For The Ultimate Afro-Cuban Experience Make Santiago de Cuba Your Next Travel Destination
By Colleen Williams
The largest island in the Caribbean has long held a certain mystique in the American psyche. So, when the Obama administration finally eased travel restrictions for Americans, it’s no surprise that many seized the opportunity to explore the country. However, there’s one Cuban city that I consider wildly underrated: Santiago de Cuba.
Situated in the southeastern region of the island, just an hour and a half from Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second-largest city and is considered to be Cuba’s cultural capital. Santiago’s role as a primary receiving port during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and it’s close proximity to Hispaniola gives it a rich history that has been left relatively untouched, at least when compared to more popular Havana.
Santiago de Cuba’s culture is a delicious combination of Cuban traditions and the influences of refugees and immigrants from nearby Haiti. Here are some must-visit spots in the city.
Cutumba Ballet Folklorico
This dance company located in Santiago de Cuba is a must-visit for anyone serious about learning traditional Afro-Cuban music and dance. On any given day, you will find the company’s professional dancers rehearsing for Santiago’s numerous. cultural festivals and showcases. You can also arrange for group or private lessons with the amazingly talented dancers.
Casa de las Tradiciones
If you are a truly discerning lover of Cuban music, you cannot leave town without spending a night in Casa de las Tradiciones. Tucked away in Santiago’s famous El Tivoli district, don’t be put off by Casa de las Tradiciones relatively nondescript exterior. Inside, you will be beguiled by some of the most talented Cuban crooners and musicians in a small, simple room. While the spot isn’t as ‘fancy’ as Casa de la Trova, the energy of the room is unmatched.
Patio de Artex
Twice a day, Patio de Artex treats guests to live traditional Cuban music. The band is different every day but the quality is always phenomenal.
Plaza de Marte
You absolutely cannot leave Santiago de Cuba without going to a Saturday night concert in Plaza de Marte. Some Saturday nights, the streets surrounding Plaza de Marte are closed off so vendors can set up tents. At these events, you can purchase a wide range of pastries, cakes, and traditional Cuban cuisine. Additionally, a live band entertains the throngs of locals who come out to have a good time. Locals and visitors alike dance for hours before dispersing into the city.
These are just a few of the city’s offerings. Santiago de Cuba also hosts a carnival and several festivals annually. Be sure to add this amazing Cuban city to your travel plans.