Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
As Cuba's second largest city, Santiago de Cuba is poised to be a popular stop on voyages to the island nation. Cruising into port, you can't miss the site of the Sierra Maestra mountains on Cuba's south coast and the imposing El Morro at the narrow entrance to its bay. Known as the birthplace of the revolución and a hotbed for Afro-Cuban culture, visitors won't be disappointed in the vibrant history, music, art, and architecture.
What We Love
San Pedro De La Roca Castle (El Morro): This massive fortification, which has guarded Santiago de Cuba since the late 17th century, is a prime example of Spanish-American military architecture. It sits at the entrance of a beautiful natural harbor, and visitors can see miles down the coastline from its roof or terraces.
Paladares: These privately owned restaurants are popular in Santiago. From seafood to Cuban staples, they are improving the city's dining scene little by little. We love the popular St. Pauli, located near the center of town, especially the restaurant's rich take on shrimp criollo.
Best Known For
Rum: Rum is Cuba's national spirit. Bacardi was founded in Santiago de Cuba in 1862 and operated in the city for nearly a hundred years until it was confiscated and nationalized by Fidel Castro's regime. Rum is still produced on the property but is bottled and sold under a different name. Visit the Santiago de Cuba Rum Museum, housed in a late 19th-century mansion downtown, for a tour and tasting.
Music: Son, one of the most influential forms of Latin American music, originated in Santiago. A precursor to salsa, son's Afro-Cuban rhythms became popular in the 1930s. Now, travelers can visit one of the city's famous clubs, such as Patio de los Dos Abuelos, to learn more about this traditional style of music and the dance that goes along with it.
La Revolución: Santiago de Cuba is known as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution and the city is filled with sites and monuments from the fight against the Batista dictatorship. Castro proclaimed victory for the Revolution from Santiago's city hall in 1959 and revolutionary billboards bearing his image can be seen throughout town.
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Who It's Best For
History Buffs: Founded by Spanish conquerors back in the early 1500s, Santiago has played a major role in national history. It was both the site of the Battle of San Juan Hill, a turning point in the Spanish-American war, and the home of revolutionary hero Frank Pais. Among dozens of historical sites and museums, visitors can see the tomb of national hero José Martí at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia or learn more about the Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement at a museum housed in the Moncada Barracks.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Heat Can Be Oppressive: We thought Havana was hot, but in Santiago, on Cuba's southeastern coast, the climate is about 10 degrees hotter than the capital. It's also more humid with less breeze.
Aggressive Panhandlers: Visible poverty and beggars may make some travelers uncomfortable.
Kristen Boatright is the New York City-based senior video editor of ShermansCruise.com.