The Performing Arts
Besides the locally grown Cuban music scene, another nighttime draw is the Cabaret Tropicana Santiago, Autopista Nacional Km 1.5, north of Santiago (tel. 22/64-2579). It's second in size and fame only to Havana's internationally regarded Tropicana, but Santiago's show is no second banana. It's a slickly produced cabaret show -- different from the one in Havana -- with excellent singers and dancers and extraordinarily elaborate costumes. Dinner is available, and drinks aren't cheap, but the Tropicana is a must-see, only if you don't have an opportunity to catch the program in the capital. The show begins at 10pm on Saturdays; there's also a dance club on the premises, open until 3am. The show, including dinner and one drink, is CUC$20. Packaged excursions with dinner and transportation can be purchased at the larger hotels and all tour operators.
You'll find a much more scaled-down and less-expensive Saturday night show at the Santiago Café (tel. 22/68-7070), in the Meliá Santiago. The cover here is just CUC$5, which includes two drinks.
The top spots for cultural events such as dance and theater (which inevitably take a back seat to live music) are the sleek Teatro Heredia, Avenida de los Desfiles, across from the Plaza de la Revolución (tel. 22/64-3178). Keep an eye out for performances by Ballet Folklórico Cutumba, an extraordinary Afro-Cuban outfit that has toured in North America and Europe. Cutumba has returned to Santiago and has its base at the old Cine Galaxia, Calle Trocha corner of Santa Ursula (Av V. Hierrezuelo; tel. 22/65-5173; www.cubanfolkloricdance.com/cutumba.php). At press time, the Ballet Folklórico Cutumba planned to have regular performances on Saturdays at 6pm, and Sundays at 11am (CUC$3). Rehearsals can be seen outside of festival times from Tuesdays to Fridays in the morning (CUC$1). Also keep an eye out for Conjunto Folklórico de Oriente, which often performs at Hotel Casa Granda. You may not catch all the spiritual and cultural elements embedded in their show, but the music and dance are infectious nonetheless. Teatro Heredia is the headquarters for the Festival del Caribe in July, but the entertainment also takes place in the streets and the Casa del Caribe. Some events require reservations; contact Agencia Paradiso (tel. 22/62-0214; email@example.com) or the Casa del Caribe.
Santiago is all about the music. Some of the biggest personalities on the Cuban music scene, such as Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, and La Vieja Trova Santiaguera, hail from Santiago. Although Compay died at 95 in 2003, Ochoa is still active, touring both in Cuba and internationally. Calle Heredia, just off Parque Céspedes, is Cuba's version of Bourbon Street, but much less commercialized. Four or five places burst with addictive live, traditional Cuban music on any given night, and several have bands during the day, too. Personal local favorites include Los Jubilados, a band of gregarious septuagenarians who often play at the Casa de la Trova; Kokoyé, a folkloric band playing traditional Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian music; and the Vocal Divas, a talented women's a cappella group.
Several of the spots we list are not only great for hearing live music, but also for watching local patrons who make dancing to Cuban music a sultry art form all their own. Give it a try yourself and don't worry about looking foolish; unless you've had professional training, you simply can't compete with Cubans on the dance floor, so don't even try. If you're without a partner, there's usually no shortage of Cuban men and women (most of whom will invariably be jineteros and jineteras) willing to give you a whirl. At places like the Casa de la Trova and other spots around town, you're likely to find music throughout the day, beginning around noon, and well into the night. At most clubs, the music starts around 9pm and really heats up from around 10pm until 2am.
Bars & Clubs
In general, bars open around noon and stay open as long as there are patrons, usually between midnight and 2am. Dance clubs and music joints tend to get going around 10pm and stay open until at least 2am.