If you’re itching to taste Cuba as it once was, make sure to book a flight to one of Cuba’s biggest cities. Despite what you might think, we’re not talking about Havana here – we’re talking about Santiago de Cuba!

Cuba’s second largest city is a vibrant and colorful mix of the east and the west. Closer to Haiti than it is to Havana, Santiago de Cuba’s frantic lifestyle will amaze and sometimes even frighten tourists so it’s not for the weak in the stomach.

But those willing to swim against the current will be rewarded tenfold when they visit the birthplace of salsa and rum; a place with an unmatched sense of cultural and historical identity that cannot be found anywhere else on the island.

Fidel Castro launched his Revolution here – you can decide to launch your wonderful vacation on Cuba by following the footsteps of the city founder Velázquez de Cuéllar and discovering the sights only seen by the bravest of Cuba’s visitors!

Here’s a rundown of 20 things to do in Santiago de Cuba

1. Take a walk in Parque Céspedes

Most of the life in Santiago de Cuba happens in this bright square, where you will find a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a. Cuban slavery abolitionist whom the park is named after. Right in the heart of the city, the Parque Céspedes bustles with activity 24/7 and is only a short walk from the Museo del Carnaval and the Ayuntamiento, from where Castro started his Nationalist Revolution.

2. Lean out of the Balcón de Velázquez

balcon velazques
Named after the Santiago de Cuba’s founder, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, this terrace offers wonderful views of the city and its port.

3. Sip the best rum in the world & visit the Museo del Ron

museo del ron santiago

If rum is, as the Havana Club’s First Rum Master José Navarro said, the liquid taste of Cuba, then the Museo del Ron a must see for everyone who wants to truly experience this exceptional drink and learn how it ties with the Cuban culture.

4. Lose yourself in the steep streets of El Tivolí

el tivolo santiago
A waterfront district that remains as a vestige of the French colonial. Famous Carnivals de Santiago hail from this colorful part of the city so make sure to walk its winding streets for a while.

5. Visit the Museo de Historia 26 de Julio

cuartel moncada en santiago de cuba

Where Cuartel Moncada is located. Assault on these barracks is widely accepted as the beginning of the revolution against Fulgencio Batista’s regime.

6. See wild animals at Parque Zoológico de Santiago de Cuba

Home to a great number of animal species. Children especially will enjoy exotic animals such as the crocodile and the leopard.

7. Visit the Monumento en Memoria de la Guerra Hispano-Cubano-Americana

Only few meters away from the Parque Zoológico.

8. Walk among the building of the Universidad de Oriente

And feel the cultural and academic ambient. The Universidad de Oriente (UO) of Santiago de Cuba is the second most important University on the island. Founded in 1947, it’s considered one of the most prestigious education institutions in the country.

Founded in 1947, it’s considered one of the most prestigious educative institutions of the country.

9. See the Plaza de la Revolución Mayor General Antonio Maceo Grajales

santiago de cuba plaza de la revolucion

Known as ‘Titán de Bronce’ ―bronze titan―because of his heroic achievements, fight abilities and impressive physical conditions during the release and independence of Cuba.

In Plaza de la Revolución you will be able to see the most imposing monumental complex of the city and the biggest statue (16 meters) of the country.

10. Visit the Museo Casa Natal de Antonio Maceo Grajales

For those who want to know more about the ‘Titán de Bronce’, this Museum tells more interesting details about his life and family.

11. Visit the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia

santiago cemetery

Where the remains of José Martí rest. José Martí is one of the most illustrious and relevant personalities of Cuban history because of its great contribution to literature, poetry, philosophy and politics.

12. Dance to the rhythm of Santiago de Cuba in Casa de la Trova

casa de la trova santiago de cuba

Enjoy live music every night at the very place where the popular band Vieja Trova Santiaguera was born – an essential Cuba experience for every music loving traveler.

Leaving Santiago de Cuba without visiting this temple of music is… well, inconceivable.

13. Go to the Carnivals

carnaval santiago de cuba

If you have planned to travel to Santiago at the end of July, congratulations! You will be able to enjoy its most popular and emblematic celebration, the Carnivals.

Between the 21st and the 28th of July, the city is covered with the colors of endless parades, dancers, floats, jugglers…

Time your arrival for the 25th of July, the Day of the Patron Saint of Santiago de Cuba – the wildest and the most vibrant city party of the year!

14. See the shows of the Festival del Caribe or Fiesta del Fuego

fiesta del fuego
Every year, there is a cultural event in Santiago de Cuba that gathers different people from all of the Caribbean regions during eight days of July.

A lot of artistic activities go on simultaneously throughout the city, and on the last day people go to the beach to burn a big demon, which represents all the evil on the island.

This is called ‘La Quema del Diablo’ and it’s the end of the Festival.

15. Walk among dinosaurs in Parque Baconao

parque baconao

For those traveling with children, the visit the Parque Baconao is a perfect passtime. Located 20 km from Santiago de Cuba, this large green area has 227 real-size sculptures of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.

The park has also an aquarium, a dolphinarium and a ground transport museum with more than 2.000 replicas of miniature vehicles.

16. Go up to La Gran Piedra and enjoy breathtaking views

4452 steps separate travelers of this titanic mole nestled in one of the highest points of the mountain.

The climb is difficult, but the effort is worthwhile: located at 1225 meters above the sea level, the great stone offers spectacular views of the southeast coast, the Sierra Maestra and the city of Santiago, while allowing you to admire the beauty of ferns, orchids and other plants that grow here.

17. Take a dip in the Playa de Siboney

Its crystal waters and clear sand are located only 14 km from the city. Young people enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this place, stage of historical events such as the Spanish-Cuban war-American Camp erected by Fidel Castro and his soldiers during the attack on the Cuartel Moncada.

18. Go to one of the masses carried out daily in the Santuario

A beautiful basilica located at the top of the Cerro de Maboa and visited by about 500 people every day.

19. Visit the Estadio Guillermón Moncada

baseball stadium santiago de cuba

The best stadium on the island is not in the capital, but here, in Santiago de Cuba, and it is a must see place for all those travelers who love sports – baseball in particular.

20. Go up to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

san pedro de la roca

Also known as the Castillo del Morro, this imposing military fortress was built in 1638 to defend the port of Santiago de Cuba and it was declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.

It has survived two earthquakes and offers magnificent views of the coast.

21. Stay with local hosts!

Make sure to make the most of your trip to Santiago de Cuba and stay with local hosts in a Casa Particular. We handpicked over 30 Casas Particulares in Santiago de Cuba , a premium selection of local hosts for you to stay during your visit to this magnificent city.

Tell us about your trip to Santiago de Cuba! Do we missed something in this list? Let us know in the comments below!