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During our recent holiday to Cuba, we took a two day “Tale of Two Cities” overnight excursion to Santa Clara and Trinidad. Both towns have been on our list of places to visit in Cuba for a long time. We booked this through our tour operator. The cost of this trip was 160CUC per person (approx £120 each). This included coach travel for two days, meals, entrance into some museums and a night’s 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.
Santa Clara & Trinidad, Day One
Our day began at 5am. Out of bed packed and showered, we were ready to be picked up at 7am. We ventured down to the reception area and grabbed some coffee from the bar. We would miss breakfast as they did not serve this in time before we set off. Our tour guide that would be with us for the two days was Anisbel. She was very knowledgeable and fun and made our trip even better.
The first part of our journey would take us over the ocean causeway and 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 Cayo’s lives.
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. We welcomed a leg stretch 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 passing us by through the window of our coach. 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 into our journey and we would arrive at the first of our official stops, San Juan de los Remedios. The town comprised a large square with various shops and bars surrounding it. The major 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 an hour’s free time to do some exploring.
Before heading into central Santa Clara, we stopped off at our hotel where we would spend the night. We ate lunch and handed over our passports for check-in. First impressions were great, 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, we jumped back on the coach and drove to our last 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.
They lay him to rest here back in 1997 with full military honours along with six of his comrades. They found his remains in Bolivia and returned to them Cuba. The monument comprises two parts. Above ground there is a colossal 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. Our guide informed us we could not take any photos or videos. Mobile phones were to be left in our pockets, muted or turned off, and any hats or sunglasses also had to be removed.
Another rule was that we could not speak once inside. We were to pay our respects in absolute silence. Our guide Anisbel also told us of several 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 other guerrillas who died because of the fighting in Bolivia. All the memorials were individually lit apart from Guevara’s. They left him dark, but at the top of his memorial was a single bright star projected on to it.
At the back of the room was an eternal flame, lit by Fidel Castro himself.
Famous Trains & 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 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 were 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.
Last but not least, we finally arrived in the centre of Santa Clara. It is very typical of a Cuban town. Built around one central plaza, Parque Vidal. Colourful buildings, mentions of Guevara and Castro everywhere, churches, bars, lively characters and the 1950s 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 are the older generation though. I can’t 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 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 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 bought cake or rum ?
We encountered another man just before we left. He was old, possibly in his 80s. He looked like he had sight problems. Selling small cones of nuts, he called over to us. He was sitting by himself. I went over and said hello in Spanish. I 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 thrilled. I hope he made some extra money that day.
Exploring The Streets Of Santa Clara
We had a great time exploring the 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 a bench 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.
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 to be one blog but there are so many photos and stories we wanted to share with you. So we hope you enjoyed this first part at least.
For now, we headed back to our hotel here in Santa Clara. We enjoyed a drink and more great food by the pool. We had a small thunderstorm during the evening 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, ready to explore Trinidad the next day.