What to do in Matanzas

Have you ever heard of a city Matanzas? Probably not, and you are not the only one. Matanzas is one of Cuba’s hidden treasures. It is also the capital of the second-largest Cuban province – Matanzas. It is located in the north of the island, just 90 kilometers away from Havana or 30 kilometers from the famous Varadero beaches. Matanzas is known as the city of bridges as it has 17 bridges, for this reason, it is also called as the Venice of Cuba. The city of Matanzas is worth to visit for its historic sites, beaches, mysterious caves and this is where the dance rumba came from, furthermore we present you with top destinations to visit while in Matanzas.

Visiting Cuevas de Bellamar

Cuevas de Bellamar were discovered by the workers of a local landowner Manuel Santos Parga in 1861, however the cave complex is dating back 300,000 years and is considered to be one of Cuba’s natural treasures. Bellarmar Cave is located 40 meters below the surface and is approximately 750 meters long. 

Many scientific and historical facts were revealed in Cuevas de Bellamar, some remains of birds and vertebrates from the Quaternary Period were found here. Inside you will find extraordinary stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites as well as solid calcite crystals hanging above your head. There is also an underground stream going through the whole cave, along the cave walls covered in glittery crystals.

Do not be afraid to get lost there as it has lighting and paths inside, which makes this experience suitable for families with kids, many local hotels offer organized tours to see this attraction. 

Exploring Valle de Yumuri

Valle de Yumuri is believed to be one of the most beautiful valleys in Cuba, an incredible canyon has formed on an 80 hectare plain at its widest point and elevations up to 150 meters. It can only be seen when you reach it, it’s quite hidden. Away from the Matanzas city, Yumuri valley is home to banana groves, maize fields, palm trees, dense forest and small remote villages.  Valle de Yumuri natural landscape has zones of significant flora and fauna also important cultural, historic and endemic value. 

Melocactus matanzanus – one of the unique cactus species found only in this area. Geologists claim that this area contains animal and plant residue dating back around 30 million years. The soil on this land, according to the local farmers, is exceptionally fertile. The Yumurí Valley is protected and preserved by the Cuban authorities. If you are planning on visiting this beautiful valley you can catch the famous Hershey Train which is also an activity to do while in Matanzas.

Discovering Castillo de San Severino

Castillo de San Severino was approved to build by the Spanish crown in 1682, to serve as a fortress on the Bay of Matanzas. It was meant to defend the city against the frequent pirate attacks. In 1697 the construction of the fortress has stopped due to the lack of funds and workforce. Later on an engineer Antonio Arredondo re-initiated the construction and finished it in 1745.

Once Cuba was occupied by the British in 1762 the castle was severely damaged with dynamite and then reconstructed in 1772 and used as a Customs office. Later on, it became a prison. 

Nowadays, Castillo de San Severino is home to a museum dedicated to its history and slavery in Cuba. There is a small entrance fee, however, you might have to pay a bit more in order to be able to take photos.

Taking the Hershey Train

The commuter rail of Hershey was opened in 1917 and it runs from Casablanca to the city of Matanzas. It is a two carriage electric train that departs only 3 times a day with many stops in-between Matanzas and Casablanca on a single rail track 90 km route. This is the only electrical train in Cuba.

The prices will depend on the chosen station where you wish to get off, the total price for a trip Matanzas-Casablanca will not exceed 3 USD.

You will find the Casablanca station outside of Havana, on the other side of the bay, which you can access with a taxi or a ferry that will only cost you 1 peso (MN).

Bear in mind that due to electrical problems train schedule can be very unpredictable and change without a warning, on rare occasions the train will not run at all.

Spending some time in Ermita de monserrate

Ermita de Monserrate the symbol of all religions was built in 1875, this beautiful chapel rests on the highest point of the city and gives you the best view of Matanzas and the Yumuri valley. You can access this area by a bus or a taxi, those who are up for a little hike you can join a guided group and walk up to the Ermita de Monserrate.

This is one of the most beautiful Colonial Architecture examples in Cuba, in 2010 the chapel underwent repairs and today it welcomes thousands of tourists every year. The chapel is surrounded by gardens and statues and overlooks the valley hills, agricultural fields as well as rivers.

There is no entrance fee to the chapel although if you choose to travel by car, you might need to pay a small parking fee. Although the entrance is free travelers can make a small donation.