Santa Clara, Cuba: Surroundings

Remedios, located on the northern coast, east of Santa Clara, is one of the oldest settlements in Cuba. It is probably the second most interesting colonial city that has maintained its original charm so well, right after Trinidad. Founded in 1514 near the Atlantic, the town had to be relocated in 1544, due to relentless pirate attacks. Remedios developed into the most important town in the region, up until 1682, when Father Gonzalez de la Cruz declared that the city was taken over by satanic forces. The Spanish Inquisition intervened and many people were burned at the stake, while others fled the city west and founded Santa Clara. Remedios is filled with old churches and houses dating from the 17th and 18th century. Across the road from the wonderful palm ridden Plaza Marti, stands the remarkably decorated Parroquia Mayor de San Juan Bautista. Museo de la Musica Alejandro Garcia Caturla celebrates the world class compositor, while the Museo de las Parradas is dedicated to the annual parade, specific to the area, which celebrates the New Year, in style. The Buena Viaje church is also worth a look, while for more on the history of Remedios, visit the Museo Municipal de Remedios.

Off coast of Remedios is Cayo Santa Maria, an archipelago of islands with splendid coral reefs, developed for tourism. The enclave holds about 28 hotels and a landing strip. The area offers magnificent beaches while Marina Gaviota features world class fishing and diving experiences.

South of Santa Clara lays Cienfuegos, one of Cuba’s most vibrant cities. Attractions in the city center include Parque Marti, Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion, Teatro Tomas Terry, Palacio Ferrer, Galerria Maroya, Museo Historico Provincial and Ayuntamiento de Cinfuegos. The Necropolis Tomas Acea is remarkable for its decorated gate and impressive tombs. Other attractions include the Naval History Museum and Fortaleza de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Jaguna that was built between 1738 and 1745 to protect the city from pirates. The Cinfuegos Botanical Garden, 16km east of the city, prides itself with over 2000 species of tropical plants, while the road continuing southeast, will take you to Trinidad.

For a great sunbathing and diving experience you should head west of Cinfuegos, to Playa Giron. There are cenotes (submerged cave systems) and warm water gulfs, excellent for diving. The area is also famous for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, a failed attempt by the CIA to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime. The Museo Giron has a Sea-Fury airplane on display, as well as T-34 and SAU-100 soviet tanks, among other military hardware from the battle.

Parque Nacional Cienaga de Zapata awaits further to the west. Covering an area of almost 5000 square kilometers, Cienaga Zapata is the largest marshland ecosystem in the Caribbean. From lagoons with crocodiles and flamingos, to mangroves, sedges and marabou bushes, the area is a true Noah’s arc of wildlife.