In my recent trips to Cuba, I’ve been fortunate to explore life off the resort and discover some new Cuban cities bustling with activity. In this post, I want to share a little town outside of Varadero called Matanzas. If you need a break from the resort for a one-day excursion or a short off resort stay, here are some details on Matanzas Cuba.
The City of Matanzas, Cuba
Located between Varadero and Havana on the bay of Matanzas, this is the capital city of the Matanzas province in Cuba. Matanzas is also known as the city of bridges and Venice of Cuba, a nickname given to it because of the 17 bridges that run across the city’s rivers.
The city’s history is filled with stories from the development of the sugar plantations and the import of thousands of African slaves into the region. The word Matanzas means massacre where a confrontation went wrong in the bay of Matanzas involving native fishermen and Spanish soldiers trying to attack an Aboriginal camp on the other side of the bay.
Despite its difficult history, the city was home to many famous Cuban people including Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, José Cardenal and Pérez Prado to name a few. You may also here Matanzas referred to as Athens of Cuba as a result of these cultural contributions from the many local artists.
But now Matanzas is a flourishing city and from what I can see is getting ready to welcome tourists who want to explore is culture and history.
Getting to Matanzas
The city is located 15 KM from the Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport. As getting around Cuba has its own set of challenges, the easiest way to get to Matanzas is via a Cab. I do not recommend renting a car in the country.
Matanzas City Excursion from Resorts
Many resorts and vacation operators off excursions to Matanzas from Varadero and Jibacoa resorts. These excursions are normally a half day and include many of the attractions I mention below.
Where to Stay: Hotels in Matanzas
Don’t expect 5-star resort accommodations in the city. There are a number of bed and breakfasts, hostels and small hotels located in the city centre.
Hotel E Velasco, Matanzas (4-star rating)
The Hotel E Velasco is a boutique hotel with 13 standard rooms and 4 junior suites.
Situated right at the Libertad Square in downtown Matanzas, this hotel is the place to stay or grab a drink if you are just passing through.
With a grand open air lobby, you’ll find many tourists hanging out at the bar or having a coffee at one of the many tables.
Keep an eye out for the Louvre Hotel which was under construction during my visit. It looks like an upscale boutique hotel in the making and is located across from the Velasco on the other side of the square.
Cuban Resorts Near Matanzas
The nearest resorts to Matanzas are the Memories Jibacoa and Villa Tropico Jibacoa. The Memories Jibacoa has the highest rating as far as resorts in the region with 4.5 stars if you are looking for a resort you can explore the region from this would be your best bet.
Things to do in Matanzas
Visit Historic San Severino Castle
History buffs may like a tour of the famous Matanzas fort. Originally built to protect the city this fort has a deep history in Cuba’s slave route. This small museum has a fee (with additional charges for those wishing to take photos).
Located in the center of the downtown area of the city. This is where you will find most of the cities tourist activities. The Libertad square features a large monument in tribute to the end of Cuban slavery. The square is surrounded by hotels, cafes and other shops.
City Market and Shopping
Most excursions offer some free time in the city to shop and explore. This is a great way to see how the locals live in Cuba. The streets of Matanzas have many shops filled with souvenirs which accept the convertible peso.
I have visited historic Apothecary museums before on my travels, but I think the Matanzas Pharmaceutical Museum was just so well done I had to recommend it.
With the help of our guide, we took a tour with one of the volunteers who explained the history of the collection. There were many rooms in the museum filled with an extensive collection of medical equipment, medicine bottles and more.
Calixto Garcia Iron Bridge
Take a walk along the Iron Bridge from downtown. You will notice the interesting sound the cars make as they drive by. From the bridge, you’ll see two sides of Matanzas a sleepy little fishing village on one side and the downtown commercial area on the other.
Che Guevara Stone Mural
Once you cross the bridge be sure to stop by the stone mural located to the right. After that, you’ll see a beautiful monument to Che Guevara worth photographing. A mosaic of different coloured stone with green, black-brown and red textures and surrounded by shrubs and flowers it really was one of the most beautiful Che Guevara monuments I’ve seen in the country.
Off-the-Resort in Cuba Travel Tips
Whether you are travelling on your own, staying in the town or part of a guided excursion be sure to consider the following tips for off the resort travel in Cuba.
- Wear comfortable clothing including shoes and a hat, don’t wear excessive flashy jewelry
- Bring a bottle of water (it may not be easy to find one in the city)
- Carry some snacks with you
- Pack toilet paper or disposable wipes, not all bathrooms will have toilet paper
- Bring small CUC (Convertible Pesos) currency with you for tips and bathroom attendants.
- Don’t forget your camera – there will be plenty of photo opportunities in the city.
Read more: The Best Shopping Spots in Cuba
Travel assistance provided by the Cuba Ministry of Tourism during a FAM trip, however, opinions expressed are my own.