiago de Cuba check out Tripadvisor for detailed list of all the top things to do in Santiago de Cuba.