What to Do in Santiago de Cuba? The heart of Cuba is a vibrant and exciting city. It’s the birthplace of Salsa and is a city steeped in history. The second largest city in Cuba (after Havana), but it’s certainly not second in any other way.
There are many visitors who fall in love with the many charms of Santiago de Cuba. It’s a city that offers vibrancy without being that overwhelming. When it comes to what to do in Santiago de Cuba, your only limit is how much time you’ve got. From being the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution to it’s amazing street food to it’s Conquistador history. You’re not going to run out of things to do here.
Street Food: Avenida Victoria de Garzón
For great local street food you must visit Avenida Victoria de Garzón on a Saturday or Sunday. Though Vegans and vegetarians might feel a little squeamish when walking down the avenue. Because a whole pig roasting on a spit is a frequent site.
This is a traditional dish throughout the Spanish speaking world and is called Lechón. The pigs are spit roasted over hot coals, giving the meat a smoky tang that is quite delicious. The prices vary along the avenue but it’s a good way to fill up your belly for the day without spending much at all.
It’s just one of the the treats on offer when turns into street food heaven on weekends.
What to Do in Santiago De Cuba? Enjoy the View
You’ll be so full after the Avenida Victoria de Garzón food market that you might end up skipping dinner. So what to doBut there’s always room for a drink.
It’s Cuba, so you’re not going to have to search too far before you find a bar. but you need to check out the place with the best views in town. And that place is the Hotel Casa Granda. Head straight in the door and up to the bar on the top floor.
The hotel originally opened in 1914 retains an undeniable elegance. It’s a relaxing place to enjoy a drink above the buzz of the city. There is fairly regular entertainment on offer although the view is entertainment enough.
Where the Cuban Revolution Was Born
The Cuban Revolution reshaped the entire country. Any list of what to do in Santiago de Cuba is not complete without a visit to the place where the revolution began. July 26th, 1953 rebels (led by Fidel Castro) mounted an attack on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago. The barracks are no longer standing as they were damaged in the subsequent battles. In 1960 the site was converted into a school, before becoming a museum.
The original attack could not be described as successful, but it kicked off the revolution which lasted until January 1959. On January 1, 1959 Fidel Castro claimed victory from the balcony of Santiago de Cuba City Hall.
The Bacardi Legacy (Not Just the Rum)
The Cuban Revolution resulted in the nationalisation of a number of private companies, including Bacardi Rum. The company then moved to the Bahamas before beginning production in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Bacardi family has strong ties to Santiago de Cuba. Emilio Bacardí (1844 – 1922) was the manager of the company in addition to being mayor of the Santiago de Cuba. He left a considerable legacy in the form of the Emilio Bacardí Moreau Museum. The museum’s building opened in 1927 and has an expansive collection of arts and artifacts. The collection is of art from Cuba and around the world.
There’s a particularly interesting Egyptian archaeology section and the museum is simply a must-see. Incidentally, you can also visit the original Bacardi Rum Factory while in Santiago de Cuba. But of course actual Bacardi rum has not been made here for decades. It still makes rum, albeit different brands. The building itself is interesting and there’s a rather nice little bar where you can sample the rum.
What to Do? Explore he Fortress on the Sea Cliffs
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca
A short distance out of town you can visit this place on our list of what to do in Santiago de Cuba. The Castillo San Pedro de la Roca is an imposing structure perched high atop the cliffs overlooking the water. This type of coastal fort is a common sight in Cuba, but the Castillo del Morro is arguably the prettiest. It was finished in 1700 after following 62 years of construction. The fort was designed to protect Santiago de Cuba from hostile forces like pirates and the English from approaching by sea.
It was most recently used in 1898 when the US attempted to capture Santiago de Cuba in the Spanish American War. It fell into disrepair over the next decades, before extensive restoration work was carried out in the 1960s. It’s a picturesque sight, looking much like a fairytale castle on top of the cliffs. A contradiction of its often brutal past.