At just over 1234 meters (4000 Feet) above sea level La Gran Piedra in Santiago de Cuba is accessed by 459 step climb to the “The Big Rock” or, in Spanish, La Gran Piedra. The viewing platform at its peak guarantees a cooler climate to help you freshen up after the onslaught of step after step. Even though the climb sounds fearful, it takes no more than 20 minutes but, do bring some comfortable shoes along. Legend has it that on a clear night one can see the lights of Montego Bay Jamaica from La Gran Piedra, however on the humid day we visited the visibility was greatly reduced. This fantastic site was declared a biosphere reserve by those great folks at UNESCO in 1987 and at just 20km from the center of Santiago de Cuba its certainly worth your time, especially because the Santiago de Cuba Botanical Garden is close by and it’s easy to combine both in one trip. The massive 50x25x30 meter rock is of volcanic origin, thought to have been pushed to this altitude by the movement of tectonic plates in the Caribbean region. Probably the most amazing view available in Santiago de Cuba and definitely worth the 459 steps to get to the summit!
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The Casa de la Musica (House of Music) in Santiago de Cuba is an absolute “must visit” place which will undoubtedly become the highlight of your visit to Cuba. Every night you can listen to the intoxicating rhythms of Cuban music while dancing the night away. You’ll meet locals who encourage visitors to get up and dance, some of which are all too happy to lend a hand with your salsa technique. Drinks are reasonably priced for such a popular venue in Santiago de Cuba. La Casa de la Musica is located on Calle Mariano corona, no. 564, just one street west of Parque Cespedes also known as Santiago de Cuba’s main city square. The main music played is Cuba’s infectious “Son” rhythms that are guaranteed to first get your feet tapping and then joining in.
The Parque de Baconao just outside Santiago de Cuba is a must for families with children. Large stone life-size animals such as dinosaurs and modern creatures litter this beautiful park called the Valle de la Prehistoria Park or Prehistoric Valley. Close by you will also find a small car museum with some old relics from the 30s, 40s and 50s. There’s also an aquarium with dolphins and other marine creatures. As a whole day out for the family, there’s a nice mix of things to do plus, the Baconao Park backs up onto some of the nicest beaches in Santiago de Cuba so take your swimwear and sunblock.
The whole 84000 hectares of the park were declared a Biosphere reserve in 1987 by UNESCO and include the; La Gran Piedra viewing Platform, Valle de la Prehistoria, Granjita Siboney (Siboney Indian Reserve) , Transport Museum and the Baconao Lagoon, in which you can see how Taino Indians lived in the territory now called Santiago de Cuba. All this is just 20km from Santiago de Cuba city center and well worth a trip out for the whole day.
Cespedes Park is the epicenter of Santiago de Cuba and offers a perfect insight into Cuban life. The romanticism of Cubans is demonstrated here through; talking, hustling, flirting, guitar strumming groups who offer impromptu musical serenades. Under the watchful eye of the bronze bust of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, famous founding father of the Cuban independence in 1868, street life seamlessly continues before your very gaze.
Annexed to the Casa de la Trova music hall and blessed by the shadows cast by the Hotel Casa Granda, the Parque Céspedes is probably THE place to see Santiago de Cuba from the inside out. Drop into the Casa de la Cultura Miguel Matamoros for a glimpse into local culture. The neoclassical city hall building or Ayuntamiento can be found at the northern end of the square, built in the 1950s it employs a design from 1783 and was previously the site of Mayor Hernan Cortes office.
There are various Museums near to Parque Cespedes
If there’s any place in Cuba with significant importance in the country’s recent history, it has to be the Moncada Barracks. The Moncada Barracks were an important military stronghold for the Batista government in Santiago de Cuba and, a historic site which marked the start of the Cuban revolution. On July 26, 1953, the Moncada Barracks became the site of the now infamous armed attack by a small group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro and his now president, brother, Raul Castro. This historic attack is now accepted as being the very start of the Cuban Revolution. Despite the ultimate failure of the coup at Moncada Barracks it still remains as the first stone laid in the short progress of Fidel and his troops to overthrowing Batista and ultimately taking control of the nation. While some of the exhibits are a quite gruesome, especially those pertaining to alleged torture of the revolutionaries, it still seems to accurately reflect what happened. Still featuring the original bullet holes and shell marker kings on the exterior walls, the building looks and feels like the attack took place last week and not over 50 years ago.
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Located in the property originally owned by the Diego Velazquez, Spanish conqueror and first ever Governor of Cuba. The house was built between 1516 and 1530 and has survived despite numerous fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters which have plagued Santiago de Cuba over the past 300 years.
The house offers an architectural and ornamental look into design back in the 14th century, especially via its windows and numerous balconies, cedar roofs.
The Diego Velazquez museum gives the visitor a rare peek into colonial life. The original furniture from France, UK, Spain and of course, Cuba demonstrates not only the excellent taste of the owner but also just how many merchant ships with goods and wares must have visited Santiago de Cuba around that time. The Museum also demonstrates the extreme wealth that the colonial bourgeoisie in Cuba of that time gained.
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To the west of the Santiago de Cuba center you’ll find the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, Cuba’s second largest Cemetery after Havana’s Necropolis Cristobal Colón. Founded in 1868 , its primary purpose then was as a resting place for victims of the War of Independence and then the later massive deaths relating to the yellow-fever outbreak in the Caribbean. Cemetery Santa Ifigenia simply cannot be missed if you wish to look into Cuba’s interesting past. The Cemeteries +8000 tombs simply pack into small location, including tombs of a great many historical figures, notably the mausoleum of José Martí.
Popular tombs to visit include; Tomás Estrada Palma (1835–1908), Cuba’s first ever president, also the famous rum baron Emilio Bacardí y Moreau (1844–1922). María Grajales, the widow of Cuba’s independence hero Antonio Maceo (after whom the Santiago de Cuba Airport is named). Further adding to the long list of the famous deceased are the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill and Caney. Those ‘martyrs’ of the 1953 Moncada Barracks assault Frank and Josué País. Also the renowned father of Cuban independence, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819–74).
A more recent Cuban superstar is the international music celebrity, Compay Segundo (1907–2003) of Buena Vista Social Club.
The crescendo drum role of the cemetery’s “best bits” is the religious mausoleum of the national hero José Martí (1853–95). Built in 1951 during the Batista era, the powerful hexagonal structure allegedly positioned so that Marti’s wooden casket (which is draped in a Cuban flag) gets daily shafts of sunlight. The entrance to the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is just 1 peso and is well worth a visit, however morbid it may seem.
San Pedro de la Roca Castle or, as its known locally, El Morro de Santiago de Cuba, is a similar fortifaction to the El Morro Castle in Havana which was designed primarily as a fortress to protect the harbor mouth against pirates and other unwelcome guests. Designed in 1637 by Giovanni Battista Antonelli, a military engineer from Milan, the Morro was self sustainable due to its large warehouse accessible directly by ships, cut directly into the rock along the flank of the building. The San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Fortress was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, considering it as the best preserved and most complete example of Spanish-American military architecture in the Caribbean. Even though San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Fortress was primarily a defensive measure, it also incorporated four main levels and three large cannon sections to house artillery. Today the San Pedro de la Roca Castle is probably the most visited monument in Cuba’s second largest city of Santiago de Cuba.
Address: Alturas De Quintero Km 1 1/2, Santiago de Cuba
As a budget hotel, Hotel Rancho Club Santiago de Cuba is pretty hard to match in Cuba’s second largest city. If your plan is to visit the historic city of Santiago de Cuba but prefer to put expensive accommodation money towards a better tour of the area, then the Hotel Rancho Club Santiago de Cuba is an ideal 2 star choice.
Hotel Rancho Club Santiago de Cuba is just 10 minutes away by car from all of Santiago de Cuba’s many historic sites, museums and colonial buildings, meaning that being just outside the center also affords the hotel a whole lot of intimacy.
Hotel Rancho Club Santiago de Cuba has just 30 rooms but maintains a rustic charm & blend of conventional & modern Cuban design. The Hotel Rancho Club open air buffet restaurant garner beautiful views of the mountains and the city.
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