Santiago de Cuba, the capital of the eastern province of the same name, has become a major tourist destination in the region, based on the importance of its architectural, historic and cultural wealth.
Founded in 1514 by Conqueror Diego Velázquez, the city was Cuba's capital until 1607, during a period in which it was hit by several disasters, including an earthquake that devastated the village in 1675, and the predating action of corsairs and pirates.
The city's prominent tourist facilities are run by the company Compay Tiago, which is attached to the Office of the City Curator.
Under the trademark Girasol, the Bayamo Inn was inaugurated in the city's historic heart. The establishment was decorated with elements from the Spanish-colonial period, including iron-wrought railings, stained-glass windows and pots with ornamental plants, while the rooms' furniture and bathrooms are also based on elements from that period.
Six similar inns are grouped under the trademark Hostales Clásicos, which are characterized by their interior decoration with paintings by renowned Cuban artists born in Santiago de Cuba.
In addition, the group's strategy aims to use areas of great architectural, cultural and historic values, such as the city's historic heart, the cultural landscape of El Cobre, the zone of La Gran Piedra (The Big Rock), the area of coffee farms in the southeast, and the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca and its entire defense system, to promote tourism.
In downtown Santiago de Cuba, which has an extraordinary variety of museums, is the former Arms Square, which is the heart of the city and is currently known as Céspedes Park as a tribute to Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, also known as the Forefather of the Cuban Homeland.
Around the park, there are several buildings with marked Spanish-colonial architecture, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, built in the 16th century. The church holds a painting that experts consider it is the oldest in Cuba.
Also in Santiago's historic heart is the oldest house in Cuba, where Conqueror Diego Velázquez lived. It was also the House of Procurement and the Crown's Minting House. It was built with quarry blocks and still shows some original elements such as the tile roof and Moorish latticework.
Reminiscences of Spanish-colonial architecture also flank Heredia Street, where several cultural events are held and where visitors can learn about the best exponents of the Cuban musical rhythms known as "son" and bolero, as well as local singer songwriters.
Among the cultural institutions and museums in downtown Santiago is the centennial Bacardí Museum, the oldest in Cuba, which holds a collection of weapons from the wars of independence, artifacts that belonged to Cuban aboriginal people, and even Inca and Egyptian mummies.
Near the city, La Gran Piedra, which was included in the Guinness Book of World Record, rises majestically and impressively. The rock weighs nearly 70,000 tons and is some 1,220 meters above sea level.