There is a myriad of things to do in Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city in Cuba, the capital of Santiago de Cuba Province, and the Cuban capital of the carnival!
It is located on the eastern side of the island, it is about 870 kilometers (or 540 miles) from Havana, which is 18-20 hours on the bus. Still, it is an amazing destination if you are able to put it on your itinerary!
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Is Santiago De Cuba Worth Visiting?
With its rich history (the city was the capital of Cuba once), vibrant culture (very influenced by other Caribbean islands), and stunning architecture.
Stroll along the streets and explore the majestic colonial buildings – many of them now protected UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The city is also home to a range of important monuments, museums, and architectural wonders!
Santiago De Cuba Map
Spectacular Things To Do In Santiago de Cuba!
Whether you enjoy doing your own holiday planning, or you prefer to just show up to a “set table” for an organized tour, in Santiago de Cuba you can do either!
Here are 6 different organized tours you might enjoy, and 25 sights and interesting places to explore on your own when you are visiting Santiago de Cuba!
Also read: Sensational 7 Days In Cuba Itinerary 2023!
6 Amazing Santiago De Cuba Tours!
If you are a fan of just showing up, or even being picked up at home for your holiday adventures, an organized tour probably is perfect for you.
Below are listed the Santiago de Cuba tours you might enjoy, stress-free, where all the planning is taken care of by someone else (who knows the great things about Santiago you don’t want to miss)!
Also read: 6 Top Rated Casas Particulares In Central Santiago De Cuba 2023!
1. La Gran Piedra Excursion Hike!
This hike up to La Gran Piedra, or the large rock, is new from January 2023, and if you love hiking and views, you probably are going to love this airy hike!
This excursion starts around 9 am, you will be picked up at your casa and head for the vast Sierra Maestra Mountains!
La Gran Piedra is a massive volcanic rock, 51 meters (167 feet) long and 30 meters (98 feet) wide with a weight of over 60,000 tons situated at a high point in the Sierra Maestras.
You’ll ascend the 452 steps (!) all the way to its peak at 1,225 meters (over 4,000 feet), where you can breathe in the magnificent views over the vast mountains. The panoramas from up there are undeniably breathtaking!
After descending again, you will visit the coffee plantation of La Isabelica, and make a tour of this hacienda and the museum there, which has been declared a World Heritage Site!
2. Cuba Revolution Tour (10/10!)
The Santiago de Cuba revolution tour is rated 10 out of 10 by former travelers, and will start at Casa Granda Hotel in Céspedes Park in the center of Santiago.
From there, you will admire the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba before boarding a classic vintage car heading for the Palace of the Provincial Government, and the Emilio Bacardi Museum.
You will also visit the Moncada Barracks which Fidel Castro unsuccessfully attacked in 1953, which started the 26th of July Movement, and the connected museum.
Afterward, you will take a horse-drawn carriage to the Santa Ifigenia cemetery to see the tomb of Fidel Castro among other famous people.
Here is also the impressive mausoleum of Cuban hero Jose Marti where there is a guard changing ceremony every 30 minutes every day!
3. Almirante Oquendo Shipwreck Diving Or Snorkeling
If you are already a certified scuba diver, or even if you are just curious, you can participate in this shipwreck scuba diving tour outside Santiago de Cuba!
Around 100 meters swim from the shore, there is a tower on the surface that hides the wreck of Almirante Oquendo that sank due to the American cannons!
The battleship is visible at the surface down to around 13 meters depth which is why you can also do this tour as a snorkeling adventure.
Admire the impressive ecosystem that has been created around the ship. and investigate every corner of the battleship that is now a colorful reef of algae, corals, and schools of fish!
4. Morro Castle Classic Car Day Trip
Morro Castle is a stunning 17th-century Spanish structure, built to withstand pirate attacks, and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO!
You’ll be picked up by a classic car for the Morro Castle private day tour, and when you arrive at the fortress you’ll explore the castle’s perfectly preserved moats, cannons, and military structure.
You will get all bout the history, and all the breathtaking views both of the city and over the sea!
5. Private Tour Of Santiago De Cuba
For your private tour of Santiago de Cuba, you can choose between a walking tour and a bus tour, both lasting for around 3 hours.
If you choose the bus, you will also visit Santa Ifigenia cemetery where Fidel Castro and many other famous people are buried under impressive white marble.
With this tour, you also get to witness the changing of the guard ceremony, which is quite solemn!
Then you head over to the Moncada Barracks, where you will have the option to either visit the Barracks on your own or walk around outside while the guide tells you all about why this place was so important for the Cuban Revolution.
The walking tour will also include Moncada Barracks, as well as Plaza de Marte, Bacardi Museum, Cespedes Park, the Cathedral of Santiago, and more!
6. Cimarron Monument & El Cobre Sanctuary
El Cobre is an idyllic small town, a picturesque fishing village east of Santiago de Cuba that is part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
This small mountain-top village is home to the Sanctuary of Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre, a Roman Catholic Basilica that’s been visited by pilgrims since 1612.
The village is also home to the Museum of the Revolution and El Campo Santo Cemetery. Take a hike around El Cobre Cuba and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views, a peaceful atmosphere, and some great photo opportunities.
25 Santiago De Cuba Attractions!
When you visit Santiago de Cuba, your problem will not be finding something to do – rather prioritizing!
Well, if you plan your time well, you might fit in if not all, at least most of the amazing sights in Santiago. Buckle up, here we go!
1. Castillo De San Pedro De La Roca El Morro
One of the most popular Santiago de Cuba attractions is the El Morro castle. This 16th-century fortress is located perfectly at the narrow entrance of Santiago de Cuba Bay, high above the blue water!
The castle grounds are beautiful, the fortress structure impressive, and the history of its construction and life fascinating.
From the Queen’s Balcony on the fortress’s outer wall, in particular, you have an airy, dreamy view over the hazy coastline and the Caribbean!
Also read: 18 Of The Unquestionably Best Beaches In Cuba!
2. Plaza De La Revolucion Santiago
While visiting the country still feeding off its revolution, one must-see destination is Plaza de la Revolución Santiago de Cuba. This plaza has a unique history as it was founded in 1801, shortly after the Spanish-American War.
The plaza features a majestic monument dedicated to Jose Marti, a hero of Cuba’s Revolution who died fighting for Cuban independence. Marti was a leader of the Cuban independence movement from Spain and a renowned poet and writer.
The plaza also features other statues and monuments as well as two large fountains that are lit up at night. It is also surrounded by a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes, making it a great place for an outing!
3. Siboney Beach
About half an hour outside Santiago de Cuba lies this stunning crescent of sand and crystal-clear water that draws sun seekers from near and far.
While Siboney is not one of the crisp white beaches of Cuba, it has a broad golden pebbly beach lined with palm trees and inviting waters,
Whether you’re looking to lounge on the beach under an umbrella or take part in some of the activities like jet skiing or snorkeling, there’s something to grab your attention!
There are restaurants around, where you can go for lunch and a cold drink on the shore, or take in the beautiful views from a boat tour.
Time it to the sunset, and watch as the sky turns brilliant shades of reds, oranges, and purples!
Also read: 10 Perfect Day Trips From Havana Cuba 2023!
4. Santa Ifigenia Cemetary
Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is the burial site of Cuban national heroes José Martí, Fidel Castro, and some of the most iconic figures in Cuban history.
The cemetery was built in 1868 and is a white-marbled tranquil place with an incredible number of monuments, statues, and sculptures.
Some visitors even feel coming here can be an emotional experience in learning about Cuban culture and history!
The guard changing ceremony in front of the mausoleum of Jose Marti certainly is a powerful display, it happens every 30 minutes throughout the day.
There is also a museum that houses some of Martí’s personal items, such as his typewriter and his books, and a gift shop selling souvenirs and memorabilia related to Martí.
5. Parque Cespedes
Parque Cespedes in Santiago de Cuba has become an iconic symbol of this Cuban city. This bustling plaza is a great place to relax, enjoy some coffee, and people-watch.
The area also has some popular historical attractions such as the Museo de Ambiente Histórico, where you can learn about the history of Santiago de Cuba.
The nearby Casa Diego Velazquez is another great spot to visit and explore, with its stunning architecture and beautiful gardens. Lastly, the area boasts a lively nightlife scene, with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from.
Also read: 33+ Legendary Things To Do In Havana Cuba 2023!
6. Casa Diego Velazquez
One of the most popular places to visit is Casa Diego Velasquez, one of the oldest buildings located in Santiago de Cuba.
The port of Santiago de Cuba was established by Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar in 1515, as one of the original seven villas, cities, founded in Cuba.
Shortly after finding this perfect natural port near sources of gold (which quickly ran out), he named it Santiago, or St James, after the patron saint of Spain. After establishing the central trading house shortly afterward, the villa of St. James became Cuba’s capital.
Casa Diego Velazgues was built in 1522 as the home of Velasquez, and was eventually converted into a museum featuring a variety of historical artifacts from the colonial period.
7. Catedral De Nuestra Señora De La Asuncion
on one side of Parque Cespedes is a must-see attraction in Santiago de Cuba. The venerable Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, otherwise known as Catedral Mayor.
Catedral Mayor was founded in 1518 by Diego Velásquez and is one of the oldest cathedrals in Cuba. It has a beautiful architectural style with gothic features, and the interior is equally impressive as the exterior!
It’s definitely worth taking some time to explore Catedral Mayor and experience the unique atmosphere it has to offer.
For those interested in Cuban history, Catedral Mayor also houses plenty of important artifacts from Cuba’s history.
Not least, it is a great place to go for some peaceful reflection and introspection in the middle of your holiday!
Also read: Where To Stay In Havana | Best Hotels, Neighborhoods and Areas 2023!
8. Ayuntamiento Building
Santiago de Cuba is home to the Ayuntamiento building, a stunning white and blue historical building that has been standing since the 19th century.
Ayuntamiento was once the administrative center of Santiago de Cuba and today it is a popular tourist attraction, with beautiful architecture and intricate designs.
Ayuntamiento is also home to a number of other attractions such as the local museum and theater. You can explore Ayuntamiento’s history here, and admire its many architectural details.
9. José A Saco Street
José A Saco Street is named after José Antonio Saco (one of the independence leaders in Cuban history), a pedestrian-only street with lots of shops and restaurants.
Jose A Saco street runs through the center of the city and is home to a range of attractions, like the San Juan Hill Monument (which commemorates the Battle of Santiago that took place during Cuba’s War of Independence).
You will find lots of local restaurants offering traditional Cuban cuisine, art galleries, and music events. José A Saco Street also has lots of souvenir shops selling handmade Cuban art, traditional musical instruments, and more.
10. Santiago De Cuba Harbor Boat Tour
Enjoy a tour along the bay of Santiago de Cuba, bordering Cayo Granma (the little island) from where the majestic Morro Castle can be seen from the sea!
A bout tour of the bay of Santiago allows you to see the charms of Santiago from a different perspective, as well as learn about the history from the guides.
11. La Gran Piedra
One of Santiago’s most iconic attractions is La Gran Piedra, an enormous rock formation located on San Pedro Mountain just outside Santiago de Cuba.
The site is said to have spiritual significance for the local indigenous population, and therefore La Gran Piedra is a popular spot for locals as well as tourists!
Take in the breathtaking views towards Santiago de Cuba and the sea from the top of La Gran Piedra, which stands at around 600 meters above sea level.
La Gran Piedra is also home to several species of rare and endangered birds, making it a great spot for bird-watching if you are into that!
Also read: What Is Cuba Known For? 22+ Enticing Things You Want To Know!
12. Moncada Barracks
The Moncada Barracks was built in 1868, and 85 years later it became an important point in the fight for the Cuban revolution!
On the 26 of July 1953, the Moncada barracks were the target of an armed attack by a small group of revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro.
The attack failed, and the surviving revolutionaries were sent to jail, including Castro. This attack is widely recognized as the beginning of the Cuban revolution, and the inspiration for the name of Castro’s resistance movement; the 26th of July group.
Today, it is a museum where you can learn about Cuban history and the events that took place there. It’s also home to the Museum of the Revolution, including exhibits from different moments in Cuba’s revolutionary history.
13. Parque De Bonocao
Parque de Bonocao is home to a variety of trees and plants, and also has a number of historic points and monuments, such as the Parque’s main plaza with its towering statue of Antonio Maceo and a monument honoring José Martí.
Additionally, Parque de Bonocao is home to several cultural sites, including both an art museum and a history museum that offer interesting insight into Cuba’s past.
14. Sierra Maestra & Commandancia De La Plata
For those looking for outdoor adventure in general, the Sierra Maestra mountain range has plenty of terrains to explore.
But one thing you don’t want to miss is the secret headquarters of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary comrades hidden in the Sierra Maestra!
Note, you need to be in ok physical form to get yourself here on the bumpy and muddy paths that lead the way. But once you get here, you will be rewarded with not only amazing views!
You can also visit Fidel Castro’s clandestine bedroom, kitchen, and even toilet!
See for yourself how the revolutionaries fighting Batista back in the day organized themselves here hidden under the canopies, visit the museum and imagine what it was like!
Also read: How To Easily Travel To Cuba From The US 2023!
15. Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum
Santiago de Cuba used to be the home of the Bacardi family, which most people across the world have heard of at least once during a late-night party! Today, the city is home to the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum.
This museum preserves the memory of Emilio Bacardi Moreau, who was an important leader in the struggle for Cuban independence towards the end of the 20th Century, and a member of the renowned Bacardi family.
The museum is housed in his former residence and contains a variety of artifacts that tell Emilio’s story. Visitors can learn about Emilio’s life, the Bacardi family history, and the Cuban independence struggle.
The museum also has a library with rare books and documents related to Emilio and Cuban heritage. There is also an impressive art gallery featuring works by Emilio Bacardi Moreau himself as well as other renowned Cuban artists.
16. Granma Island
Granma Island is one of the most popular attractions in Santiago de Cuba, located in the middle of Santiago de Cuba bay.
Granma Island is home to the Granma Yacht Museum, which houses an extensive collection of historical artifacts related to Cuban sailing vessels.
Granma Island offers visitors a unique blend of nature, history, and culture. Visitors can explore Granma National Park and Granma Memorial, as well as Granma Beach, a popular spot for fishing and swimming.
17. San Juan Hill
San Juan Hill is a famous historical site in Santiago de Cuba, as it is the point of the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898!
Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” gained fame for their bravery here, and it was also here that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led their historic attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953 a few years before the Cuban Revolution.
Today, San Juan Hill is a popular attraction for tourists eager to learn more about Cuba’s history. In addition, San Juan Hill is a great place to take in the stunning views of Santiago de Cuba and the surrounding area.
Also read: 7 Perfect Itineraries For How To Spend A Day In Miami (Or 7 Days) 2023!
18. Escalinata De Padre Pico
One of the most unique and iconic landmarks in the city is Escalinata de Padre Pico, also known as Escalinata del Turista (Tourist Steps).
Located at the entrance of Santiago’s historic El Morro district, Escalinata de Padre Pico is a steep staircase lined with dozens of colorful murals that depict the city’s culture and history.
The vibrant artworks are painted by local artists, making Escalinata de Padre Pico an incredibly unique experience for visitors.
19. Granjita Siboney House
Granjita Siboney is an old farmhouse located just outside of town that offers visitors the chance to get a glimpse of Cuban life as it used to be.
Inside Granjita Siboney, visitors will find an array of rustic farm buildings, including a traditional palenque (a wooden house for sleeping and cooking), as well as plenty of lush gardens and farm animals.
Granjita Siboney is the perfect place to get away from it all and experience the Cuban countryside in all its beauty. Even better, Granjita Siboney includes an onsite bar and restaurant, meaning you can enjoy a refreshing beverage or meal while taking in the sights.
20. Museo De La Lucha Clandestina
The Museo de la Lucha Clandestina, or Museum of the Clandestine Struggle in Santiago de Cuba houses the most important artifacts of the events that unfolded in the last stages of the fight between the Cuban rebels and the Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba in this region.
Located inside the old Spanish garrison close to Moncada Barracks, the Museo de la Lucha Clandestina is an interactive museum that tells the intriguing story of Cuba’s past.
You will also find artifacts from different periods in Cuban history, as well as informative displays about the 500 years of struggles and victories of the Cuban people!
21. Museo Del Ron
Located inside a former rum distillery, Museo del Ron showcases the history and process of making rum in Santiago de Cuba.
Visitors can learn about the various rum-making techniques used throughout history, sample a variety of Cuban rums, and enjoy the lush grounds of a true rum distillery.
Museo del Ron is an absolute must-see in Santiago de Cuba and should not be missed!
Also reas. 19+ Best Things To Do In Varadero Cuba 2023!
22. Museo Del Carnaval
Here you can explore colorful costumes from past carnivals, learn about traditional music and dance styles, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for each year’s festival.
You can even try your handy skills at a few of the traditional activities!
This museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the Cuban carnival, one of the most celebrated festivals in the country, especially here in Santiago de Cuba.
23. Casa De La Trova
Casa de la Trova is a must-see destination for traveling music lovers, as it is perhaps the island’s most famous live-music venue!
Players of the trova were known as trovadores, who traveled around Cubas Oriente province, Santiago de Cuba in particular, and earned their living by singing and playing the guitar!
Casa de la Trova is located in the heart of Santiago’s historical district, and hosts concerts in the evenings with international and local musicians performing a mix of salsa, son, and bolero music.
24. Museo De La Imagen
The Museum of Image was inaugurated in 1997 and houses an impressive collection of photographs, documents, and other relics that tell the story of Santiago’s rich history.
It is situated in the former house of its founder Bernabé Muñiz Guiberneau, one of the most famous cameramen in Cuba who was also a resident of Santiago.
The museum provides a unique window into the past with an impressive movie theater and interactive displays that illustrate the city’s cultural heritage.
Visitors can explore the collection of artifacts, take part in educational activities and workshops, or simply enjoy the atmosphere of this beautiful building.
25. Mausoleum Of The Third Eastern Front
A must-see for visitors is the Mausoleum of the Third Eastern Front, which honors those who fought in the Sierra Maestra campaign during the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
The mausoleum is nestled on a steep mountainside and features more than 40 monuments and sculptures, making it one of the most impressive sites in Cuba.
You might be moved by the poignant representations of Cuban history here, regardless of politics, as you take in this awe-inspiring memorial!
FAQ’s Santiago De Cuba
When planning a trip to Santiago de Cuba, there are a few questions that come up as commonly asked questions before traveling!
Here is the answer to some of the most common questions asked about Santiago de Cuba.
What Is Special About Santiago De Cuba?
Santiago de Cuba used to be the capital of Cuba for a short while back in the 16th Century right after the foundation of the city!
In more modern times, Santiago de Cuba, or Sierra Maestra, was the headquarters of the rebels fighting against Batista through the 1950ies. Also, it is the birthplace of the 26th of July movement, which is the name of the opposition group formed by Fidel Castro.
The name comes from the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks, a military facility in Santiago de Cuba, on 26 July 1953. The young Fidel Castro led this attack, and he (and several others) were sent to prison after this incident.
What Are The Bests Bars In Santiago De Cuba?
- Patio de Los Abuelos
- Casa de las Tradiciones
- Hotel Casa Grande Terrace Bar
- Iris jazz club
- Patio de Artec
- Tropicana Santiago
Does Santiago De Cuba Have Beaches?
Yes, there are beaches close to Santiago de Cuba. There are no beaches directly in the city, but a well-known and popular beach named Playa Siboney, or Siboney beach.
The Siboney Beach is around half an hour outside of Santiago de Cuba, and in this area, there are also casa particulares for rent, as well as a few restaurants.
In addition, there are smaller beaches along the coastline east and west of the entrance to Santiago de Cuba bay. So don’t worry, you will find a beach!
What Is Special About Santiago De Cuba Rum?
Santiago de Cuba is also famous for its own rum, of which one is among the most famous ones in the world – loved by rum enthusiasts!
The Ron Santiago de Cuba Añejo 8 Years Old is known to have a captivating and intense flavor, as it is aged in oak barrels for perfecting its delicate aromas of tropical fruits.
Because of this, it is considered a great base for exquisite cocktails or just served on the rocks according to the connoisseurs!
What Is The Santiago De Cuba Weather Like?
Santiago de Cuba offers a “hot and oppressive” climate, which means that it ranges from hot to super hot, and with high humidity (a little less humid in the winter months).
The temperature almost always ranges from 69°F to 89°F (20-31 Celsius) throughout the year, and rarely drops below 65°F or above 91°F (19 and 33 Celcius).
The temperatures are ideal for outdoor activities in late November through early May when it is not super hot. Although not directly cold, Cubans rarely go to the beach until around April as they consider the winter way too cold!
How To Get To Santiago De Cuba?
You can fly directly to Antonio Maceo Airport in Santiago de Cuba airport.
From Havana to Santiago de Cuba you can take a domestic flight or the Viazul bus. I have never taken a domestic flight in Cuba, but I have done the Viazul journey between Havana and Santiago.
It truly is a long-haul trip, but it went surprisingly well! The bus is comfortable enough, and the journey takes between 15 and 20 hours (day or night journey).
From Holguin to Santiago de Cuba you can take the Viazul bus (book online, 4 hours/$9), or take a taxi collectivo (faster, a bit pricier). Book a collectivo through your hotel, or your casa particular host.
Wrap-Up Santiago de Cuba
Even though Santiago de Cuba in many respect is a small city with around 500 thousand citizens, there are lots of history here – and a lot of things to do!
Both in the city itself and in the immediate surroundings you will find historic details, famous sights, and stunning adventures.
And if you don’t mind a few hours of transport, there are also wonderful experiences ahead, especially in the Sierra Maestra!
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