Santa Clara: hasta siempre comandante!
Nowhere else in Cuba does the myth of the Cuban national hero Che Guevara live on more than in Santa Clara. On December 29, 1958, the freedom fighter overcame the troops of the Batista regime here by a daring action. But after the important victory, the road to Havana was paved. Today Santa Clara represents an authentic Cuban small town, which has more to offer than the monument of the world-famous revolutionary.
With about a quarter of a million inhabitants, Santa Clara ranks among the five largest cities in Cuba. The city is located on the northern foothills of the Escambray Mountains and so embedded in a fertile and hilly landscape. By Cuban standards, it is a fairly young city. It was founded in 1689 by families fleeing pirate attacks from the city of Remedios.
The city center is located in the area close to the Park Vidal and the pedestrian street, the so-called Boulevard de Santa Clara. During the day, there is often a lot of activity in the pedestrian zones. According to Cuban conditions, the stores are well managed and have a neatly sorted and extensive range of goods. There are also various possibilities to get a snack or a cup of coffee.
Among the most important sights are the historic downtown, with the important Parque Vidal, the monument to the last important battle of the Cuban Revolution, and of course the imposing Che memorial at the Plaza de la Revolución, built in honor of the supposedly most famous revolutionary of all time.
Around the main square, Parque Vidal, much of the city's public life takes place. Surrounding the park are the Casa de la Cultura, the Casa de la Trova, the neoclassical Palacio Provincial and the Teatro de la Caridad, which is modeled after the Paris Opera. If you want to rest, you can do so on one of the many inviting benches.
But beware. The park is not only popular with people, but also a meeting place for thousands of birds, which can be found increasingly in the large trees at late hours.
A closer look at the sights in Santa Clara:
Highlights in Santa Clara:
- The „Che“ Guevara monument is located at the large Plaza de la Revolución. The complex includes the mausoleum, a six-meter high bronze statue of the freedom fighter and a memorial to other deceased revolutionaries. The eternal flame in the mausoleum was lit by longtime companion Fidel Castro himself. Close to the side is also a small store where you can buy drinks and souvenirs. The mausoleum is open until 5 pm. The entrance is free. The fare for a ride to or from the center should be between 2 and 5 USD, it is best to arrange a driver with enough waiting time.
- On December 28, 1958, Ché and just 18 men attacked an armored special train, the so-called Tren Blindado. The train was equipped with two diesel locomotives carrying 17 wagons. Accompanied by 373 soldiers, it was heading east to support Batista's troops, with supplies and ammunition. The rebels trapped the train in an ambush. After a firefight lasting several hours, the soldiers capitulated. Most of the defeated soldiers showed solidarity with the revolutionaries. The victory in Santa Clara is considered a milestone of the revolution. As early as December 31, the rebels reached the outskirts of Havana, whereupon Cuba's dictator departed for the Dominican Republic. Only a week later - on January 8, 1959 - Fidel Castro entered the capital. The memorial can be reached on foot from the center in just over 10 minutes. The entrance is 2 USD.
Sights around the Parque Vidal
- Built in 1885, the Teatro La Caridad is one of Cuba's most historic playhouses and is protected as a national monument. The large theater hall holds over 500 visitors, distributed over four floors. If you are in town at the right time, then you can take part in an authentic event in the appealing atmosphere, but already the historic building is worth a visit.
- The Museo de Artes Decorativas is located at Parque Vidal in a noble residential building dating back to the 18th century. Inside the historic building you can see furniture and decorative elements such as high quality ceramics and tableware of the period. The entrance fee is 2 USD per person.
- Casa de la Cultura
- Casa de la Trova
- Palacio Provincial
What else to see
- Not far from the city center and only a stone's throw from the Tren Blindado a farmer's market is hold. The Mercado Buen Viaje is worth seeing, there you can find fresh fruits and vegetables of the region. The market is especially busy on Saturday mornings. The location is somewhat hidden, behind the train monument. If you like to go to markets, you can also visit the Sandino market, which is a little further away. Especially on Sunday mornings, there is a lot of activity there.
- The almost 200-meter-high Loma del Capiro served as a strategic vantage point for the revolutionaries during the attack on the Tren Blindado. Because of this history, the hill is now one of Cuba's national monuments. There is a small monument on the hilltop. For the ascent, a rather steep staircase must be climbed. However, there is also access from the back, which leads almost all the way to the top. So if you are afraid of the climb, you can take a driver and only have to manage the last steps. Once at the top, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Santa Clara and the hilly surrounding countryside.
Eat & Drink
Hungry travelers can find simple snacks in the pedestrian zone on Boulevard San Rafael. In a genuine atmosphere, you can also get a coffee or a bite to eat in one of the cozy pubs on Calle Céspedes. The best restaurant in the city center is probably Saborarte in Calle Maceo.
Let's take a close look at the best bars and restaurants in Santa Clara:
- You can eat quite good by Cuban standards at the Saborearte Restaurant. A couple of years ago, the place had only a few tables and the roof was on the verge of collapse. Today it is one of the largest restaurants in the city. There is quite an extensive choice of dishes. The price level is still moderate, therefore many locals also like to eat here. The only downer is that the restaurant only opens in the afternoon.
- There is a bar on the roof terrace of the eye-catching Art Deco skyscraper that hosts the Hotel Santa Clara Libre. From the roof you have a wonderful panoramic view over Santa Clara and the countryside. The bar is perfect for enjoying the sunset with a drink. Access is through the lobby. Parties are organized in the evenings. The entrance fee of 3 USD includes a free drink. The hotel itself is not recommended for overnight stays.
- In the Bodeguita del Medio you can enjoy a drink in an authentic atmosphere. You can also grab a snack, but the quality is not very good. La B del M is located on Calle Leoncio, just a stone's throw from Parque Vidal.
As a student city, Santa Clara has a nice nightlife to offer. In the evenings, locals gather mainly around the Park Vidal, students and young people specifically at the corner of Teatro La Caridad. A stone's throw from the square, in Calles Céspedes, there are a number of cozy student bars.
Bars & Nightclubs in Santa Clara
- On the rooftop on the 10th floor of the Hotel Santa Clara Libre there is a nightclub, that is a popular meeting place for the local nighthawks. It offers a great view over Park Vidal and all of Santa Clara. When the bar is open, the music can be heard downstairs in the park. Access is through the lobby of the hotel. The prices are moderate, the crowd is often quite young. The music is mostly reggaeton. 3 USD entrance fee with one free drink included.
- A few steps from Vidal Park lies, housed in a ruin, the Centro Cultural El Mejunje. The cultural center is known throughout the country. In the inner courtyard different events are offered. On some days it is a popular meeting place of the local gay scene. Admission usually no more than 1 USD with very affordable drinks.
- From the center you can walk to the Cabaret El Bosque in about 20 minutes. The cabaret hosts various events under the open sky in a beautiful green garden.
- In the nightclub Cabaret Cubanacán you can, with a little luck, marvel at one of Havana's hottest artists. The open air club is located a bit outside, so you will need a cab. From the center, a ride should cost about 5 USD. Depending on who is playing, admission is usually between 5 and 10 USD.
Santa Clara can be easily reached by one of the Viazul buses, but the bus station, the so-called Terminal de Ómnibus Interprovincial. The station is located a bit outside the center, a bit too far for a walk. Fortunately, horse-drawn carriages connect the center from the station for 5 Cuban pesos. The carriages leave diagonally opposite the bus station. A faster way is to charter a three-wheeled cab for about 2 to 5 USD. There are usually enough drivers waiting near the station.
If you travel by shared cab, you do not have to go to the bus station, but to the
Terminal de Taxis. The meeting point of the shared cabs is opposite the Terminal de Ómnibus Intermunicipal. From Santa Clara, shared cabs go in all directions, for example to Cienfuegos, officially for 50 Cuban pesos (2 USD) per passenger.
Santa Clara is also linked to the important east-west railroad, that is, the main line of the Cuban rail network. Therefore, it is possible to take the trains that run between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. All the important information about traveling by train can be found in the article about railroads in Cuba. If you are lucky, you can also catch a train to Cienfuegos. The historic train station is located a little north of the city center and can be reached from the center in about a ten-minute walk.
In Santa Clara, you can stay at the above-mentioned Hotel Santa Clara Libre, but this is not recommended. If you want to stay in a hotel, it is better to choose the beautiful Hotel Central, which is just as advantageously located directly at the Parque Vidal. For those who prefer a less costly homestay, there is a wide range of decent casa particulars in the center of the city.
Our recommendations for your stay in Santa Clara
- The Amarillo B&B is a little boutique hotel in the heart of Santa Clara. The house was recently renovated and furnished with great attention to detail. The rooms are nice and have modern bathrooms. There is a good breakfast and free Wi-Fi in the rooms. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the breakfast is plentiful. Overall, the Amarillo B&B is an excellent place to stay.
- The recently renovated Hotel Central is the most prestigious hotel in Santa Clara. The four-star house is located directly on the main square, the Parque Vidal. All central attractions can be reached on foot in a few minutes. The hotel is located in a historic building and has air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms. Breakfast is included. You can spend time on the roof terrace or the bar in front of the hotel.
There are several interesting excursions in the area surrounding Santa Clara. Just under an hour's drive east of the city lies the historically important small town of Remedios. A visit to Remedios is especially interesting for all travelers on their way to the nearby Cayos (Cayo Santa Maria), since the connecting road (Carretera a Camajuaní) leads right past the small town. Shortly before you reach the causeway to the Cayos, you will pass the Museo de la Agroindustria Azucarera (Sugar Museum), which is worth a visit.
South of Santa Clara lies the Sierra de Escambray mountains with the tropical Topes de Collantes National Park. The variety of activities and sights that are offered in the mountains can be found in the article about the Sierra de Escambray. If you drive from Santa Clara on highway 474 in the direction of Trinidad for about an hour, you will reach the big Hanabanilla lake, which is well worth seeing and where you can take an exciting boat trip. If you want to get to the reservoir, leave the highway at Manicaragua.