Why go to Santiago de Cuba?
Cradle of Cuba's revolution is a vibrant city, with sites that span the country's history
Vendors will be more aggressive here than elsewhere in the country
Cuba's second-largest city spotlights modern and historic Cuba, both good and bad
Santiago de Cuba Cruise Port Facilities?
There is nothing at the port, and there is no reason to hang around. The town is five minutes away.
Good to Know?
While there is no serious crime, Santiago is well known for its jiniteros -- local touts -- who will try to sell you everything from cigars to a taxi ride to a chica (girl). It's exhausting at first, but if you are firm (and no is the same in Spanish and English), then they will leave you alone. If all else fails, tell a police officer -- they are very much in evidence in the town center. Apart from this low-level hassle, you should be mindful of pickpockets and being ripped off in shops because you are a tourist.
It's also worth noting that Santiago has two sets of street names (as do many Cuban towns) -- pre- and post-revolution, and these are used interchangeably, which adds to confusion when asking directions.
By Foot: The best way to see the city is by foot. Santiago is a mass of steep streets, filled with noisy traffic and jammed up most of the time. The beauty of this city is to wander at will and see which doorway you fall into next.
By Taxi: There are taxis in town but not at the port. (There may be a taxi stand put in if cruise lines become fixtures.) If you want to get a taxi, head up to Parque Cespedes where you'll find a stand. Make sure you get drivers to agree to a price or put on the meter (which is often broken). Note, taking a taxi round Santiago is not like Havana with its sweeping streets and spread out area. You'll probably find yourself stuck in a noisy jam. For short journeys take a bici-taxi, which should be about 5 pesos per person (but you're likely to be charged a "tourist fare").
By Car: The only place to get a rental car (apart from the airport) is the state car rental company, Cubacar, in the lobby of Hotel Las Americas, some way out of the town center at the start of Avenida de las Americas.
By Bus/Truck: You will notice huge old belching Soviet-era buses and trucks grinding up the streets. These serve as public transport, and there is nothing stopping you from jumping on at any one of the numerous stops. Be warned: They are noisy and crowded -- and in the trucks you likely will be standing. Expect to pay a peso or two.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money?
You'll see the Cadeca, Cuba's national exchange, as you get off the ship. Change your money there; the rates are fixed throughout the island and there are no touts. Take local currency -- credit cards are hardly used, and U.S, credit cards cannot be used.
Spanish with a distinct accent (Cubans tend to "swallow" parts of words); limited English in the more tourist establishments. It's always useful to know a few phrases:
Por favor: Please
Gracias: Thank you
Cuanto es?: How much?
Donde esta?: Where is?
Quiero: I want
Dejame en paz: Leave me alone
Habla usted ingles?: Do you speak English?
Where You're Docked?
The ship docks at the bottom of town at the Bahia de Santiago de Cuba. You'll find the Cadeca and a woman selling postcards and stamps. That's it. You need to cross the road and head up the Calle Aguilera, the road directly opposite the port to get to town. Be warned, it's a steep climb and Santiago de Cuba is hot and dusty.