I am comfortably seated in the blue and white Viazul long-haul bus seat, going from Havana to Santa Clara, one of the most revolutionary cities in the revolutionary nation of Cuba.
Lunch is packed, and I have music on the pods. I love road trips, even if they are bus trips!
Traveling slow, having time, looking out the window at places and people passing by.
I normally also love to rent a car, buy a coffee-to-go, and set off down the highway for new adventures. But those kinds of road trips, unfortunately, are not very advisable in Cuba, for a variety of reasons.
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Distance From Havana To Santa Clara
The distance from Havana to Santa Clara is around 280 kilometers, and in a taxi, this will be around 4 hours and 20 minutes drive.
On this bus road trip, it takes a bit longer as the bus drivers have rules and need to stop underway.
I am jumping the bus after about fiveìsh hours, while the bus is going further.
The Viazul bus is continuing to the other end of Cuba without me, all the way to Santiago de Cuba, which is around a 14-18 hour journey depending on the type of bus. That is a road trip on the list for another time!
According to my research, my destination Santa Clara is in many ways the most important revolutionary town in Cuba, right up there with Santiago.
It is the place of the last and decisive battle in December 1958 before Fidel Castro succeeded with the revolution in Cuba!
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The Road Trip Video!
The making of Santa Clara Cuba
For most people with a travel mindset, a bit of history and context for their destination is part of the inspiration and excitement to visit new places.
So for you guys, let me tell you that Santa Clara was founded way back in the 17th Century. Over the next centuries, the city became an important hub for inland transport and trade in Cuba because of its location.
The city has a crucial placement in the islands inland from where you can travel in all cardinal directions.
Havana lies a few hours to the west, the Cuban keys to the north, Santiago de Cuba a longer stretch to the east, and Trinidad and Cienfuegos to the south.
In modern history, by that I mean from the Cuban revolution onwards, Santa Clara is famous for being the city where the last decisive revolutionary battle took place in December 1958.
Only hours after this battle, President Batista fled the country and the revolution was a fact.
At this point, there had been a guerrilla war in Cuba against Batista for almost a decade already. Batista was not a very popular, or at least very debated, president.
Famous rebel Che Guevara led one of the units that won the battle of Santa Clara, and he is also buried on the outskirts of the city.
Not with just any old tombstone of course, but in a mausoleum, a huge arrangement with white marble, an enormous statue, and a neverending plaza for the revolution in front.
But let’s get into a bit more history later, now about the road trip.
Also read: Interesting Facts About Havana | Your Ultimate Havana Guide 2022!
Arriving At The Santa Clara Bus Station
After a super comfy journey (the Viazul seats are like a soft sofa, I think) I arrived in the evening at the Santa Clara bus station on the outskirts of the city.
The Santa Clara bus station looks like a remnant from the era of Soviet influence, and it is a bit more than walking distance from the city center. But no problem, there are taxis waiting to help travelers get around.
I have no issues getting a deal with the driver of a small three-wheeler where there is room for me and my little black suitcase, taking me from the bus station to my Casa in the old city of Santa Clara.
The taxi guy also knows a guy, of course, so in a flash, I have a transport deal for the next step of my journey which is in a couple of days.
My own traveling mindset will take me onwards to Cayo Santa Maria from here, a Caribbean Island off of the main island of Cuba that is part of the large archipelago Jardines del Rey, spreading outside the northern Cuban waters.
Hostel Hyggelig From Hostelworld
Arriving at my Casa Particular I booked only the day before through Hostelworld, and the hosts are ready to take me in and help me get settled.
The Casa is named Hostal Hyggelig, which I find amusing, as it means “nice” or “agreeable” in my native language Norwegian!
And they have an amazing rooftop terrace, which is my definite kryptonite in life, rooftop terraces with infinite views. I just love them.
First Night In Santa Clara
The city center is not big, from the rooftop I can see from one end of the city limits to the other, and there are several landmarks I intend to explore the next day.
After checking in, getting a little map and some directions from my anfitriona, hostess, I am heading out to look for supper.
As I am arriving on a Tuesday night, and the city (and country) is in the process of reopening after the pandemic the streets and city square are a super calm and quiet affair this evening.
I stroll the narrow streets of Santa Clara for a while between the low classical houses before I find Hotel Central in the city park which has an open kitchen and outside seating.
All the staff is hanging around the patio as there are not a lot of clients to attend to at the moment.
Although the hotel is out of wine (no place in Cuba ever has everything on the menu), I end up content with a bisteca de res, actual red meat (hard to find even in Havana).
Along with an orange soft drink for my first meal in Santa Clara, I am enjoying the view of the Parque Vidal.
That is good enough to keep me alive until tomorrow and a day of exploring!
Explorers & Backpackers Breakfast
Bright and early after a good night’s sleep I step out of my room the next morning, and I can smell breakfast in the making in a kitchen close by.
I have decided to have breakfast in my casa particular, which normally is a really good option when staying in casa particulares, and it is a well-spent additional price of $5.
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No different today, the breakfast is huge!
More than enough for two people, and I am only one so I almost invite the hosts to have breakfast with me on the rooftop terrace.
A perfect way to refuel and prepare for a day of exploring.
Love the ambiance, and love the view, but even though it is only early February in Cuba, it still gets surprisingly hot in the mornings!
Santa Clara Town Center
Today Santa Clara is a city with a small-town vibe. In the Santa Clara town center is the city square Parque Vidal, it is big and green and chill.
The main street, the Boulevard, is a charming stretch of road with several cafes and little shops.
I start out by strolling down the Boulevard which is mainly a pedestrian zone without cars, and with quite a few shops and surprisingly few queues.
The tempo of this city is definitely lower and slower than in the buzzing Havana.
The same on the main square, Parque Leoncio Vidal, which is a large lush green space with lots of park benches, monuments, and vegetation in the center of the city.
Its name comes from the Cuban patriot Leoncio Vidal Caro, who died fighting in 1896 in what was known as Plaza de Recreo, or Recreation Square. It still has that vibe, I think.
Parque Vidal, for short, was designated as a National Monument in a ceremony in 1998 due to its surrounding architecture.
The use of different architectural styles, like the eclectic neo-classical and colonial-style buildings.
There is a large number of historic monuments dating from different historical periods, which is the reason this park is declared an important national symbol.
Now the park is also surrounded by several hotels, restaurants, and bars where you can have a chill break in between exploring the historic sites of Santa Clara.
Want To Do An Organized Tour In Santa Clara?
If you want some help getting to know Santa Clara, you can opt for an organized tour around the city with a guide that tells you all the interesting stuff!
In Santa Clara, you even have free tour options with excellent reviews across the board. Do a day tour, or night tour, that is up to you.
Or go for the private “luxury” version that costs you $30, where you get all the attention to yourself!
The Huge Che Guevara Mausoleum
A fifteen minutes walk from Parque Vidal you find the huge Che Guevara mausoleum of Santa Clara, situated on the outskirts of not only the city but also the enormous Plaza de la Revolucion.
As Santa Clara is the scene of the last and decisive battle before the revolution in Cuba in 1958, the whole town is scattered with signs and tributes to the struggle and the revolution in different forms.
This is visible by slogans on walls and structures everywhere, monuments, museums, and even huge signs around the city reminding everyone of the grandeur of the revolution that was decided here more than 60 years ago.
Not a lot going on around Plaza de la Revolucion this Wednesday morning, I am practically alone there.
The size and structure of both the plaza and the mausoleum and monuments are quite impressive, and it is an experience to have it all to myself.
There is no doubt that Cuba intends to hold their heroes in high regard and vivid in people’s memories, that’s for sure.
On my way over here, I noticed a little bar sitting by the road just before reaching the mausoleum and the plaza.
A perfect place for some shade and rest on my way back after the rather warm experience around the huge open plaza.
The Bar Plaza, as it appropriately is called, is probably made for people like me.
Returning from exploring the enormous revolutionary square, overheated and in need of some refreshments.
I quickly talk myself into it and find it suitable to enjoy a Cuba Libre in the ambiance of this historic place from a time of so much hope for the future back then. Salud!
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Loma Del Capiro Hill
All liberated and cooled down, I set out for another important site here in Santa Clara, which of course is situated all the way on the other side of town.
A monument with not quite the same grandeur, but nevertheless with historic importance, and not least there is a stunning view from where it is. Loma del Capiro Hill!
After another warm city walk (it might be my imagination, but Santa Clara seems a bit hotter than “my hometown” Havana).
After a bit of getting lost (not a lot of signs leading the way), I finally find the path leading up to the Loma del Capiro hill with a bit of local help.
Loma del Capiro is a small hill, although Loma means mountain, in the western outskirts of Santa Clara. This hill was key terrain in the battle of Santa Clara in 1958 and was of course initially held by Batista’s men protecting the city.
So when Che Guevara and his crew succeeded in taking this hill from Batista’s men in late December 1958, securing this important terrain, it was a really big deal.
The Loma was also very close to the train tracks. This turned out to be decisive as well, as Batista sent reinforcements by armored trains to Santa Clara which was stopped here at the foot of Loma del Capiro.
After a few days of standstill, Che and his gang managed to sabotage the train as the soldiers were attempting to move it to a better location.
They succeeded derailed the whole train, defeating the soldiers, and taking hold of the supplies that came from Havana.
That derailing might actually be the single most important incident in a series of events. It helped Che and his comrades to win the city, leading up to the revolution in Cuba, and history as we know it.
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I make it to the top of the Loma del Capiro this afternoon just before sunset, with clear blue skies and a stunning view of the whole city.
Truly beautiful, and with a welcome breeze after the small uphill battle of the year 2022!
The monument up here was created by Cuban artist José Delarra in 1988, and the area was declared a National Monument of the Republic of Cuba in January 1990.
Of course, like most things in Cuba to do with the revolution, it has a rather solemn and ceremonial aura.
Also on your way up or down from the Loma del Capiro, you can visit the monument erected on the spot where Che Guevara and his rebel fighters succeeded in derailing the Batista rescue train.
In a small park just by the train tracks, is the moment of the Tren Blindado, the armored train, which is also a national monument.
As the sun is setting on the horizon I find my way back to the Old City of Santa Clara for a quiet night after a long day exploring the city.
I am almost thankful the party scene has not yet started, so I can rest for the evening without getting a seizure of FOMO interrupting it!
Preparing for an early breakfast and further journey out to the Cayo Santa Maria and the Caribbean keys a couple of hours away, which will be welcome for this city-based chica!
Where To Stay Santa Clara Cuba
Here are two great options to stay in Santa Clara Cuba, getting 10 out of 10 from other travelers!
In the center of Santa Clara is the top-rated bed and breakfast Los Lirios! The delicate B&B has premium bedding and pillow menus, air conditioning, WiFi (for a charge), a terrace, a garden, and a coffee shop on site.
There are also rainfall showers and memory foam beds! Order breakfast in-house for a charge, and there is coffee and tea in the lobby.
Martirena’s Hostal also gets 10 out of 10 from other travelers, situated centrally in Santa Clara, with beautiful rooms and a quiet patio where you can relax.
There is WiFi in public areas (for a charge), parking, and concierge services.
Tour/ticket assistance if you need it, and breakfast in-house for 6€. You will have access to a kitchenette, a private yard, and additional amenities including a rainfall shower, and a hair dryer!
Take A Day Trip To Cayo Santa Maria
If an all-inclusive resort stay in Cayo Santa Maria is not a part of your itinerary, you might want to consider exploring paradisiacal Cayo Santa Maria on a day trip.
This tour is really just transport to Cayo Santa Maria, and as it takes up to 4 people, the price is decent for the return fare (around one hour each way) for all of you if you fill the car.
You will be picked up at your hotel or casa, pass a few charming villages on the way, and cross the impressive Pedraplén Caibarién, the 48-kilometer viaduct that links the main island to Cayo Santa María.
Along this peculiar route over the sea, you’ll have stunning views of the northern coast of Cuba, stop for photo ops!
At Cayo Santa Maria, you’ll have around five hours of leisure time to enjoy the white paradisiacal beaches before you will be brought back to your casa.
What Is The Nearest Santa Clara Cuba Airport?
The closest airport to Santa Clara in Cuba is the Abel Santamaria International Airport, located a few kilometers outside Santa Clara town.
Abel Santamaria International Airport is the main entry point for tourists traveling to Cayo Santa Maria and the other keys, as well as Santa Clara, on the northern coast of the province.
It has one terminal and receives both domestic and international flights.
5 Days Of Cuba Round Trip With Civitatis
There are options to travel around Cuba with a bit of help if you don’t want to take on the whole planning and getting tickets and transport and accommodation and everything on your own.
Cuba is not the easiest destination for seamless travel to be honest (which is why I find it quite interesting).
On an organized 5-day trip in Cuba with Civitatis you will visit five famous destinations, and you get:
1. Hotel pick up in Havana
2. Transport by taxi and car
3. 4 nights in bed & breakfast accommodation
4. English speaking guide all the way
5. Bike taxi rental
6. Dinner included in Cienfuegos
Wrap-Up Road Trip From Havana To Santa Clara
Traveling by road is a super way to take in the nuances of the places you visit, staring out the window at places passing by, or stopping where you like (if you have a rental), making the journey as slow as you want.
If you take the road trip from Havana to Santa Clara, you will get a great impression of what inland countryside Cuba is like, as opposed to the Caribbean beaches along the coast.
Although not the picture-perfect Caribbean holiday, if you have the time and interest, I encourage you to spend a day or two on the road!
My Resource Go-To List For Best Travel Booking Deals!
Best Airfare bookings: Skyscanner, Wayway
Best tour companies: Civitatis (for Cuba), Viator
Best Hotel Bookings: Booking, Expedia
Travel Insurance: IMG Medical Travel Insurance
VPN Secure Internet: ExpressVPN
Cuba Visa Online: Easy Tourist Card
Car Rentals Online: Discover Cars