Day 4: Cienfuegos is exactly what you imagine when you think of a seaside town: plenty of shanty bars and restaurants right next to the sea, a very laid back pace, with no one in a hurry to get anywhere or anything done and a lovely, gentle sea breeze nudging things along.
My first Casa (more on this later) Hostal Camila was decorated in a nautical theme and had an overall fresh theme which was very welcoming . The hostess greeted me with a refreshing Cuba Libré cocktail on arrival which was most needed after the 3 hour drive from Havana. This Casa particular had an adjoining restaurant which served what I have now decided was the best breakfast throughout my time in Cuba: Fresh tropical juices: mostly Guava or pineapple with fresh fruit: Guava, Melon, Papaya, Melon and pineapple, perfectly made crepes and eggs made to your liking. This is pretty much standard fare everywhere in Cuba, but this casa for me had the best offering in terms of the quality of food and freshness and it didn’t hurt that the restaurant/bar was overlooking the sea.
As I only had one night in Cienfuegos I attempted to walk to the town centre as soon as I arrived but ended up taking a rickshaw (bic taxi) instead as it was too hot. The town centre had a huge park: Parque José Marti, which was the central meeting point. This part of town had gorgeous architecture, very different in style to anything in Havana. The style was ‘neoclassical’ which I’ve since learned was based on French architecture, not surprising, as the town was founded by the French. On the way to the town centre there were several casa particulares dotted along the road, with vacancy signs. Casa particulares are guest houses or home stays comprising a handful of rooms rented out to paying guests. In the past the hosts were the owners of the homes and they lived alongside, cooked for and catered to guests, but nowadays casas come in different guises and with different grades of superiority, much like a hotel but still with a personal touch. Basically, Cuba was doing ‘Airbnb’ way before Airbnb. There was a ballet performance put on by a school at Parque Jose Martí and just around the corner from the park , there was a small arts and crafts market, with interesting houses on the side streets. After some more walking, I concluded that Cienfuegos didn’t have too much to offer sightseeing wise, but it was a nice change of pace from Havana and a nice way to break up the journey to Trinidad.
Day 7, Santa Clara: We arrived in Santa Clara by private transfer via Trinidad. Journey time: 3 hours. After the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, I was quite glad to be in a place where walking was not going to be a work out. Santa Clara, in Central Cuba also has its fair share of very old buildings and ruins, but somehow it too manages to look beautiful even in its somewhat run down state. However, what it also has is modern buildings, like in the area of Parque Vidal and Santa Clara boulevard on Calle Independencia, where there are supermarkets and boutiques. My casa, Hostal Autentica Pergola was a beautifully decorated house with five rooms facing a courtyard. The courtyard had climbing plants and a fountain all nestled within a pergola. This made for a serene and cool atmosphere once inside the building. Each room had ornate wrought iron rocking chairs outside it facing the courtyard where you could relax with a book if you so choose. Once I settled into my new room, it was time to explore the town.
There is no escaping the revolutionary history of Cuba and I came to Santa Clara primarily to visit the Che Guevara sights: the monument, mausoleum and museum, are located about a mile outside the centre of Santa Clara and they are all quite impressive. After seeing the Mausoleo Del Che Guevara in Santa Clara, Plaza de la Revolución, in Havana pales in comparison. Located within an expansive park, the giant monument to Guevara is hard to miss. Cuba reveres its heroes, especially the revolutionaries and they do not come much bigger than Che Guevera. His remains were brought back from Bolivia where he was executed and kept in this mausoleum in Santa Clara since 1997, thirty years after his death. The weight of his legacy is on full display here and his final written letter to Fidel Castro is inscribed on the plaque next to his giant bronze statue.
Our small group later moved on to Parque Vidal, in the centre of town where locals and tourists mingle and relax, the park also WiFi connection which is a great draw. Just as I was beginning to wonder where the music was, we heard live music playing just opposite Parque Vidal and a group of elderly folks dancing. That’s the thing about Cuba you’re never too far away from music and dancing and everyone was at it.
Away from Parque Vidal, I did more walking and discovered intriguing side streets in the centre of Santa Clara, I especially liked the street name plaques on buildings with the images of the people who the streets are named after. There was street art on walls, which with my limited Spanish I could just about decipher were pro-revolution slogans and images, others were funny, cheeky street art which offset the seriousness of the town’s important political history to great effect. Santa Clara I found to be an interesting mix of old and new, ancient and modern and a style all of its own.
After the quick jaunt in Santa Clara, it was on to the beach resort in Varadero for some much needed relaxation.