Santiago de Cuba - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago, the original capital of the island of Cuba, was founded in 1514, and is today the centre of the province of Santiago de Cuba in the southeast of the island, 485 miles (780km) from the present capital, Havana.

One of the most picturesque cities in Cuba, it is a hilly city with sloping streets, nestled between the coast and the Sierra Maestra mountain range. Santiago boasts some monuments and museums associated with Cuba's long struggle for national independence. Santiago also claims to have the oldest home in the Americas, the Case de Diego Velazquez, residence of the Spanish governor of old, which is a highlight of the city's historic quarter. Santiago is a diverse city, with many population groups in its neighbourhoods, including the French-Haitian district of Tivoli.

The city is also known for its annual carnival and its closely situated natural areas, including the 80,000-hectare (197,684-acre) Baconao Park, which begins in the city and ends in the lagoon of the same name. It is climatically the hottest part of Cuba, with average temperatures of 90°F (32°C).

Information & Facts


Santiago de Cuba's climate is hot all year round with the pleasant weather prevailing. There are two distinct seasons, namely the dry season which runs from November to April, and the rainy season which runs from May to October. The dry season is the best time of year to visit Santiago de Cuba, while September to October is the hurricane season.

The official language is Spanish, but English is spoken in the main tourist spots.

The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), divided into 100 centavos, but the 'tourist' currency is the Peso Convertible (CUC), which replaces the US Dollar as currency in tourist related establishments like hotels, restaurants and so called 'dollar shops'. US Dollars are no longer accepted as payment, and a 10% commission or more is charged to exchange them, therefore the best currency to bring along is Euros, the British Pound or Canadian Dollars. The CUC is almost equal in value to the US Dollar. Some places only accept Cuban pesos and others only Pesos Convertible (usually tourist related establishments). Money should only be changed at official exchange bureaux or banks to avoid scams confusing the two currencies. Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted only in major cities and hotels as long as they haven't been issued by a US bank; Diners Club has limited acceptance, and American Express is not accepted anywhere on the island. Travellers cheques are less readily accepted than credit cards, but all major currencies are acceptable, except for US bank issued cheques. No US-issued credit or debit cards will work in ATMs, but those holding other cards issued in other countries should be able to get pesos at most major tourist destinations. Euro or Sterling travellers cheques are accepted at Cuban banks and Bureaux de Change.

Local time is GMT -5 (GMT-4 from the second Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

Bacardi, the world's largest privately held, family-owned spirits company, started producing rum in Santiago way back in 1862. The company's current production sales exceed 240 million bottles a year, in 170 countries, although the family fled Cuba after the revolution in 1959. Interestingly, it was the fruit bats that nested in the rafters of the original rum factory that gave Bacardi rum its world-famous bat logo. Emilio Bacardi's private art and antique collection is still in Santiago, as is the original family rum distillery. A fun and educational outing, the Bacardi musuem is well worth a visit when in Santiago. Budget at least an hour to take in all the sights the museum has to offer.

The large park region, which is a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve, is filled with attractions other than wildlife refuges and coffee plantations. It is possible to climb 459 stone steps to the summit of the huge rock, La Gran Piedra, and stand 4,049ft (1,234m) above sea level for a beautiful view. It is said that on a dark night, one can see the lights of Jamaica in the distance. In the Valle de la Prehistoria visitors are awed by dozens of life-size model dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures lurking in lush vegetation. There is also a magnificent 45-hectare (111-acre) garden, the Jardin Ave de Paraiso, dating from 1860, that was laid out on a former coffee plantation, and features a series of colour-coded gardens with unique scents and displays in each. An artist community consisting of 10 families have formed a fieldstone hamlet, offering artwork of a high standard at Comunidad Artistas Oasis. There is also an Auto Museum featuring gleaming old model cars.

Santiago's most impressive structure is poised ominously atop the cliffs at the narrow entrance to Santiago Bay, about nine miles (14km) south of Santiago. This enormous piece of military architecture, a maze of stairways and dungeons, was begun in 1640. The Morro was rebuilt in 1664 after the English pirate, Henry Morgan, reduced it to rubble. The castle now houses the Museum of Piracy, featuring excellent displays on piracy, colonialism, and slavery. There are old blunderbusses, muskets, cutlasses and Toldeo blades in glass cases. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and a fascinating place to visit, visitors to Santiago are encouraged not to pass this sight up.

The bullet-ridden Moncada Barracks and adjacent Parque Historico Abel Santamaria were part of important events in Cuba's history. In 1953, a group led by Fidel Castro attacked the barracks in an attempt to steal weapons and launch the revolution, but the plan failed and 61 of them were killed. The rest were captured and many tortured to death by Batista's army. Fidel was later tried in the Escuela de Enfermeras for leading the attack, and is where he made his famous 'History Will Absolve Me' speech.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the Cuban provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo, and features an impressive selection of flora and fauna, such as parrots, lizards and hummingbirds. The well-visited park is a firm favourite among young travellers to Cuba, and regularly features on lists of the best things to do with kids while in the country.

The gateway to this cemetery is dominated by a memorial to Cuban soldiers who died fighting in Angola. From here, the visitor is led to the impressive tomb of Cuban national hero, revolutionary and writer Jose Marti. The tomb is in the form of a crenulated hexagonal tower with each side representing one of Cuba's six original provinces. The round mausoleum is designed so that the sun will always shine on Marti's casket, which is draped with the Cuban flag. The cemetery also contains a shrine to the Virgin of Charity, Cuba's patron saint, in the form of the Basilica del Cobre. This little church is said to be the scene of miracles performed by the saint.

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