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Santiago is the Spanish interpretation of the Hebrew name Jacob, the patron Saint of Spain. Santiago de Cuba was discovered and founded by conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar on June 28, 1514. The city has endured the test of time surviving attacks by international powers, pirate looters and natural elements.

Bacardi tomb in Santiago de Cuba

Bacardi tomb in Santiago de Cuba

Once the largest and most prestigious city in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba is now the country’s second largest city with an international airport, a busy port, an active railroad hub and two bus systems.

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Composed of diverse cultures, Santiago de Cuba presides over the Bay of Santiago where the Caribbean Sea meets the spectacular Sierra Maestra mountain range, the city is a venue rich in history, nature, sun and sea. A 2004 census of the city indicated that about 500,000 Cubans called the city home.

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Explorers Juan de Grijalba and Hernán Cortés launched extensive exploratory missions to the coasts of Mexico in 1518, two years after the city was destroyed by fire. Famed explorer Hernando de Soto departed to explore Florida, some 650 miles north, from of port in 1538.

Lechon Victoria De Garzon

The first major cathedral and the first major residence in the Americas were constructed in Santiago de Cuba. Reconstructed versions of these historic building still preside over Parque Cespedes in the city’s center. From 1522 until 1589, Santiago served as capital of Spain’s largest Caribbean colony. The Caribbean’s first copper mines and first museum were built in or near Santiago.

Yordi at Parque Cespedes

Yordi at Parque Cespedes

In 1553, the city and port were attacked and plundered by French forces. In 1662, British commander Christopher Myngs also overtook the city. With each intervention, Spain recommitted to fortify its forces and added to San Pedro de la Roca Castle, the South’s most prominent morro that overlooks the mouth of the Bay.

Castillo de San Pedro del Morro

Castillo de San Pedro del Morro

Santiago’s culture was greatly influenced by a surge of French immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These new immigrants fled from the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. Santiago’s predominantly Spanish musical, religious and culinary influences absorbed the new immigrants, creating an eclectic Spanish, French and African cultural mix that still exists today.

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As a major Spanish stronghold, the Rough Riders defeat at San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898 was the turning point of the Spanish-American War. After capturing the surrounding hills, General William Rufus Shafter laid siege to the city. Spain would eventually surrender to the United States after Admiral William T. Sampson destroyed the Spanish Atlantic fleet just outside Santiago’s harbor on July 3, 1898.

Monument to the Rough Riders near blockhouse on San Juan Hill

Monument to the Rough Riders near blockhouse on San Juan Hill

The municipality of Santiago spans more than 1,000 square kilometers and encompasses the surrounding communities of El Caney, Guilera, Antonio Maceo, Bravo, Castillo Duany, Leyte Vidal and Moncada. Located about 550 miles south of Havana, the city’s picturesque steep streets reflect the rise from the Caribbean Sea to the Sierra Maestra, two prominent natural barriers.

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The city features a number of important historical buildings, important museums and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of San Pedro de la Roca Castle or Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, described as “the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture, based on Italian and Renaissance design principles” and the fascinating World Heritage Biosphere Reserve. the Baconao Park. People-to-People tourists can enjoy an entire trip staying in Santiago de Cuba exploring the rich historical and natural surrounds.

Parque Baconao - prehistoric scene

Parque Baconao – prehistoric scene

Cuban poet, writer, and national hero, José Martí, is buried in Cementerio Santa Efigenia. Santiago de Cuba was also hometown to influential poet José María Heredia. The city is characterized by its strong musical history, enduring connection to faith and strong sense of community.

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The area had significant links to Cuba’s active rum trade and Parque Cespedes is home to a museum displaying the extensive art collection of the Bacardí family. Santiago de Cuba was also a favorite location from which renowned American artist Winslow Homer painted several compelling works while residing in the area.

Winslow Homer - Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba

Winslow Homer – Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba’s culture lists some of the country’s most famous musicians, including Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Eliades Ochoa, all of who participated in the notorious Buena Vista Social Club at Parque Cespedes. Trova composer Ñico Saquito (Benito Antonio Fernández Ortiz) was born in the area and enriched the city’s tradition of country-like music. Santiago de Cuba is also recognized for its traditional dances, especially the son, from which the salsa was derived, and guaguancó, which is accompanied by percussion music only. The Santiago de Cuba Carnival is a festive annual celebration that occurs in July. Streets echo Conga music and reverberate from the traditional pentatonic trumpet, known as the trompeta china.

Carnival Season

Santiago’s Antonio Maceo International Airport connects the city to Havana, Montréal, Madrid and Paris-Orly, as well as other Caribbean and North American destinations. Public transit is provided by Omnibus Metropolitanos (OM) for travel in Cuba and Metrobus for local service. Ferrocarriles de Cuba railways and Astro inter-city buses connect the city with Havana’s Central Railway Station and with most other main cities in Cuba. The rebuilt railway station, General Senén Casas, is an important hub in the national railway chain.

Column of independence

Column of independence

Yordi was born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, where she and her extended family still have deep roots. A People-to-People tour with Yordi and Dave’s stamp is sure to be one of the most interesting and friendly People-to-People tours in all of Cuba. For information about the area or about tours to the area, contact info@Travelguidecuba.com.Travelguidcuba.com is not a licensed People-to-People tour provider but works closely with licensed providers. Complete Cuba People-to-People tour is licensed (CT-2013-299822-1) by the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to engage, organize and conduct authorized people-to-people travel to Cuba that engages participants in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba. 

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