From the outsider’s viewpoint, the principal cities and resorts in the neighbouring provinces of Cienfuegos and Villa Clara have lower profiles than those in neighbouring Matanzas and Sancti Spíritus, offering a slightly less diluted taste of Cuban life than the likes of Varadero and Trinidad. Cienfuegos may be one of the country’s most industrialized zones, but there’s little sense of this for the visitor. Cienfuegos city itself is within easy day-trip distance of the province’s other popular destinations, including the memorable botanical gardens and the nearby beach at Rancho Luna, a modest, small-scale coastal resort suitable for a few days of lounging.
Villa Clara, sitting on top of Cienfuegos along its northern border, offers its own contrasts. Its historically rich towns and, particularly, its culturally diverse capital, Santa Clara, provide the focal points for most independent travellers, while on its northern coast, the postcard-perfect northern cays of Cayo Las Brujas, Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa María make up Cuba’s fastest expanding beach resort, attracting ever increasing numbers of package tourists. Though most of the tourist marketing for Santa Clara focuses on its connections to Che Guevara, there is much more to the city than the numerous homages to the revolutionary hero. More lively and dynamic a city than Cienfuegos, Santa Clara enjoys excellent theatrical and musical events and supports a broader spectrum of subcultures than most provincial Cuban cities, including a subversive heavy metal scene and a significant gay population.
Most of Villa Clara’s other highlights are grouped fairly close together in the northeast of the province, where the main draw is Remedios, a tranquil, welcoming little town steeped in history and a short drive from the northern cays. On the other side of the province, Embalse Hanabanilla provides relatively straightforward access into the green slopes of the Sierra del Escambray. Like Remedios, the reservoir is a magnet for tourists looking for a more low-key experience: less developed than other nature-based resorts in Cuba, it’s nonetheless equipped with facilities for fishing, hiking and simple boat trips.