One super nice thing to do in Cuba is travel from Havana to Santa Clara! There are some intriguing facts about Santa Clara Cuba that might interest you, like, did you know this is where Che Guevara is buried?
I remember clearly back in the days, magnetic posters of Che Guevara staring dreamingly into the distance, not really knowing who he was or what he did at the time.
Only that he was supposed to be one of the good guys (and he was handsome). Well, more about Che later.
Also, Santa Clara is home to the second-largest university in Cuba, after sizzling Havana, and it is less than two hours from paradisiacal beaches on the Caribbean island Cayo Santa Maria.
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Facts About Santa Clara Cuba
Santa Clara is a place with a super important historic significance in Cuba, and of course, the history in question is the one about the revolution.
Santa Clara is situated around 280 kilometers to the east of Havana. Rather a small place, although it is the fifth-largest city in Cuba with around 250 thousand inhabitants.
If you are into road-tripping, like small-town vibes, and are also a bit of a history nerd, Santa Clara is a Cuba destination you definitely want to check out!
Santa Clara Map
My Havana – Santa Clara Road Trip!
It has, however, the second-largest university in Cuba after Havana, beautifully located over a large lush green area with stunning nature and views.
Lots of foreign students come here to study while enjoying the Cuban culture in a more tranquil environment than that of the Havana metropole.
The town is also situated about one hour from the coast, and one and a half hours from the paradisiacal white-beach Caribbean keys called Cayo Santa Maria which is part of a larger archipelago off the northern shores of Cuba.
You can easily go there for a beach day from Santa Clara, or enjoy a few days in one of the all-inclusive resorts that exist out there.
Parque Vidal – The Heart Of Santa Clara
The center of Santa Clara has expanded around Parque Leoncio Vidal, the town plaza, which is where the original city started being built in the 17th Century.
The park is now a large tranquil space with trees, park benches, and a number of statues and monuments surrounded by hotels and little bars.
It is also a place to connect to wifi, as in Cuba public parks are still the main place for people to connect to the internet through the provider Etecsa (you need to buy a scratch card to connect).
Facts About Santa Clara And The Revolution
As I said initially, the main feature defining Santa Clara is that it is an important revolutionary city.
This is the place where the final and possibly definitive battle between Fidel Castro’s men and Batista forces took place in late December 1958.
On the last days of December back then, Che Guevara conquered Santa Clara along with his brother-in-arms Camilo Cienfuegos in a chaotic and dramatic fight.
In case you don`t know, this was after something like a decade of guerilla war and more or less successful attacks against Batista and his government.
After the guerillas chased the soldiers of Batista off of the mountain and out of the city, by among other things derailing a train full of soldiers, Batista fled Cuba only hours later.
This was on New Years’ Eve 1958 and is considered the decisive battle of the revolution in Cuba, securing the victory.
Castros Victory Road Trip From Santiago
At the time, Fidel Castro was in Santiago de Cuba, 550 miles away from Havana, and there were other contesters for the power in Cuba as well after Batista fled.
So Fidel sent Che Guevara and Emilio Cienfuegos up to Havana, while he himself set out on a victory journey through the country in an open jeep.
He stopped at many places underway, holding charismatic speeches, and gathering support wanting to prove to the people that he was a good future leader for Cuba.
The reason people wanted a change back then was that Batista was feared and hated (by many) as a despot that ruled Cuba kind of ruthlessly for years.
There was all the stuff you hear about in really bad countries. People going to prison or disappearing for no reason, torture, persecution, no freedom of speech, all that.
People were super poor, education horrible, and illiteracy common. Fidel and his commanders were, at the time, a hope for a better future.
You see remnants of this battle all over the city, with murals, statues, and scriptures referring to the incident, and the victory.
Things To Do In Santa Clara Cuba
Many of the things to see and do for a visitor in Santa Clara is obviously connected to the historic happenings of the last days of the revolution in 1958.
But there is also vibrant nightlife in this little city and cultural points such as the city theater and art galleries. Here are 7 things you probably don’t want to miss!
1. Plaza De La Revolucion
On the outskirts of Santa Clara, there is a huge open square, which is the Plaza de la Revolucion.
The plaza is enormous and decorated with tiles in patterns and colors, surrounded by posters and signs expressing love and gratitude to the heroes of the revolution with an intensity (almost) only Cubans can do.
On the one end, there is a massive statue of Che Guevara, marking his mausoleum.
As this battle of Santa Clara is considered possibly the defining battle of the Cuban revolution after a long period of guerilla warfare, Che Guevara is considered a grand hero of the revolution not only here in Santa Clara, but all over Cuba.
2. Che Guevara Mausoleum
On the edge of the Plaza de la Revolucion is the mausoleum of Che Guevara, his last resting place.
It is a huge structure consisting of white marble blocks with and without text, words of memory, gratitude, and love. Only out flashed by an enormous statue of Che Guevara himself gazing out over the plaza.
On the left side, the white, red, and blue Cuban flag blowing in the wind, and it is a striking national romantic spectacle.
Which is a trait the Cubans really do well, displaying visual insignia of grandeur and revolutionary spirit.
3. Loma Del Capiro
Another place of great historic importance is the Loma del Capiro, loma meaning mountain.
This is a hill on the other side of the city from the mausoleum, where, according to history, Che Guevara set up a command post in the last important hours before he and his men (and the men of Camilo Cienfuegos) took Santa Clara from Batista’s forces.
According to historic sources, Che and his men ousted Batistas’ soldiers from the hill, and from there entered into a chaotic and intense battle of the city of Santa Clara – which they won on the last days of December 1958.
4. The Monument Of The Derailed Train
One of the possibly most important turning points in the guerrilla war leading up to the successful revolution in Cuba was the incident of the derailing of the train in Santa Clara!
In an attempt to defeat the revolutionaries, Batista decided to send an armored train from Havana on 23 December 1958. Carrying loads of stuff, 373 armed soldiers, ammunition, and provisions for two months.
Apparently, Batista was still very optimistic.
When it reached Santa Clara, it stopped at the foot of the Loma del Capiro hill, that you read about above. Three days later eighteen guerrillas under the command of Che Guevara attacked.
When the officers tried to move the train to a better position, Che and his men derailed the train by bulldozing 30 meters of track!
After hours of fierce combat, the guerrillas succeeded in capturing all the weapons and ammunition Batista tried to pour in, and later that evening, Batista’s officers surrendered.
Many of the rebels even befriended the soldiers they had been fighting only hours before. The story says the soldiers were tired of fighting their own people. Who knows, it probably makes sense.
The memorial monument was created by the Cuban sculptor José Delarra in the exact place by the train tracks, and you can see it today in a little park right there.
5. Statue Che Guevara And The Boy Child
On the way up to Loma del Capiro in front of the Cuban Communist Party Provincial Committee in Santa Clara, you will pass a famous statue that is called Che y el niño; Che and the boy child.
I had heard of this statue before, is supposed to show how Che Guevara cares for the children.
What surprised me, however, was the size of it! It is really small. Almost 1:1, I would say. You have to know it is there to notice it on your way along Avenida Liberacion (of course).
6. Teatro La Caridad
Teatro de La Caridad, which means Charities theatre, was built in 1885 and is one of The Eight Grand Theaters of the Cuban Colonial era.
The theatre was financed entirely by Marta Abreu de Estevez, a wealthy female local philanthropist at the time who contributed a lot to the prosperity of the city towards the end of the 19th Century.
The theater was a striking building at the time, with an auditorium for more than 500 people, a mini-concert room, a cafeteria, a restaurant, a barbershop, and a special dancing room.
The latest restoration of the theater was done in 1964 when most of the original shine was recovered, but today it could use a little makeover again as the facade and interior getting somewhat tired.
The Teatro la Caridad has not yet reopened after the pandemic in January 2022, but when it does you can hopefully still enjoy a tour for around $1, and also hopefully soon be able to see a play, as well.
7. Santa Clara Nightlife
When I was visiting towards the end of January 2022, unfortunately, a lot of places had still not completely opened after the pandemic slowly is fading out in Cuba.
There were a couple of bars open around the Parque Vidal, but apart from that, it was a rather sleepy night mode these days.
So I will have to get support from travelers that have visited before the pandemic under normal circumstances!
Where To Stay In Santa Clara
When deciding where to stay in Santa Clara, there are several good options. There are several hotels in the city where you can book online, like the Hotel Santa Clara Libre.
Another really good option is to book a Casa Particular, a room or entire apartment owned by a Cuban family that is rented out privately through online apps.
What Is A Casa Particular?
A casa particular is a privately owned home rented out by a Cuban family, where you can live like a Cuban, closer to the real Cuba!
Where To Stay Santa Clara Cuba
Here are three 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!
How To Get From Havana To Santa Clara
If you like the road trip options on your travels, it is easy to get from Havana to Santa Clara with the Viazul bus. It takes between four to five hours depending on traffic (one option is 7 hours with lots of stops) and is a convenient and comfortable journey.
It is easy and safe to book your bus fare online on Viazul’s home pages, where you will be guaranteed a seat.
It is also a lot better online than standing in long lines dealing with the Cuban paper only-way to do things trying to buy a ticket at the bus station!
You can also opt for a taxi collectivo, a shared taxi, that will get you directly from city to city. This is a taxi you will share with others, or you can split the bill if you are a group.
In 2022, all taxi drivers will ask you to pay in Euros in cash, and not in the Cuban currency CUP.
If you do not have Euro (or other international currency apart from the US dollar which is currently illegal), the drivers might actually be reluctant to take you!
If you also normally like the road trip style of renting your own car, I feel you, but I will NOT recommend you do that in Cuba.
There are several reasons why, but very briefly, if something goes wrong with your rental (or you), it is super hard to fix it, and it probably will become very expensive.
And with the vehicle standard and road standards in Cuba, the risk of something going wrong on the way is significantly higher than in most other places in the world. But of course, up to you!!
Santa Clara Cuba Airport
If you want to fly directly, there are international flights to Santa Clara Cuba airport. The closest airport to Santa Clara is just 10 minutes away.
Abel Santamaria International Airport is located around 10 kilometers outside Santa Clara. This is the airport serving Santa Clara city, as well as other destinations in this area like Cayo Santa Maria.
Wrap-Up Facts About Santa Clara Cuba!
Apart from what happened in Santiago de Cuba, the last incidents and the battle of Santa Clara in 1958 is probably the single most important event leading up to the revolution in Cuba.
If you have a bit of interest in deep-diving into the whys and hows of history, Santa Clara is probably a city you will very much enjoy visiting for a day or two during your Cuba holiday.
And if not, it is only an oval hour away from the stunning beaches of Cayo Santa Maria and true Caribbean island life!
Do you have any questions about Cuba? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail! Happy to help!