During our recent holiday to Cuba we took a two day “Tale of Two Cities” overnight excursion to Santa Clara and Trinidad. Both of these towns have been on our list of places to visit for a long time. We booked this through our resort representative. The cost of this trip was 160CUC per person. This included coach travel for two days, meals, entrance into some museums and a nights stay in another hotel.
Santa Clara was the last battle site of the Cuban Revolution and Trinidad is one of the most famous colonial cities full of cobbled streets and beautiful buildings.
Our day began at 5am. We were up, packed and showered ready to be picked up at 7. We ventured down to the reception area and grabbed some coffee from the bar. Breakfast in our hotel wouldn’t be served until after we had set off so we would miss that. Our tour guide that would be with us for the two days was Anisbel. She was very knowledgeable and fun and made the trip even better.
The first part of our journey would take us over the ocean causeway onto mainland Cuba. We drove through the town of Morón. With a population of around 60,000 this is where most of the workers who serve the tourist industry in the Cayos live.
Three hours in and we arrived at the small resort of Villa San José del Lago in the Northern Sancti Spíritus province for a quick drink and toilet break. A leg stretch was very welcomed at this point.
After this brief stop we resumed our journey. The countryside was absolutely breathtaking. We were never short of things to see. Day to day Cuban life. Travelling through small villages and towns, through farms full of mango, banana, sugar cane and various other fruit trees and crops.
San Juan de los Remedios
Another hour in and we would arrive at the first of our official stops, San Juan de los Remedios. The town consisted of a large square with various shops and traditional bars surrounding it. The main attraction would be the beautiful Iglesia Mayor of San Juan Bautista.
Remedios is the only town in Cuba to feature two churches on its main plaza. The second being the Iglesia del Buen Viaje which is sadly no longer in use and is very run down. We had a free guided tour of the main church here and also had around an hours free time to do some exploring.
Before heading into central Santa Clara we stopped off at our hotel where we would be spending the night. We ate lunch and handed over our passports for check-in. First impressions were really good, the grounds looked clean and our food was superb. It was buffet style which included a free drink. By this point we hadn’t even seen our room yet.
After our lunch stop we jumped back on the coach and drove to our final stops of the day.
Che Guevara Mausoleum
Since visiting the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana back in 2007 one place I have been longing to see was the mausoleum of Che Guevara.
He was laid to rest here back in 1997 with full military honours along with six of his fellow comrades. His remains were found in Bolivia and returned to Cuba. The monument consists of two parts. Above ground there is a huge statue and marble sculptured wall which are both full of symbolism and famous quotes.
Below ground there is of course the mausoleum itself and a small museum. We were informed by our tour guide that we were not allowed to take photos or videos. All mobile devices were to be left in our pockets or placed in bags and any hats or sunglasses also had to be removed.
Another rule was that we were not allowed to speak. We were to pay our respects in absolute silence. Anisbel also told us of a number of other rules but they were not in place the day of our visit.
Paying Our Respects
The room was dark, with the plaques and portraits of Guevara himself and around 30 or so other guerrillas who died as a result of the fighting in Bolivia. All the memorials were individually lit apart from Guevara’s. His was dark, but at the top of his memorial was a single bright star projected on to it.
Towards the back of the room was an eternal flame lit by Fidel Castro.
Famous Trains And Monuments
From here we journeyed to the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado (The Monument of the Armoured Train). Another important piece of history in the battle of Santa Clara and the Cuban Revolution.
This memorial park is located on the Avenica Liberación next to a level crossing and is also home to the obelisk of Che Guevara.
The train was full of weapons and ammunition all of which was accompanied by 370 soldiers. However, Guevara and his men used a bulldozer to remove a section of train track and after some fighting succeeded in their mission to capture it and put a stop to the soldiers advances.
Santa Clara, The End Of Day One
Last but not least we finally arrived in the centre of Santa Clara. It is very typical of a Cuban town or city. Built around one central plaza, Parque Vidal. Colourful buildings, mentions of Guevara and Castro everywhere, churches, bars, lively characters and the 1950’s vehicles Cuba is famous for.
There are of course a handful of people here who are looking to make a few CUC or CUP from tourists. They tend to be the older generation though. I cant be too mad at them, I’ve been in places where begging is much worse than this. They normally walk up to you and sing you a song or spin you a wild tale.
The Birthday, A Tall Tale Or The Truth
One man we came across told us it was his birthday. His wife had recently passed away and he was just out enjoying the day. He told us a little about his life and asked us where we came from. He spoke about how the only thing he wanted was a little bit of cake to celebrate.
Maybe some of this was true, maybe he made it all up. I guess we will never know. What we do know though is how happy he was when we handed over a 3CUC note. We wished him Happy Birthday and he shook my hand. It was a great story either way, I had to admire that. I wonder if he did buy cake or rum ?
Another man we encountered was just before we left here for the day, he was old, possibly in his 80’s. He looked like he had sight problems. Selling small cones of nuts he called over to us. He was sat by himself. I went over and said hello in Spanish, asked if he was ok and asked him how much his nuts were. He answered 1CUC. I handed over 5CUC and he offered me five cones, “no, no” I said. I told him to keep the cones and sell them. He was incredibly happy.
Exploring The Streets
We had a great time exploring the back streets of the city. People were more than happy for me to take their photo and either smiled back or just got on with what they were doing. This is a perfect place for street photography.
Go enjoy a drink in one of the many bars surrounding the Plaza. Relax on one of the benches in the square and just soak it all up. The choice is yours.
One of the most famous buildings here is the Hotel Santa Clara Libre. The tallest in the city. It played a pivotal role in the battle of Santa Clara and housed many of Guevara’s men and to this day it still bares the scars of the battle that once raged here. If you look closely you can see it is peppered with bullet holes.
Time For Trinidad
We still have so much to share with you. We have lots more photos and a lot more content from our day in Trinidad. This was supposed to be one blog but there are so many photos and stories we want to share. So we hope you enjoyed this first part at least.
For now though we head back to our hotel here in Santa Clara. We enjoyed a drink and more great food by the pool. During the evening we had a small thunderstorm which was incredible to watch. It also cooled the air a little too which was nice. We retired to our shack for the night exhausted but ready to explore Trinidad the next day.