Revolutionary Roots and Vibrant Nightlife

Sitting smack bang in the centre of Cuba, Santa Clara played a central role in the country’s rich history. The city played host to some of the Cuban Revolution’s fiercest fighting, including the decisive final battle fought by Ernestro “Che” Guevara, and today acts as the revolutionary’s final resting place with a monument, mausoleum and museum complex.

The city’s radical spirit continues with forward-thinking club nights and artists initiatives, including the country’s only official gay club night and drag show.

What to See

Founded in 1689, the capital of Villa Clara has a rich offering of important sites and museums for history enthusiasts. In addition to its landmark monuments, Santa Clara is home to Cuba’s second most important university, making for a vibrant intellectual and cultural scene.

Known as ‘La Ciudad del Che’ (The City of Che), Santa Clara’s most popular attraction is undoubtedly the Che Guevara Mausoleum. To date, more than 3 million visitors have made their way to this landmark monument, where the Argentine revolutionary has been laid to rest. The memorial complex is located in Che Guevara Square, where a 22-m tall bronze statue of El Che has been erected. The statue is flanked by two sculpted murals chronicling Che’s life. Accompanying the sculptural complex is a crypt with his remains and an exhibition of artefacts, photos and memorabilia that shed light on his life and work. Regardless of your political views, the Mausoleum is a fascinating site that not only provides a glimpse into the life of one of the most important political figures of the 20th century, but also into the cult and following that developed after his assassination.

Not to be missed is the Armoured Train Park (El Tren Blindado), another important landmark of the Cuban Revolution. Today, a monument and museum honour the site where revolutionary rebels led by Che Guevara derailed an armoured train sent by Fulgencio Batista. The successful attack brought the Battle of Santa Clara to an end, paving the way for the triumph of the Revolution just days later. The Armoured Train Park is just a 20-minute walk from the city centre and can also be reached by horse-drawn carriage for just 1 CUC (about 70p) per person. Che fanatics may also want to visit the Statue of Che Holding a Child, just a 5-minute walk from the Armoured Train Park. This life-size sculpture is packed with hidden symbols and references to the revolutionary’s life.

The hub and life of the city, the Plaza Parque Vidal is a charming square with a beautiful park situated right in the centre of Santa Clara. Frequented by old and young alike, the busy square fills with the sounds of the municipal orchestra every Thursday and Sunday evening. In 1998, the square became a National Monument thanks to the important statues housed in the park (The Boy with the Leaking Boot, a statue of Marta Abreu, and a bust of Leoncio Vidal), as well as the eclectic buildings and architecture that surround the square. Buildings of note include the Santa Clara Libre Hotel, which still bears bullet scars from the Revolution, as well as the Teatro de La Caridad, a Grand Theatre from the colonial period. On the corner of the square is the Museum of Decorative Arts, housed in an 18th century colonial house with a stunning interior patio featuring cobbled stones and stained-glass windows. Offering a glimpse into the life of wealthy families during the colonial period, the museum exhibits an array of art, furniture, glassware and pottery.

Visitors may also want to visit the local Tobacco Factory, where they can enjoy a guided tour for just 3 CUC (about 2 GBP). With less tourist influx than Havana, Santa Clara’s tobacco factory offers a more intimate and relaxed tour experience.

Where to Stay

For an authentic experience in Santa Clara, we recommend staying at a casa particular. Ever since these privately-run guesthouses were legalised in Cuba, Cuba Direct has been a pioneer in offering them as an accommodation option. Today, we boast one of the largest portfolios of casas particulares of any travel agent, including a number in Santa Clara.

In particular, we recommend staying at Hostal Vista Park, a beautiful blue house with an incredibly friendly and attentive host, Miguel. Just off the Parque Vidal in the city-centre, Hostal Vista Park also offers the rare luxury of a WIFI connection. We also recommend staying at Casona Jover, offering five large ensuite rooms, an interior courtyard with a small pond, and a dining room. For a unique experience, stay at La Pergola Hostal, a luxurious colonial house offering a cool courtyard garden with a fountain and Corinthian-columned pergola.

For those looking to stay at a hotel, we recommend the recently-renovated Hotel Central, situated right on the corner of Plaza Parque Vidal. Housed in a splendid colonial building, Hotel Central offers a stylish yet intimate experience – without the hefty price-tag.    

Where to Eat

Santa Clara is home to quite a number of paladares (privately-owned restaurants), which offer traditional Cuban cuisine. Our top picks include La Aldaba, a rootop terrace with a stunning view of the city-centre – offering a variety of seafood dishes and a wide portfolio of Cuban rums. We also recommend El Alba, located near the Parque Vidal and set in a colonial salon. For a unique experience we recommend visiting Café Museo Revolucion, a little gem decorated with revolutionary memorabilia, photos and documents, offering some fantastic cocktails and a simple food menu.

For more information on paladares and what to eat in Cuba, check out our blog post on Unmissable Drinks & Dishes in Cuba!

Nightlife

The famous ‘Ciudad del Che’ (City of Che) is not only popular for its grand monuments, but also for its electric energy and pioneering cultural scene. Proclaiming itself the ‘Ciudad Liberal’ (Liberal City), Santa Clara manifests its revolutionary spirit through its cultural output, pushing boundaries and leading the way with drag shows, a heavy metal scene, improvised gigs, and a rich dance and theatre culture.

Santa Clara’s most pioneering cultural centre and nightclub is El Mejunje, which unveiled Cuba’s first drag show in 1989, helping to change attitudes towards gender and sexuality on the island. The Mejunje is still a favourite spot amongst locals, bringing together an eclectic crowd with a weekly program of drag, rock, salsa and son (traditional Cuban music).

The Club Boulevard promises a sensational night - with karaoke competitions, comedy shows, live bands, and a DJ through the rest of the night. This is the perfect spot for an authentic evening of partying, Cuban-style.

For those looking to people-watch over an evening cocktail, we recommend La Marquesina, a small dive bar just off the corner of the renowned Teatro La Caridad. Offering live Cuban music, La Marquesina is frequented by a diverse crowd – from bohemians and intellectuals, to cigar-rollers and taxi-drivers. 

Getting There

As the geographic epicenter of Cuba, Santa Clara is well-communicated with the rest of the island by road, railway and even an airport. Santa Clara is a 4-hour drive from Havana, a 3-hour drive from Varadero, a 2-hour drive from Trinidad, and a 1-hour drive from Cienfuegos. Cayo Santa Maria can also be reached from Santa Clara by causeway in under 2 hours.

We recommend reaching the city by private transfer. Alternatively, visitors may also wish to hire a car and drive to Santa Clara as part of a Self-Drive Holiday.

How Long to Stay

We recommend spending no more than 1 night in Santa Clara. Given its central location, travelers can easily stop to explore the city on their way to other destinations around the island.

Suggested Itineraries

Due to its central location, Santa Clara can easily be combined with other destinations, such as Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

We particularly suggest stopping to visit Santa Clara on the way from Varadero to Trinidad, or on the way back from Trinidad to Havana. We also suggest stopping by Santa Clara on the way back from Cayo Santa Maria to Havana.

Take a look at our Essence of Cuba Tour, our Harley Davidson Motorbike Tour or our Cuba Cycling Adventure Group Tour for some inspiration on how to include Santa Clara in your holiday, or speak to one of our travel consultants to tailor an itinerary to your taste.

Discover Santa Clara on Your Holiday