Tuk tuks in Cuba

How to experience Santiago de Cuba

Sandra ROSENAUFirst Published: Last Updated: Cuba

This article may contain links to products and services we use and recommend. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For more information, see our Disclosure Policy.

Travelling into Santiago de Cuba in mid-evening, we passed the area where the Pope would be visiting on the day after our scheduled departure from Cuba. The city was abuzz with signage, posters, etc about his impending visit.

A suburban Casa

The chosen Casa was set a few kilometres in suburbia (Santa Barbara) from the historical centre so we had to catch a taxi into town each day, although we did walk there on the first day as our host had advised that it was only an 18-minute walk. Sandra didn’t believe her, and I foolishly did.

Santiago is full of revolutionary history so we visited several museums that told the stories in sometimes convoluted ways of the past 100 years. We did award the “best museum in Cuba” to the Moncada Barracks. It was graphical, in chronological order, had bilingual (Spanish and English) signs and provided the facts behind the founding and naming of the 26 July movement.

We also went to the Museo De Carnival – showing that Santiago can throw a party as well.

Casa del la Trova

On the second night after visiting it during the day, we returned to the very famous Casa de la Trova – famous for the singers and musicians that it has hosted over the years. It did not disappoint. Although the dance floor is small, and the tables are generally full of tour group tourists, the two six-piece salsa bands that played were good and we were able to dance to several good songs during the night. It felt great to come back to a place that I had previously been and had the same positive enjoyable night at.

Morro Castle

The next day we went out to the Castillo El Morro, an extensive fort at the entrance to the Santiago Harbour. This is a must-see for those visiting Santiago. It was designed in 1587, but not fully finished until the 1700s. We took a taxi ride out to it (with the driver willing to wait around) for the return fare of 20CUC – sometimes this was an easier option than wait for the sometimes nonexistent bus or trying to find a return taxi at a remote spot.

Cemetary of the famous

The next must-see place in Santiago we went to on the third day, was the Cemeterio Santa Ifigenia – home of Jose Marti – the national hero and most revered countryman from the 19th Century. The cemetery also contains the graves of many famous revolutionaries and the guitar playing Trovador himself, Compay Segundo (writer of that most famous song “Chan Chan”). Again, a taxi ride there and back from Parque Cespedes should cost no more than 8CUC.

If we thought the touts were bad in Camaguey the view of us as cash cows or just plain naive tourists with money to pass out for every single service offered was even worse in Santiago. On every corner in the main tourist areas, we were hassled for taxi rides, to buy some trinket or pay for someone to sing or maybe stop singing. Were these desperate times or a realization that money could be easily milked from tourists? What would Che have thought?

A Lonely Planet recommendation

On our last night, we stayed locally for dinner and ate at the Paladar Salon Tropical – a Lonely Planet recommended eatery within minutes of our Casa. The meal was delicious, service excellent and atmosphere and views on the terrace breath breathtaking seem to have changed a bit since I was last in Santiago – it is faster, dirtier, with more stress. As much as there is a lot of historical information here and the music is still awesome, my rose-coloured view of this town has definitely been removed. We were definitely looking forward to some quieter times in Baracoa.

2017 Cuba trip

We returned to Cuba in 2017 to experience different parts of the island this time.

How to experience Santiago de Cuba