Santiago de Cuba

13th April 2011

We left Habana by bus on the National Highway, all 8 lanes almost deserted.  Another surprise – locals put their baggage overhead on the bus, we have never seen that in South or Central America; it would be stolen.  After an all night trip we arrived in Cuba´s second largest and most Caribbean city, Santiago de Cuba [2].  Music, dominated by the drum beat of Africa, was everywhere with groups performing day and night in parks and bars for a few coins.  We enjoyed a folkloric performance of traditional Afro-Cuban music and dance, a strange mix of Catholicism complete with Virgin, and voodooism.


The best accommodation is in Casas Particulares (rooms in a private home), a good way to meet local people and to stay in some real colonial classics.  They are good value at $20 to $30 per night.  Glad not to be on an organised tour, we entered the “system” – each owner knows someone with a Casa in every town and sets up the next one for you.  You are picked up at the bus station too thus avoiding the legion of jineteros (hustlers) waiting for the buses.  We started at Casa Nenita in Santiago, built in 1850. 


Cuban coffee is drunk strong and sweet.  They have been growing coffee since the early 1800´s, introduced by the French escaping from revolting slaves in Haiti.  On one of the old plantations, Cafatel la Isabelica, the mansion and coffee drying platforms are World Heritage.  We hired a taxi to take us there.  But … that day there was no petrol so we couldn´t go.


At the entrance to the Santiago bay, a large Spanish fort, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, sits high on the cliff.  Below is the picturesque island of Cayo Granma where traditional fishermen live in wooden houses with rusty tin roofs.  We took the local ferry over and lunched on the catch of the day. 


Rebellious yesterday, hospitable today - forever heroic

City hall, Santiago de Cuba, where Castro made his victory speech from the balcony in 1959

An old church

Some of the old cars ...

... in the streets of Santiago

Lovely bathroom, original not retro, in our Casa Nenita

Musicians in a park

Shady park

Jeff lining up for his 30c pizza

One way of getting around town

Folkloric group

Afro-Cuban dance

Trumpet player

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro

Cayo Granma fisherman

Old house out over the water on Cayo Granma

Fifties American cars on the main plaza

The bar in Hotel Casa Granda, unchanged since Graham Greene´s Our Man in Habana