Santiago de Cuba, Where the Cuban Revolution Began

Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba lies far from Havana and is known for both its music and rebellious streak. Rocío and I visited Santiago twice in December 2016, firstly for Fidel Castro’s memorial rally and funeral and later, returning from Baracoa. While based in Santiago we had an epic day trip to La Gran Piedra I blogged about here.

Moncada Barracks and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement

Children at a school that used to be the Moncada Barracks, where the Cuban Revolution began; note the bullet holes in the walls

Children at a school that used to be the Moncada Barracks, where the Cuban Revolution began; note the bullet holes in the walls

On 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful armed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada army barracks. This is regarded as the start of the Cuban Revolution and the official revolutionary movement is named 26 de Julio (26th of July) after this date. The former barracks was converted to a school although some of the battle’s bullet holes remain.

A plaque on a bench seat in the 26th of July Monumental Area

A plaque on a bench seat in the 26th of July Monumental Area

Nearby is the 26 de Julio Historic Museum open to the public except on Monday, the day we went. The zone encompassing the former barracks is called the 26 de Julio Área Monumental (26th of July Monumental Area).

Fidel Castro Tributes

On our first visit Santiago was mourning Fidel Castro with formal and informal tributes all over the city in addition to the official caravan arrival, memorial rally and funeral events.

Santigueros (Santiago locals) watching and recording an electronic display playing Fidel propaganda

Santigueros (Santiago locals) watching and recording an electronic display playing Fidel propaganda

A man reads newspaper articles about Fidel Castro displayed on a wall; note the caricature on the right is a symbol of the 26th of July Movement

A man reads newspaper articles about Fidel Castro displayed on a wall; note the caricature on the right is a symbol of Santiago de Cuba

Céspedes Park (Parque Céspedes)

Céspedes Park is Santiago de Cuba’s central square. When we arrived the park had a pictorial display paying tribute to Fidel Castro accompanied by propaganda broadcast from loudspeakers:

Santiago Town Hall (ayuntamiento) on Parque Céspedes, the city's main square; note the lowered Cuban flag and the Fidel Castro exhibition in the foreground

Santiago de Cuba Town Hall (ayuntamiento) on Parque Céspedes, the city’s central square; note the lowered Cuban flag and the Fidel Castro exhibition in the foreground

An orchestra performing a free concert in the main square, Parque Céspedes

An orchestra performing a free concert in the main square, Parque Céspedes

One evening an orchestra gave a free concert in the square. On another, Rocío recorded buskers playing music for her. The percussion instrument played is a güiro, made from a gourd:

Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

Santiago’s main cemetery hosts tombs of many notable people including Fidel Castro, independence hero José Martí and musician Compay Segundo of Buena Vista Social Club fame, part of the city’s great musical and cultural heritage.

Compay Segundo's grave at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

Compay Segundo’s grave at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

Santiago de Cuba Food and Accommodation

With Cuba in modern times allowing private restaurants and hosted accommodation, Santiago has multiple eating and sleeping options targeting foreigners. Here also I ate and enjoyed tropical fruit sapote for the first time (see this post’s feature image).

One evening we ate delicious seafood at one of restaurant Casa Micaela’s individually decorated dining tables.

One of Casa Micaela's originally decorated tables; the centre features a güiro, a percussion instrument made from a gourd

A table at restaurant Casa Micaela; the centrepiece is a güiro, the same percussion instrument played by the musical duo at the square

We often frequented restaurant Company Gallo. Most dishes were delicious although once the same lamb dish was great one night and not so good the next.

Lamb accompanied by a daiquiri at Company Gallo, our most frequented Santiago restaurant

Lamb accompanied by a daiquiri at Company Gallo, our most frequented Santiago restaurant

Cuba’s best value and friendliest accommodation option is casa particular (private house). Licensed individuals can host foreigners (or Cubans, not both) in their houses. They usually also provide decent breakfasts for extra, an option that should be taken in Cuba.

The breakfast setting at our first Santiago de Cuba accommodation; note the original floor tiles

The breakfast setting at our first Santiago de Cuba accommodation; note the original floor tiles

Our return Santiago room was in the backyard separate from the main house. It also had a lovely outdoor breakfast setting.

Rocío waiting for breakfast amongst the plants at our return Santiago visit accommodation

Rocío waiting for breakfast amongst the plants at our return Santiago visit accommodation

Fern Garden (Jardín de los Helechos)

A Santiago highlight for both of us was Jardín de los Helechos, a garden containing hundreds of species of plants, especially ferns, bromeliads and orchids. Located on the road to El Caney, we caught a passenger truck there.

Bromeliads, large and small, and another plant grow on this statue's head at Jardín de los Helechos

Bromeliads, large and small, and another plant grow on this statue’s head at Jardín de los Helechos

A pitcher orchid flower at Jardín de los Helechos

A pitcher orchid flower at Jardín de los Helechos

Other Santiago Highlights

Other places of note in Santiago include the Fidel Castro Memorial Rally host Revolution Plaza (Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo), the Museo de Ambiente Histórico Cubano in Cuba’s oldest currently standing house and the world heritage listed Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. The latter is a fortress on the coast that we did not get around to visiting.

More Photos from Santiago

A taxi driver resting on the bonnet of his classic US car

A taxi driver resting on the bonnet of his classic US car

This man in bow tie is eyeing off the final two Canadian apples he has been selling

This man in bow tie appears to be eyeing off the final two Canadian apples he has been selling

Large dominoes decorating a Santiago de Cuba building

Large dominoes decorating a Santiago de Cuba building

Rocío and me in a taxi going to see Fidel Castro's funeral caravan pass

Rocío and me in a taxi going to see Fidel Castro’s funeral caravan pass

A market stall selling statues of the Afro-American Santería religion

A market stall selling statues of the Afro-American Santería, a popular religion in Santiago

Children playing baseball using a stick for a bat and small medicine containers for balls

Children playing baseball using a stick for a bat and small medicine containers for balls

New year words and Christmas images; note the previous year's stickers in the top left and right corners; the central message states 'For a firm and sustainable socialism happy new year 2017'

New year words and Christmas images; note the previous year’s stickers in the top left and right corners; the central message states ‘For a firm and sustainable socialism happy new year 2017’

One thought on “Santiago de Cuba, Where the Cuban Revolution Began

  1. Pingback: Holguín and Catching an Ómnibus Nacionales Bus | Where is Joe.in?

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