This city hums with a vibrant Caribbean feel and energy, no doubt you'll be overwhelmed by all the incredible things to do in Santiago de Cuba. Tucked up in the mountains, this is either a city you’ll love to love or love to hate.
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Those who love it see it as the heart of Cuban literature, politics, music, and architecture. Those who hate it see it as a city full of hustlers. No doubt, Santiago is frenetic and fast-paced, and while the vibe is more desperate than in other Cuban cities, it is a safe city with a variety of some of the most exciting things to do in Cuba. It’s a city that is best visited in the summer. Despite the stifling heat, July is the most vibrant, celebratory month thanks to the Festival del Caribe and Carnaval, a pair of festivals that should not be missed.
The first shots of Castro’s Revolution were fired here in 1953. It was once a military barracks. Part of it has been preserved as a museum about the revolution and it is one of Cuba’s most poignant historical sites and one of the most interesting things to do in Santiago de Cuba.
This museum tells the bloody, enthralling story of the underground fight against Batista in the 1950s. It complements the Cuartel Moncada to give a sense of Cuba in the 1950s. Plus, the city views of Santiago from this museum are awesome.
Get out of the museums and watch daily Santiago life happen all around you here. This park gives you a perfect snapshot of Cuban street life. Musicians make themselves at home in the park strumming guitars and singing. Couples flirt and walk hand in hand. Kids play while their mothers or grandmothers watch and gossip from a distance.
This is the original Bacardi factory that opened in Santiago de Cuba in 1868. Although Bacardi no longer manufactures in Cuba, the government still runs the factory to produce traditional Cuban rums. The attached bar offers tastings and sells rum by the bottle as well. If you love rum, making a stop to see this institution would be a fun thing to do while in Santiago. Be sure to pick up some rum to enjoy during your stay and bring it back with you!
The Santiago de Cuba Carnaval is one of the only carnival celebrations not linked to Lent. The history behind this festival comes from combining Saints days in the summer with the need for rest and celebration after the sugar cane harvest. Traditional Cuban alcohol and music (the key elements in any great party) are at the forefront and are a component of the other celebrations and parades. The comparasas are big parades that are usually satirical or anti-establishment. And then there are the congas, feisty parades turned Cuban dance parties in the streets. And finally, the paseos are European-style parades featuring horse-drawn carriages. All the festivities involve special dresses or costumes. If you can't make it to Carnaval, don't fret! Another great thing to do is visit the Carnaval Museum while you're in Santiago de Cuba.