Santa Clara is best known for being the site of the last and definitive battle of the Revolution, when Che Guevara and his men captured an armoured troop train and subsequently the city. Che’s body is interred here and his mausoleum is a major visitor attraction. Long underestimated by tourists on their way to somewhere else, Santa Clara is a pleasant university city lying in the heart of Cuba, with a sense of urgency and purpose. It is a cultured city and, as well as the monumental mausoleum, there are several art galleries and museums to stroll around and parks to sit and take in the atmosphere.
Santa Clara’s nightlife is humming, with any number of clubs and music venues where you can take in traditional or more contemporary Cuban styles, or there is the beautiful old theatre where you can find dance or drama performances of an international standard. South of the city, the land rises gently to the Alturas de Santa Clara, a range of hills reaching 464 m at its highest point, and then the magnificent Sierra de Escambray. There are lakes and reservoirs in the hills, where you can hike, birdwatch or fish in a peaceful and picturesque landscape.
Santa Clara was the site of the last battle of the Revolution in December 1958 before Castro entered Havana. Batista was on the point of sending an armoured train with military supplies, including guns, ammunition and soldiers, to Santiago de Cuba to counter-attack the revolutionaries. However, when the train arrived in Santa Clara on 24 December it could go no further because the rebels had destroyed several bridges.
Che Guevara had his command post in the university and his troops were hiding in the outskirts of Santa Clara. The train was parked near the Loma El Capiro and soldiers on board climbed up the hill to see Che’s troops advancing. They opened fire but were defeated and the rebels took the Loma. Che moved his command post to the building which is now the seat of the PCC Provincial and from there made plans to derail the train, which took place at dawn on 29 December. At around 1500 the same day, the train retreated but was ambushed by 23 men. Fighting for the train was over within an hour, but the battle for the city lasted until 1 January 1959 when news spread that Batista had fled the country. It is said that the capture of the train was the decisive factor in the triumph of the Revolution and it is now a major tourist attraction.