Santiago de Cuba has soul. Cuba’s second-largest city is justifiably proud of its heroes, beautiful plazas and vibrant musical tradition. Proximity to Jamaica and other tropical isles has infused the city with a distinctly Caribbean spirit that is seen in its art and architecture, heard in its music, and celebrated in its exuberant festivals – including the Festival del Caribe and the renowned Carnaval.
The city exhibits an eclectic assortment of architectural influences, from the imposing El Morro castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), to the exquisite colonial casas of Parque Céspedes in the historic quarter, to the glorious Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s most sacred pilgrimage site.
Just east of Santiago lies the UNESCO-recognized Baconao Biosphere Reserve, with its coffee plantations, while the highest peaks of the Sierra Maestra mountains rise to the west. Crashing surf along the region’s mountain-lined shore makes for a spectacular drive. Beneath the water, remnants of shipwrecks attract divers and snorkelers.
Don’t miss the Casa de las Tradiciones in the city’s French Quarter, Tivolí, where top Cuban musicians often make surprise appearances. While you’re in Tivolí, visit the Casa de la Trova, a beautiful townhouse featuring an exhibit dedicated to the famous Cuban trovador, José “Pepé” Sanchez.