Shaped by its rich mix of cultures and Afro-Caribbean heritage, the city is often said to be the most Caribbean city in the country. Today, travelers can experience this multi-cultural vibe in the eclectic music, diverse architecture, art galleries, and lively festivals. Day trips are also appealing from here. Not far from the city, tourists can visit a famous pilgrimage site, or hike to the top of a rocky summit for inspiring views across mist-shrouded peaks
6. Vista Alegre
The Vista Alegre section of Santiago de Cuba is the former upscale residential area of the town. Much of the architecture in this area dates from the 1920s and 1930s with several neoclassical mansions. Sightseers can stroll along the wide tree-lined streets here and imagine how life must have been for the wealthy Cubans who once lived in these grand homes. Many of them have been converted into offices, restaurants, and schools.
Besides the architecture, other tourist attractions in Vista Alegre include the Centro Cultural Africano Fernando Ortiz displaying African artifacts and handicrafts, the Museo de Imagen with interesting displays on the history of photography in Cuba, and the Casa del Caribe, a cultural research center that hosts concert nights and stages festivals.
5. Plaza de la Revolucion
Northeast of the city center, the Plaza de la Revolucion is the famous site of many important events. Here, Fidel Castro delivered speeches, the Pope celebrated mass during his visit to Cuba in 1998, and many protests have taken place. The most striking feature of this large square is the dramatic monument dedicated to the 19th century war hero, General Antonio Maceo. Saw-toothed machetes rise from the grass and surround a large sculpture of the General on horseback. A local artist, Alberto Lezcay, created this impressive work of art and it was erected in the 1990s.
Also located here is the small underground Museo Holografia with holograms depicting images from the Revolution and General Maceo.
4. Casa de Diego Velazquez
Presiding over Parque Cespedes the Casa de Diego Velazquez offers a fascinating glimpse of a Spanish conquistador’s former residence. Built in the early 1500s, the building is thought to be the oldest residence in Cuba, and now houses the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano. The conquistador and governor, Diego Velazquez, lived in the upstairs portion of the house, while the lower level was used as a gold foundry; the furnace used for melting gold still stands. Seeing the building’s intricately carved ceilings, thick walls, and solid construction give a sense of the wealth and power of the Spanish empire.
Beginning in 1965, the house underwent restoration work and is now the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano. The museum displays a large furniture collection from the 16th to 19th centuries. Each room shows a different time period, and the collections are impressive with exquisite porcelain, glass, and other household items, which complement the antique furniture. For those who don’t speak Spanish, guided tours in English are recommended to get the most out of a visit here.
3. Cuartel Moncada
History buffs interested in the Revolution should make time for a visit to this historic attack site and macabre museum. On July 26th, 1953 during carnival celebrations, rebel forces led by Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara attacked these concrete barracks to seize weapons. The attempt failed, but the revolutionaries gained much recognition from their efforts, and many people consider this incident to mark the beginning of the Revolution. Visitors here can see the bullet holes from the attacks and explore the museum, which describes the history of Cuba from the 1500s onward. The exhibits focus on the events of the 1950s, including the fateful attack on July 26.
2. Castillo de San Pedro del Morro
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Castillo del Morro enjoys a reputation as one of the best-preserved Spanish fortresses of the 17th century. The huge fortress, at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago, lies about 10 kilometers southwest of Santiago de Cuba. Perched upon a cliff top, the structure took decades to build and was finally completed at the end of the 17th century. Italian engineer, Giovanni Battista Antonelli designed the original plans in 1587, although construction did not begin for almost 45 years.
Castillo de San Pedro del Morro was originally intended to protect against pirate attacks, but has also served as a prison in the late 1700s before being once again converted into a fortress. Today, this elegant fort is open to the public and contains a small naval museum with displays on piracy and the history of the area. After exploring the fortress, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views over the bay from the roof and terrace restaurant. The best time to visit the fort is about an hour before sunset, which allows time to explore the fort and snap some photos before the cannon firing ceremony at sundown.
1. Parque Cespedes
At the heart of the city, Parque Cespedes is an excellent starting point for sightseeing tours. Many of Santiago de Cuba’s most notable buildings surround the square, including the Casa de Diego Velazquez and the Catedral de Nuestra de Senora de la Asuncion. Thanks to pirate attacks, earthquakes, and renovations, the cathedral has undergone many reconstructions. Most recently, Hurricane Sandy damaged parts of the buildings, but restorations are underway. Inside, visitors can explore the Museo Eclesiastico with a number of religious art pieces and sacred musical scores.
Although Parque Cespedes is more of a plaza than a park, it’s a popular meeting spot for locals and tourists at any time of the day or evening. Music fills the air, and a lively feeling prevails. It’s also a great place to relax with a coffee or a cool drink and watch the world go by.