2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City

Parque Céspedes Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is the second city of Cuba and said to be the most colorful, hot and musical city of the island. It’s a city with an interesting history and an important part in the Cuban revolution. Santiago de Cuba was the place where Fidel Castro attacked Cuartel Moncada and where the resistance against the Cuban government first took hold.

Because the city celebrated its 500 year existence in 2015 many buildings in the city center have been renovated, giving the city lots of bright and beautiful colors.

Renovated Santiago de Cuba

But once you stray one block from the main street you’re back in the ‘real’ Santiago, seemingly abandoned buildings with peeling paint, unpaved streets and a tangle of electricity lines.

Old Santiago de CubaThe Streets of Santiago de Cuba

2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City

I really enjoyed visiting Santiago de Cuba, as with my entire trip in Cuba, mostly because of the people!

From the welcoming owner of our Casa Particular to the friendly fisherman who hopped aboard our tour boat while it was sailing around the harbor. Spoiler: the boat broke down, more on that later in this post…

And from the horse carriage drivers who tried to convince me to go on a sightseeing tour (no sane person would want to walk in this heat!) to the lady from the ice cream stall who walked us several hundred meters down the street to help us buy a bottle of water (leaving her customers waiting).

Colorful art in streets of Santiago de Cuba

Besides the friendly people, Santiago has a lot of sights to see. During our 2 days of exploring Santiago de Cuba I came across many beautiful and interesting places. In my opinion, the best way to get to know the city is see where your feet take you and who you meet on your way.

Also read this 2 week Cuba itinerary

Santiago de Cuba market street

Exploring Santiago de Cuba

First up was Parque Céspedes, which I crossed several times before discovering I had already arrived at my desired destination. I was looking for a park with lots of trees, but Parque Céspedes is actually plaza. If you look carefully you may find a tree. But it’s a pretty plaza, with beautiful buildings all around.

Santiago de Cuba Parque Cespedes

One of the famous buildings looking out over Parque Céspedes is Casa Diego Velazquez, which was built in 1522 and is the oldest house still standing in Cuba.

Casa Diego Velazquez Santiago de Cuba

The beautiful and brightly colored Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion is also adjacent to Parque Céspedes. The current cathedral was built in 1922, it’s the third cathedral on this spot as it has been rebuild several times because the previous versions didn’t survive the pirate raids and earth quakes.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Santiago de Cuba

On the other side of the parquet is the Ayuntamiento, an imposing building. I loved how the whitewashed walls contrasted with the clear blue sky. I admired all this beauty while having a nice cold drink at the veranda of hotel Casa Granda.

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

Strolling through the colorful pedestrian street José A Saco, I came across markets, shops and long lines of people waiting for the bank. Or the pharmacy. Or something else they needed and had to stand in line for…

As I mentioned previously, because of Santiago’s quincentennial many buildings have been repainted in pretty colors.

2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City

But I wanted to see the real Santiago as well, so I took a right and kept on walking…

Santiago de Cuba city
2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City

I kept on walking for half an hour and eventually I got to the Cementerio Santa Ifegenia.

Cementerio Santa Ifegenia Santiago de Cuba

Mind you, you can walk here but don’t do so on the hottest time of the day. You can also hop into one of the many horse drawn carriages.

And now the boat story…

Having walked a lot, my mum and I were resting for a bit on a bench near the harbor. From a nearby boat, a man waved at us and shouted: do you want a tour around the harbor? Sure, why not!

16 Highlights Of East Cuba

We hopped aboard and were seated at the front of the boat, a perfect place to enjoy the view. The Cuban reggaeton was fired up and rum flowed freely. And did I mention we were the only tourists on the boat?

We sailed around the harbor and moored at Cayo Granma, where we picked up some local fisherman who had just finished work.

Cayo Granma Santiago de Cuba

They joined the party on the boat and many came up to talk to us, it was so much fun! And then, with Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro in sight the boat slowed down. In fact, it kept going slower and slower. Eventually it stopped altogether.

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Santiago de Cuba

There we were, floating around the harbor. But there was more rum and the mechanic went below deck to see if he could fix the problem. Turned out he could not.

After floating around for an hour and a half we were picked up by another boat which took us back to the harbor. I didn’t mind the delay, it gave me more time to talk to people about their lives and their views on Cuba’s future. It remains to be seen how Cuba will change now that the borders have opened up…

Where to stay

I traveled around Cuba with my mom and in Santiago de Cuba we stayed at a casa particular near Plaza de Martes. You can find the casa and all the places mentioned in this post in the map at the bottom of the post.

Casa Particular Santiago de CubaSymbol Casa Particular Santiago de Cuba

It was a really nice casa which cost us 25CUC per night. We also had dinner at our casa, which was 7CUC per person and breakfast in the morning for 3CUC per person. Our hostess was lovely, the casa was clean and had a roof terrace with a great view.

2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City
2 Days In Santiago de Cuba: A Colorful, Hot And Historic City

Definitely a recommended place to stay when you find yourself in Santiago de Cuba. They also have 2 rooms for 20CUC per night, but these don’t have the beautiful view over the city.

Where to have a drink (and a bite)

Rumba cafe Santiago de Cuba

My mum and I had drinks at cafe Rumba, a cute café with a patio that feels miles away from the busy traffic in the frantic streets of Santiago. The coconut milkshake is highly recommended!

And as mentioned, the views from hotel Casa Granda are hard to beat. Besides the pretty buildings around Parque Céspedes, I loved looking at the Cuban street life. A band was playing on the plaza, old cars were passing by, and people were meeting and greeting each other in the streets…

Santiago de Cuba Parque Cespedes hotel Casa Granda

I could have sat there for hours. I didn’t, I had lunch and went on my way. But if you want to get a feel of the vibe of Santiago, this is a great place to spend some time!

How to get to Santiago de Cuba

Viazul bus Santiago de Cuba

The best way to get around in Cuba is with the Viazul bus. We had a bit of trouble buying the ticket as the man behind the counter didn’t want to sell the ticket more than an hour before the departure time of the bus.

You can make reservations online and you can make a reservation for the next day, which I recommend if you want to be sure of a spot in the bus on a particular day. We did manage to get a Viazul bus ticket to Holguin eventually and from Holguin we took a taxi to Guardalavaca.

In the picture below you can find more information about the bus schedule and ticket prices. This information can also be found online.

Viazul Bus time table
Tarifas Viazul Bus Santiago de Cuba

There are several places in Santiago de Cuba I didn’t visit but probably should have, such as Casa de la Trova, Tropicana and Cuartel Moncada. But I had a bus to catch and there is always next time…

You can download the map below. Looking for more things to do in Cuba or Cuba travel tips? Check my diving post, read about my visit to Biran (the birthplace of Fidel Castro) and the Salto del Guayabo waterfall or check out this post about where to stay in Havana!

Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the Phenomenal Globe Travel Planning Library and my Travel Resource page!

Santiago de Cuba is a colorful and historic city in the Southeast of Cuba. The city boasts many highlights, such as Parque Céspedes, Casa Diego Velazquez, Cementerio Santa Ifegenia and more. Read where to stay, where to have a drink and download a map with all the highlights of Cuba's most musical city.Santiago de Cuba is a colorful and historic city in the Southeast of Cuba. The city boasts many highlights, such as Parque Céspedes, Casa Diego Velazquez, Cementerio Santa Ifegenia and more. Read where to stay, where to have a drink and download a map with all the highlights of Cuba's most musical city.

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6 Comments

  1. December 2, 2016 / 9:31 pm

    What a fantastic trip to Cuba with your mom! My mom has wanted to go with me, but we haven’t made it yet. So awesome that you made the best of the boat delay and took the opportunity to really get to know people.

    • Lotte
      Author
      December 2, 2016 / 10:10 pm

      It was a fantastic trip indeed, particularly since my mom had wanted to visit Cuba for such a long time. Traveling there together was very special… Haha, being flexible and open-minded is the key to happy travels;-).

  2. February 13, 2017 / 6:24 am

    Hi Lotte,

    Great post!

    The best way to immerse oneself in the culture and feel of a destination, is through the locals. It’s people that make a place, not the place itself. You being able to speak Spanish must have made the experience all the more real for you.

    Thanks for this post and for sharing your journey to Cuba. And, your pictures are beautiful! I think they capture the ‘personality’ of Santiago de Cuba very well.

    Astrid.

    • Lotte
      Author
      February 13, 2017 / 2:35 pm

      Thank you very much for your kind comment:-). I did feel speaking Spanish made a difference and allowed me to understand a bit more about the culture. Though of course there is only so much you can see & understand in such a short time (and people don’t tell you everything…). Glad you like the pictures! Lotte

      • Astrid
        February 13, 2017 / 2:42 pm

        You should come and visit us in South Africa. We have 11 official languages. And sign language is on the cards to become official too. Yes, we’re a super diverse culture. With all those official languages, there are as many cultures to explore. But, 2 days won’t cut it, you’ll need at least a month! 🙂

        • Lotte
          Author
          February 13, 2017 / 5:16 pm

          Wow, 11 languages! The Netherlands only has 2 (Dutch and Frisian). South Africa is very high on my Places to Visit list, the only thing is finding an affordable flight… Time we have though! I’ll definitely be in touch for advice if we manage to score a good deal.

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