Santa Clara is a town located in the heart of Cuba. However, often being ignored, there are many things you can do in Santa Clara.
Many travelers do no think of including Santa Clara into their Cuba itinerary. But this is a mistake and in this post, we will explain why.
So if you are interested in history and getting to know more about Cuban culture this will be an awesome spot for you. Here you can visit many locations that have significant historical importance for Cuba. And not only that, Santa Clara really surprised us with its lovely colonial buildings, lively streets and friendly locals.
After visiting colonial Trinidad, we are happy that we managed to visit Santa Clara during our holidays in Cuba.
ABOUT SANTA CLARA
Santa Clara is the capital of the province Villa Clara. Santa Clara in Cuba has over 250.000 inhabitants, making it the 5th largest town. The city was founded in 1689, exactly on July 15 by 175 people. Because of constant pirate attacks, some of them moved away. Santa Clara had a couple of names before its final name, such as Cayo Nuevo or Villa Nueva de Santa Clara.
Santa Clara is also called the Che Guevera city. So before we start with the best things to do in Santa Clara, we will elaborate on:
Why Santa Clara is a very important city in Cuba?
and why Che Guevera plays a vital role in Cuban history?
Ready? Let’s dig into a bit of history.
Do not worry, we won’t bore you with numbers and dates, but with only the essential facts on Santa Clara’s major role in Cuban history.
THE BATTLE IN SANTA CLARA AND REVOLUTION IN CUBA
If you know a little bit about Cuban history, you might know that the Cuban revolution was one of the most important moments. The Cuban revolution started in 1953 and lasted till 1958.
Exactly in Santa Clara on December 31, 1958, the last battle of the Cuban revolution was initiated by guerrillas. Their aim was to overthrow dictator Batista.
There were a total of two attacks happening in Santa Clara. One group under Che Guevara’s command managed to derail an armored train that was carrying Batista’s soldiers and supplies. The other group led by another guerrilla called Camilo Cienfuegos took over the city near Santa Clara, called Yaguajay.
The battle didn’t take very long and the guerrillas managed to take the city.
It is also a bit of a controversial topic as many of Batista’s soldiers didn’t even try to fight and surrendered instantly. Many Cubans say, that Batista soldiers surrendered as they were scared by Che Guevera’s ferocious reputation. Anyways, Batista fled Cuba 12 hours after the battle in Santa Clara.
ABOUT CHE GUEVERA
Santa Clara is not the only city in Cuba where you will see many statues or graffitis of Che Guevera. Every town in Cuba has statues or memorials of Che. Ernesto Guevara is a national hero and he was a very crucial member of the Cuban revolution. His nickname was “Che” and many people mistakenly think that he was Cuban.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born in Argentina and he was a very intelligent man. Che was deeply interested in poetry, read many books and studied medicine. And he was a real traveler, a true globetrotter.
Now, what was actually “Che” Guevara’s mission? Why he was running around Latin America and fighting for others in other countries?
Many would say, that he was crazy, risking his life for others. But to many, Che was a true hero.
When he traveled to South America he realized that he wants to help others. Che saw how people live, in what conditions, with poor educational systems and no opportunities at all. He wanted to help countries and it’s people and free them from dictators and regimes. So he dedicated his life to helping others. He motivated his army with his wise words and goals. His favorite saying or motto: “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” which means “Until victory, forever” is associated with him till today.
CHE GUEVARA’S DEATH
After successfully and victoriously fighting in the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara returned home to Argentina and continued his mission. Unlike in almost every heroic movie, you know that things have no happy endings and heroes have many enemies in real life. Che Guevara traveled to Bolivia where he started to plan another revolution. At first, everything was going quite well. But due to the involvement of the CIA, the Bolivian forces turned out to be harder to overcome then Che expected.
However, Bolivian president supported by the USA ordered his murder. He was afraid that Che would do the same thing in Bolivia as in Cuba. Also, the USA wanted to prevent Bolivia from becoming a communist country. Che Guevara was finally caught and executed in 1967 in Bolivia.
We get it, bringing communism into countries is not a good idea. But despite all of it, Che Guevara had good intentions in helping others and helping people to improve their lives.
All right guys, now that you have great knowledge of the Cuban revolution and who was actually Ernesto “Che” Guevara, you can discover what Santa Clara has to offer.
HOW TO GET TO SANTA CLARA?
We were coming from the beautiful Trinidad where we spent 3 days and we took a very early bus at 7.30 AM. It takes around 3 hours to get to Santa Clara from Trinidad. We paid 8 CUC per person.
We arrived in Santa Clara at 10.30 AM. You can book your tickets online on the Viazul and the website is also in English. Just make sure to book a few days before as the bus tickets are quickly sold out.
If you do not manage to book your bus tickets, you can also take a taxi collectivo and share your trip with other travelers. Simply ask your host in Trinidad to look for your driver.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN SANTA CLARA
Despite Santa Clara being overlooked by many travelers, there are surprisingly many things to do.
If you have only 1 day in Santa Clara you can manage to see all of the important sites. Just make sure to start in the morning.
You can either explore the city on your own or even book a tour with a professional guide that will explain to you all the details about Santa Clara. Cuba is very interesting place and getting information from the right hand is the best way how you can learn and see as much as possible about Santa Clara. Especially if you have no idea about Cuban history and didn’t do your homework before you came to Cuba.
And as you know, Cuba doesn’t have the internet on every corner, so if you want to read some information upfront this might difficult.
THE CHE GUEVARA MONUMENT AND MAUSOLEUM
One of the best things to do in Santa Clara is visiting The Che Guevara Mausoleum and Monument. The Che Guevara Mausoleum and Monument are located a bit outside of the city center but you can easily walk there. If you do not want to walk, you can take a tuk-tuk taxi. We paid around 3 Cuc from the city center.
It is not such a big complex and there is also a small museum inside. There are several belongings displayed from Che Guevara’s life and also a bit of history. Again, do not expect too much, as Cubans somehow do not like to make museums very organized. Some explanations are only in Spanish. However, it is definitely worth going.
The Che Guevara Mausoleum is one of the most popular things to do in Santa Clara, you will see many tourists here. In fact, every single tourist coming to Santa Clara will go there. That means you might be waiting in the queue for a little bit. Since it is a small museum they can’t let everyone in. However, we only waited for about 20 minutes.
If you have a bag, you will be asked to check-in.
ENTRANCE FEE: FREE
OPENING TIMES: 8:30 AM – 5 PM (Closed on Mondays)
LOCATION: Che Guevara Square, Campo de Tiro
OLD COLONIAL TOWN
There are many colonial buildings that give Santa Clara a Cuban charm. The old town is small but definitely worth checking out. It is not a big city center and you can easily see everything in 2 hours.
Make sure to walk through the Boulevard road. This is where you can do some shopping, check out some cute stores or get some street food.
Make sure to stop at the Teatro la Caridad which is Santa Clara’s theatre. This theatre was built in 1885 and it is worthy of going inside. Just for 1 CUC, you can see a beautifully painted ceiling and a lovely design. It is the oldest theater in Cuba and until nowadays there are regular musicals, ballets, and other performances.
ENTRANCE FEE: 1 CUC
You can also take a guided tour to learn more about this place, and if you have time you can also buy tickets to one of the performances. The ticket prices start at 5 CUC.
LOCATION: Located at Parque Leoncio Vidal.
For people-watching, sit down for a bit at Parque Leoncio Vidal or Parque Vidal. This is the main plaza in Santa Clara with a small fountain and a very interesting statue of a little boy holding a leaking boot (or known in Cuba as the boy with the unfortunate boot).
There are reportedly several similar statues spread all over the world but no one really knows what the meaning is and who the boy is. One of the stories is that the boy was a young Italian selling newspapers before drowning at a young age. If you want to find out more head to Wikipedia. Here you will see often musicians playing or the municipal orchestra. At Park Vidal you will also find the city’s Wifi-Hotspot.
You can see bullet holes of the time of the revolution in the wall of Hotel Santa Clara Libre.
On our way back from the mausoleum we passed by these beautiful and artistic murals. Each painting is depicting different topics from daily life or politics. They were painted by various artists from Cuba. Again it shows the revolutionary spirit of Santa Clara.
SEE MORE: HOW TO SPEND 10 AWESOME DAYS IN CUBA
Another very important point of interest in Santa Clara is the Tren Blindado Monument and museum. As always, Cubans do not make such a big deal in displaying many details. So if you do not know anything about this place you might wonder: Hmm, really cool contemporary art exhibition.
The whole monument is located on a small square with a couple of wagons which you can enter. This is where guerrillas ambushed an armored railway car in 1958.
Each wagon displays some artifacts and explanations about the battle. It is very interesting to see for sure. Here you can also see the yellow bulldozer which Che Guevara and his men used to derail the train.
There is also a small museum next to the trains. You can easily walk to Tren Blindado from Parque Leoncio Vidal and it takes around 10 minutes.
ENTRANCE FEE: If you want to just look around, it is free. If you want to go inside of the wagon it is 1 CUC per person.
OPENING TIMES: 09:00 AM – 5:30 PM (Sundays closed)
LOCATION: Avenida Liberacion
THE STATUE OF CHE GUEVARA HOLDING A CHILD
Next to the train museum, there is the statue of Che Guevera holding a child.
The statue represents the new future for Cuba.
Look closely, as you will notice many tine tiny figures all around this statue. These figures are depicting stories from Che’s life. You will notice small figures like a small boy riding a goat on his shoulder, the figure of a girl looking out of the window and many more.
LOCATION: Avenida Liberacion, just 450 meters of Tren Blindado.
LOMA DEL CAPIRO LOOKOUT
After you saw the most important places in Santa Clara you can check out Santa Clara from above. Go up to the Loma del Capiro which is a nice viewpoint overlooking Santa Clara. It has a gorgeous 360-degree panoramic view on Santa Clara. It is a small hill and you can definitely manage to go up the 200 steps.
On this hill, Che Guevara was hiding before he embushed the Batista train during the Battle of Santa Clara.
NIGHT OUT AT EL MEJUNJE
If you think that Cuba is very conservative and somewhat conformist, then you are wrong. At least in Santa Clara residents have been constantly challenging the regime’s censorship regulations. Hence to no surprise, Santa Clara is the place to see Transvestite shows. And if you come at the right time in March, you can see or (join) the Miss Transvestite Beauty Pageant.
But not only that, there are many hosts coming to Santa Clara from all around Cuba to do shows, such as magicians and other entertainers. Furthermore Cuba’s best rock festival “Ciudad Metal” takes place here. And of course, you will always find a proper cocktail bar.
WHERE TO EAT IN SANTA CLARA?
Cafe-Museo Revolucion: If you would like combine museum with drinks then head to Cafe-Museo Revolucion. There different rooms dedicated to Fidel, Che Guevera and Camilo. And on top of everything Between 09.00 AM and 11.00 AM there is FREE WIFI.
Hostal Florida Center: Seemingly one of the best restaurants in Santa Clara that serves Cuba food and delicious drinks accompanied by singers.
Cafe Literario: Another awesome place for a coffee break.
El Alba: Located near Parque Leoncio Vidal, this is a local restaurant that serves traditional Cuban dishes, such as fish with rice and veggies.
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTA CLARA?
We stayed one night at Beny and Roberto Hostel and paid 30 CUC for 1 night. Our hosts had their own chef so it was really worthy of going for dinner here. In general, we recommend having dinner in the Casas particulares. You can also check for a room on Airbnb. You can get $37 off on your first stay.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SANTA CLARA?
The best time to visit Santa Clara is from November to March. This when you have sunny days with a minimum of rain. We do not advise you traveling to Santa Clara from August till October, as this is a hurricane season in Cuba.
IS SANTA CLARA IN CUBA SAFE?
We felt very safe in Santa Clara. Some parts of Santa Clara might seem dodgy, but we felt comfortable walking around even in the evening. However, always take normal safety precautions, mind your belongings and behave respectfully.
I hope that you find our guide with the best things to do in Santa Clara useful and that you will have a great time learning more about Cuban history.
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