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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our return Santiago room was in the backyard separate from the main house. It also had a lovely outdoor breakfast setting.
Jardín de los Helechos (Fern Garden)
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.
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.