Like most independent travellers to Cuba, my trip began in the capital city of Havana. Up next was Cienfuegos where I incorporated a day trip to the Bay of Pigs. I also visited the south coast city of Trinidad. My plan to visit Remedios on the north coast went awry so I made Santa Clara my next stop.
The big draw in visiting Santa Clara is the Complejo Escultórico Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, the memorial complex dedicated to the Argentine-born revolutionary who, in 1958, took control of the city thus heralding the beginning of the end of Batista’s dictatorship.
The complex consists of a museum, mausoleum and monument. It’s not the most aesthetically-pleasing building but the towering statue of Che is impressive. The museum features a selection of his personal belongings such as his asthma inhaler, book collection and items from his time as a revolutionary.
The other aspect of Santa Clara that I enjoyed was frequenting the food street vendors on Marta Abreu street. And that sums up my positive experiences of Santa Clara.
To be honest, the city contained pretty much the worst of everything about my Cuban trip. I really thought the baby lizard in the shower of the Trinidad casa couldn’t be topped until I stepped into the casa shower in Santa Clara which became electrically live when the hot water switch was turned on.
Architecturally, Santa Clara was an anticlimax after Trinidad. But I’ll reserve the worst criticism for the city’s taxi drivers whose harassment of me was horrendous particularly at the bus station. Prior to Santa Clara, I had accepted that Cuba was not a welcoming or safe place for a foreign woman but the misogynistic intimidation in Santa Clara was off the radar.
SANTA CLARA TO VARADERO
Naturally enough, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place and hopped aboard the Varadero-bound bus in the hope that Cuba’s largest resort couldn’t be any worse than what I experienced.
An English couple whom I got chatting to en route thought I was crazy not to have any accommodation pre-arranged in Varadero. The Lonely Planet guide described the search for bargain rooms in Varadero as a sport akin to marathon running. But the crazy thing would have been to stay in Santa Clara.
I proved all wrong as, within 45 minutes of disembarking the bus, I was dropping off my luggage in the Varadero casa particulare of Margarita Llacuna Rasco on Calle 33. She saw me dragging my case along Avenida de la Playa and approached me. Her casa had a twin-bed room and comes recommended.
Varadero’s general description is that of a sprawling, bland, inauthentic Cuban experience. A couple who stayed with me a few weeks prior to my trip praised Western Varadero for its qualities and facilities when they visited as independent travellers.
My experience of Western Varadero was one of the few positives aspects of my trip to Cuba. My Cuba Solo Travel post elaborates on my general experience of the country.
Varadero is laid out on a grid system so is very easy to navigate. Avenida Primera is considered the main street and is written as Avenida 1ra. I found a number of good restaurants on this street. The all-inclusive resorts tend to be located at the east end of Varadero. The resort’s hop on/hop off bus comes recommended.
I generally steer clear of purpose-built holiday resorts but the couple’s advice was spot on and I discovered that the resort provided the much-needed rejuvenation to finish off an independent trip to Cuba.