Anyone familiar with the life of Hemingway knows that his was an adventurous life, and many of his adventures found their way into his fiction. In the 1930s Hemingway hunted on the African Safari and he fished in the Gulf Stream close to Cuba. In fact, many of the Cubans became so fond of him that they called him "Papa," a respectful title that remained with him throughout the rest of his life. To this day, there is the Hemingway Home and Museum located in Key West, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. This home/museum is about one hundred miles north of Cuba.
Without knowledge of Hemingway's biography, a reader can discern that Santiago is hispanic, both from his name and from his use of Spanish, such as his name for the sea, La Mer, and because of the food he eats. In the exposition, Santiago eats black beans and rice; traditionally, black beans are eaten by Cubans. In addition, the first sentence reveals his location:
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
Near the middle of the novella as Santiago struggles to catch the great fish, he promises that he will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys if he catches the fish. Importantly, he promises also to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre, known as Our Lady of Charity, if he catches it. Cobre is a remote village in Santiago, Cuba. So, there are several hints pertaining to Santiago's surroundings.