What to do in Matanzas, Cuba’s Cultural hidden gem? 

Matanzas may not have hit the big time when it comes to many popular tourist hot spots. Yet that can only be a good thing. Matanzas is known as the ‘Athens of Cuba’ for its many Neoclassical buildings. Along with beautiful architecture it also boasts beaches, caves and many historical sites. 

The city is just 90 kms east of Havana and 30 kms from the beach resorts of Varadero. Intrigued? Read on and discover more about this wonderful Cuban hidden gem!

Table of Contents

10 things to do in Matanzas, Cuba

From underground wonders to colonial fortresses, vibrant streets to serene beaches, Matanzas offers a cultural tapestry like no other. Join us as we delve into the top 10 things to do in Matanzas, Cuba, and immerse yourself in the rich heritage and natural beauty of this hidden gem.

1. Go underground at Cuevas de Bellamar

Las Cuevas de Bellamar or the Bellamar Caves are simply stunning. Over 300,000 years old they cover a distance of about 2.5kms of which 1km is open to the public. The highlights include a 12m stalagmite named ‘Manto de Colón’ (Columbus’ mantle) and an underground stream. The walls are glittering with stalactites and stalagmites and are an amazing sight to see! There caves are well lit and easily accessible with established paths making it suitable for all the family. There is an admission fee plus an extra fee for a camera.

2. Go Back in Time at the Castillo de San Severino

The Castillo de San Severino finished in 1734 sits on the western side of Matanzas Bay. Its original purpose was to protect ship-borne trade in the area. But it also acted as the first line of defence for Havana a little further along the coast. The stout walls of Castillo de San Severino have held both slaves and Cuban rebels. It’s now a national monument but it was still being used as a prison until the 1970s!

3. Explore the museums of Matanzas

Matanza’s museums must be on any list of what to do in the city. There are so many excellent museums it’s difficult to mention them all here! The Junco Palace Museum is one of the best! It’s located on Plaza de la Vigia and is the region’s de facto history museum. The Junco Palace Museum was once the property of Don Vicente del Junco and Sardiñas, a wealthy sugar baron of Matanzas. 

It’s is made up of seventeen rooms of exhibits that carefully chronicle the entire history of Matanzas. There is also one room that displays the personal art collection of Don Vicente. The Pharmacology Museum, (Museo Farmaceutico), is home to a large collection of early pharmaceutical items. It’s pretty much just waiting to be Instagrammed! Don’t miss the Museo de Arte de Matanzas if you’re a big fan of art. It has an extensive collection of paintings and ethnographic sculptures from over 14 different African nations and 80 ethnic groups. The collection will definitely expand your idea of what defines Cuban culture.

4. Take to the streets

Spend any time in Matanzas and you’ll soon realize that the streets are the place to be! The streets are always full of life with residents going about their everyday lives. Wandering the city’s picturesque streets are a great way to get an authentic feel for Cuba’s hidden gem. The Junco Palace Museum sits just off the Plaza de la Vigia. 

This plaza is also the site of the famous Teatro Sauto and the beautiful old fire station museum with its elegant 19th-century facade. From there you can continue on to Plaza de la Libertad. Built in the 1800s, the plaza contains the Sala White, a concert hall named after violinist Jose White. Born to a French business owner and an emancipated Afro-Cuban slave, White was a renowned concert violinist. His career took him to Europe and Brazil where he was the first violin at the court of Emperor Pedro. The Plaza de la Libertad is at the very heart of Matanzas and it’s a great place to take in the local vibe.

5. Take the Pilgrimage to the Iglesia de Monserrate

The Iglesia de Monserrate is located just on the outskirts of the city. It’s roughly 2.5kms or a 25-minute walk from Matanzas’ Plaza de la Libertad. The church was built and paid for by colonists from Spain’s Catalonian region. It’s a stunning piece of nineteenth-century colonial architecture. 

The church is situated on a lofty hilltop position and provides a spectacular view towards the city and in the opposite direction to the lush Valle de Yumuri.

6. Explore the Valle de Yumuri

The beautiful Valle de Yumuri is a hidden cultural gem really close to Matanzas. It can easily be seen from the vantage point of the Iglesia de Monserrate. The Yumuri valley is a patchwork of banana groves, maize fields, dense forest, and tiny isolated villages. West of the city. 

It’s crisscrossed by a series of winding, narrow, roads. But perhaps the best way to experience this Eden-like landscape is onboard the Hershey Train.

7. Ride the Hershey Train

The Hershey Railway is special for a number of reasons and is not to be missed! For one thing, it’s the only surviving electrified rail line anywhere in Cuba. For another, its route from Matanzas to Havana 92 kms away along the island’s northern coast speaks volumes about the area’s history. As you may have already guessed from the name, the entire project was the brainchild of US chocolate manufacturer Hersheys. In 1916 Hersheys were looking for a way of transporting sugar to “Central Hershey” (the sugar mill) near Santa Cruz. 

The rail line was later extended on to Casablanca, a small hamlet across the river from the city of Havana. The journey is very scenic (and slow!) and takes you through the Valle de Yumuri on its way to the capital. Be prepared for the train to leave late from Matanzas and arrive late in Havana and even break down! But hey, that’s half the fun of it. Relax you’re on Cuban time!

8. Indulge in Culinary Delights

No visit to Matanzas is complete without sampling its delectable culinary offerings. From authentic Cuban dishes to fusion cuisine, the city’s eateries cater to every palate. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor traditional favorites like Ropa Vieja, Moros y Cristianos, and Tostones, accompanied by a refreshing Mojito or Cuba Libre.

9. Hit the Beaches

Matanzas is blessed with stunning beaches that beckon sun-seekers and water enthusiasts alike. Playa El Salado and Playa Buey Vaca are popular choices for soaking up the sun, while Playa Coral offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities amidst vibrant coral reefs. Whether you’re looking to relax on golden sands or explore underwater wonders, Matanzas’ beaches have something for everyone.

10. Embrace the Music and Dance

Experience the rhythm of Cuba by immersing yourself in its vibrant music and dance scene. From salsa and rumba to son and mambo, Matanzas pulsates with infectious energy. Don’t miss the chance to catch live performances at local venues or even participate in dance workshops to learn a few moves yourself.

Frequently asked questions

What are some of the top attractions to visit in Matanzas, Cuba?

Matanzas offers a wealth of attractions, including the Cuevas de Bellamar (Bellamar Caves), Castillo de San Severino, and the Iglesia de Monserrate. These sites provide a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history and cultural heritage.

Are there any outdoor activities available for adventure enthusiasts in Matanzas, Cuba?

Absolutely! Visitors can explore the beautiful Valle de Yumuri, go snorkeling at Playa Coral, or take a leisurely ride on the Hershey Train. These activities allow travelers to immerse themselves in Matanzas’ stunning natural landscapes.

What cultural experiences can travelers expect to find in Matanzas, Cuba?

Matanzas is renowned for its vibrant arts scene, with museums like the Junco Palace Museum and the Museo de Arte de Matanzas showcasing the city’s rich cultural heritage. Additionally, visitors can enjoy live music performances and dance workshops, immersing themselves in the rhythms of Cuban music and dance.


So, pack your bags and get ready to uncover the hidden treasures of things to do in Matanzas Cuba. Whether you’re exploring its underground wonders, delving into its rich history, or immersing yourself in its vibrant streets, Matanzas promises an unforgettable Cuban adventure. Don’t miss out on these fantastic things to do in Matanzas Cuba!

Comments are closed.