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Founded in 1689, the capital of Villa Clara has a rich offering of important sites and museums for history enthusiasts. In addition to its landmark monuments, Santa Clara is home to Cuba’s second most important university, making for a vibrant intellectual and cultural scene.
Known as ‘La Ciudad del Che’ (The City of Che), Santa Clara’s most popular attraction is undoubtedly the Che Guevara Mausoleum. To date, more than 3 million visitors have made their way to this landmark monument, where the Argentine revolutionary has been laid to rest. The memorial complex is located in Che Guevara Square, where a 22-m tall bronze statue of El Che has been erected. The statue is flanked by two sculpted murals chronicling Che’s life. Accompanying the sculptural complex is a crypt with his remains and an exhibition of artefacts, photos and memorabilia that shed light on his life and work. Regardless of your political views, the Mausoleum is a fascinating site that not only provides a glimpse into the life of one of the most important political figures of the 20th century, but also into the cult and following that developed after his assassination.
Not to be missed is the Armoured Train Park (El Tren Blindado), another important landmark of the Cuban Revolution. Today, a monument and museum honour the site where revolutionary rebels led by Che Guevara derailed an armoured train sent by Fulgencio Batista. The successful attack brought the Battle of Santa Clara to an end, paving the way for the triumph of the Revolution just days later. The Armoured Train Park is just a 20-minute walk from the city centre and can also be reached by horse-drawn carriage for just 1 CUC (about 70p) per person. Che fanatics may also want to visit the Statue of Che Holding a Child, just a 5-minute walk from the Armoured Train Park. This life-size sculpture is packed with hidden symbols and references to the revolutionary’s life.
The hub and life of the city, the Plaza Parque Vidal is a charming square with a beautiful park situated right in the centre of Santa Clara. Frequented by old and young alike, the busy square fills with the sounds of the municipal orchestra every Thursday and Sunday evening. In 1998, the square became a National Monument thanks to the important statues housed in the park (The Boy with the Leaking Boot, a statue of Marta Abreu, and a bust of Leoncio Vidal), as well as the eclectic buildings and architecture that surround the square. Buildings of note include the Santa Clara Libre Hotel, which still bears bullet scars from the Revolution, as well as the Teatro de La Caridad, a Grand Theatre from the colonial period. On the corner of the square is the Museum of Decorative Arts, housed in an 18th century colonial house with a stunning interior patio featuring cobbled stones and stained-glass windows. Offering a glimpse into the life of wealthy families during the colonial period, the museum exhibits an array of art, furniture, glassware and pottery.
Visitors may also want to visit the local Tobacco Factory, where they can enjoy a guided tour for just 3 CUC (about 2 GBP). With less tourist influx than Havana, Santa Clara’s tobacco factory offers a more intimate and relaxed tour experience.