Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba, was the island’s first capital city and home to its first cathedral. Santiago’s regional identity is entirely distinct from that of Havana, stemming from an eclectic cultural heritage of Caribbean and African influences. The 1791 slave revolt in particular saw many Haitians travel to the island, bringing African religions and traditions with them.
Explore Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, Santiago’s famous 17th Century coastal fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the defensive fortress was built to protect the port. There’s a fascinating pirate museum to explore and the fort’s canons are fired daily. Visit Plaza de la Revolucion to discover the importance of Santiago during the Cuban Revolution. Many small battles took place in the thick forests and mountains of the surrounding Sierra Maestra National Park, which was a vital stronghold for rebel fighters. Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 from a balcony on Santiago de Cuba’s city hall.
Santiago is the gateway to vast, unspoilt landscapes in surrounding national parkland, making it a perfect starting point for hiking and mountain climbing expeditions. Travel in July to take part in Carnival celebrations, including vibrant street parties with music, traditional dancing and colourful processions.