Santa Clara holds a special place in the history of the Cuban revolution. It was the location of the rebels’ decisive victory over the Batista regime in 1958, and is the final resting place of the war’s most famous hero, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

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Santa Clara's Ernesto "Che" Guevara Mausoleum is the main reason most people visit the city.

The focal point is the 67-metre tall bronze statue of the man himself atop a 16-metre high pedestal emblazoned with his famous catchphrase: “Hasta la victoria siempre” (“Onwards to victory always”).

The site also has a museum to Guevara's fascinating life. Whatever your own political persuasions, it’s intriguing to discover how the cult of Che originated and how he became a posthumous advocate for the world’s poor.

Elsewhere in Santa Clara, Parque Vidal offers a colourful slice of local life. The municipal orchestra has been playing here every Thursday and Sunday at 8pm since 1902. Don’t miss one of the city’s few non-Che related icons: the bronze statue of El niño de la bota (The boy with the boot), a child holding up a leaky boot from which water trickles into the pool below.

Nearby is the Caridad Theatre, an architectural masterpiece which was declared a National Monument in 1999. It’s the official headquarters of the Compañía Danza Abierta (Open Dance Company), the Banda de Conciertos de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Concert Band) and the Orquesta Sinfonica Provincial (Provincial Symphonic Orchestra) and there are usually plenty of live acts to catch.

For some authentic local ambience head to La Marquesina, a bar adjacent to the theatre with a colourful clientele of students, bohemian souls, cigar-factory workers and bici-taxi riders.

If you’re interested in the art of cigar-making, visit the Fábrica de Tabacos Constantino Pérez Carrodegua, which is more low-key and less rushed than the cigar factories in Havana. This is where brands like Montecristo, Partagas and Romeo Julieta are manufactured. It's also a great place to buy cheap rum.

At a glance

  • On Parque Vidal is a statue of Marta Abreu, an activist in the Cuban wars of independence. Rumour has it that under her pedestal is a time capsule hidden for future generations.
  • In Catedral de las Santas Hermanas de Santa Clara de Asís, three blocks west of Parque Vidal, you’ll find a statue of La Virgen de La Charca (Virgin of the Pond) which is said to have been discovered in a ditch decades after disappearing mysteriously during the cathedral's consecration in 1954.

  • Calle Independencia is full of shoppers by day and bar-hoppers at night and is great for people-watching


The making of an icon

The story of Che Guevara could easily be a work of epic fiction. The Argentine was radicalised as a young man when he saw at first hand South America’s extreme poverty. A chance encounter in Mexico with exiled Fidel and Raúl Castro led to one of the most remarkable stories of the 20th century. Helping to spearhead the revolution in 1956 and later dedicating his life to spreading “anti-imperialism” around the world, Che was finally undone in Bolivia in 1967 when he was captured and executed. Left in an unmarked grave until 1997, he was finally returned to Santa Clara, the scene of his most illustrious victory.

Need to know

Santa Clara is 277 km from Havana, approximately 2.5 hours by car. Most visitors only call in for a few hours to see the mausoleum but if you wish to linger, nearby Remedios is a picturesque and lesser-visited coastal town.

Despite its beautiful façade, hotel Santa Clara Libre isn't great for overnight stays. If you’re staying in town find a casa particular, and expand your circle of Cuban friends instead.

About the authors

Things to do in Santa Clara

Susana Corona Cruz

Susana is a Cuban-born travel writer, blogger and translator. Now based in Europe, Susana returns to her motherland at least once a year to rediscover, photograph and write about her birthplace. She works as an editor and translator for online and offline publications and her work has appeared in The Luxury Report and London magazine Latino Life.

Things to do in Santa Clara

Jim O'Donnell

Freelance journalist, author and photographer, Jim O’Donnell focuses on conservation, human rights, and travel. A former archaeologist, O’Donnell is the author of Notes for the Aurora Society as well as numerous articles, several sordid tales, various angry letters-to-the-editor and other scribblings. He lives in New Mexico with his two children.

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