On the very south of the island of Cuba lies Santiago de Cuba. This southern city has its special charm and is even more laid back than any other Cuban city. Its carnival stands as the best one after Rio’s, 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 spell sooner than you think.
What’s the best time to visit Santiago?
The best time to visit Santiago would definitely be during the carnival. This magnificent event takes 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.
August can be unbearably humid with temperatures going up to 40 C, with the daily showers and tropical storms. The rainy season actually starts in May and lasts until October. With that in mind, if you cannot be there around the carnival, better pick the time from November to April.
a 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
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Santiago de 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 has been fully restored lately, 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 it also helps us understand life in Cuba during colonial times. There are lots of artifacts and furniture that take 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 Cuba’s colonial history, make sure to book a guide.
Have breakfast on a terrace overlooking the city
While still on the square, make sure to go up to the roof terrace of Hotel Casa Granda. It’s not just a terrace with a breathtaking view of the city, but they also serve nice breakfast and have some delicious fresh fruit juices here. It’s a bit more pricey compared to other cafes, but still pretty affordable.
Stroll around the lively streets
After you’re done with Cespedes Park, head north and stroll the vibrant city streets. Make sure to visit the Francisco Vicente Aguilera street, and definitely don’t miss the Jose Antonio Saco street. Colorful and bright, they’re both lined with shops, bars and very much full of locals.
Relax in the Parque del Ajedrez
Parque del Ajedrez is more like an oasis in the bustling streets of Santiago than a 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 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 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s the most complete and best preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture, designed on the principles of 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 every 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 just 2 CUC, you’ll get a shot of rum, too. For more tasting, go to the basement in the Rum Bar where they have a nice selection of Cuban rums. They also serve the best mojitos in the city.
Have dinner at the San Francisco Restaurant
San Francisco is everything you like about restaurants. It serves delicious local food and it’s super cheap. They also have a nice terrace where they mostly play live Cuban music. You won’t find many tourists there, but it can get crowded at night, so make sure to come a bit earlier.
A night out at Casa de la Trova
Pretty much the best place in Santiago to enjoy some traditional Trova music and salsa dancers is Casa de la Trova. Trova music was made popular worldwide through the music of Buena Vista Social Club and by los trovadores (people who make that kind of music). Since the place is still pretty authentic and the atmosphere is kind of intimate, you’ll also get a chance to meet many locals.
Where to stay in Santiago de Cuba?
Private apartments called casa particular are the best (often the only) only accommodation property type in Cuba. Most of them offer only rooms, but at times it’s possible to find a whole apartment. The prices are great, though, and you can even get a breakfast there, albeit for a slightly higher price.
Extra tips for visiting Santiago
– In Cuba, it’s not uncommon for local flights 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 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.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).