Regions of Cuba - Travel Guide
The Spaniards established the islandís first capital here, after founding the village in 1514, without knowing that centuries later it would become one of the main tourist attractions in Cuba. In 1522, it officially became a city and throughout the 16th and 17th centuries it was attacked many times by pirates and corsairs, which prompted the construction of the Morro fortress in 1640, as well as the building of other coastal defenses.
Surrounded by impressive mountains that link the Sierra Maestra to the sea, Santiago is a city of hills and inclined streets, with numerous places of tourist interest and a history linked to struggles for national independence. It is also a city that brings together people of African and Spanish origin, along with descendants of emigrés from the French West Indies. Thus Santiago is a veritable melting pot whose colorful identify is an outgrowth of its rich human heritage.
Its urban center is the Parque Céspedes, so named in honor of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Father of the Homeland. From there, the history lover can explore the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Municipal Palace, the House of the Young Diego Velázquez (it is considered the oldest home in America), the Town Hall, the Museo del Carnaval, the Casa de la Trova, the Bacardi Museum, Padre Pico, a stair-like street bordered by facades from the 16th century, the Museo de la Lucha Clandestina, the Cuartel Moncada (scene of the first armed action of the Cuban Revolution, today transformed into a school), the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia where the tomb of the National Hero, José Martí, is located, and the Heredia Theater of the fortress of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro.
Renowned for its colorful carnivals featuring Chinese trumpets, French tumbas (a kind of drum) and all sorts of revels, the city is also famous for its people, who are hospitable, cheerful, sensual, and imaginative lovers of life, in short, typical West Indians from what has been dubbed the Capital of the Caribbean.
Santiago is the hottest city on the island, offering the most intense blue sea, and the most flavorful arrays of fruit, and is also proud to be the birthplace of the daiquiri, one of the ten most famous cocktails in the world.
By the way, donít be alarmed if you hear words you do not understand, words that are different from those used in the rest of the country. Santiago residents will speak of the "cutara" (sandal), a type of slipper or shoe; theyíll say "pluma" for "llave de agua", a water tap and part of household installations; and "balance", instead of "sillón", to refer to a rocking chair with arms. These are just a few local terms that are as colorful as the people who coined them.
Santiago is also epitomized by the Santuario del Cobre, a basilica erected in 1927 in honor of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cubaís Patron who, according to tradition, was discovered on the waters of the Bah de Nipe by three miners, as well as by its cultural centers, where eccentric Cuban traditions are kept alive.
The soul of Santiago resides in its nightlife, over which the Tropicana Santiago and San Pedro del Mar cabarets presids; in the fabulous Heredia Theatre and Dolores Concert Hall; and in the 80,000 hectares Parque Baconao, Cubaís largest park, that begins in the city and ends in the lagoon of the same name, a natural area renowned for its riches, which UNESCO has named a Natural Reserve of the Biosphere.
From there, one can visit the Loma de San Juan; the Gran Piedra, towering 1,234 meters above sea level; the ruins of a French coffee plantation; the Granjita Siboney, the point from which Fidel Castro and his partners left to attack the Cuartel Moncada; the Prehistory Valley, featuring 200 gigantic reproductions of long-vanished animal life; an underwater garden for divers; the Museum of Meso-American Archeology; plenty of typical southern coastal beaches; and marine grottos alongside unspoiled, barrier reefs, all tinted by the intense blue and green of the surrounding waters and the shine of "pelonas", a name used in Santiago for the very flat stones that adorn the rivers and seas of the region.
Excellent tourist facilities and the permanent smile of Santiagoís residents guarantee a pleasant stay in this eastern province, where to order a "macho asado" is to savor the most exquisite form of pork in Cuba, accompanied by a cold beer amidst the typical heat of Santiago. And donít forget that at the end of any traditional Cuban meal, or during a conversation, a steaming cup of strong black coffee is a must!
Also, the Great Sierra Maestra Park, Turquino National Park (the Pico Real del Turquino is the highest mountain in the country) and Desembarco del Granma National Park, celebrated for its ecological value and tourist possibilities, deserve special attention, among so many wonderful gifts which nature has given this eastern Cuban city characterized by color, happiness and big-hearted people.
You will savor every moment of your
stay in Santiago and carry it forever in your memory: a medley of color,
sun, joy, music, history, culture and heroism. Thatís Santiago.
The Caribbean. The essential Cuba.
Updated August 20, 2000
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