Santiago de Cuba is the capital of the Santiago de Cuba province in south-eastern Cuba.
Santiago is the second city of Cuba. Fidel Castro started the Cuban Revolution from here in the 1950s.
Viazul busses depart from the train station. Four daily Viazul buses run to/from Havana, three local and one express (stopping in Camagüey only). There is also a daily bus to Baracoa, another to Trinidad (which runs daytime to Santiago and overnight to Trinidad), and a daily overnight from Varadero. From Havana, the price is CUC51.
The local 1 Astrobus bus station is (too) relatively remote from the city center, so you will need a taxi to get to/from there. A fairly nice plaza right next to it can be used, if you need to spend ½ hr or so.
Getting to Santiago from Havana takes about 15 hr on the local bus, and 12 hr on the express overnight.
Overnight train service along the main line from Havana via Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Camagüey runs 2 of every 3 days. The Tren Francés, running every 3 days with refurbished coaches from the old Paris-Amsterdam service, is Cuba's premier train, and the most reliable train in Cuba (which is not to say it is reliable). It theoretically departs Havana at 18:27 and arrives in Santiago the next day at 09:12, stopping overnight in Santa Clara and Camagüey. The other train is a simple express with a few more stops and also runs every three days. One-way from Havana on the Tren Francés costs CUC73 in first class (which is well worth it) and CUC50 in second class (called especial), while especial on the other train costs CUC30. Note that unlike Víazul, students studying in Cuba pay in pesos. There are other services, such as a daytime train to Camagüey and Santa Clara on Thursdays and Sundays, returning on Mondays and Fridays. Local train service to Holguin has been suspended due to poor track conditions. As elsewhere in Cuba, check in advance before planning train travel–the schedules are always in flux. And expect to arrive late, maybe by more than 10 hr, even on the Tren Francés.
Santiago's 2 train station is on the relative outskirts of town, so you will want a taxi or bici-taxi to your accommodations.
- 3 Antonio Maceo Airport (SCU IATA). Cubana flies in from Havana several times daily. Sunrise airlines flies from Port-au-Prince some 3 times per week
Most of the historical center is accessible by foot, in fact for tourists it's the only reasonable option.
To get farther away, taxis in the city will "happily" take you for a ride for the whole day, for a price. Plenty of them can be found standing between Plaza de Marte and Parque Cespédes.
- 1 Parque Céspedes. A kind of central park, picturesque part of the city - with the cathedral Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, few museums and pubs around. Castro announced victory here in 1959 from the town hall. The place is quite noisy, as it serves as an intersection for the traffic. Additionally, be prepared for street sellers, street music and especially in the evening jineteras.
- 2 Plaza de Marte. A small park on the other side of the historical center of the city than Parque Céspedes.
- 3 Museo Provincial "Emilio Bacardí Moreau".
- 4 Balcon de Velazquez. A terrace with a nice view of the bay.
- 5 San Juan Hill. A park, originally a place of fight in the Spanish-American War. Good views, displays of various monuments and old canons, souvenirs.
- 6 Castillo San Pedro de la Roca (A local bus to the entrance of the castle should be around CUP3). Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, easily combined with the following in a single day. CUC4.
- 7 La Gran Piedra. A big rock in the mountains, with a botanical garden nearby. Neither is particularly special, but it provides a good refreshment as it is high in the mountains. This also means that it is often covered in clouds/mist/rain, and some of the old "taxis" may have issues getting there without overheating.
- Baconao nature park
- 8 Valle de la Prehistoria. In-line with similar "attraction" in Vinales, this somewhat remote and bizarre theme park displays statues of dinosaurs, mammoths and such. A cafe in Fred Flintstone style is also present.
- 1 Casa de la Trova. A famous music club, with (probably) nightly live music, with drinks available too. You can expect it being very full, esp. of 1-day and elderly tourists. Non-free in the evening..
If you want to learn Spanish during your stay in Santiago de Cuba you can take an Intensive Spanish course from one week up to four weeks. The classes are held 4 hr/day and give you the opportunity to improve your Spanish quickly during a short time period.
- 1 José Antonio Saco street. A quite busy souvenir shopping street, esp. by Cuban standards.
- Every Saturday and Sunday, a street fair full of vendors of cheap eats starts up on Avenida Victoria de Garzón. This is a good place to try local specialties, including lechón or whole roast pig, Cuban-style fried fish, Cuban-style fried chicken, and chichurrones or fried pork rinds. Prices are in pesos and amazingly low. Probably Santiago's cheapest eats overall.
- 1 Paladar Salon Tropical, Luis Fernández Marcané 310. The best place to eat in Santiago.
- For an authentic evening experience, try one of the cervecerias along Avenida Jesús Menéndez at the harbour. The less chique the better.
- 1 Hotel Casa Granda (Iberostar Heritage Casa Granda), ☏ . One of the most notable buildings, built in 1914 for Cuban Railroad Company. Drinks on the 6th floor roof top give you a spectacular view of the city at night, but also a normal bar and restaurant is available at the 1st floor. Though, very touristy.
As of Jun 2015, AirBnB.com offers now peer-to-peer lodging, typically around US$35 per night. There are also many other AirBnB-like reservation websites, search for "casa particulares in Santiago".
As is generally the case with booking casas in Cuba, do not assume the email works! It's often best to make a phone call once in Cuba.
- Casa Elma & David, Rey Pelayo #6 (between Carniceria and Calvario), ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Centrally located, a few blocks away from Parque Céspedes. Extremely clean and spacious room, with two double beds, air-conditioning and balcony. The host Elma and her son David are honest and well-mannered. CUC30 including breakfast.
- Hostal Las Terrazas Santiago de Cuba, Diego Palacios 177 (Entre Mariano Corona y Padre Pico), ☏ . Lovely hostel in the heart of the old city and four blocks away form the central park and the cathedral. The terraces and the roof garden are lovely, with exotic plants and an amazing view of the harbour and Sierra Maestra mountains. The food is delicious and the service is spectacular. They speak four languages: Spanish, French, Italian and excellent English. CUC30.
- Casa Colonial 'Maruchi', Hartmann 357, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A lovely colonial house that feature a large open atrium that is filled with all number of tropical plants. The rooms are small and a bit dark, but quite made up for by the rest of the cada. Maruchi is a wonderful cook and also something of an animal lover, with roughly 5 animals plus a fish tank at any given time.
- Sres. Odalys López Rodrígez Miguel Angel (Chichi), Avenida Marti No. 159 (Entre Rastro y San Fermín), ☏ . Casa colonial, clean casa, three room, very friendly hosts, excellent food with best coffee in Cuba, security, comfort, air condition. CUC 25.
- Sra. Vilma de los Milagros Román Jaén, Trinidad (General Portuondo) No. 159 (Entre Gallo (Diez de Octubre) y San Pio (Brig.H.Vázquez)), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean casa, only one room, very friendly hosts, English spoken, air conditioning. CUC25.
- Ing. Ruben Camara Pascual y Lic. Caridad Arafet Arafet, Jose A. Saco No. 515 (entre Reloj y San Agustin), ☏ , ✉ Aylin@film.cineclubes.com. Air conditioned, hot water, private bathroom, excellent food, security, and comfort. CUC 20.
- Casa Particular, Calle K, reparto Sueño, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Clean room for 3 people, two beds, air conditioning, independent bathroom, hot and cold water, breakfast, lunch and dinner service, TV, access to the kitchen, laundry service. Also you can write via whatsapp. US$15.
- Hotel Casa Granda (Iberostar Heritage Casa Granda), 201 Heredia, ☏ . Dating from 1914, this hotel right on the main square was a favorite of Graham Greene, who used it as a setting in his Our Man in Havana
- The local newspaper is Sierra Maestra.
- ETECSA, Cnr. Hartmann and Tamayo Fleites. This ETECSA is the only place in Santiago where tourists can get internet. As usual, no Wi-Fi is available, and the terminals here are particularly slow. CUC2/hr of Internet.
More so than most other places in Cuba, Santiago is full of touts. The touting starts right at the bus or train station—arrange a ride to your casa or hotel in advance, if possible. But no matter where you go you will constantly hear calls of ¿Quieres un taxí?.
- El Cobre, home to the holiest virgin in Cuba, is a worthwhile day trip from Santiago.
- The usual next stop on the Eastern Cuba tourist trail is Baracoa, though some travelers head west to Bayamo and the attractions of Granma Province instead.