Villa Nueva Santa Clara
Leaving behind the second main base in Cuba, Varadero; we do start making our way all the way to the east towards Santiago de Cuba however, with 2 middle stops. First, Santa Clara; city that we did briefly visit some days ago in our busy organised tour there including Trinidad and Cienfuegos; and secondly, Camaguey. Although we could have done the trip all the way from Varadero to Camaguey, it was physically impossible due to the poor bus services in the country hence this was the only possible way fitting our needs and route, a stop over in Santa Clara which in any case, worked great for better enjoying this time without rushing a proper visit, and giving us some bumper time in case anything would not have come according to plan.
It was anyway a short time to be honest. Mostly to have a night in between and rest, enjoy a lazy breakfast on the day which was the half-way of our trip in Cuba, and spend the morning and afternoon until the next bus departure towards Camaguey at 19.00pm. Plenty of time, but in a very charming city although pretty much anywhere in Cuba is charming and nice.
Like any city in Cuba, or anywhere in the “New World”, cities were created following a perfect urban plan of orthogonal street grid and squares, where the largest one, Plaza Mayor, would be the centrepoint for politics, religious, entertainment and shopping activities. Santa Clara is no exception, and it is actually one of the best and finest examples with beautiful constructions all over and its spectacular theatre. Elsewhere, churches, colonial and neoclassical constructions complete the central streets, yet beyond, the situation changes for a more deteriorated and run-down state. This is the unfortunate double reality of Cuba, where people have not too much for living, at poor standards and building crumbling down.
Santa Clara is of crucial importance for the success of the Revolution and independence from America. While the rebels were battling to gain control of Santiago de Cuba, the government sent an armoured train from Havana to Santiago to mitigate the rebels, however the clever strategy of Che Guevara was to derail it as it left Santa Clara. Within a matter of minutes, control was overtaken by the rebels, and as such, another battle won.
Che Guevara’s mausoleum and tomb was built in this city, and it’s one of the main attractions not just for the Cubans, but for any tourist coming to the island, although if this is merely for a tick in a checklist of memorable places to visit.
For more information about Santa Clara check Wikipedia site. And for everything important regarding Cuba such as visa requirements, currency and WiFi access, I would strongly recommend you to check the main post for Cuba, Havana, where everything is well listed and explained.
What to see and do in Santa Clara
- Parque de los Martires At the northern end of the historic centre, good starting point for an easy sightseeing route towards the south end visiting everything in between.
-Railway Station One of the gifts from the Benefactress of the City, Marta Abreu de Estevez.
- Parque del Carmen Site of the city’s foundation right by the tamarind tree which you can still see there today. It’s only 2 blocks west of the railway station.
- Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado This was one of the most important chapters in the Cuban battle for the revolution, where Che and his men defeated a blinded train by derailing it. In situ are some of the carriages and the bulldozer used. Located southeast from the railway station, along Calle Maceo until you reach the intersection with Calle Independencia.
- Calle Cespedes One of the most beautiful full in rich architecture crossing the old town from east to west and heading directly into Parque Vidal.
-Buen Viaje Church The 3rd oldest in the city from 1707 in a mix of Gothic, Romanesque and neoclassical.
- Boulevard 1889 Just a street north from Parque Vidal, is the pedestrian section of Calle Independencia, with nice buildings around, cafes and restaurants.
- Parque Vidal Or Plaza Mayor, is the true heart of the city, and like anywhere in Cuba, where to find the most important constructions of political, religious and cultural activities. The nearby grid of orthogonal streets contain the remaining major sights.
-Marta Abreu Monument Dedicated to the “Benefactress of the City” to whom most of the large construction projects are attributed.
-Old City Hall Nowadays the Jose Martí Library. Along the eastern side of the square, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, the finest neoclassical construction.
-Museum of Decorative Arts At the northern side of the square in one of the oldest colonial buildings still standing. The patio inside is great if you get there.
-Teatro de la Caridad The next building after the previous museum. One of the Eight Grand Theaters of Cuban Colonial era, yet one of the largest after Havana and Cienfuegos. Built in 1885 was financed entirely by Marta Abreu de Estevez.
-Casa de la Cultura and Radio CMHW Another of the nicest palaces along the western side of the square. There are 3 such buildings here together.
-Santa Clara Libre The former Hilton Santa Clara, one of the largest hotels in the city although in much need of a proper upgrade. Along the western side of the square.
- Calle Marta Abreu Calle Cespedes turns into Marta Abreu right after Parque Vidal and continues towards the west, still filled with nice architecture all over.
-Catedral de Santa Clara de Asís Built in the 1940’s in replacement of the former colonial yet smaller in Parque Vidal when this was torn down to enlarge the square. In neo-Gothic style, it’s not as impressive as others in the country.
- Mausoleum of Che Guevara At the west of the city, beyond the historic old town core at the square by name Plaza Che Guevara. His remains along other combatants are buried here, coupled with monuments and statues.
Although there’s a small commercial airport, the routes offered as almost non-existent, and as weird it sounds, no other destination in Cuba except for Havana. Only international charter flights to Canada, Panama and Germany. Therefore the only possible ways to reach Santa Clara overland is by bus from the main cities in Cuba. For example, you’ve got 2 departures per way from Havana, once daily from Santiago de Cuba via Camaguey, Holguin and Sancti Spiritus, and more frequent departures from the not so far cities of Varadero, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. And also a not so very helpful and handy railway connection with Havana via Matanzas to the west, and Santiago via Camaguey to the east. The later has at least a daily connection, while towards Havana is every 2 days.
To book your bus tickets remember to do so at least within 2 weeks before the date, any earlier it’s not possible in the website, and any later the seats might sell out. The Via Azul website is very easy and straightforward, therefore do not risk it by going to the bus station to try your luck. It’s a mess like no other, and the chances you won’t manage a ticket are almost guaranteed. Book them at their official website.
Once in Santa Clara, the historic core is very compact and distances very short. The farthest you might need to go or come from is the Via Azul bus terminal for what you will need a taxi (5 CUC). Anywhere within the city is a short walking distance to each other.
Although not the most visited city in Cuba, the hotel industry although not too big, is good enough especially because we are talking of stays of 1 or 2 nights in most of the cases, hence not much needed than a comfortable bed and a clean room. If hotels is what you are seeking for, then a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or Gala Hotels. Please note most of these will not offer any results in Cuba, this is to do with the USA embargo. Try the respective European sites instead if needed be, although the best site for Cuba would be Gala Hotels.
In the other hand since hotels are generally very expensive, there is something way much better you could do (and should do if you’re staying overnight); this is a private house. There are lots, beautiful, most of them in historic colonial buildings, with very nice and friendly hosts. In airb&b you can have a first look, then have a more generic online search for other websites.
We stayed at the Santa Clara Libre, right there in the heart of the city, at Parque Vidal. This was in the 1950’s the Hilton Hotel (believe it or not), however after the revolution all changed. Nowadays belongs to the Cuban state hotels Islazul. From one of the top hotels in the city to a 2* very low standards and feel. The main reason to get it was the absolute perfect location and the value for money. After splashing it all in Varadero, we needed to offset such high costs, and this was the only viable option still getting a minimum of standards. And bearing in mind our extremely late arrival at night, there was not going to be any time at all to even sleep longer, hence why to over-spend here? I would not recommend this hotel to anyone anyway, unless you fall in circumstances similar to ours. For sure not for 2 night stays.