Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria

Destination Location

Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria
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Our guest rating from 2 reviews

Overview

Cayo Santa Maria is an ideal setting for desert island dreamers. It is located at the western edge of the Camagüey Archipelago in Cuba's Villa Clara province. Linked to the mainland via a causeway, the 13-square kilometre cay is Cuba's newest resort area and one of the country's best-kept secrets.

With only seven all-inclusive resorts and no towns, it remains largely development-free. This secluded area is a perfect option if you prefer to lay back and relax on hammocks or beach chairs.

After you work on your tan, explore the waters around the cays, which are full of sport fish like permit, tarpon and bonefish. The region's pristine reefs also contain healthy corals and large schools of colourful fish. The entire coastal region of cays and bays make up part of the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve.

From above, the northern cays of the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago look like a string of emeralds, rimmed in white. The small flat cays are known locally as La Rosa Blanca de Jardines del Rey (the white rose of the king's garden).

With more than 50 km of spectacular beaches, the cays are basically large mounds of soft, white sand covered with palm trees and mangroves. You can find nearly 200 species of birds here as well, such as herons, ibis, pelicans, cormorants and oystercatchers.

Nearby Santa Clara is the provincial capital and considered Cuba's most popular revolutionary city. It is affectionately nicknamed La Ciudad del Che (the City of Che) in honour of national icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Monuments and historic buildings linked to the revolution are scattered around town. You'll notice colonial, neoclassical and postmodernist architecture dominate the old downtown around the main square, Parque Vidal.

If you enjoy exploring nature, romantic sunsets, colonial history and fun times with the family, Cayo Santa Maria offers plenty of options for a great vacation.

Cayo Santa Maria is a fantastic destination for:

  • beach
  • romance
  • snorkeling and diving

Airport served by: SNU

Destination basics

Thanks to moderating trade winds and its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, this area boasts an ideal tropical climate. Around Cayo Santa Maria, sea temperatures average a comfortable 27 C year-round, while highs hover around 29 C during the winter months (November to April) and 33 C in summer (May to October).

Still, Cuba is a large, mountainous island, so expect slightly cooler temperatures in the Santa Clara highlands and the Escambray Mountains to the south. Although brief tropical rain can occur, most of Cayo Santa Maria and Santa Clara’s annual rainfall happens during the rainy season from May to October. The tropical storm also season overlaps the rainy season.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria

Cayo Santa Maria draws travellers with its beautiful beaches, tropical sun and inexpensive drinks. It also has one of the most unique and intoxicating cultures in the Caribbean. It’s a fusion of African, Spanish, French, Haitian, Russian, Chinese and American cultures.

The Cuban revolution was a big influence on Cuba’s melting-pot culture and is still a part of every aspect of Cuban society today. The revolutionary mindset is thoroughly entrenched in Cuban culture and appears in everything from the face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara plastered on walls, billboards and T-shirts to the names of streets and buildings. This is especially true in Santa Clara, the final resting place for many of Cuba’s most important comrades, including Che.

You’ll find the locals here imaginative, curious, humble and very tolerant of tourists. Their charming and friendly demeanour is infectious, and their ingenious ability to keep classic 60-year-old American cars and Russian tractors running, given the current trade embargo, is truly amazing.

Cuban culture has been thriving for the last 50 years. After the revolution, the Cuban government embarked on a program to revitalize the arts, especially those associated with music and dance. So much so that people say, “Cubans sing when speaking, dance while walking and woo with a love song.”

Cuba’s famous music scholar Fernando Ortiz Fernández once described Cuba’s music as “a love affair between the African drum and the Spanish guitar.” Music, like the revolution, is embedded in every aspect of Cuban life. It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing the toe-tapping, hip-swaying beats of salsa, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-cha and Latin jazz. The salsa and cha-cha-cha originated in Cuba, as did conga.

Make sure you don’t miss one of Cuba’s most popular cultural extravaganzas in nearby Remedios. The annual December Las Parrandas de Remedies street party is similar in format to Rio’s Carnival and features large decorative floats carrying costumed revellers performing elaborate dances. Listen to the Cuban rhythms and watch as dancers combine salsa, mambo and cha-cha-cha. The irresistible aromas of traditional criollo food like moros y cristianos (black beans and rice) and picadillo (minced beef and rice) fill the air.

The festival brings together many aspects of Cuban culture. The Chinese provide the fireworks, the Africans the music and the Spanish the food. The festival ends with a spectacular fireworks competition at midnight on December 24.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel. Smaller bills are preferred and exchange rates fluctuate daily. Please note that debit (Interac) machines are not available in Cuba and ATM machines only accept credit card.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions. Please be aware that travellers cheques are subject to a surcharge so it is usually wise to convert them to pesos at your hotel.

US dollars, American Express and any other credit cards issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba. Before your departure from Santa Clara, exchange your remaining CUCs back to Canadian dollars. There’s often a surcharge of approximately 10 per cent, but you will only be able to change pesos back to Canadian while in Cuba. Once outside of Cuba, the CUC has no value. That said, you can always save your leftover pesos for your next visit!

Once the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution, Santa Clara has grown steadily in its cultural impact. Today, it is considered one of the most progressive cities in Cuba and valued for its animated atmosphere. Filled with eclectic architecture and pockets of tropical foliage, the city center offers great entertainment while several of the surrounding neighborhoods hold historic sites and their own unique charms.

City Center
Parque Vidal is the main square in Santa Clara, located in the heart of the city center. Keeping a watchful eye over the park and its many surrounding attractions is the Monumento a Marta Abreu de Estevez, who is cherished for funding the Teatro La Caridad that sits opposite her statue. Also bordering Parque Vidal is the can’t-miss Museo de Artes Decorativos.

Other attractions in the city center include the Galleria de Arte, Fabrica de Tabaco, and Palacio Provincial. Eateries in the area range from charming cafes to more upscale establishments, representing the best in the city’s culinary scene. Between its tourist crowd and trendy local hotspots, there is always activity in central Santa Clara.

Capiro
As you travel outside the city center, you’ll see more and more greenery. Loma del Capiro is a series of three small peaks in Capiro that serve as a fantastic lookout over the city. The site holds historical significance as a hideout for Che Guevara, adding to its appeal as a Santa Clara attraction. In a similar vein, this neighborhood plays host to a statue of the famed revolutionary holding a small child, which is renowned for its careful attention to detail.

Brisas del Capiro
You’ll find fewer landmarks in the neighboring Brisas del Capiro though it holds the Estadio Augusto Cesar Sandino. Home of the Villa Clara Naranjas, the multi-use stadium is a great place to catch a game during baseball season. You’ll also find a handful of places to stop for a bite after exploring this quiet neighborhood.

Raul Sancho
Perhaps the most significant attraction in Santa Clara, the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum is found in the Raul Sancho neighborhood. The breathtaking memorial site features a bronze statue that towers over the city, as well as a collection of artifacts, photographs, and informative plaques.

Osvaldo Herrera
Like most places in the city, you’ll see colorful architecture ranging from banana-yellow arches to bubblegum-pink buildings in Osvaldo Herrera. Top attractions in the neighborhood include the Parque Zoologico de Santa Clara, Museo Provincial Abel Santamaria, and NaturArte, a community project dedicated to creating art out of recycled materials.

A haven for artists and innovators, Santa Clara offers a fascinating perspective on Cuban culture. It has both venerable attractions and a modern edge, creating a rich landscape worth diving into.

Arts & Culture
Housed inside an 18th-century mansion a stone’s throw from Parque Vidal is the Museo de Artes Decorativas, which displays furniture representing distinct styles through the ages. The structure itself is a shining example of Spanish-colonial architecture, and the museum’s artifacts range from porcelain pieces to baroque antiques. Guided tours take roughly 30 minutes, offering visitors the chance to wander through the different rooms and courtyard of this must-see Santa Clara attraction.

Elsewhere, the Osvaldo Herrera neighborhood houses both the Museo Provincial Abel Santamaria and NaturArte. Perched atop a hill, the Museo Provincial Abel Santamaria explores natural and cultural history at the site where President Batista surrendered to Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution. A few minutes away is NaturArte, a community project dedicated to transforming trash into beautiful works that are then exhibited in an outdoor garden. Walk around and enjoy these repurposed treasures, grab a bite in the onsite cafe, or purchase a piece to bring home.

For the best in creative and local events, stop by Club Mejunje, a cultural hotspot that hosts everything from live music to a weekly drag show. The venue had humble beginnings, established in an old hotel in 1985 and originally intended as a gathering place for free-spirited thinkers. Today, Club Mejunje not only dedicates itself to the arts, but it is also an LGBT cultural center that promotes social integration. Offering a wide range of shows and events, and proudly open to all, Club Mejunje is a phenomenal attraction for people of all ages, backgrounds, and tastes. Be sure to check out its upcoming activities when you visit Santa Clara.

Monuments & Historic Sites
The Che Guevara Mausoleum is the burial site of the legendary revolutionary and a number of his fellow combatants, who together are celebrated by a towering 6.7-meter (22-foot) bronze statue of Guevara and small onsite museum chronicling the history of revolutionary activity in Cuba through photographs and memorabilia. Another site commemorating this period in Cuban history is the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado, where Guevara overtook a train carrying troops sent by Batista, beginning the end of the Cuban Revolution. Wander around the site, taking in the small boxcar museum and the great meaning that it holds.

Catedral de Santa Clara de Asís and Teatro La Caridad are two architectural wonders in Santa Clara. The cathedral was built in the neo-Gothic style, incorporating beautiful stained-glass windows and a renowned Virgin Mary statue. Teatro La Caridad was named a National Monument in 1999 for its station as one of few remaining colonial theaters in Cuba. It was funded by cherished Santa Clara philanthropist Marta Abreu de Estevez, who also oversaw its design and construction, which was completed in 1885. Today, Teatro La Caridad stands as one of the most important theaters in the entire country.

While the city itself is characterized by a current, youthful energy, the culinary scene in Santa Clara clings to its traditional roots in the most delicious way possible.

City Center
Dining options in the city center are plentiful. You’ll be delighted to find homestyle cooking everywhere you look, much of which can be enjoyed in quaint family-owned establishments. El Alba serves authentic Cuban fare a block away from Parque Vidal, and Cafe-Museo Revolucion combines fresh beverages and sweet treats with enlightening Cuban Revolution-themed decoration. Elsewhere, the restaurant at Hostal Florida Center boasts outdoor seating and sizable portions behind its inviting green exterior. Meander around the area and you're guaranteed to find delicious food that will satisfy your Cuban craving.

Outside the City Center
Although the majority of your dining options surround Parque Vidal, there are several notable eateries a little farther out. After visiting the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum, stop by Santa Rosalia Complejo Gastronomico Cultural for a relaxing meal in a lovely courtyard. For a buffet lunch and delicious drink, head to the restaurant at Hotel Los Caneyes on the outskirts of the Villa Josefa neighborhood.

Santa Clara

Province: Villa Clara

Country: Cuba

Santa Clara by the Numbers
Population: 242,402
Elevation: 125 meters / 410 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 107 centimeters / 42 inches
Average January Temperature: 22°C / 72°F
Average July Temperature: 27°C / 81°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles, AC

Time Zone: UTC-5; Cuba Standard Time (CST)

Country Dialing Code: 53

Area Code: 42

Did You Know?
Santa Clara is sister cities with Cali, Colombia; Oviedo, Spain; Bloomington, Indiana; Cheboksary, Russia; and Sao Carlos, Brazil.

Orientation
Santa Clara is located in central Cuba. It is approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Sancti Spiritus and 281 kilometers (175 miles) from Havana.

Cuba’s Villa Clara province is wedged between the Escambray Mountains in the south and the Atlantic Ocean in the north. It is a rich mosaic of long white-sand beaches and green plains of tobacco and sugarcane fields dotted with blue-green lakes.

The bustling provincial capital of Santa Clara was founded in 1689 and sits at the northern edge of the region’s highlands about 280 km southeast of Havana. From the lush slopes of 960-metre-high Pico San Juan in the south, the highlands slope gently northward to the coast. Hundreds of mangrove cays are situated at the edge of the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago.

Cayo Santa Maria is a flat 13-km-long and 2-km-wide fishhook-shaped island, perched at the western edge of the Camagüey Archipelago, about 30 km offshore. The impressive El Pedraplen causeway links the island and its 10 km of powdery white-sand beaches to the port of Caibarien.

This 48 km causeway spans Buena Vista Bay and has 46 bridges to allow for the flow of tidal waters that feed the bay’s ecosystem. In 2000, UNESCO designated the archipelagos and its surrounding waters as the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve.

Before it gained notoriety as the final battle site of the Cuban Revolution, Santa Clara was a respite for residents of neighboring town Remedios, which faced constant threats of piracy. By the summer of 1689, nearly two hundred people had fled the attacks on Remedios and headed south to the new settlement. A mass was reportedly held under a tamarind tree on July 15, officially beginning Santa Clara.

Development near this historic site, known today as Loma Del Carmen, began with a handful of buildings surrounding a central square. As significant as ever, this landmark continues to attract visitors under the name Parque Vidal. Santa Clara continued to grow throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, establishing a chamber of commerce, theater, public libraries, and dance halls, as well as renovations to the town church built early on. Soon, the city was thriving, surpassing even Remedios in both size and population.

The next wave of expansion in Santa Clara occurred in the early-20th century, largely funded by beloved local figure Marta Abreu de Estevez. Estevez is best remembered as the benefactress of the Teatro La Caridad, which remains an important attraction, though she also subsidized several other important institutions. Together with its successful growth, the city’s key situation between Havana and Cuba’s east coast led to its appointment as the capital of the Villa Clara province.

Several decades later, Santa Clara came to see its most significant historical event, a battle between Castro followers and President Batista’s troops that effectually ended the Cuban Revolution. In 1958, guerilla factions led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos attacked Santa Clara, eventually capturing the city from Batista. Although the battle was chaotic, this victory is celebrated for ending the revolution and pushing Batista to flee Cuba almost immediately after his loss in Santa Clara.

Getting around Santa Clara – Cayo Santa Maria is simple. Taxis, scooters and bicycle rentals are all available at your resort. However, since the island of Cayo Santa Maria is a small and fairly new destination, there aren’t many places to visit nearby. Should you wish to explore, take a tour off the island to either mainland Santa Clara or Trinidad.

Arrival

Upon arrival in Santa Clara Airport, guests will proceed to the immigration area. Have your passport and completed tourist card with you. The Cuban immigration officials will stamp your tourist card and return it to you.

Once through, proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve your luggage. After you’ve grabbed your bags, exit the terminal to meet your WestJet Vacations representative. WestJet is represented in Santa Clara by Gaviota tours. You’ll be able to identify the Gaviota representative by their Green and Blue polo shirt and dark pants, shorts or skirt. The Gaviota representatives will point you toward the bus that will take you to your resort.

Departure

If you’ve booked a tour or transfers through WestJet Vacations, a bus will take you from your resort to the airport on the day of your departure. Two days prior to your date of departure, please check the WestJet Vacations destination binder in the lobby of your hotel. This will provide you with the pick-up time for your bus. Since the bus often makes multiple stops, pick up times can vary by around 15 minutes. Upon arrival at the airport, please proceed to the immigration and security check. Once through security, you’ll wait in the international departures area where you will board your return WestJet flight.

Insurance

As of May 1, 2010, all guests must have proof of health insurance to enter Cuba. When entering, guests may be required to present this proof of insurance.

Although your Canadian provincial health insurance card is accepted as sufficient documentation, your provincial health plan may only cover part of the costs – and as with health services to foreigners in many other parts of the world, you’ll need to pay up front.

To ensure you’re covered in case of sickness or emergency, it’s recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance. While you can purchase insurance from your insurer of choice, it’s worth noting that policies issued by American insurance companies will not be recognized in Cuba.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, typhoid and Tetanus are commonly recommended. Visit your local health clinic for additional information. It is also recommended to use mosquito repellent to protect yourself from mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Electricity in Cuba is 220 volts, however most hotels are equipped with both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

Cayo Santa Maria is the kind of destination where you can grab a beach chair, a good book and a cold drink, and recharge your batteries. A 48-km-long causeway connects this premier resort area to the mainland. And with just a handful of resorts and no towns in sight, it remains relatively undeveloped and natural.

Cayo Santa Maria is located off Cuba’s north-central coast. It is secluded but accessible and is a perfect getaway for those looking to kick back, search for shells, or just marvel at spectacular sunsets. This restful retreat, with its footprint-free white sand beaches, pristine waters and healthy coral reefs is the ideal destination for families or couples.

The region’s coastal mangrove forests and lagoons are part of the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve. It is home to hundreds of native and migratory bird species including the Cuban trogon, anhingas and pink flamingos.

The sandy shallows between the mangroves provide the ideal habitat for permit and bonefish. You can also find schools of tarpon and other sport fish in the deeper inter-island channels. Divers and snorkellers can admire colourful coral reefs, home to fish, turtles and the occasional passing dolphin only a few fin kicks from shore.

If you’re a bit more adventurous, you can always zip over to the mainland to explore Cuba’s oldest Spanish colonial towns and rustic countryside. The laid back village of Remedios is a few kilometres inland on the mainland. It features 16th-century architecture and narrow cobblestone streets that seem barely wide enough for the town’s many classic 1950s-era American cars.

Go further south to explore Santa Clara, a bustling university town with a famous revolutionary past. Or head to the Escambray Mountains, where there are two nature reserves with waterfalls, large freshwater lakes and hiking trails.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions.

Once through, proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve your luggage. After you’ve grabbed your bags, exit the terminal to meet your WestJet Vacations representative. WestJet is represented in Santa Clara by Gaviota tours.

Getting around Santa Clara – Cayo Santa Maria is simple. Taxis, scooters and bicycle rentals are all available at your resort.

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*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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