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Santiago de Cuba, what to see

Posted by admin on Monday November 20th, 2017
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Note: This text has been translated from the original text (Spanish) by Google Translate. Sorry for the mistakes.

All Santiago is full of wonderful corners and corners. So the big question arises … When I go to Santiago de Cuba, what to see? What things should I know to capture the grandeur of this city and its surroundings? I only tell you that if you stay a few days in this city … you may stop liking Havana and want to return again and again to Santiago. Because this city has magic, it is a sorceress, it has enchantment, it is mysterious, full of history, legends, aromas … Be careful, if you get bitten by the mosquito from Santiago you will be lost or lost because you will not be able to forget this city anymore!

But, for you to be bitten, you will have to look for your life, go out and lose yourself in its streets, get rid of hustlers and camaranes, discover its rhythm, its music, get to know its people, fall in love … And I’m not the one to tell you what , how and with whom you should address these issues. I will limit myself to offer you a spectacle of sensations, landscapes, architecture and nature that will well deserve your time and that, I do not know for what reason, many visitors leave without knowing that they visited Santiago and left without having seen all these wonders.


1-castillo-de-san-pedro-de-la-roca1.- CASTLE OF SAN PEDRO DE LA ROCA

The Castle of San Pedro de la Roca (also called Castillo del Morro), is an impressive military fortress. It is a World Heritage Site since 1998. The Spanish raised this marvel in 1638 to improve the defense of the bay and ensure the protection of their ships and property against pirates and armies hostile to the Empire. It is considered the largest Renaissance castle in America and its state of conservation is extraordinary. I will not talk about governors, promoters of the idea, Italian architects, military history, or anything like that. It’s not that it’s not interesting, it’s culture and it illustrates. But that you find it as soon as you look for it. I tell you, instead, that you bring your best camera to meet their stones because you will find amazing views, beautiful landscapes, nooks, corridors, drawbridges, canyons, a small museum, skylights, embrasures, rounds, dungeons … And if in addition to water (essential) and sunscreen (recommended), you also put in the backpack sensitivity, imagination and desire to surprise you … Then the stones will speak to you and their textures, the backlights, the necessary framing and your photographer inspiration may achieve that you have a great time. At the end of the day, let’s face it: you will visit THE LARGEST RENAISSANCE CASTLE in all of America. Theirs is that you go soon, take advantage of the morning and then eat at one of the restaurants and beach bars that are there.

2-parque-nacional-turquino2.- TURQUINO NATIONAL PARK

It is the heart of the Sierra Maestra and is an appropriate excursion for walkers, mountaineers and photographers with good physical shape. Very mountainous geography, here you will find the largest mountains in the country, a very different climate and a great variety of flora and fauna that will delight photographers and nature lovers. Profuse flora, many reptiles, mollusks and birds difficult to find outside the park.

They will emphasize the importance of this area in the history of the Cuban revolution. They will try to fill your head with the heroics of the revolution and its exploits, raids and pillerías that have taken place here. Bla bla bla. You, no case. Here the least is the revolution. The protagonist of this park (the only protagonist) is Nature: 23,208 hectares full of nature, fauna, flora, landscapes, the highest peaks of the country (such as Pico Real (1,974 m.), Pico Turquino, Pico Cuba …)

  • For animal lovers: with some luck you will be able to observe the mammalian protagonist of the park, the Jutía Conga.
  • For ornithologists … just tell you that more than 80 species of birds live here.
  • Note to botanists: here you can admire arborescent ferns that exceed three meters high and pine forests of “Sierra Maestra” (endemic).
  • For mountaineers: the ascent to the top of the Pico Real is an exciting and unique experience that will put you in touch with the wild nature of the area, which highlights the fauna and plant formations (very well preserved).
  • For landscape photography: if the climatic weather is “normal”, the peaks are often sunny and below 1000 meters there is a blanket of clouds, fogs and haze. Photographing this from the summits is a fantastic experience.
  • For walkers: on the north slope of the park, the Yara, Santana de la Maestra and Arroyo Naranjo rivers are born. On the southern slope, the rivers Tío Pedro, Turquino, La Plata, Jigüe, Palma Mocha and the streams of Las Cuevas and Cabreras.

The visits to the place can not be done freely. They are organized in a coordinated way, with official guides and in small groups (never more than 20 people). There are numerous rules that you will have to respect (you can not smoke or make noise that bothers the fauna, for example). It is forbidden to tear plants, cut, hunt and fish.
Beware of temperatures. Here it can get really cold. Be well informed before doing the excursion.

3-la-gran-piedra3.- THE GREAT STONE

This spectacular place is 16 km from Santiago de Cuba, inside the Baconao Park. It is a huge boulder, a gigantic rock. In fact, it is the third largest rock on the planet and it is the Guinness record for being the rock of its size at the highest altitude (1,234 m altitude).

It has a staircase of 459 steps (surrounded by ferns, orchids and other species of the area). At the top of the rock you will find a natural viewpoint with a panoramic view of the coast of unparalleled beauty and splendid views of the Sierra Maestra.

If you like to observe vegetation and flora, you can see up to 222 varieties of ferns, 352 of orchids (of which 70 are endemic), eucalyptus, pine trees, Cuban pines, cypresses and a variety of fruit trees. For wildlife lovers, I add that 926 species are counted in the park, among which the Tocororo (Cuban national bird) and the Gretacuba butterfly (almost invisible due to its transparent wings like crystal) stand out.
At 1200 m from the Gran Piedra you have to visit the La Isabelica coffee museum, a jewel of Cuban heritage (in fact it is a national monument) and an exceptional witness of the Franco-Haitian colonial presence in the east of the country, in the 19th century.

4-basilica-de-nuestra-senora-del-cobre4.- CATHEDRAL OF OUR LADY OF COPPER

According to the story, Don Francisco Sanchez de Moya, artillery captain, received (in 1597) the order -of King Felipe II- to defend the mines of the Sierra del Cobre from English incursions. In addition, he was commissioned to erect a church or chapel, a place where soldiers and miners could go to make their prayers. Before leaving for his destination in the New World, this Captain commanded to carve in Toledo a replica of the Virgin of Charity, which was the one that led to Cuba. According to the legend, the “three Juanes” (Juan Moreno, “the negrito de La Caridad” and the two Indian brothers Juan and Rodrigo de Hoyos) went in a canoe in search of salt. When they left from Cayo Frances (in Nipe Bay) they observed something floating in the sea. As they approached, they saw with amazement and joy that it was an image of the Virgin Mary.

The fact is that this cathedral basilica keeps the famous Virgin, patron saint of Cuba. Veneradísima image. The basilica is located on a hill with beautiful views and is a place of pilgrimage of Catholics and Santeros since the Virgin of the Copper also represents for the believers of Yoruba syncretism to Oshun. A beautiful place, besides being the religious center of the Cubans.

It is typical to return from the excursion with tiny stones where the copper of the mine shines. It is said that those who carry them, enjoy a special protection against evils in general.

5-plaza-o-parque-cespedes5.- SQUARE OR PARK CÉSPEDES

When in Cuba they speak to you about this or that “park”, keep in mind that there they receive this name most of their old Major Squares of the colonial period. Céspedes Park is the very soul of Santiago, site of boleros, trovas and son. Place of history, reference of obligatory visit. In its environment runs and around it runs the life of the city, everyone passes-sooner or later-out there. In addition, it is flanked by several of the most emblematic buildings of the city (the Cathedral, the Casa Granda hotel, the Municipal Government Palace and the museum house of the advanced Diego Velázquez.) The Céspedes Park is a mandatory meeting place for all tourists. And, once there, it is also mandatory that you go to the terrace of the Hotel Casa Grande and ask for a mojito, sit next to the edge of the terrace, on any table from which you can observe the square. The Park is next to two of the most emblematic arteries of Santiago: the streets Enramadas and Heredia (for which I recommend you let yourself go, walking and admiring the bustle, buildings and life in general).

6-casa-de-don-diego-velazquez6.- HOUSE OF DON DIEGO VELÁZQUEZ

The mansion belonged to the advanced Diego Velázquez, Spanish conqueror and first Governor of Cuba, founder of the first seven cities of the island. It was built between 1516 and 1530. Despite having lost parts of the old site (it occupied the entire block), the house is preserved with extraordinary fidelity, despite the avatars and fires that came to suffer over time.

Typical Spanish colonial house, noble palace, is the oldest palace house in Cuba and one of the first in the New World. It presents architectural and decorative elements of a remarkable quality, such as the craftsmanship, the latticework of its balconies and the carved cedar ceilings. The last floor was the rooms and the ground floor was the one where Velázquez kept his offices. It preserves courtyards, furniture and furnishings and currently operates as a museum. Absolutely recommendable to visit it, it is a trip in the time very attractive.

7-cayo-granma7.- CAYO GRANMA

This beautiful little island, located within the bay of Santiago, is home to a small fishing community. Their curious typical Cuban houses attract attention (some of them built on the same water). The highest point of the island rises only 9 meters above sea level and the emblematic building is the Church of San Rafael, architectural reference of the islet, with its white walls.

If you want to take a walk along its coast, you’ll get it in less than 30 minutes.
Its infrastructures are very basic (but sufficient) and tourists are welcome. There are two restaurants where you can try local cuisine (specializing in fish).

Your umbilical cord with the city is put by an old boat, which once a day takes you and returns you at the end of the afternoon rattling and leaving in the air a strong smell of burnt oil. Nafa plus disembarking impacts the natural beauty of the island and the precariousness of the lives of its inhabitants. The landscape and the views of the bay are beautiful.

8-catedral-de-santiago8.- CATHEDRAL OF SANTIAGO

The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption (or, simply, Cathedral of Santiago) has a very long history of looting of pirates, of fires, of destruction by earthquakes … but always – like the phoenix bird – resurfaced among its own ashes In fact, this cathedral is the fourth one that rises on the same site since the Spaniards began the construction of the first one (in 1528). Large, majestic, beautiful on the outside and spectacular on the inside.

It is probably (for me, it is) the most beautiful church in Cuba. In some way it represents the pride and tenacity of the people of Santiago, tenacious, resistant, untamed and stubborn. It does not matter if you are or are not Catholic, attending only to cultural, architectural and beauty reasons, it is worth visiting. From its elevated terraces one can enjoy observing the life through the old Plaza Mayor (Parques Céspedes at present).

9-parque-nacional-baconao9.- NATIONAL PARK BACONAO

This immense national park is about 20 kilometers from Santiago. It is an excursion to spend the whole day because the park is huge and it is worth taking the excursion. Many people know him for his spectacular sculptures in the Valley of Prehistory (dinosaurs of all kinds on a real scale and Neanderthals competing to take an interesting picture).

But the Baconao National Park is much (much more) than this. We are talking about a large protected region, with a total area of 84,600 hectares. In 1987 it was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations by hikers and tourists. It is so big that there are even beaches within its domains. Among the interesting, it is worth highlighting:

  • Valley of Prehistory. More than 200 life-size statues (dinosaurs, Cro-Magnons, …). An entertaining walk in the field (do not wait until the middle of the day to do it, the heat will crush you), you will surely want to make lots of fun pictures with the dinosaurs.
  • Aquarium and Dolphinarium. A pedestrian tunnel 30 meters below sea level will allow you to observe the marine fauna in its own habitat, as well as dolphins and seals in swimming pools.
  • Laguna de Baconao. With 4 km2 of surface, here you can take boat rides and visit a reconstruction of a tribe of the disappeared Taino Indians. If you like seafood, there you will find a specialized restaurant.
  • Automobile Museum. A collection (in most unfortunate state) of historic cars. Surprising the quality of the collection, despite its extraordinary lack of maintenance. The best ones, those that are well restored, the State keeps them in operation giving service in Santiago as vintage taxis. If you like American cars of the 40s and 50s, do not hesitate and visit this extraordinary rarity. With a suitable tip, you will put the guide in your pocket, you can even sit on the best models and take photos.

It has several hotels, restaurants and bars strategically distributed to cover the needs of visitors. A recommendation: when you go, get plenty of water because the park is huge and the heat is going to give you a good beating.

10-cementerio-de-santa-ifigenia10.- CEMETERY OF SANTA IFIGENIA

Yes, a cemetery. In Cuba there are several cemeteries that gather funerary art of the first order. But two stand out above all others: the Christopher Columbus Necropolis (in Havana) and the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery (in Santiago). Opened in 1868, it is located west of the city and the quality of its burials is such that in 1937 it was declared a national monument. Many (and very important for Cuban History) are the men who lie buried here. I’ll just tell you that the remains of 32 generals of Cuba’s wars of independence rest in it. The most important mausoleum is that of José Martí (guarded by a permanent guard of honor since 2002). Since December 2016 a new mausoleum has placed on the map the cemetery -the one of Fidel Castro- that has turned the necropolis into a pilgrimage center for fidelistas, sympathizers of the Cuban revolution and curious. Among other celebrities, Antonio Maceo, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Compay Segundo, Frank Pais are buried here … Without a doubt, a different visit, a trip to the funerary art of the 19th and 20th century and a very interesting place.

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