Our warm welcome at Santiago de Cuba was a pleasant surprise after the rigorous immigration procedures in Havana. We were greeted at the door of a bright, little building where we simply approached smiling clerks seated at open tables to have our passports and visas checked.
The first stop, on our Panoramic Santiago tour, was the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. One of the most important cemeteries in Cuba, it’s the final resting place of many historical figures, including José Martí, Carlos Manuel Céspedes, Fidel Castro, and Emilio Bacardi Y Moreau, of Bacardi Rum fame.
With much pomp and ceremony, the guards at José Martí’s imposing hexagonal mausoleum are changed every thirty minutes. Because we opted not to pay the five CUC photo-taking fee, we didn’t get any pictures. Being short, I could barely see the goose-stepping guards through the massive crowd.
After climbing the granite steps of the mausoleum, we looked down at Martí’s wooden casket, draped in a Cuban flag.
Fidel Castro’s monument is modest in comparison. A large boulder simply bears a plaque saying Fidel.
While in line to photograph Fidel’s monument (which is free to take), I surreptitiously snapped a few more.
José Martí’s mausoleum
La Barrita de Ron Havana Club is a tourist bar attached to the Santiago Rum factory, which was the Bacardi Rum factory before being expropriated by the Castro government. Along with rum tasting, entertainment and high-end cigars are also offered.
Santiago de Cuba’s humble streets, viewed from my bus window.
Broke my heart to see this poor little bird’s cage attached to an outside wall, with no way to escape the sunshine.
Santiago’s Plaza de la Revolucion.
Monument to Antonio Maceo y Grajales. General Maceo was a principal figure in the Cuban struggle for independence.
These twenty-three large machetes symbolize the fight of machete-wielding Cuban Mambís (mulatto revolutionaries).
Cuba’s National flag and Revolutionary flag.
Teatro Heredia Conference Center, with a depiction of Juan Almeida Bosque, a Cuban politician and commander of insurgent forces.
Loma de San Juan is where the final battle of the Spanish-Cuban-American War was fought. Next to the memorial marker stands the Tomb of the Unknown Mambí.
That’s quite the mint twig in my mojito, at the scenic El Morro Restaurant.
Known as El Morro Castle (same as the fortress in Havana), this military fortress’s official name is Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. El morro means ‘bluff’ or ‘headland’ in Spanish.
At the entrance, we were asked to pay 5 CUC or have our cameras confiscated. Hubby and I had our cameras tucked away, so didn’t pay or hand them over.
Built in 1638 to protect the Bay of Santiago from pillaging pirates, the fort was converted into a prison by the Spaniards in the 1800s. I could’ve spent hours exploring all the nooks and crannies, but we were hustled through quite quickly.
Fortress view of Santiago’s coastline, with the Sierra Maestra in the background.
Outside, vendors sell everything from artwork to clothing to cheap cigars.
In our entire week in Cuba, sadly, this is the closest we came to seeing a beach.
These little places remind me of mobile homes, only cuter.
These ones look like huge shipping containers.
Santiago de Cuba is a city of motorbikes. Everywhere, motorbikes. Some are even used as taxis.
Everyone wears helmets, and looks as if flip-flops are also acceptable.
Many riders had bandanas over their faces, I’m assuming to avoid breathing exhaust fumes.
Céspedes Park is the main square of Santiago de Cuba. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was the revolutionary hero who later became President of the Republic of Cuba.
Ayuntamiento (city hall), built in 1950, where Fidel Castro gave his first public speech in January 1959, after overthrowing the Batista government.
The Casa Granda Hotel
The Metropolitan Cathedral. Restored in 2015, some parts of the cathedral are more than four hundred years old.
It’s compulsory for young Cuban men over sixteen to do two years of military service. Women may voluntarily join.
Museum Casa de Diego Velázquez is the oldest building in Cuba. The mansion, built in 1522, was the official residence of Diego Velazquez, a Spanish conqueror and the island’s first Governor.
Santiago de Cuba has many colourful buildings.
The Communist Party Building.
Back at the Celestyal Crystal.
I’ll wrap up our day in Santiago de Cuba on Monday. Click here for that post.