Before continuing the journey to Santa Clara, I would like to quickly share our experiences of Cuban cuisine.
A little about Cuban cuisine
A typical meal would consist of rice, salads (normally cucumber, tomatoes and white cabbage) and a piece of meat of your choice (the most common meat is pork, chicken or seafood depending on the location. In Trinidad, lobster cost as little as just 10CUC. It’s good value if it costs a lot in the place where you live). You can always find most people would cook rice and beans together which give a reddish colour to the dish. Prior to our trip, some of my colleagues who have been to Cuba told me food in Cuba can be very bland and suggested to me to bring some salt & ketchup etc. The truth is if you have dinner at the casa where you stay, the food is delicious! During our trip we’d only eaten in the restaurants on very few occasions and I definitely would rate for meals at your casa to let the hosts surprise you.
How to get to Santa Clara from Trinidad?
From Trinidad to Santa Clara, you can either take the public bus which would cost you around 10 CUC or, as we did, share a taxi and pay a few CUC more so we can travel at our leisure and in greater comfort. Like always again, our casa host in Trinidad -Noel (this time I remembered his name as his name is also part of his casa’s name) – arranged his taxi “friend” to drive us to Santa Clara.
Normally the bus journey from Trinidad to Santa Clara should take approximately 2 hours. We left Trinidad a bit late and so our journey to Santa Clara was in the dark and our driver used a short cut which reduced the journey time to just 1 hour and a bit. The short cut road was poorly maintained, there were so many potholes that we were rocked and bumped about almost all the way to Santa Clara. It was a paved road but it was probably done with very cheap material so the surface of the road was cracked so badly in a short period of time and the local authority had never bothered to repair the road, according to the driver.
After arriving in Santa Clara, we lodged into our best casa in the entire journey: Hostal Vista Park. The host was waiting for our arrival all day. All rooms in Hostal Vista Park were very specious and all furniture like everywhere else was quite elderly. I loved this casa as they welcomed us with the best Piña Calada you could possibly find in the country or (in my opinion) and probably the best in the whole world. If you go passed them, you should drop in and see if the host can make you one too. For the guests, you get a free one as a welcoming drink, but if you become addicted to their Piña Caladas you can always buy at 3CUC.
We chilled in the evening in the casa and enjoyed our delicious Piña Calada and I was able to talk to the host and ask for some information about the region while at the same time he helped us to book his taxi “friend” who will take us from Santa Clara to Varadero. The next morning, we walked to the Che Guevara Mausoleum where I learnt so much more information about Che.
At that point, I felt very embarrassed as in my entire education in China I have never come across his name although I recognised his photo straight away. Since Cuba is communist his photo was kinda used in various places in China so you may come across it. However, I am glad that I was able to read about him and to know about his life. Later when I got back home I was able to find his book Diario de Motocicleta, of course in Chinese edition, and read it and really liked it.
On the way to Che Guevara’s Mausoleum we walked pass a piece of long wall with a lot of graffiti, they are cleverly painted on the wall but it can be very politically critical of capitalism and the ‘west’. I am only putting an angled picture online and please don’t take this as my opinion or that I am making any political statement.
As Che Guevara’s Mausoleum is located approximately 3km away from the center, we were tired by the time we finished visiting this place. On the way back to our casa we waved down a horse and cart. The ride only cost 1CUC each.
In the same afternoon, we still had a few hours to kill before the taxi will come and collect us, so everybody went away to do what they wanted to do. We chose to use our time near the casa, walking around the main plaza. From a distance my eye was caught by the McDonald’s logo and my heart skipped a beat! As I walked closer, I then realised it’s McDunalds not McDonalds. Obviously run by a Cuban and so it would be rude not to give it a try so I bought myself a pork burger (Since in McDunalds you can’t find anything with beef). Just by remembering the taste it makes my mouth water as I am writing about it. It was a very tasty burger and very different to the usual burger that you can get in every other corner in Europe. It was super cheap costing us less than 1 CUC. McDunalds is just located around the main plaza, walking around the main square and you won’t miss it if you fancy to try the burger.
Santa Clara is the capital city of the Villa Clara province and it’s almost in the most central region of the country with a population of nearly a quarter million. Santa Clara is not a popular tourist destination in Cuba. It’s a city full of insatiable curiosities with it’s own personality. It’s a good stop over place for a day or two if you travel from Trinidad to Varadero.
Off to Varadero
In the late afternoon, we are off again to one of the most popular destinations for beach lovers in the Caribbean, Varadero. The journey from Santa Clara to Varadero takes approximately 2 and half hour on a paved road by taxi (no more potholes).
Just before the night falls we arrived in Varadero and tried to lodge into Casa Roberto y Martha. Here is where we had confusion due to lack of internet communication. I booked their casa 2 months prior to our trip but the casa doesn’t have internet at all and the only communication you can have is to call him. At the time I was assured we had booked 2 rooms as we are 4 travellers. When we turned up he had only one tiny room for 2 people as he had doubled booked his place. In the end he put 2 of us to his friend’s casa which was located 2 blocks away from his place. It was an unpleasant experience for us and his friend’s place was less well presented but clean enough to lodge for one night.
On the corner just opposite Casa Roberto y Martha they played loud music every night until after midnight. After one night staying at this casa, even I can sing “Bailando” in full without missing a lyric.
The next early morning we walked around the region and knocked on doors of homes with the “Casa Particular” sign just to find out if they have availabily. Luckily we were able to find Casa Rompe Olas. We checked out from Casa Roberto y Martha and his friend’s place, and lodged into Casa Rompe Olas instead. Most Casas in Cuba cost around 30-40 CUC, depends on the location and the house condition. If you end up in a similar situation you can always walk around the town and try to look out for “Casa Particular” sign where you can lodge and no need to worry about the room charge as it should all fall within the price range of 30-40 CUC.
On the tip of the far end of Varadero is modern apartments, restaurants and hotels. Most holidaymakers will stay there -all inclusive with a coloured wristband. All non-guests without the wristband will be refused to get in at the gate if you need to use the facilities.
On our first day in Varadero, we used the hop-on and hop off bus to go around the area. Varadero is very large, this is one of the best ways of getting around the place and most cost effective way. There are also plenty of horse and carts around and they cost much more than what you would pay in Santa Clara. I personally recommend using the hop-on and hop off bus for the day. We got off the bus once to check out the The Ambrosio (Bat) cave and the little hiking trail in the Reserva Ecologica Varahicacos (Ecological preserve). Don’t miss out these 2 places as they are worth visiting just watch out for the mosquitos.
Just beyond the spectacular beaches you’ll find plenty of opportunities for local excursions. Reserva Ecologica Varahicacos (Ecological preserve) was established in 1974, it’s the largest protected wetland in the caribbean located at the northeastern part of the Hicacos Peninsula. The park has a short hiking trail through the scrub forests. We walked passed a giant more than 500 years old cactus – the Patriarca, a large cave with many ancient pictographs on it’s walls and full of bats – La cueva de Ambrosio. This protected area is the best place to view up close the flora and fauna and also some of the aboriginal history. The entrance to the place all together is 12CUC and was collected upon arrival.
Some call Varadero Beach the world’s greatest beach, and you will have my assurance on that. The glistening white sands, cool tropical breezes and tranquil Caribbean waters provide the perfect backdrop. Go for a morning walk on the beach, the water is even more crystal clear than other times of the day. In the late afternoon, just sit on this spectacular beach with a refreshing cocktail in hand watching the sunset is the best thing you can imagine for a holiday.
On our 2nd day in Varadero, we moved from one bar to another, from one cocktail to another, from one end of the beach to another. A very relaxing day without much to think of until we had to say goodbye to this wonderful place and continue our journey to our final stop in Cuba where we had started – La Habana.
Taxi from Varadero to La Habana takes only 2 hours and a bit. We lodged into Casa Amanecer, the host of the casa was really fun to talk to. We spent our last night with them in the living room, drinking Cuba Libre, learning how their life is in Cuba. We celebrate our Cuba journey altogether before our friends will continue their journey to Viñales while we continue our one to Cancun, Mexico.