10 reasons why you should travel to Santiago de Cuba instead of Havana

Kanan Isazade 21 November 2020 1703 views 6 min. read

It will be one of your unforgettable memories. Cuba is one of the most attractive touristic destinations. Every year nearly 5 million people travel to Cuba from various parts of the world, and most of them prefer to go to the capital, Havana. But there is another destination in Cuba that is overlooked by travelers. Today we want to explain why you should travel to Santiago de Cuba instead of Havana. From this blog, you will learn where is Santiago de Cuba, what to see in Santiago de Cuba, are there any flights from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, and more.

Where is Santiago de Cuba?

entrance to the bay of santiago de cuba

Where is Santiago de Cuba? First of all, we should answer this question. Santiago de Cuba is the second-largest city of Cuba after Havana. It is the former capital of Cuba and is located 761 km away from the current capital. The total population of the town is more than 430,000, and the entire area is 1.032 square km. Now it is time to learn the advantages of travel to Santiago de Cuba in comparison with Havana.

1. Much affordable accommodation

main lobby of hotel

As we mentioned, Havana is the most popular touristic destination in Cuba. It affects hotel and hostel prices, too. You will pay 61 USD for a 3-star hotel in Havana, but you can stay in Santiago de Cuba hotels (3-star) just for 55 USD. There is more cost difference between 5-star hotels. Santiago de Cuba hotels(5-star) are nearly 70 USD cheaper. Some Santiago de Cuba hotels that we can advise are Meliá Santiago de Cuba, Iberostar Casa Granda, Hostal Yoyi, Las Americas. Also, if you are looking for much cheaper hostels, it is so easy to find here. In most cases, prices begin from 10 USD, for example, Hostal La Ceiba, Hostal Salgado, Amanecer Ha tu Vera, Casa Eliza.

2. Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

mausoleum of national hero jose marti

Another historical and exciting area in Santiago de Cuba is Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. There are more than 8000 tombs here. This cemetery was built in 1868 during the War of Independence. Starting from that time, the importance of the cemetery increases regularly. Jose Martí’s monument is the most significant here. This magnificent mausoleum has a unique tower that allows the coffin to always receive sunshine. Other notable tombs include Emilio Bacardí, Tomás Estrada Palma (the first president of Cuba), and Compay Segundo. Besides, heroes from the attack on the Moncada and the War of Independence rest here. Such as other historical areas in Cuba, it would be better to go to this place with a guide.

3. Enjoy the carnival of Santiago de Cuba

carnival cienfuegos

Many festivals in Cuba began as a religious event, and the carnival of Santiago de Cuba is not an exception. The saint day of Santiago (St. James) is July 25. The carnival of Santiago de Cuba is the largest and popular festivity in the whole country. During this time, all the city turns into a huge party, and all citizens take part in it. Cubans gather to remember their culture, history, community, and more. In most catholic nations such kinds of festivals are celebrated in February or March, but this one celebrates in summer in July. What to see in Santiago de Cuba? Undoubtedly, you should see and enjoy this festival. 

4. Transportation is cheaper than Havana

cuba transport

Transportation is 5% cheaper in Santiago de Cuba than in the capital. Generally, the most used and affordable transit in Cuba is busses and coaches. There are two government public transport companies. The first one is Astro, which is for local people(they charge in peso), and another one is Viazul. Travelers mostly use Viazul as an alternative to taxi and car rental. Besides, there are Gua guas (Metro buses) that cover the majority of areas of Cuba. Taxi in Cuba starts with 1 USD and charges 1 USD per km. Car rental prices are almost the same in all regions of Cuba. Car rental prices begin from 46 USD and go up depending on your expectations. If you travel with friends or with your family, it will be better to hire a car.

If you are already in the capital, there are flights from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Flights from Havana to Santiago de Cuba cost 120-400 USD and last almost 2 hours.

5. Visit Cuba’s tallest mountain, Pico Turquino

turquino mountain

Nature always attracts tourists with its mesmerizing beauty. The Pico Turquino National Park can be an excellent example of such kind of place. This area is not so populated, so it will be easy to go around. But don’t worry, you will not face any access problems because there is a small settlement at Santo Domingo that organizes trips to the national park. Also, you will have a chance to take part in the most challenging activity in Cuba (Hiking on Pico Turquino). Most groups finish their hiking on the first day. Besides, following finishing your travel, you can spend the night in the community of Aguada de Joaquin. We advise you to make this travel under the guide. Furthermore, you will charm by the biodiversity of the park. There are more than 100 rare plant species in this area

Probably, you have information about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Fidel Castro’s rebel headquarters is here. Tourists can travel to this building on a guided excursion.

6. Visit Spanish fortresses of the 17th century

castille del morro

What to see in Santiago de Cuba? Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro is the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an enormous fortress in the Bay of Santiago, which is nearly 10 km away from the city. In the 17th century, this fortress was built by the Spanish army to protect the land from pirate attacks. Giovanni Battista Antonelli created the first plans in 1587, but construction didn’t begin for 45 years. Nowadays, the fort is open to the public, and there is a museum inside, where you can get facts about the history, and after that, you may have your meal in front of the spectacular view of the bay. Travelers say that an hour before sunset is the best time to visit this historical beauty.

7. Park Cespedes

view from grande hotel

Parque Cespedes has tourism and historical value for Cuba. The Town Hall from where Castro’s first victory was declared is in this park. We can say this is the place where the town’s heart beats. Locals and travelers love to gather, talk, and enjoy in this park. Also, there are plenty of other historical buildings such as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion), the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano, and the Casa Granda Hotel. You can take a lot of iconic moments and have an excellent time. Don’t forget to visit this place during your travel to Santiago de Cuba.

8. Restaurants are cheaper

restaurant la gran piedra

When we travel to any new place in the world, one of the first things which we want to try is the local Cuban cuisine. That is why prices in restaurants and cafes are very crucial for travelers. Generally, meal prices are not so high in Cuba, but when we compare Havana and Santiago de Cuba, we can say that the second one is cheaper. Meal payments in inexpensive restaurants are roughly the same ( six USD). When it comes to mid-range restaurants, there is almost two times difference. We advise you to visit these restaurants: Thoms Yadira Restaurant, El Palenquito, St. Pauli Restaurant-Bar, Restaurante Ire a Santiago, Bendita Farandula, Restaurante Hostal Aurora. If you like to try new flavors, we recommend you try these: Ropa Vieja, Pernil Relleno De Moros Y Cristianos, Vaca Frita, Guava Basted Ribs, Cuban Black Bean Soup, Boliche.

9. Gran Piedra

gran piedra

Roughly 25 km away from the city, you will find Gran Piedra, which means grand stone. It will be worth traveling to this place. You can also see a variety of orchids and other tropical plants, beautiful flowers, and more. This volcanic rock is on the top of the mountain, so you will be able to catch mesmerizing Instagram photos. Besides, this is to reach this place from the city center. You will not face any issues while looking for a vehicle to come. Travel and observe magical misty mountains and coastal plains with your own eyes. No doubt that it will be an unforgettable moment which you will tell your children. In the end, don’t forget to take clothes considering Santiago de Cuba weather. If you want to come here between January and February, remember that Santiago de Cuba weather is cold during this period. Santiago de Cuba weather can be problematic in Summer because it gets hot.

10. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

cespedes park

The last reason for travelling to Santiago de Cuba, which we want to mention, is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is one of the most eye-catching landmarks in the town. Besides, it is next to Parque Cespedes. So you will easily find this ancient church. The architectural style and especially the facade will charm you. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy damaged some parts of the cathedral. Before leaving this city, don’t forget to climb on the top of a building and look at the impressive view of the town.