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Santiago de Cuba has soul. Cuba’s second-largest city is justifiably proud of its heroes, beautiful plazas and vibrant musical tradition. Proximity to Jamaica and other tropical isles has infused the city with a distinctly Caribbean spirit that is seen in its art and architecture, heard in its music, and celebrated in its exuberant festivals – including the Festival del Caribe and the renowned Carnaval.

The city exhibits an eclectic assortment of architectural influences, from the imposing El Morro castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), to the exquisite colonial casas of Parque Céspedes in the historic quarter, to the glorious Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s most sacred pilgrimage site.

Just east of Santiago lies the UNESCO-recognized Baconao Biosphere Reserve, with its coffee plantations, while the highest peaks of the Sierra Maestra mountains rise to the west. Crashing surf along the region’s mountain-lined shore makes for a spectacular drive. Beneath the water, remnants of shipwrecks attract divers and snorkelers.

Local flavour

Don’t miss the Casa de las Tradiciones in the city’s French Quarter, Tivolí, where top Cuban musicians often make surprise appearances. While you’re in Tivolí, visit the Casa de la Trova, a beautiful townhouse featuring an exhibit dedicated to the famous Cuban trovador, José “Pepé” Sanchez.

Enjoy the dramatic backdrop provided by the nearby Baconao Biosphere Reserve, as you unwind on one of these sun-soaked beaches.

Playa Cazonal

This popular beach features warm, clear waters ideal for swimming, with plenty of trees to offer shade.

Playa Caletón Blanco

Gaze at the majestic Sierra Maestra mountain range as you stroll barefoot through the smooth white sands.

Playa Siboney

A lovely stretch of sand and surf at the foot of stunning cliffs, Playa Siboney is a great spot to see local families at play.

Although Santiago’s main attractions are inland, the waters in this part of the Caribbean are warm and inviting.

Boating and sailing

Marina Marlin Punta Gorda

This major marina docks and services cruise ships and international vessels.

Scuba diving and snorkeling

Sudden drops and deep ridges in the seabed, along with assorted shipwrecks just off the coast, make these waters a never-ending adventure for divers.

Marea del Portillo

Explore the shipwrecks from Spanish Admiral Cervera’s ill-fated fleet that sank here during the Spanish-Cuban-American War in 1898.

Sierra Mar International dive center

Navigate deep drops in the seabed and marvel at the ridges, hillocks and walls at one of the 24 dive sites this centre services.

Marlin Bucanero dive center

Jump into some of Cuba’s warmest waters from here.

Marlin-Sigua dive center

This centre services 24 dive sites where underwater adventurers can survey shipwrecks and handfeed black groupers.

Santiago de Cuba is rich in things to do and see, with a rugged coastline, revolutionary landmarks, the country’s tallest mountain and a UNESCO Bio-Reserve (home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site), not to mention fascinating castles, forts and churches to explore.

Excursions

Archaelogical Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba

That’s the designation UNESCO gave to this World Heritage Site which preserves the ruins of the coffee plantations that thrived in this area over 200 years ago.

Casco Histórico Walking Tour

Santiago’s historical centre is well worth exploring and there’s no better way to do that than by walking the romantic streets of Parque Céspedes, with its gorgeous colonial architecture.

Gran Piedra

Climb the 454-step staircase for an unrivalled view of Santiago atop this 70,000-ton boulder teetering over the ridge of the Sierra Baconao, 1,000 metres above sea level.

With the diverse forests of the Parque Baconao to the east, the highest peaks of the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra to the west, and the shimmering waters of the Caribbean spread out before it, Santiago offers plenty of excitement for eco-adventurers.

Biospheres

Baconao Biosphere Reserve

This expansive 84,985-hectare UNESCO-recognized biosphere is home to 1,800 plant species that are of interest for their medicinal, industrial and religious properties. There are a reported 939 indigenous species of wildlife living here, too, including butterflies, mammals, reptiles and the endangered hot-cave bat. The rugged Sierra Maestra mountain range is protected within the Baconao biosphere, as is the Archeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

National Parks

With two mountain parks to choose from – the rugged Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra and the endemically rich Parque Baconao – hikers have nowhere to go but up.

Parque Nacional Pico Turquino

Climb 1,974 metres to reach Cuba’s highest peak atop this mountain in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The journey takes about two days.

Gran Piedra

Climb the 454-step staircase for an unrivalled view of Santiago atop this 70,000-ton boulder teetering over the ridge of the Sierra Baconao, 1,000 metres above sea level.

Nature

Hike through the lush mountainous trails to discover protected wildlife, hidden waterfalls, and the ruins of once-prosperous coffee settlements.

Cordillera de la Gran Piedra

Discover spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea from one of Cuba’s most bio-diverse mountain ranges. The area supports many endemic species of flora and fauna (including the endangered hot-cave bat) as well as the historic ruins of French coffee settlements.

El Saltón

Escape to this scenic mountain resort that serves as a great base for eco-tourism excursions, bird watching treks and hikes to local waterfalls.

Santiago is famous for its rich history, distinct culture and vibrant music scene. Explore castles, cathedrals and colonial casas that are almost 500 years old. Relive the region’s heroic military exploits. Wander the picturesque streets of the old French quarter. Take in a performance by the world-renowned dance troupe, the Ballet Folkórico Cutumba. And by all means, check out the music on Heredia Street.

Architecture

From 16th century cathedrals and 17th century castles to the beautiful buildings that grace Parque Céspedes in Santiago’s Casco Histórico (historic section), the city’s architecture is a wonder to behold.

Parque Histórico-Militar El Morro

The best time to visit this magnificent 17th century castle overlooking Santiago Bay is at dusk, when uniformed soldiers fire a canon.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre

Climb to the top of the chapel here to visit the famous La Virgen, a small statue found floating in the bay during a storm in the 1600s. This church is a sacred pilgrimage site situated on a hill 20 km northwest of Santiago.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Although not the original cathedral erected on this site in the 1520s, this beautiful church, built in 1922, is one of the city’s most important (and impressive) religious buildings.

Casa de Diego Velázquez

The oldest house in Cuba, this residence was built in 1522 to house Cuba’s first governor, Diego Velázquez.

Parque Céspedes

Visit the historically significant buildings that encircle this bustling square, including the Catedral de la Asunción and the Casa de Diego Velázquez.

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro

UNESCO called this World Heritage Site the “most complete and best-preserved example of Spanish-military architecture based on Italian and Renaissance design principles.”

Plaza de la Revolución

Gaze up at this plaza’s centrepiece: an imposing statue of war hero General Antonio Maceo.

Cementerio Santa Ifigenia

Pay your respects to Cuban military heroes Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and José Martí at this ornate cemetery.

The Moncada Barracks

This former military enclave has been converted into a school, and is also home to the revolutionary museum, the Museo Histórico 26 de Julio.

Dance

Ballet Folkórico Cutumba

This world-renowned touring dance company was founded in 1960, and has performed all over the globe. Enjoy their unique brand of Afro-Cuban-Franco-Haitian folkórico at the Teatro Galaxia or the Teatro Oriente.

Museums

Santiago’s museums feature Cuba’s only Egyptian mummy and a comprehensive collection of materials related to that historic day in July 1959, when the revolution triumphed.

Museo Emilio Bacardí

This is one of Cuba’s oldest museums, founded in 1899 by Emilio Bacardí y Moreau. Admire the extensive collection of mementos from Bacardi’s travels, including Cuba’s only Egyptian mummy.

Sports

Estadio de Béisbol Guillermón Moncada

Baseball is hugely popular in Cuba. See why when you take the family out to a game at this stadium located on the northeastern side of Santiago.

Entertain the young ones with acrobatic dolphins or carefully constructed life-sized model dinosaurs.

Valle de la Prehistoria

The kids can explore the life-sized dinosaur replicas made of steel and concrete at this expansive outdoor park.

Acuario Baconao

Take in a dolphin show or explore the tanks full of marine life like turtles and sharks on display throughout this aquatic park.

Feast your eyes on the stylish décor and panoramic views offered by some of Santiago’s top restaurants. Sip a cocktail at Graham Greene’s former haunt, and take in the dazzling floorshow at Tropicana Santiago.

Nightclubs and Bars

Tropicana Santiago

Take in the dazzling floorshow featuring colorfully costumed dancers and live musicians at this grand cabaret that specializes in Cuban-Caribbean rhythms.

Hotel Casa Granda

Enjoy the Parisian-style terrace bar that was once frequented by the novelist Graham Greene.

Restaurants and Cafes

Restaurante El Morro

Savour a panoramic view when you dine at this restaurant situated on top of a coastal headland.

Restaurante Casa Granda

Enjoy the elegant décor as you dine on Creole and continental fare served at this restaurant within the historic Hotel Casa Granda.

What could be more peaceful than a spa in a beautiful resort, high in the Sierra Maestra mountains?

Club Vida El Saltón

Indulge in a relaxing massage, body scrub or facial at the fully equipped spa in this mountain resort.

Santiago’s lively Cuban-Caribbean culture is showcased in lavish festivals which take place all summer long. The renowned Carnaval is an elaborate annual highlight.

Carnaval de Santiago

See why this Carnaval is famous. It is one of the most vibrant celebrations in the Caribbean.

Festival del Caribe o Fiesta del Fuego (Festival of Caribbean Culture or Fire Festival)

Mingle with locals and fellow travellers as you weave your way throughout exhibits and performances by artists from all around the Caribbean.