Santa Clara is the capital of the province of Villa Clara and is known for its revolutionary history and connections with the iconic revolutionary figure, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. It’s a city of historical significance, which is often bypassed in favor of more famous neighbors, but a visit here will surprise you with historic connections, colonial architecture, buzzing streets, and welcoming citizens. Here are the best things to do in Santa Clara, Cuba.
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Historically many families contributed to the founding of the town in 1689 and they are commemorated in the plaza outside the Iglesia del Carmen by a monument of columns (Church of Carmen). In 1692, a large fire cleared the streets of Remedios, causing the residents to flee to Santa Clara, and the city grew rapidly because of the relocation. Today, though, the city is known primarily for its connections with Guevara. This is definitely Che’s city. Che’s remains are buried here in Santa Clara, in the city where he fought and triumphed in the Fight of Santa Clara, which was arguably the most crucial battle of the Cuban revolution in 1958.
The Best Things to do in Santa Clara
Santa Clara is one of the lesser-visited towns in Cuba, but I think, because of its rich colonial and revolutionary past, Santa Clara deserves to be included on any travel itinerary to Cuba if you have time. Despite its small-town status and lack of attention from tourists in recent years if you can make the time to visit Santa Clara, Cuba, then I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Most people who visit Santa Clara come because of the connection with the Cuban revolution and Guevara (if that’s of interest to you, then our 7 day Revolutionary Cuba Itinerary will be useful for you).
Take a free walking tour of Santa Clara
This is a fabulous way to see Santa Clara – and this 2.5-hour free walking tour will take you to the most important sites of Santa Clara – you’ll start at the Teatro La Caridad at 9:30 am, and visit Parque Vidal, the Armored Train, and also Guevara’s mausoleum. You’ll also get to visit Loma del Capiro for a super view of Santa Clara. Free tours are just that. FREE. You’ll tip your guide what you think is the appropriate amount for the service you receive. This is a super way to get a local perspective of Santa Clara and the history here. While the tour is free, you do need to book to reserve your place and you can book your place on a Santa Clara walking tour here.
Visit the Che Guevara Mausoleum
Santa Clara is known as “Che’s City.” Walking along the streets for any period of time will tell you this. You’ll find statues and murals devoted to Che Guevara, the Argentine rebel who rose to prominence as one of the leaders of the 1950’s Cuban revolution. And so, first on the list of things to see in Santa Clara is the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Monument. You’ll find this quite close to the Viazul Bus station in Santa Clara, some two kilometers west of Vidal Park, Santa Clara in Plaza Che Guevara”. You can easily walk here from downtown in around 30 minutes.
The mausoleum contains the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and twenty-nine of his fellow combatants who were killed in 1967 the attempts Guevara made to instigate an armed uprising in Bolivia.
The site contains a gigantic 22-foot bronze Che Guevara statue and a tiny museum, mausoleum, and memorial located beneath the statue itself. The monument dominates the skyline, and you’d be forgiven for not noticing the museum and mausoleum if you didn’t know they were there. There are some personal belongings from Che Guevara’s life on display and some historical information. It’s not particularly well organized, but this really is a special place for Cuba. Many of the explanations are only available in Spanish. However, I couldn’t visit Cuba and NOT come here.
Guevara was buried here on 17 October 1997 with full military honors after his remains were discovered in a mass grave in Bolivia, along with 16 other freedom fighters. They were exhumed and returned to Cuba. An eternal flame, lit by Fidel Castro in his memory also burns here. Santa Clara was chosen as his final resting place as a remembrance of his troops taking the city during the Battle of Santa Clara on 31 December 1958. This victory led to the then Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista escaping to exile.
The museum and memorial dedicated to Che Guevara are both free. There is a luggage check area because no bags or cameras are permitted inside.
There are many elements of the memorial that are symbolic. Guevara is oriented toward South America – reflecting his focus on a single united Latin America. The statue has him carrying the gun rather than aiming it to symbolize him continuing forward. His personal motto, “Hasta “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Eternal Victory) is etched onto the base of the statue. It’s not only in Santa Clara that you will find several Che Guevara sculptures and graffiti but also in many cities around Cuba. Most towns and cities in Cuba have a statue or memorial dedicated to Che Guevara.
- Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum Address: Avenida de los Desfiles, Santa Clara, Cuba.
- Opening Hours of Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum: Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Entrance Price of Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum: FREE
Visit the Armored Train Monument (Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado)
The monument of the Armoured Train in Santa Clara – Toma del Tren Blindado Monument – commemorates an event in the Battle of Santa Clara in December 1958, where revolutionaries led by Ernesto Che Guevara used a bulldozer and homemade Molotov cocktails to derail an armored train. Its success led to a decisive victory for the revolutionaries, and the city was captured within 12 hours, leading to the end of the Batista dictatorship. The Tren Blindado monument displays the wrecked railway cars and the bulldozer that was used to derail the train and damage the tracks here. The freight carriages are filled with historical facts, exhibits, and artwork works. Each trailer has a collection of relics and historical information about the conflict. Additionally, the yellow bulldozer, which Che Guevara and his men used to derail the train, can be seen in this location.
Our favourite books on the Cuban Revolution are in our guide to the best books about Cuba.
It is approximately 800 meters or a 10-minute walk from Parque Leoncio Vidal. It is free to look outside the train monument, but it costs around US$1 to enter the small museum.
- Toma del Tren Blindado Address: Carretera a Camajuaní entre Puente la Cruz y línea del ferrocarril, Santa Clara, Cuba.
- Opening Hours of Toma del Tren Blindado: Mondays through Saturdays from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
- Entrance Price of Toma del Tren Blindado: US$1
Visit Parque Leoncio Vidal Santa Clara
Santa Clara’s central plaza or town square is Parque Leoncio Vidal (also known as Parque Vidal). The plaza serves as both the geographical and symbolic center of Santa Clara. You’ll find both locals and visitors here. The park was named for the revolutionary, Leoncio Vidal Caro, who died in Recreation Square (Plaza de Recreo) on March 23, 1896. This was where protests used to take place until the Revolution succeeded. The park covers an entire city block and was designated a National Monument in 1998. There are several monuments in the park to take a look at
- The Glorieta gazebo in the center – holds public concerts with the Philharmonic band.
- A bust of Leoncio Vidal who died here fighting Spanish forces
- An obelisk dedicated to the priest who first came from Remedios to start the founding of the city.
- The boy with the leaking boot – “el niño de la bota”
- A bronze statue of Marta Abreu
Go to the Teatro la Caridad – the Santa Clara Theatre
The Teatro la Caridad, located in Santa Clara, is one of the few remaining original colonial theaters in Cuba and one of the most beautiful. In 1885, the theatre was built and had been magnificently renovated since then. Santa Clara Theatre opened its doors in 1885 and is one of Cuba’s eight grand theaters from the colonial era. The theater was solely funded by Marta Abreu de Estevez, a well-known and respected philanthropist who has made significant contributions to the city’s economy by providing resources to a variety of other initiatives. One of her most significant legacies is La Caridad.
In addition to the low entry price of about US$1, there is generally a guide available to assist you (for a fee) in understanding the history of the theatre. The Teatro la Caridad is also an operating theater, with performances costing between US$5-US$10 to attend.
Fabrica de Tabacos Constantino Perez Carrodegua
You should include a visit to the Fábrica de Tabacos Constantino Pérez Carrodegua (Constantino Pérez Carrodegua Cigar Factory) in your schedule, especially if you are a cigar enthusiast. This cigar factory is one of Cuba’s most important, employing more than 400 workers to hand-roll brands such as the Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo cigars.
You can see the entire process at this famous factory, from leaf selection through rolling, pressing, and packaging. After taking a tour, purchase some cigars created on-site and pair them with the superb coffee brewed here. They also sell rum (hey this is Cuba!).
See the statue of “Che and the Child”
It’s just a walk-by, but it’s a popular one and an excellent piece of public art here in Santa Clara. The Statue of Che Guevara Holding a Child is an interesting piece of public art. While it looks at first glance just to be, well, a statue of Che Guevara with a Child if you look more closely, you’ll find some references to Che Guevara’s life, and character.
- His beret and cigar are trademark Guevara.
- The star on his beret represents his military rank
- There are bullet marks representing his executioners in the village of La Higuera in Bolivia in 1967.
- The icons of men on his belt buckle represent the men murdered alongside him.
- The novel, Don Quixote by Cervantes is in a pocket – he read it while hiding at farms in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba
The statue stands in front of what was the Santa Clara provincial HQ of the Cuban Communist Party. Guevara was based here during the final battle of the Cuban Revolution, the 1958 Battle of Santa Clara.
Get a View of the City from Loma del Capiro in Santa Clara
It might only be about 180 meres high, with about 200 steps to get there, but it’s the best place for views of the city of Santa Clara. Loma Del Capiro is, as with most places in the city, connected to Guevara. He used the hilltop as a hideout during the 1958 Battle of Santa Clara. There’s a small monument at the top of the hill commemorating the battle. It’s a 2 kilometer walk from Parque Leoncio Vidal.
Day Trips from Santa Clara
While you’re here in Santa Clara, why not make the most of your time and take a couple of day trips? Santa Clara is an excellent base to visit a couple of great places from here for the day.
Take a Day Trip from Santa Clara to Cayo Santa Maria
Cayo Santa Maria’s beaches are some of Cuba’s best beaches and are described as paradise on earth. On this beach day trip to Cayo Santa Maria from Santa Clara your driver will take you across the Pedraplén Caibarién, a 48-kilometer viaduct that links the island of Cuba with Cayo Santa María, it’s here that you’ll get amazing views of the north coast of Cuba. Once you arrive in Cayo Santa Maria you’ll get five hours of free time and be able to explore the gorgeous white sandy beaches of Cayo Santo Maria at your leisure. Snorkel, relax or swim. Even take a boat ride. Your eight-hour day trip from Santa Clara ends when you’re returned to your casa particular. A perfect beach day trip. Check availability of this Santa Clara to Cayo Santa Maria Day Trip here.
Visit the town of Remedios from Santa Clara
One of Cuba’s oldest villages, Remedios, is located 50 minutes northwest of Santa Clara, off the main route, and ignored mainly by tour operators. It is one of the country’s oldest cities, and the colonial architecture dominates this calm hamlet.
One of its most popular spots is the San Juan Bautista Church, where there are 13 wonderfully decorated gold altars in this big colonial church, which is the primary feature of the square. The area is surrounded by a number of other historical buildings. Every year in December, Remedios hosts a Christmas celebration known as “Las Parrandas de Remedios,” which is a popular event throughout the region. During this festival, residents of Remedios divide into two groups in order to compete for the most extravagant fireworks, and floats show imaginable.
Remedios is a convenient stop-over on the way to the beach destinations on the Northern coast. However, it is well worth visiting as a day trip to see the grand church, spend time in the square, and walk around the cobblestone streets in and around the surrounding areas. As well as possibly visiting the Caturla Museum, the home of one of the finest Cuban composers of the twentieth century, with beautiful period furniture, colonial architecture, and original music. Organize a day trip with your casa particular owner.
Where to stay in Santa Clara
Santa Clara has a host of Casa Particulars available with rooms for rent. You can read our guide to Casa Particulars here and here are our recommended places to stay in Santa Clara.
Hostal Vista Park: A great central location, with a huge terrace, this is the perfect place to stay longer in Santa Clara. Miguel provides internet access and can provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as local knowledge. All rooms are ensuite and there is A/C plus a laundry service. Check availability here.
Hostal Caridad is in a quiet location in front of a beautiful near the Catholic Church. All rooms here have private bathrooms, A/C, and TVs/ There’s a terrace and a lovely garden with chairs and tables for guests. You’re right in the center of things and the Hostal Caridad gets fabulous reviews and has been hosting visitors for 20 years now! Check room rates here.
Other places to visit in Revolutionary Cuba
Travel Tips for Exploring Cuba
- Get mandatory insurance for Cuba
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- Book your Viazul Bus tickets here
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- Book the best FREE Walking Tours in Cuba
- Reserve attractions, day trips, and activities in Cuba here
- Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Cuba > discount coupon here
- Book Accommodation in Cuba’s Casa Particular here
Final words on things to do in Santa Clara, Cuba
In addition to being a somewhat lively city, Santa Clara, the provincial capital of Villa Clara province, has long been a place of pilgrimage for Che Guevara devotees, with two significant monuments and a museum dedicated to the revolutionary’s life, achievements, and role in Cuba’s revolutionary victory. Whether you stop off for a few hours or stay longer, it’s an interesting visit, especially if you are following a Cuban revolution itinerary.
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