We arrived on a direct flight from Miami in Santa Clara, Cuba. The flight—a mere 45 minutes.
Matt (detourswithmatt) and our driver picked us up at the airport and we drove the half hour into Santa Clara, the city of Che, a pretty town with a main square or Parque Vidal. Santa Clara is in the center of Cuba and was an important city during the revolution. President Fulgencio Batista fled 12 hours after Che and Camilo Cienfuegos captured Santa Clara.
A short ride on a motorcycle taxi brought us to the Che Guevara mausoleum. Che died leading an insurgency in Bolivia in 1967 and his remains (along with 29 of his guerillas’) were discovered and returned to Cuba in 1997. The expansive park features a huge statue of Che and several sculptural monument complexes that depicted the final battles of the Cuban revolution.
Sue went into the mausoleum and sighted the everlasting flame that burns in honor of Che Guevara. The mausoleum has a museum that showcases Che’s guns, uniforms, personal items and photographs telling the story of the revolution.
Be prepared to wait to enter the museum. It is small and people are let in at regular time slots. Since it is a frequent stop for larger tour groups, one group can take up the entire time interval.
There was a cemetery at the back of the monument which honors heroes of the revolution.
Due to Hurricane Matthew we didn’t fly down to Santa Clara until after the Hurricane had passed. On a flight to Miami with only an hour connection to the one departing for Santa Clara, we had little option but to only carry on our luggage. Proper documentation (license to enter Cuba, a letter of authorization by the tour operator and the Cuban visa) will be checked at the gate before you are allowed to board. Note that you can also apply for the visa at the gate prior to boarding by paying $100 – credit cards are accepted.
When you arrive in Cuba immigration authorities will ask for reason of travel, take your picture and should return your half portion of the visa after stamping your passport. In our case, the immigration office decided to keep Reggie’s half portion. we realized pretty quickly and went back to retrieve it but he would not give it to us. We were pretty worried about leaving the country and were prepared for hassles and another $100 fee. In the end, we had no problem leaving the country.
Che Guevara Memorial
With the Death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s been in the news for the past 10 days. There are many changes happening in the country and now is a great time to go. Direct flights have begun to Cuba from New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis-St. Paul. JetBlue, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country Airlines have all been authorized to fly directly to Cuba. We flew American Airlines from Miami on the way down and JetBlue from Santa Clara to Ft. Lauderdale on the way back.
There is some talk of flights being scaled back as there seems to be excess supply right now. That makes this a good time to snatch a cheaper fare. Travelocity is also beginning to do hotel bookings in Cuba. As you may know, President-elect Trump has threatened to cut back on the agreement with Cuba, so you might consider doing your trip sooner rather than later. See these New York Times Article on Last Minute Trips to Cuba and Is it Easy to Visit Cuba. We used Matt Smith (Detours with Matt) for our trip.
While it is easier to get a flight, restrictions still apply. Certification of travel to Cuba under a general or specific license is required. This license is the requirement of the US Treasury department. Approved categories include: people to people, family visits, professional research, professional meetings, educational activities, religious activities and public performances.
Most travelers go on People to People trips. These trips require 6 hours of meetings with Cuban organizations and people each day and are why most people use a tour operator for their trips. You can arrange a trip on your own, but it will take a lot of work before and during your trip.
Come back for our next blog post on Santa Clara, Cuba…..