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A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com
We're headed to sunny Cuba! I know there's been a lot of buzz about the Caribbean island since the majority of travel restrictions were raised for Americans, so we're strapping on our walking shoes and heading out to experience Santiago de Cuba with this self-guided walking tour.

This southeastern port city has soul. Being so close to Jamaica and other tropical islands has influenced this city with a distinct Caribbean character; this is seen not only in the art and architecture but heard in the music on the streets and celebrated in their famous festivals.

Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city on the island, and after spending four days there, I am happy to guide you along the streets that were the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution, through the squares where you can enjoy the best son cubano (the Cuban Sound style of music popularised by the Buena Vista Social Club), and into the endless choice of cafés, bistros and restaurants.  

So, here we go!

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Start at the pleasant and shady Plaza de Dolores, a former marketplace with the eye-catching 18th-century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. The church was badly harmed by a fire in the 1970s and rebuilt as a concert hall (Sala de Conciertos Dolores).

Turn right into Calvario heading north and immediately left into Jose Antonio Saco. Just past the Parq Sarranno begins the main shopping street, where Adidas and Puma flagship stores are interspersed with half-empty supermarkets, barbershops and internet cafes. Keep going until the General Lacret and turn left.

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Walk onto Parque Céspedes, where the elegant bronze statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes stands; he declared Cuba independent from Spain in 1868. On one side of the square is the neoclassic town hall, where Fidel Castro announced the Revolution’s triumph from the balcony in 1959. Next to this building stands the oldest home of the island, Casa de Diego Velázquez, which was built in the 15th century and is now home to a little museum with furnishings and decoration from this country’s colonial past. Make sure to look up at the detailed woodwork and complicated beamed ceilings. (An audio-tour is available in English.)

On the left side rises the stunning Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Cuba’s most sacred pilgrimage, that has endured decades of earthquakes and hurricanes. While there has been a cathedral on this site since 1516, the present five-nave beauty with its coffered ceiling was completed and opened in 1922. On its left flank stands Hotel Casa Grande, where you can stop for great sandwiches on the terrace/balcony while taking in the beauty of the buildings surrounding this park.

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Facing the cathedral, take the street on its right, Santo Tomas, and then the 2nd right, Bartolome Maso, to get to the Balcon de Velazquez. This ceramic-tiled terrace is all that remains of an old Spanish fort, and offers great views over the rooftops of the Tivolí neighbourhood towards the harbour.

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Keep walking east in the direction of the harbour and take a left on Hospital. A block away right in front of you are the Padre Pico steps leading up. Locals sit here on the steps to exchange news and gossip, drink their coffee or play a game of dominos or chess between the colourful houses. These 52 steps (yes, I counted) were constructed in 1899 by Emilio Bacardi Moreau (the rum guy) and are the gateway into Tivoli, Santiago’s cute old French quarter, settled by Haitian colonists in the late 18th century. 

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

I highly recommend getting beautifully lost for a while on the slopes of this hillside descending towards the bay. Fidel lived here while he was studying and it’s said that he liked to stroll around his neighbourhood whenever he could.

Make sure you somehow end up at the Parque Alameda, which has a Clock Tower on its north end. Around here are a lot of bicycle taxis. Try to find my friend David if you can (say hi from Sarah and Ludek!), or pick any of his friendly colleagues. Ask if he can drive you to the following:

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

After the one in Havana, the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia is the most monumental and important cemetery of Cuba; it was built in 1868 in the shape of a Latin cross and divided into courtyards, the best of which where reserved for the upper class. Try to include the impressive changing of the guards that happens every 30 minutes at Jose Marti's mausoleum!

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Located in the middle of the bustling city, surrounded by the old food market, modern and old buildings with typical posters of Che and lots of traffic sits the Plaza De La Revolucion, an impressive soviet-style square with 23 machetes that rise up from the ground and a huge equestrian statue of Antonio Maceo Grajales.

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Next come the military-barracks-turned-primary-school-and-museum of Moncada Barracks. A main tourist attraction, this is where the first armed attacks of the Cuban Revolution (led by Fidel Castro) took place on the 16th of July 1953. The bullet holes are still visible in the facade, and the museum displays pictures and guns and a beautiful assortment of other fascinating memorabilia. 

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

From here, leave your driver a little tip and walk west on Trinidad or General Portuondo (depends who you ask) until you get to the corner with Avenida de los Libertadores, where you look onto the Parque Histórico Abel Santamaría. This is the site of the former Saturnino Lora Civil Hospital, stormed on that same day in July 1953 and the place where Fidel later made his famous "History will absolve me" speech. There is a giant cubist fountain engraved with faces that I absolutely love.

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

Turn right onto Avenida de los Libertadores, and pass the Palacio de Justicia on your way to the corner with Victoriano de Garson. To your left is the best ice-cream place in town! Coppelia is part of a Cuban government ice-cream chain with deep revolutionary origins and purposes. Fidel Castro grew up on a dairy farm near Santiago and was obsessed with dairy products, so he wanted ice cream to be the great equalizer, and an indulgence for everyone to enjoy at little cost. Take advantage of that right here if the line isn’t too ridiculously long, anyway.

After this sweet snack, turn back west on Victoriano de Garson until you get to La Plaza de Marte, a popular neoclassicist 5,000 m² square located on a high, central plateau. This is where colonial Spanish trained their troops and held public executions, but now a set of commemorative sculptures pay homage to heroes of the revolution.

Cross this square exactly to the opposite corner and turn into the Francisco Vicente Aguilera. Make a left on Calle Barnada and walk until you find Bendita Farandula on your left-hand side. This little home-turned-restaurant has rooms divided over two floors with hand-written messages on all the walls. The Baracoa-style menu [read: best of the island!] has fair prices, awesome mojitos and friendly staff!

A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com

After dinner, head back towards Francisco Vicente Aguilera and have drinks at the rooftop bar of La Terrazza on the corner. The prices are good here, the drinks are perfect and the views of the surrounding city alone already worth the walk up all those stairs. Have a cocktail here before you start your next quest to find out where the best music in town is!

Have fun!

Click here to download this text and the map so you can do this tour by yourself!


A Mostly Walkable Tour of Santiago de Cuba {Guest Post by My Gipsy Soul} | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via My Gipsy Soul}
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Who else is ready to head to Cuba? What part of Santiago de Cuba are you the most excited to experience?

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