Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and a historical and cultural treasure. The city is often regarded as the root of the Cuban Revolution, and the many museums here retrace key events from this important period of Cuba’s history. Santiago de Cuba mixes modern architecture and industrial developments with its colorful colonial gems and historic fort. Shaped by its rich mix of cultures and Afro-Caribbean heritage, the city is often said to be the most Caribbean city in the country. Today, travelers can experience this multi-cultural vibe in the eclectic music, diverse architecture, art galleries, and lively festivals.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Santiago de Cuba is from the end of the year, December, to the beginning of the rainy season that tends to start any time from April, May and into June.
Top Places to Visit in Santiago de Cuba
1. Castillo de San Pedro del Morro
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Castillo del Morro enjoys a reputation as one of the best-preserved Spanish fortresses of the 17th century. The huge fortress, at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago, lies about 10 kilometers southwest of Santiago de Cuba. Perched upon a cliff top, the structure took decades to build and was finally completed at the end of the 17th century. Today, this elegant fort is open to the public and contains a small naval museum with displays on piracy and the history of the area. After exploring the fortress, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views over the bay from the roof and terrace restaurant. The best time to visit the fort is about an hour before sunset, which allows time to explore the fort and snap some photos before the cannon firing ceremony at sundown.
2. Parque Cespedes
At the heart of the city, Parque Cespedes is an excellent starting point for sightseeing tours. Many of Santiago de Cuba’s most notable buildings surround the square, including the Casa de Diego Velazquez and the Catedral de Nuestra de Senora de la Asuncion. Although Parque Cespedes is more of a plaza than a park, it’s a popular meeting spot for locals and tourists at any time of the day or evening. Music fills the air, and a lively feeling prevails. It’s also a great place to relax with a coffee or a cool drink and watch the world go by.
3. Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia
The Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba is home to the remains of some of Cuba’s most famous military figures, as well as people of wealth and notoriety. Some of the monuments marking the tombs are spectacular works of art. One of the most impressive features in the cemetery is the Mausoleum of Jose Marti. This huge structure towers over the surroundings and was designed to allow a stream of light to enter in during morning hours.
4. Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre
The old mining town of Cobre, about 18 kilometers northwest from Santiago de Cuba, is home to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre, one of Cuba’s most famous churches. Standing out against a lush backdrop, the church and its red-domed towers is a beautiful sight. This magnificent church is a pilgrimage site and attracts people from all over Cuba who come seeking the Virgin’s purported healing powers.
5. Gran Piedra
About 25 kilometers southeast from the city, Gran Piedra (Grand Stone) is a large volcanic rock perched atop a mountain, which affords spectacular views over misty peaks and coastal plains. The drive to Gran Piedra, though a little hair raising, is worth the effort. A 12-kilometer road winds up to the Jardin Botanico from the main coastal road in Parque Baconao, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of lushly-cloaked mountains and golden beaches. Here, visitors can admire a variety of orchids and other tropical plants. At the end of the Jardin Botanico is a seemingly never ending set of stairs that leads up to the 1,234-meter-high peak of Gran Piedra and breathtaking views.