There is something very intriguing about Santa Clara. Located right in the centre of Cuba, this vibrant city is steeped in history and culture. While Santa Clara owes its popularity to Cuba’s revolutionaries, the city also has a very edgy art and culture scene. It is home to the country’s longest-running drag show, as well as playing host to regular exhibitions of political and satirical cartoons. In fact, a trip to Santa Clara shouldn’t just be about seeing the main sites, and you should also try spending some time exploring the city’s quirkier side.
Although Santa Clara is one of the largest cities in Cuba, it has a very compact historical centre. Many of the city’s attractions are located along Parque Vidal. This large park is also a great place to just people-watch and absorb the city’s social life.
Here are our top picks for things to do in Santa Clara.
1. Learn more about Che and the Cuban Revolution
Santa Clara played an important role in the Cuban Revolution. The city was the last place to be captured by the revolutionaries – an event that marked the fall of Batista’s regime. If you want to learn more about the Revolution, a trip to Che Guevara’s mausoleum and statue is a must. The mausoleum contains the remains of Che Guevara and other guerilla fighters who were killed in Bolivia. Their remains were exhumed from a mass grave in Bolivia and buried in Santa Clara during a ceremony led by Fidel Castro. This outstanding landmark also houses a museum dedicated to Che and his legacy. A large statue of Che stands above the mausoleum and is a popular photo spot for visitors.
Another significant site in Santa Clara is the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado – a monument and museum which mark the place where Che Guevara and his soldiers derailed a train carrying Batista’s troops by using a bulldozer. To this day, the train carriages and bulldozer remain in the same spot where the attack took place.
2. Visit Teatro de la Caridad
Like many other Cuban cities, Santa Clara is home to several beautiful colonial-era buildings. One such place is Teatro de la Caridad, a Neoclassical theatre that was financed by Marta Abreu, who was the city’s benefactress in the late 1800s. It is one of the few remaining colonial theatres in Cuba and boasts an exquisite interior, with a stunning ceiling fresco and white marble structures. The theatre serves as the headquarters of several dance and music groups and is a popular venue for national and international performances.
3. See the street murals
You don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate Santa Clara’s street murals. Melaíto, a local magazine, has been publishing caricatures and cartoons for over 50 years. In recent years, its artists have started displaying their work in public spaces. Street art with political themes grace some of the city’s walls. On Carretera Central you can find a strip of colourful (and sometimes satirical) murals, which you can visit on your way to Che’s mausoleum. The artwork changes regularly and often reflects a current political and global issue.
4. Enjoy a drink at La Marquesina
Parque Vidal is the city’s social hub. This is where locals meet up for a chat. The cafes around the square are also a popular hangout among locals, especially local university students. Housed in Teatro de la Caridad, La Marquesina is a great place to just enjoy a nice cool drink. The cafe is open from early morning till after midnight and often hosts local bands. You can sit outside and watch the world go by, or just enjoy the live music indoors.