Santiago de Cuba is Cuba's second city. It's nearly 1000 km from Havana and has a very different feel to the capital. Travel to Santiago and you'll experience distinctive music and architecture. The city was founded in the early 16th century by Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar and a number of the buildings from his day still stand. More recently, the ‘Hero City' was the focal point for Cuban revolutionary activity due to its proximity to the majestic Sierra Maestra - Fidel Castro's mountainous battleground.
Santiago de Cuba is well known for its cultural exuberance and as the birthplace of many of Cuba's favourite poets and musicians - including members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Santiago is also famously the home of son music. Each July, this cultural vivacity explodes onto the streets during the annual Carnival, an intoxicating display of sound, colour and unrestrained local exuberance.
Other than the Carnival, one of the city's biggest draws is the San Pedro de la Roca Castle, a 17th-century fortress to the west of the city that was built to protect the port of Santiago from pirates. Its bastions, batteries and ramparts are the most complete and best-preserved example of Renaissance-inspired Spanish-American military architecture.