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tips for experiencing the life and culture of this unique island nation  


Santiago de Cuba

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Cuba’s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba has been called the most Caribbean city on the island. The city has a rich history stretching back to colonial days. It has been a hotbed of revolution and is now a center of Cuban music. Afro-Caribbean beats fill the streets of Santiago de Cuba, and the city’s vibrant culture makes a Santiago de Cuba vacation an unforgettable experience.

Santiago de Cuba was established in 1515 and was Cuba’s most important Spanish settlement until Havana gained prominence in the mid-sixteenth century. Several colonial buildings remain key stops on any Santiago de Cuba tour: the merchant house of the city’s founder, Diego Velazquez, and the elegant governor’s mansion. Velazquez’s house is now a museum of colonial Cuba, featuring many artifacts detailing the period when the island was a major part of Spain’s New World empire. 

Much of the fighting in the long wars of revolution which marked Cuban history in the late nineteenth century took place in Santiago de Cuba, including the famous battle of San Juan, in which Teddy Roosevelt’s “rough riders” defeated Spanish troops. Santiago de Cuba was also the site of Fidel Castro’s 1953 raid on the Moncada Barracks, a futile attack that launched the Cuban Revolution. The museum at the barracks is now a must-visit stop on a Santiago de Cuba tour.

The first African slaves imported to Cuba landed in Santiago de Cuba. Today, Santiago de Cuba remains the most ethnically diverse city in the country, with a strong and vibrant Afro-Caribbean feel lacking in other Cuban cities. At no time is the unique culture of Santiago de Cuba more evident than during the Santiago carnival. Held each July, the carnival is the most raucous of all Cuban events, with visitors from across the island and around the world flocking to this celebration of religion, music, and Cuban culture.

You do not have to visit during carnival to have a worthwhile Santiago de Cuba vacation. The area around the central Parque Cespedes is full of splendid historic buildings. Santiago de Cuba has one of the best nightlife scenes in the country. The weather is marvelously temperate, although perhaps a little hot during the summer, when nearby mountains shield the city from the breezes that cool other parts of the island. Many companies offer a Santiago de Cuba tour of these mountains. Excursions into the beautiful hills surrounding the city make great side trips, especially in the heat of summer.

Santiago de Cuba does not have as many varied lodging options as Havana or the luxury resorts found elsewhere in Cuba, but finding good hotels in the city is not hard (except during carnival). For budget travelers, the ever popular casas particulares make a good option.

Santiago de Cuba has one of the largest airports in Cuba. Many airlines offer flights from the Caribbean and regular charter flights depart from Miami.

The city’s easy accessibility, unique culture, and rich history make a Santiago de Cuba vacation a great idea for any trip to Cuba.

OVERVIEW for your visit to Cuba:

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