Havana may be Cuba's main draw, but cruisers sailing on an itinerary to the island nation will find lots to love about Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba — two of the country's other major ports. Don't think of them as secondary cities. These two ports have gorgeous architecture and historic monuments as well as a distinct musical heritage. And Santiago de Cuba was the birthplace of one of the island's most influential exports — rum.
Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos is on the island's southern coast, roughly 150 miles from the capital. The early 19th-century city was built by French immigrants on a Spanish settlement and the influence of both countries is noticeable in town. Stately mansions and palaces dot the main street heading out to sea, and Parisian inspiration is evident in the buildings around the city’s main square. Shore excursions could include a performance by a Cuban choral group at the neoclassical Teatro Tomás Terry, a late 19th-century masterpiece best known for its mahogany interior as well as its acoustics.
You'll know you are almost in Santiago de Cuba (located on Cuba's more mountainous southeastern coast) when you see El Morro — the 17th century fortress that stands guard at the city’s harbor entrance. El Morro was recognized by UNESCO as a prime example of Spanish-American military architecture. If you’re lucky, your visit will coincide with a performance by the Vocal Vidas, an all-female a capella group that regularly sings in the fort’s chapel. El Morro is just one of Santiago de Cuba's must-sees, though. Besides rum, the city was the birthplace of son (a type of Afro-Cuban music) and the Cuban revolution. Today you can visit Santiago’s Rum Museum, take a spin on the dance floor at one of the city’s famous clubs, and do a tour of sites integral to Castro’s revolution.
Watch our video above to see the highlights of things to do in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.