I’m finally getting to the end of my Cuba posts, hallelujah.
There was a lot of content and choosing less words than more is hard you know? I want to give you more pictures and more information, but it takes time. Thanks for tuning in to read a post about my favourite city in the world.
This was my fourth time in Santiago de Cuba. I went once for a school trip, twice for leisure and now on a baecation. My wonderful boyfriend actually got us the flights to Santiago de Cuba as a birthday gift to me. He picked the perfect place.
My love of this city has been ongoing since 2012. Although I have never been to Havana, I just can’t see anywhere else outdoing Santiago de Cuba for me. The people, the culture, the partying? No no no. It’s too good.
During the week we spent in Cuba we did detour from our time in Santiago de Cuba to head over to Baracoa. Luckily, I already wrote about what taking the bus from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa is like and I wrote about the three days spent in the beautiful city of Baracoa.
It is time to discuss the time spent in Santiago de Cuba. I have been trying to break up my posts into stays, food, nature etc. But this time I will have to go day-by-day because it feels like we got into so many shenanigans. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 25th, 2019
The flight was nice and early on Christmas day. I love any opportunity to leave early and arrive at my destination early so that I may use the rest of my day to gallivant.
At about 12:15pm we arrived at the airport in Santiago de Cuba. The airport is small and don’t expect to leave in a timely manner. In our case, we chose a customs line that suddenly had their power turn off, great.
But when you’re on vacation (especially at the beginning of it) there’s no reason to be aggravated and annoyed. My boyfriend and I actually ended up being the last people processed from our whole flight. Guess what? Were still in a good mood because we were in a warm country on Christmas. Can’t be bothered getting upset over things you can’t control.
Once we finally did get cleared by customs and were able to pick up our bags, it was time to exchange money. Make sure you do it as soon as you’re at the airport since you can only buy CUC in Cuba and you’ll probably have to pay your taxi or tip your resort driver very soon.
The exchange rate was awful, I remember a time I use to go to Cuba and our Canadian dollar was higher. What a time.
One wonderful thing that we did witness at this point was that on their sole little TV in the arrivals area – the Raptors game was on!!! A Christmas game for Toronto and they were playing that in Cuba. That was the sign that this trip would obviously be amazing.
Our AirBnB host Amarilis was at the airport to meet us with a taxi. She arranged a pick up and drop off for us, to simplify the process of getting to our spot. The airport in Santiago de Cuba is only 10-15 minutes from the center of town, but if you don’t have prearranged transport you could get charged waaaay more than you should.
The location and size of the AirBnB was perfect for us. The only thing that made it more perfect were the hosts. Amarilis, her husband Javier and their daughter Erika were the sweetest human beings. They welcomed us like we were an extended part of their family!
We had the entire top floor of their house which had two patios, a beautiful view, bathroom, kitchen and two beds. If you ever plan on visiting Santiago de Cuba, here is the link to the AirBnB, you won’t be disappointed. I would only say if you have mobility issues maybe this wouldn’t work for you as there are two flights of stairs to get all the way up. The final set is spiral and I personally had to go up and down them backwards because I’m big and clumsy.
Once we were acquainted with our AirBnB hosts and the location I took my boyfriend walking over to my favourite place in Santiago de Cuba – Parque Cespedes.
The center of this bustling city is incredible. All the banks are there, the nightlife, the beautiful old church and you HAVE TO take the elevator/stairs to the rooftop of Hotel Casa Granda to have a drink and enjoy the view. This is one of the ‘musts’ in Santiago de Cuba because no other place is as awesome as this during day or night.
We ate some food and made sure to drink our first (but not last) Cuba Libres. At $1.50 CUC for one, the exchange rate didn’t matter. A rum and coke here was still 1/4 of the cost of one in Toronto.
Once we were nice and full and slightly tipsy, we walked down by the waterfront. This is where you can find the big CUBA sign to take your touristy pictures, and find some more bars. We found another bar to go sit at that was on the water. Enjoyed the heat and nice views there for a little bit.
My boyfriend made friends with a young man who was driving like a rickshaw bicycle. He offered to drive us around Santiago de Cuba for a good price so we took it!
He showed us the old beer and rum factories first. Then we stopped by quickly at the new bus station in Santiago de Cuba. This would be the place we would depart from three days later to go to Baracoa.
Drove around looking at some other monuments in Santiago de Cuba, and ended our night in a random mans living room buying Cuban cigars. Wild right? Yeah we didn’t know our night would finish like this either, but hey, they were WAY cheaper than the ones at the airport. A box had to be purchased to bring home.
I should also mention, we went to this restaurant that had a huge lobster as a main dish. Our tour guide suggested it and it was really good!
Our first day was long and busy, but this is exactly why I enjoy landing so early. Got to use this day fully.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
How do you top Christmas? That was one busy day.
Well we woke up and head down to Melia Santiago de Cuba. I believe this is the only fancy pants hotel in all of Santiago de Cuba and it is really popular. I knew about this place because the previous three times I had come to this city, my casa particular was a five minute walk from it. In my ‘Day Pass Hack’ blog post I had also mentioned coming here to enjoy all the luxuries – without paying the crazy nightly room price.
For $16.00 CUC per person, you get to use their beautiful pools from 11am-7pm, you get three alcoholic drinks (or non-alcoholic) and a pizza!
I loved coming here before and I enjoyed it thoroughly again. It is so relaxed and because there are so many pools around you, it isn’t really busy. If you come to Santiago de Cuba and want a very chill day, do it here.
We stayed at the pool until about 6pm and then began our walk home. We did this walk more times than I can count in the heat and I really believe it made us lose weight. The distance from the Melia to our AirBnB was like 4km. Yeaaaah, up and down those streets. We are super fit.
During the walk home we walked by a nightclub called St. Pauli. The head bouncer named Mario was sitting outside and we talked to him a little bit about the club and if we should come back later etc. He was awesome and having this conversation with him would really benefit us later during this trip.
So we go home, shower, get fancied up and decide to hit St. Pauli that night. We first went to the adjoining restaurant and had a delicious pork loin and octopus for dinner, with a side of Cuba Libre.
At about midnight we went into the nightclub side. The cover charge was good and as soon as we entered we asked about getting a booth. The nightclub isn’t big and trust me, you will WANT that space to yourself.
We were told that a booth had a $65.00 CUC minimum spend, with your cover charge included. So we had spent $20 CUC to enter, therefore another $45.00 to go? Hell yeah. That’s nothing for us compared to how much booths back home were.
There was a moment we considered it odd the rest of the booths had 6-7 people. On three different occasions we were even asked why we were sitting in a booth because I guess it was weird there was only two of us? It didn’t hit us as to WHY until we ordered our first drinks.
Two Cuba Libres = $5.00 CUC.
So even in the nightclub the drinks were $2.50 CUC each? How the fuck we going to get to $40.00 CUC worth? Now we understood why the other booths had so many people, drinking enough to get to $65.00 CUC would require more bodies.
I would like to share – we got to $37.00 CUC until we gave up and couldn’t drink anymore. Gave our bartender a good tip and began to wobble back to our AirBnB.
During our wobble home, we ran into some foreign students and made friends. Three gentleman all attending university in Cuba for medicine. They were from Dominica, St. Kitts and Antigua. I love new friends! We all exchanged information and said we would link up the next day to go party again.
Friday, December 27th, 2019
So I am a beach bum. I absolutely love beaches. People love going to Cuba because of the beaches, I totally understand. See, Santiago de Cuba doesn’t have the super blue, white sand beaches like Cayo Guillermo or Varadero – but it does have a nice beach.
At around 10am we took a taxi from Santiago de Cuba to Playa Siboney. I think the ride each way took about 35-40 minutes so it isn’t close. It is most definitely worth the ride though.
Once you arrive you are offered beach chairs and a beach umbrella, along with a full food and liquor menu. The men working on the beach bring the items back and forth to you, so your only job is to lay down and tan or go swimming. It’s a beautiful beach because it is clean, it is empty and there is accessible liquor. Can’t beat that.
My boyfriend had this really good steamed fish as his meal and I had a huge portion of grilled lobster. It was an awesome afternoon.
When we returned from our day at the beach, it was time to go party again. This time our wonderful AirBnB hosts were suggesting we go up to party inside the nightclub located at Melia Santiago de Cuba. On the 35th floor there is a big nightclub that had a beautiful view over all of the city.
We called our new friends we had met the night before, so we ALL went out this night.
It was decent, to me. This is definitely a more stuck up club with people buying bottles well into the hundreds of dollars just to stunt. Usually not my cup of tea, but you have to try different places out you know?
The party went on until lateeee, we ‘only‘ stayed until 4am though. We had an 8am bus to catch to Baracoa in a couple of hours…..
Saturday, December 28th &
Sunday, December 29th in Baracoa
Monday, December 30th, 2019
I think our bus arrived back from Baracoa around 6:30pm. We took a walk from the bus station into the Parque Cespedes area to get food and drinks before going home to rest.
This night was an especially beautiful night to sit on top of the Hotel Casa Granda because below us you could see and hear all the set up for New Years eve the next day.
Seeing this made us even more excited to finish up 2019 in Santiago de Cuba.
Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
The final day of 2019 would brought in relaxing and being loved. That is what we did.
We woke up and walked back down to the Melia Santiago to enjoy the pool, again. On the way there we saw the hundreds of pigs already being roasted for New Years. It is tradition here to roast a pig on NYE, so if you don’t eat pork – this may not be the place for you on this day/night.
I love piggys and the streets smelled so good because of them being out there prepared.
Our time at the Melia pool was good and quiet on this day, minus some dark clouds moving in later in the afternoon.
Prior to December 31st, our Amarilis and Javier had told us they’d be having a party at the house for their family, along with their own pig. When we got back from the pool, we took a nap and then it was time to get ready to party with them.
In Santiago de Cuba, the clubs don’t actually start until 1-2am for New Years because at midnight everyone is at home celebrating with family first. I really liked that. At midnight you are surrounded by drunk loved ones and then after you go be surrounded by drunks strangers.
We partied with their family for a bit and ate some of that delicious pig with its crispy skin.
At 1am my boyfriend and I head back out to St. Pauli. There was a big lineup this time though and everyone who was getting in, was paying up to get by.
Earlier in this post I had mentioned the front doorman named Mario. Well we got lucky, he recognized us from our conversation before and BOOM invited us right to the front of the line. Cover was still $10.00 CUC and we went in to be around drunk strangers.
Unfortunately, we ran into this douchebag from Toronto we had also met earlier in the week who didn’t take being turned down by women too kindly. He began to try to fight a group of women because they turned down his advances, so by 3am we left him. No one needs that kind of dickhead round them to bring in the New Year. So much negativity. No thanks.
Well it was finally time to leave Santiago de Cuba on New Year’s Day. Our flight wasn’t until 1pm so we had plenty of time to sleep in and enjoy our breakfast.
Amarilis had organized our transport to the airport and made sure to tell us to return soon. On top of all that, she gave us a parting gift of a cup of rum each with no chaser to drink on the way to the airport. My poor liver.
With this post I hope more people go visit Santiago de Cuba. I know it doesn’t draw the crowds like the all-inclusive cities on beachfronts or like Havana, but you REALLY REALLY need to go see it for yourself. The weather is awesome, there’s plenty to do and the people are wonderful.
Go visit Santiago de Cuba, my favourite city I’ve traveled to.