Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria

Santa Clara, Cuban beach

Overview

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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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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