We (my 5-year old Ellie and I) recently returned from a trip to Cuba where we stayed in 6 cities over about 3 weeks. Here is my review of Santa Clara, Cuba.
We arrived on Jet Blue at a tiny airport in the city of Santa Clara. Santa Clara is smack dab in the center of the province of Santa Clara and almost exactly in the middle of the country. It’s a great starting point to other must-see places in Cuba like Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Cayo Santa Maria.
It was by total chance that the flight I picked would bring us to the land of Che Guevara. The town itself is not so striking – there’s a nice town square and several monuments to Che. He liberated the people here in 1958 and “he is everywhere”.
We chose a random Airbnb (not so random – I wanted kids in the host family, A/C, separate room and full bath) and ended up with the most amazing family in Casa Azul. To me the best part of Santa Clara is the people. ‘Our family’ consisted of a mother (Laura) and father (Julio) in their late 30’s I guess (both in computers), a daughter 14 and two sons 5 and 3. Immediately we felt like old friends. It helped that I speak Spanish but they are very open and kind so knowing the language was not totally necessary.
Our Airbnb house (Casa Azul) was an historic home passed down through the family. Immediately I was drawn to the rocking chairs on the front porch where Cubans sit and people watch. This house actually has a swimming pool – not very common in Cuba. Our separate room also had a flat screen, mini-fridge, fans and two beds we pushed together to make a king. (All for $23 a night)
Santa Clara is famous for having the best rock festival in Cuba. My hosts were actually big heavy metal fans. Santa Clara is also know for being a trendy city – where the second best university in Cuba is located. Our last night my hosts took me out to listen to music. We had the BEST time in a little club called Cubo Arte. A tiny club crammed with tables and chairs – Cubans listening intently to a local band playing local favorites. I really felt like the only tourist in the place. After the band, a DJ played and people danced and danced. All this fun and we were ‘home’ by 9pm! It was great fun – the best part of my stay in Santa Clara!
On two different Sundays, we visited the large outdoor market where EVERYONE goes to hang out, catch up with friends, and buy their fresh food for the week. There are lots of vendors who mostly sell the same things – pork, bananas, pineapples, beans, rice and a few specialty items. They also have a DJ playing loud music, pony rides and other amusements for kids, vendors selling street food and toys for kids.
It was very hot in October. They say if you don’t like heat, don’t come in August for sure. It was so hot my daughter cried and begged to go “home” during a tour of the city. My hosts offered to watch Ellie while I did a tour of the city on a moto-scooter. Most people don’t have transportation and rely on horse-drawn carriages and motorcycle carts – you just stand in the street and wave one down. There are some vintage cars but they are mostly for tourists and there aren’t as many as the big city of Havana. Be sure to ride with a Cuban because they pay much less than tourists.
I treated the whole family (11) to lunch at El Molina, one of the nicest restaurants around. It was a “nice” buffet for about $6 adults. The kids love it because there are many animals in cages in the back of the restaurant – all kinds of birds and some other animals. They also had a trampoline and a playground for small children. This is typical of a lot of Caribbean countries.
We also spent some time in the town square – that’s where people of all ages go to hang out. At night people rent out electric cars and bikes for kids to ride. Ellie loved it.
I felt very safe in Santa Clara (Cuba) – just be careful as the sidewalks and roads are not intact. You are more likely to twist an ankle or hit a pothole more than anything. If you need a place to stay where you will get a taste of the Cuban life with really kind and welcoming Cubans – look no further than Casa Azul. Sometimes travel can bring you to foreign lands but the people of Cuba are just like you and me in many ways.