Travel Guide Draft Santa Clara
In the center of the island is the province of Villa Clara, one of the most promising province for tourism in Cuba.
Its landscape is a combination of everything Cuba has to offer. In the North, virgin beaches, small paradise islands of Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria, the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve, to satisfy beach lovers. In the South the Escambray mountain range and the Hanabanilla lake, the largest in Cuba for outdoor enthusiasts.
To complete these points of interest, all around the province are vibrant cities.
Remedios is a charming colonial town in the West, home to the famous and vivid “Parrandas de Remedios”. The origins of this tradition comes from Cuban legend of the fight against the daemons, dating from the colonial era. Nowadays, the festival featuring fireworks and dancing in the streets.
Santa Clara, the capital city of the province is a town of culture and historical heritage. The city is associated with Che Guevara who liberated the city in 1958 and ended up the Batista’s regime. Many sites are commemorating the life and exploits of the revolutionary. Santa Clara is also the only city in Cuba featuring an official drag show and is hosting the best rock festival in the country.
The province of Villa Clara is located in the center of the island, between the provinces of Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos. On the North, the Atlantic coast of the province is dotted with numerous keys, sandy beaches and coral reefs.
Some 500 keys, part of the “Jardines del Rey” archipelago, are a real tropical Paradise of more tan 17km of the finest beaches and a wildlife refuge for some 250 plant species. Cayo Las Brujas, Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria are amongst the most beautiful keys Villa Clara has to offer.
Inland, the landscape varies from mountains ranges to rivers and lakes. Around the capital city of the province is the mountain range of the “Alturas de Santa Clara”. Villa Clara also shares with Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus the Escambray mountain range. “Rio Sagua la Grande”, the largest river in Cuba flows in Villa Clara till the Atlantic Ocean. Many lakes punctuate the province’s landscape.
The main cities are Santa Clara, the capital city of the province, Remedios, Sagua la Grande, Camajuani or Caibarien.
Originally, this peice of land was inhabited by Tainos people.
From 1689, and during the XVIIIth century, inhabitants of Remedios, running away from the North coast to avoid attacks from pirates, founded the city of Santa Clara, named after Clara de Asis. The city was then the capital of a much bigger province called “Las Villas”, which was regrouping the actual provinces of Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara.
Shrine of the Cuban revolution, Santa Clara is the place of one of the major battle and victory of the Cuban Guerilla. On December 28, 1958, Ernersto Che Guevara and 300 of his guerrilleros defeated some 3000 soldiers loyal to Batista, attacking and derailing the armored train transporting soldiers and weapons. Once the strategic points in their possession, the rebels surrounded Batista’s men. After this victory, the dictator flew to Santo Domingo.
The Che was burried in the city in 1997, in a mausoleum along with some of his fellow guerrilleros.
See and Do
The genuine mix of keys and beaches, considered as the finest in Cuba, mountains lakes and rivers, as well as an undeniable historical importance, makes Villa Clara a new touristic jewel, and stop you must take on your way when crossing the island.
In Santa Clara, the monuments and museums dedicated to the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara will take you for an historical tour of what was one of the major battle of the Cuban revolution. You will also enjoy the rich architecture and culture of the city through its parks and buildings.
The city of Remedios, on the way to the keys, is famous for its traditional festivals.
On the North coast, they keys, Santa Maria, Ensenachos and Las Brujas offer wonderful beaches and one of the biggest coral reef in the world.
The Escambray mountain range, the Hanabanilla Lake for the breathtaking natural landscape or the “Balneario Elguea” and its medicinal waters round off what Villa Clara has to offer.
Mausoleo del Che Guevara
Santa Clara’s premier site is the solemn and poignant mausoleum and museum complex built in honor of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, The bronze statue of the Che, which you can see from kilometers around, was erected in 1987 to mark the 20th anniversary of Guevara’s murder in Bolivia. On the plinth of the statue you can read the famous quote “Hasta la Victoria, Siempre” as well as the famous letter he wrote to Fidel before going to fight in Bolivia.
In 1997, the remains of 17 guerilleros, that failed the Bolivian revolution, including the Che, were moved to Cuba and reburied in this grandiose mausoleum.
The museum features many photographs, personal items, weapons, notes and letters…
You cannot go to Cuba without visiting this immense esplanadebuilt as an ode to the Che.
Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado
An important piece of Cuban history was made at this very precise location, on December 29, 1958. El Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara and a group of 18 revolutionaries, derailed an armored train transporting ammunitions and government troops, using a bulldozer and some homemade cocktails Molotov. This victory sealed the fate of Batista’s dictatorship.
The boxcars, symbols of the Cuban revolution, have been turned into a museum exhibiting photographs, weapons, explanations… The bulldozer also stands at the entrance.
Teatro la Caridad
Even if the façade of the building is relatively austere, the interior of the 1885 neoclassical “Teatro de la Caridad” makes it one of the three great provincial theaters of the colonial era in Cuba. Resembling to the Tomas Terry Theater of Cienfuegos, and the Sauto Theater of Matanzas, it features sumptuous marble statues and an impressive ceiling fresco by Camilo Zalaya.
Better with a guide, the visit will take you on stage and backstage, through the decors.
Estatua Che y Niño
This statue of Che Guevara holding a child is much more intimate than the grandiose one you can see at the mausoleum. In comparison, the humility of this one makes it probably the most beautiful statue of the Che. It shows El Comandante holding a child on its shoulder and symbolizes future generations pursuing the ideals of the Cuban revolution.
The symbolism is going much further than the child and if you take a close look at all the details, the statue will appear full of surprises. Jose De Larra incorporated small sculptures into the uniform, goats, climbers… depicting important times of the life of the Che and its ideals, as well as reference to the 38 men killed with Che Guevara in Bolivia. It is better to ask a guide to understand the meaning of all these hidden details.
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Catedral de las Santas Hermanas de Santa Clara de Asís
Built in 1923 after the destruction of the church in Parque Vidal, Santa Clara’s cathedral features some splendid stained glass windows and a mythical statue of Mother Mary known as “La Virgen de la Charca”. It is one of the city’s main attraction and really worth a visit, even if you visited some better ones elsewhere in Cuba.
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Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen
The city’s oldest church was built in 1748. Later, in 1846, a tower was added to the building. Facing the church is a cylindrical monument erected to commemorate the place where Santa Clara was founded in 1689 by refugees from Remedios.
In the heart of the city is Santa Clara’s social life epicenter, a park named after Colonel Leoncio Vidal y Caro, a national hero of the War of Independence. Nearby, the hotel Santa Clara Libre reveals its scars from the revolution and the battle opposing Che Guevara and Batista’s troop, bullet holes still ‘decorating’ the walls of the building.
Now, the square is an open air theater where all the population, kids, students, parents and older generations gather in the evening, for the nice shaded areas and fresh air, for the charming surroundings, the statues of local philanthropist Marta Abreu or the symbolic “Nino de la Bota”, as well as for the evening live music played by the municipal orchestra or the Wi-Fi connexion. Every single one appreciate the vitality of this park, especially on Saturday evening when it turns into an open air festival.
East of Parque Vidal, the Palacio Provincial is a piece of architecture dating from 1902. It now hosts the Marti Library, featuring a rare book collection.
Fábrica de Tabacos Constantino Pérez Carrodegua
Santa Clara’s tobacco factory will let you appreciate a very fine and less rushed tour of the Finest Cuban cigars production, compared to massive Havana’s factories. It produces the famous Montechristos, Partagas or Romeo y Julieta.
Across the street is La Veguita , the factory’s diminutive store where you can also buy rum.
This series of comic book style murals depict the Cuban American relationships with irony.
Loma del Capiro
One of the best long distance view of the city. The hill was a vantage point for Comandante Che Guevara and its men during the battle of Santa Clara. On top of the hill you will find a flag and a statue dedicated to the Che.
Museo Che Guevara
The museum will help you understanding the public figure, retracing the life of the Comandante from its childhood till his death, its glorious years as a revolutionary and the legacy he left for Cuba and the world. It features many personal items from the Che. Photographs, notes, will help you learn about the man more than the legendary guerillero. This is the museum to visit before going to the mausoleum.
Museo de Artes Decorativas
This XVIIIth century mansión was turned into a museum featuring diverse art deco furntures from different eras, baroque desks, art nouveau mirrors. In the evening, live chamber music gives the place a romantic atmosphere.
Museo Provincial Abel Santamaría
Abel Santamaria was Fidel’s right hand man. The museum, a fromer military barrack, exhibits collections about Cuban women throughout history.
Away from the city of Santa Clara, many more activities and attractions are waiting for you, wether you prefer inland adventure or fu non the coast.
Guanayara National Park Guanayara
National Park is located deep in the rainforest of the Sierra Escambray. Many beautiful landscapes, plantations, villages and scenic views on the way. Once arrived, a big Russian truck will take you deeper and deeper in the forest of the Guanayara Natural Park where an eco-guide will take you for a hike into the rainforest until you reach “El Rocio” waterfalls. Then you can choose to continue in the forest or, for the most reckless, follow another guide into the river’s rapids. Both groups will gather at a splendid turquoise lagoon in the middle of the jungle for a refreshing and relaxing swim.
The founders of Santa Clara, fleeing the pirate’s attack on this coastal city at the end of the XVIIth century, left behind them a very typical and beautiful city, perfect example of the Spanish colonial architecture.
Just off the northern coast of Villa Clara Province, linked to the mainland by a stone causeway, marvel of engeniering allowing the ecosystem to remain untouched, are the Cayos of Santa Maria and Las Brujas. A real paradise offering kilometers of virgin beaches and vast areas of untouched nature home to more than 200 species of birds, from above, these keys look like an emerald bracelet bordered with gold.
Ideal for a break from the city, these isolated island are not overwhelmed by tourism and are the perfect place to relax, as well as for sunbathing, fishing, scuba diving or any kind of beach and water activities.
Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Brujas
Cayo Santa Maria is also known as the “the white rose of the Jardines del Rey Archipelago”, It is the largest key. 13 square km with more than 11 km of the finest beaches in Cuba, abounding with an incredibly rich flora and fauna.
Las Brujas is a much smaller islet offering white powder sand virgin beaches and dazzling crystal clear water and untouched nature.
Cayo Santa Maria is a true paradise for scuba diving. All along the coast are warm and clear waters, and you will be amazed by the untouched reefs and shipwrecks, ‘underwater gardens of coral’, caves, tunnels… home to a huge variety of underwater life. Waters around Cayo Santa Maria are part of the Buenavista Biosphere Preserve.
Not less than 24 diving spots are listed around the keys. Amongst the most famous diving sites are Fragoso, Cobo, Frances, Las Brujas, Borracho, Espanol de Afuera, Los Diablillos, Ensenacho…
You can take a catamaran tour around the keys and visit different diving spots, and stopping on a desert beach to enjoy a local meal of lobster and rest on the beach, take a digestive nap or swim in the warm turquoise waters, before sailing back to the marina.
Deep sea fishing
A journey aboard a 15 meters long motor boat to the highly regulated marine preserve around Cayo Santa Maria, one of the best fishing territory. Catch some exotic fishes, some marlins, tunas, barracudas, swordfishes, sailfishes. Eco friendly “catch and release” method according to international fishing trends, catch the fish, measure it, weight it, get your trophy picture and release it.
The most famous evening activity is a sunset cruise around Cayo Tio Pepe and Cayo Frances, including a meal onboard the catamaran. The sun is setting, lighting the sky and the ocean with unthinkably wonderful colors while you are enjoying a cocktail on the deck before having a creole meal of lobster or chicken and dancing on the rhythm of the Cuban music.
While, after the revolution, most of the chefs went away from the island, the main eating venues were small ‘grills’ located on the beach or state run restaurants.
Now tourism is fully back in Cuba many new private owned restaurants are competing with former state run ones to offer a huge variety of eateries.
Santa Clara’s Restaurants
NaturArte This open air dining is an amazing gem which is not to be missed in Santa Clara. The décor is very inspiring and natural with a lot of plants and animals, the food is delicious and very generous. Maybe one of the best place in Santa Clara.
Florida Center You will simply be amazed by this fantastic restaurant. First for its design, clever and elegant mix of fountains, patio, pool and marble tables. Then by the succulent Caribbean dishes it serves, especially the meat which is so tender it melts in your mouth with an explosion of flavor and taste.
El Gobernador This state run restaurant, hosted in a former state office shines the colonial beauty from the past. Its historical interior mixed with audacious artwork offers a splendid atmosphere to enjoy some very decent Caribbean dishes around the patio.
El Sabor Latino This is Snata Clara’s only true ‘paladar’. The Cuban and Caribbean cuisine is a savory mix of pork and chicken dishes served with rice or ‘tostones’ (fried plantains).
El Alba Located close to Parque Vidal, the best private restaurant of Santa Clara is well hidden. Its interior is decorated with cartoons representing everyday life in the city and offers a very local ambience. When seated, you will appreciate copious meals of Caribbean specialties. When available, the fish is fantastic.
Restaurante Colonial 1878 This very nice and authentic colonial atmosphere for this international cuisine restaurant.
Burguer Centro This café will not match your expectations for its burgers which are very average, but the upstairs bar worth a visit to have a drink with a view over the Parque Vidal.
Don Quijote This typically Cuban places offers some of the best Cuban dishes in the city, as well as some very good Spanish and Caribbean cuisine.
Cayo Santa Maria’s Restaurants
La Casona (Cuban and Creole cuisine) With a traditionally Cuban interior, tables made of dark acajou, white table-wear and Spanish ceramics, this eating venue offer some real traditional Cuban dishes such as pork with ‘moros and cristianos’, creole manioc or fried plantains.
Vesubio (Italian cuisine) A very good Italian cuisine in an elegantly typical Italian atmosphere, columns and Renaissance paintings.
Katzura (Japanese cuisine) Enter this classy japanese restaurant by a bridge going over a pond where some Koï carps are welcoming you, until you reach the zen atmosphere of the inside. Shaded lights, soft melodious sound of the fountains, bamboos, lanterns. The menu is obviously Japanese with excellent lobster and chicken teppanyaki.
La Goleta (Seafood cuisine) The very modern and classy interior is the best place to feast oneself with the best seafood around. The menu is punctuated with many surprise and the choice will be tough.
Steak House (Grill cuisine) The place with its black and white cow motives seems to be the best place around for meat lovers. The food is great and the generously served. It also worth trying the grilled fish.
Trattoria (Italian cuisine) Simple restaurant of pasta or pizza. The service is quick and the prices very cheap. Ideal for families, kids will enjoy some 4cheese pizza or spaghetti Bolognese while parents can taste the audacious lobster pizza or some seafood cannellonis.
Beer & Burgers (Barbecue cuisine) Fast food like restaurant, its terrace is located in an outside court featuring an Italian fountain in its center and a bar.
La Marquesina On the corner of Parque Vidal, under the porches of the Caridad Theater, this bar mostly frequented by locals of all type. A perfect spot to enjoy a refreshing drink while people watching or socializing with Santa Clarians.
Europa Its laid back terrace, facing the ‘Boulevard’, is a great place to have some rest while shopping on the avenue.
Hotel Santa Clara Libre Highest point in the city center, the rooftop bar of the hotel offers a wonderful view of the city, along with some savory cocktails.
Club Mejunje Meaning ‘mixture’, this unique in its kind club is a place you have to visit at least once during your stay in Santa Clara. Located in a ‘ruins’ of an old roofless building, the place is decorated with huge mural paintings and grafittis. Bars, stages, terraces. It features a wide variety of shows and performances. Explore the Cuban culture through the wide variety of the shows and performances Club Mejunje has to offer, enjoy some crazy nights of dancing on some great music, traditional, trova, rock, or go there on Saturdays to watch the only drag show in Cuba.
An experience you can only live in Santa Clara.
El Bar Club Boulevard Well known cocktail lounge, this bar/club features live music and dancing in the evening.
Museo de Artes Decorativas Live music (sit down like concerts) occurs several times weekly in the courtyard of the museum
Casa de la Cultura Juan Marinello This colonial building hosts many concerts.
El Bosque Santa Clara’s cabaret shows.
La Veguita Across the street from the “Fabrica de Tabacos Constantino Perez Carrodegua”, you will find in this store cigars, rhum and coffe.
Boulevard Independencia, or “Boulevard” as called by locals, is the pedestrian shopping street of Santa Clara. You will find everything you need, any kind of shops, restaurants, cafés… It is very lively, especially at weekends.
Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales Located on the “Boulevard”, this shop is selling mostly handcraft and art, it is the main tourisrt shop of the city.