What to See and Do in Santiago de Cuba

The colonial hotel Casa Granda overlooks Parque Céspedes in the heart of Santiago de Cuba.
The colonial hotel Casa Granda overlooks Parque Céspedes in the heart of
Santiago de Cuba.

It’s never too early to check out an emerging destination’s off-the-beaten-path hideaways. So, while most interest in Cuba has been centering around Havana and Varadero, we’re taking a look at Santiago de Cuba, a beautiful destination on the east side of the island. Travel Agent recently sat down with Eddie Lubbers, CEO of the Cuba Travel Network, who told us that travel agents should get a head start on this little known part of Cuba.

“Most of the infrastructure right now is on the west part of Cuba,” says Lubbers. “In fact, about 30 percent of Cuba’s hotel rooms are located there. But the east, mainly Santiago de Cuba, is really the off-the-beaten-path part of Cuba right now and there are incredible opportunities to grow there.”

Top Hotels

Cuba Travel Network recommends Encanto San Basilio. The “Hotel E” or Encanto brand is applied to small hotels located in historic urban areas, which have been restored to recapture their original elements, while upgrading them with modern amenities. Encanto means charm and the San Basilio, with its emphasis on personalized service, has just that.

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Interior design and furnishings at Hotel San Basilio rely heavily on period reproductions.
Interior design and furnishings at Hotel San Basilio rely heavily on
period reproductions.

Opened in 2008, the Hotel San Basilio was the second E-Hotel in the country. It is a cheerful place, with bright interiors enhanced by many ferns and other flora. Design and furnishings rely heavily on period reproductions, and guest rooms are equipped with modern bathroom facilities and technology such as satellite TV.

Hotel San Basilio is a good spot for budget travelers in Santiago de Cuba. The building, erected in the city’s historical center in the 1920s, originally functioned as a hostel. Then, as now, it provided guests easy access to important landmarks and sights such as Parque Céspedes, the Museo del Ron and the Casa de la Trova.

The colonial hotel Casa Granda overlooks Parque Céspedes in the heart of Cuba’s most Caribbean city. What makes this hotel great are its outdoor spaces where visitors can sip an espresso or cocktail and watch daily life unfold in the park across the street.

There’s also a terrace off the lobby where guests gather to swap travel stories and listen to music, complemented by the magnificent roof garden overlooking the Cathedral. Casa Granda makes a great home base for exploring this captivating city on foot.

The Meliá Santiago de Cuba hotel is set in one of the most elegant areas of Santiago de Cuba. This distinctive, postmodern high-rise is the largest hotel in town. Rooms are attractive and large, with huge windows and excellent views. The hotel is in a peaceful neighborhood about a mile from the historic center — just the thing for guests who like a bit more tranquility and space. Its excellent facilities include arguably the best outdoor pool in the city. Guests particularly enjoy the atmospheric Santiago Café, which is an indoor reconstruction of a miniature colonial city.

What to Do There

From 1522 until 1589, Santiago was the capital of Cuba. The city has deep African roots and traditions, attributable to the colonial slave trade and the influx of French immigrants, accompanied by their African slaves, after the Haitian slave revolt of 1791.

Many Cuban music genres originated here. If Cuban rhythms and passionate dances move your clients, this is a must-visit destination, especially during the annual carnival celebrations in July, such as the joyful and colorful Festival del Caribe (also known as Fiesta del Fuego).

For an excellent night out, clients should consider the Casa de la Trova. Travel Agent was told that both the music and dancing here are phenomenal. Parque Céspedes is the gathering place for both the young and the old — a good starting point for visits to many attractions, including the Diego Veláz-quez Museum, the oldest house still standing in Cuba.

Next to the museum is the municipal building where Fidel Castro made his first speech after the 1959 victory of the Cuban Revolution; the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba is opposite. Within walking distance stands the Carnival Museum and Bacardi Museum, the latter displaying a private collection of the famous rum-making family.

The Sierra Maestra mountain range dominates the area, a fascinating combination of history, nature and culture. During your clients’ stay, some of the most exciting excursions that can be arranged by Cuba Travel Network include a boat ride to the islet of Cayo Granma, where lunch is served on the tiny island and a 12-hour Jeep Safari, deep into the wild mountains of the Sierra Maestra, which is birthplace of the Cuban Revolution.

Getting to Santiago de Cuba

Clients can fly daily from Havana with Cubana de Aviación, commonly referred to as Cubana. It’s about a two-hour flight. Alternatively, clients can rent a car with the help of Cuba Travel Network. It’s about a 12-hour drive.

About Cuba Travel Network

Created in 2002, Cuba Travel Network is a conglomeration of Cuba suppliers ranging from boutique hotels to car rental companies that can customize an individual’s or group’s vacation to Cuba. For more information, agents should reach out to Esther Hienekamp ([email protected]), director of sales and marketing.

Meanwhile, Back in Havana

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and Marriott International both have plans, approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to open hotels in Cuba. Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson, who traveled with U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker during President Barack Obama’s recent visit, said that the company is in discussions to develop a hospitality relationship with potential partners, although there is no word yet on potential brands.

Starwood has announced that the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana will join The Luxury Collection, and the Hotel Quinta Avenida will become a Four Points by Sheraton. Both will undergo renovations before raising their new brand flags later in 2016.

Hotel Inglaterra, owned by Gran Caribe, is close to the Gran Teatro de La Habana in downtown Havana. The 83-room property first opened in 1875 and is home to the Gran Café el Louvre, which has played host to famous artists and travelers. The 186-room Hotel Quinta Avenida in Havana’s Miramar district will cater to business travelers and offer meeting facilities.

Starwood has also signed a Letter of Intent to convert the Hotel Santa Isabel into a member of The Luxury Collection.

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