Matanzas is in Western Cuba. It is the closest town to Varadero resort. It is a nice small town and there are amazingly few tourists considering that it is basically next to Varadero. If you get bored between Varadero hotels then visit this little town to see the real Cuba. Matanzas is known as the 'City of Bridges' (Ciudad de los Puentes) for its many bridges on the city's three rivers.
Matanzas developed around sugar plantations. This led to the area having a large slave presence to work the plantations, which is why there is a large large Afro-Cuban presence in Matanzas to this day. The area's African heritage can be experienced in the city's Afro-Cuban music scene and the practice of Santeria (the Afro-Cuban flavor of Yoruba religion from what is now Nigeria and Benin).
As a result of a sugar boom in the 19th century, the city was nicknamed the Athens of Cuba, a monicker that can still be seen around the city today.
The sugar plantations also left their mark in the still-running Hershey Electric railway from 1917, which was built by the chocolate company to move sugar up to the ports of Havana.
Matanzas is the birthplace of Dámaso Pérez Prado, the bandleader who popularized the dance music of mambo.
Girón is the local periodical.
There are several trains to Havana, Santa Clara and Camagüey, as well as overnight service on alternate days to Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Santiago de Cuba. The Hershey electric trains between Matanzas and Havana stopped running in the middle of 2017.
For drivers/cyclists, the Via Blanca comes into Matanzas from Havana and Varadero.
- Pharmaceutical Museum (Museo Farmacéutico) (east side of Parque de la Libertad). The first Latin American pharmacy museum in a 19th century building. Check out the cool collection of old pharmacy bottles and medical items. ~US$3 (including tour).
- Cuevas de Bellemar (South-east of the city, can be reached by public bus from Parque de la Libertad). Tour cave network outside the city. ~US$5.
- Cycling – For those who take cycling seriously, a cycling tour is possible from Havana to Varadero, or vica versa (you will be biking against the wind from Havana though). The optimal is to take the Via Blanca highway but not up to Matanzas City. Instead take a small road to the right about 5 km after the bridge over the Bacunayagua River and descend till the Yumurí Valley.
- Birding – The Yumurí Valley offers some good areas for bird watching, with best population density by the trees next to the heights that border the Valley.
- Fluvial Tours – Although not located by the city center, the River Canímar, the most copious of all 4 rivers that opens at the Matanzas Bay, is located at a few kilometers away from the city. It is a navigable river for smaller draught boats. Navigation begins by the bridge that crosses the Canímar River, by the road that links Matanzas and Varadero, towards rustic restaurant by the river and covers some 13 km. During this trajectory, views are quite beautiful with its best sites being those by the road that communicates Matanzas and Varadero where the river meanders can be observed. At the end of the course there is a line of Real Palm trees leading to the restaurant. In this site besides having lunch, you can take horseback tours. The fluvial trips can be taken in boat either ways or half the trip by bus and return by navigating the river. Boats are roofless so it is recommended to take a raincoat and umbrella to protect you from the sun or casual rain.
- 1 Cafe Atenas (Big blue building in front of Teatro Sauto). Cafe in the center of the city, in a beautiful historic building, with a great people watching terrace. Relatively popular with backpackers (for a local Cuban restaurant). Food is typical Cuban pizzas, or rice and meat meals. Reasonably priced ~US$1-3.
The city has plenty of casa particulars, which can be found by walking around the city center (from the theater up to and around the parque de libertad).
- 1 Hotel Playa Girón. The Playa Giron Diving Center offers services from the shore but does not provide boat transportation since the diving sites are less than 80 meters from the shore.
Take a Viazul to the neighbouring cities of Varadero, or Havana. Alternatively, you can find a shared taxi particular (private) that's going to Havana with 5 passengers (in a big 50s car). This will be faster, with more flexible departure times, and will also cost ~US$7-10 (depending on your bargaining). The taxis and the Viazul can be found in the Terminale de Omnibus (10 minute walk from city center, east of the San Juan river, ask around and you'll be pointed the right way).
A lot of the resort workers live in Matanzas, so you can get to Varadero on the cheap with one of the local buses.