Cuba Travel Template
Updated May 20, 2014, 10:57 AM
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Matanzas is the capital city of the namesake province. It lies on the northern coast of the island of Cuba, right on the bay by the same name, about 100 km. (65 miles) east of Havana City and 40 km. (25 miles) west of the internationally acclaimed Varadero Beach resort area. The city touches all three sides of the bay where it sits. The bay is about 10 km. long and 4 km. wide, reaching a depth at certain locations of over 500 meters, one of the deepest bays in the country.  A hilly range is to be seen at the southeast end of the city is an exceptional 8 km² Yumuri Valley that flanks the city from the southwest. They both constitute two of the most exceptional topography elements in the region. The latter offers anti-stress treatments at Hotel El Valle right in the middle of the valley, a nature spot surrounded by lush vegetation. The valley features a fine example of Cuban engineering: The Bacunayagua Bridge which, reaching 110 m. (360 ft), is the highest bridge in Cuba.

Three rivers empty out their waters into the bay, and for centuries the inhabitants of the city have tried to ease up local transportation by building numerous bridges connecting all river banks, a fact that has caused the city to be known as the City of Bridges or the Venice of Cuba. There is no other urban center in Cuba that has so many bridges: 17 bridges linking the historic center to the various quarters that cross the three rivers traversing the city.

Matanzas was founded by the families of 
San Carlos and San Severino de Matanzas who came from the Canary Islands in 1693. Until then, the aboriginal tribe of Yucayo had once occupied the territory.

The municipality of Matanzas has a population of about 150,000, with a total area of 317 km² (122.4 sq miles), hence its population density amounts to 460.3/km² (1,180/sq miles).

Matanzas means "massacre" and its name was acquired after a day when many 
Spanish Conquistadores were massacred 
in this area during the early stages of the colonization of Cuba. Legend has it that the Spanish Conquistadores ended up with a terrible reputation wherever they went. When the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in what is today called the Bay of Matanzas,  having no navigable boats suitable for the narrow rivers, and being unfamiliar with the Iberian Peninsula, they asked for help from the local natives who, once in the middle of the river and wanting to retaliate, flipped the boats causing the Spanish to drown due to their heavy metal armor.

Once in the city, visitors should explore its many attractions that include: the 1882 Pharmaceutical Museum Ernesto Triolet, a fine
example of 19th century pharmacy design containing the original hand-decorated French and U.S. porcelain vases, hundreds of tiny bottles with herbs, syrups and elixirs, and a collection of a few million old labels, mortars, and stills; the 1835 Museo Municipal Provincial de Matanzas, portraying a fine collection of the province’s historical documents and objects; the 1863 Italian Design Sauto Theater; and, on the former parade ground, the 17th century Catedral de San Carlos.

Slightly outside the historic center you can find Cuba’s national monument Cuevas de Bellamar or Bellamar Caves. They were discovered by a slave who happened to be surveying the area in search of water. Only three km. of this massive cave system have been explored and speleologists agree that there is still a lot more to explore. A guided visit is possible, reaching only the first 1500 meters (5,000 ft.) and 26 meters (85 ft.) below sea level where galleries and rocky formations of capricious shapes can be admired.

The city of Matanzas has also been historically known as the no less ambitious "Athens" of Cuba due to a strong and influential literary as well as musical current that evolved here in the 19th century. It was here that the famous Cuban music composer Miguel Failde created the acclaimed piece "Las Alturas de Simpson" in 1879, introducing a new musical genre to Cuba: The Danzon. This rhythm revolutionized the Cuban and the Caribbean music incorporating aspects of European beats (country dance) and becoming the most popular dance in Cuba for decades. Perez Prado, the composer of Mambo, was born in this city as well as the famous salsa singer, Celia Cruz.

The city is now a major industrial town and has one of the most important sugar export ports in the world. During the colonial times, sugar was intensively produced here, bringing about massive imports of slaves to be used as a labor force who, at some points in history, amounted to more than half of the local population. Later, this created a breeding ground for future insurgency attempts.

The city can be accessed by road from Varadero and Havana City. The latter is also connected to the City of Matanzas by railroad. The international Airport, Juan Gualberto Gomez, only 15 km. east of the city, welcomes foreign visitors who are delighted by the 
 beach resort area of international standard, Varadero.

The 22-km. long Hicacos Peninsula, where the current Varadero lies, was already very well known in colonial times where salt mines and vast forests were exploited. It was only in 1887 when families from the nearby town of Cardenas were commissioned to found a village in this area and thus urbanize the peninsula.

Residents kept a low profile for decades, and Varadero (deservedly meaning "shallow waters" where ships get easily stuck in the ocean floor) was at last put on the international tourism map by the American chemical engineer and tycoon, Irenee DuPont de Nemours, in the 1920s, who wisely bought most of the land from the Spanish heirs and resold it to wealthy Americans, and subsequently to Cuban high-class families.

Havana City and Varadero receive about 70% of the total number of tourists that come to the island. Today you will find a diversified hotel infrastructure and a wide variety of choices that cater to all kinds of tastes. The arguably best beach stretch in Cuba can satisfy the most demanding visitors who are searching for nautical and recreational sports, sun bathing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and all the many other island activities imaginable.

The second largest coral reef in the world is a short distance from the area, and the sunken ships found
attract the most experienced divers and amateurs alike.

Nature lovers head to Punta de Hicacos Ecological Reserve where caves show myriads of original native pictographs and bird and reptile species, plus a 600 year-old cactus that call for the experts’ attention and the avid eye. The best 18 hole golf course in Cuba is located here and aquariums, both on the peninsula and on the high seas, allow visitors to swim with dolphins.

All hotels offer excursions to the main tourist destinations of the island, ranging from the nearby colonial city of Cardenas, to Havana City (which is only
two hours away), to far away places like Trinidad City (which is a five-hour drive).

Not a long distance from Varadero and located on the south side of this territory, nature amateurs would feel attracted to the Great Natural Park of Montemar, right in the core of Cienaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, the largest swamp in the Caribbean (named after the Spanish landowner who had been granted the land in the 1600s) which offers a wide range of activities. This is one of the most complete wildlife reserves in the Caribbean and is home to the only International Bird Watching Center in Cuba.  As many as 350 species have been spotted here and only 24 of those are Cuban endemics. The rest are either migratory or resident species. Montemar is subdivided into smaller parks, each offering different landscapes, natural beauty, and fauna and flora habitats.

This is also the least populated region in Cuba and its inhabitants have historically dedicated themselves to the production of peat and making charcoal.

Two tourist resorts, Playa Larga and Playa Giron, built about 40 years ago, attract those interested in sea, sun, and beach as well as nature-minded visitors. History buffs would also find these two resorts interesting since both happen to be located on two of the three landing sites chosen by Cuban exiles who were aiming to oust the Castro regime in the internationally known Invasion called Bay of Pigs in 1961. The Museum of the Invasion Bay of Pigs is located by the Playa Giron Hotel and tells the tale of the CIA-backed fiasco of the Cuban exile.
The area is dotted by geological faults called Cenotes.  These underground caves connected to the sea are accessible to experienced divers.

La Boca has the largest crocodile farm in Latin America, and from there tourists can reach the world famous Treasure Lake where you can also see a to scale model of a Cuban Indian Village called Guama. Cuban sculptor Rita Longa created this work of art in the early 1960s. Wooden statues perform daily activities typical of Cuba’s native population, and thatched huts display their typical living quarters.

The region is home to two endangered species of aquatic vertebrates: the Manatee and the Manjuari. The latter is an ancient species, dating back to the Jurassic period and the only fish with lungs in the Cuban Fauna.

As it is clearly put and seen, the province of  Matanzas
 offers Everything under the Sun!