Matanzas: Travel to the cardinal points of a 300 year old land
Coconut and pineapple mix in the shaker while a line of Havana Club bottles decorate Bacunayagua viewpoint’s bar in the legendary Yumurí Valley. Welcome to Matanzas, announces a sign on the road indicating the domains of one of the Cuban holiday destinations with more contrast. From this point on, the left side of the road becomes a sea of oil up to the arrival to the city of the bridges.
Coming from the West, via “Circuito Norte”, Matanzas presents a collection of low constructions bordering its port. Many tourists have commute here since the first hotels were built in Varadero, that geographic marvel at the Hicacos Peninsula with more than 20 kilometers of beaches. There Cuban and American families congregated to spend summers in the 20s, until the voice spread among more conquerors of leisure. Ever since, the traffic of travelers to the sun & beach destination has not stopped. The once considered by Cubans as “the most beautiful beach in the world”, is today a resort of marinas, golf, entertainment, conventions and congresses.
However, Varadero is not the epicenter of Matanzas’ leisure world. At least not for the traveler in search of history. For them it is more attractive to keep track of the city that has witnessed the birth of so many renowned figures of Cuban culture born earning the popular name of “Athens of Cuba”.
With 29 bridges in active use, the city is also worthy of its second nickname, the city of bridges. Four of them date back more than a hundred years connecting the roads over what once were the courses of 4 rivers.
Bridge after street, Matanzas unveils its most important attractions, the Plaza Vigia, from where the streets of the city began to be planned, the Sauto theater with its neoclassical details and the Palacio de Junco telling the story of Vicente de Junco Sardiñas, a landowner and slaves master. The Pharmaceutical Museum, the Plaza de la Libertad, the Monserrat Chapel and the San Severino Castle, one of the destinations of the slave route project, are added to the list.
The Bellamar Caves a little further east, will amaze the visitor through 20 kilometers of galleries and amazing shapes molded by subterranean waters for several centuries.
Leaving South to find the national highway, Matanzas has other wonders, the Zapata Peninsula, a RAMSAR site famous for its crocodiles, observation birds and the Bay of Pigs. Here, on the same beach that in 1961 was invaded by mercenaries financed by the CIA, soil crabs migrate to spawn in the rocks on the surface.
In its four cardinal points, Matanzas is indeed, a land of contrasts where history, fun, nature, adventure and learning are mixed, like the Piña Colada from Bacunayagua in many more flavors.