Santa Maria del Puerto del Principe
Continuing along the east and towards our farthest and last point in our trip through Cuba, we leave behind Santa Clara in another longer but comfortable bus journey with Viazul for a one last stop in the way: Camaguey. Another of the impressive colonial masterpieces of Cuba, listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The third largest city in the country after Havana and Santiago therefore expect to spend a little longer than in previous smaller cities. Our overall stay here was 2 nights and a day and a half in full to enjoy the time. Arriving that late at night from Santa Clara, and having to depart towards the evening for Santiago, there was no other way around than making here a small base, having some bumper time just in case anything was not coming as originally planned like for example if not being able to take the next bus to Santiago, then at least, having the time to seek for an alternative like taking the train instead, or other possible way.
To us, what was originally planned worked well, and the day and a half in the city was about right. Yes it’s true a day is well enough, having the little extra becomes sometimes a “luxury” in such a trips we do where we usually end up running from one place to another in order to fit as much as we can, way more than anyone can even think! But here in Cuba I do strongly recommend you to take your time and enjoy the quiet life and lazy living. The simple fact of entering one of these ancient bars for a drink it’s already as fulfilling as the sightseeing itself.
Camaguey is a proper exception not just in Cuba but across the “New World” in what relates to urbanism. It is one of the few examples where the streets do not follow an orthogonal grid but instead these are a maze of bendy streets, small and narrow in most of the cases with rarely any order at all. The entire old town is as such, however the newer extensions of the 19th and 20th centuries surrounding the historic core do all follow the perfect orthogonal grid. It is easy to lose the consciousness of orientation and to follow an ideal sightseeing route.
Anything else in straightforward, a very nice and easy city to navigate around, and where to have excellent food, great coffee and cocktails very cheap! However be careful as always, since very expensive places are also next to the real Cuban ones. The best chances you have are in the Plaza Ignacio Agramonte, where there are 2 great Cuban restaurants by name of La Volanta and La Perla de Cuba. Don’t think twice, any of these 2 are fantastic and we enjoyed a lot, not to mention the price and the huge portions. The as opposed to this, in the other corner of this same square there is Cafe Ciudad and Bar el Cambio, both catering merely tourists, with quite high prices even for a coffee.
For more information about Camaguey check Wikipedia site. And for everything important regarding Cuba such as visa requirements, currency and WiFi access, I would strongly recommend you to check the main post for Cuba, Havana, where everything is well listed and explained.
What to see and do in Camaguey
- North of the city Not much to see in this area. It’s the residential neighbourhood, where at its southern point it leads into the historic centre.
-Provincial Museum Ignacio Agramonte The second largest and second most important art museum after Havana.
-Railway Station At the northernmost part of the historic centre that lies south.
-Calle Republica and Avellaneda Both main streets heading from the railway station right into the old town core. No matter which one you take, both cross the historic centre and end at the Parque Marti.
- Historic centre As explained before, one of the few rare examples of a city without a true definition of streets but instead a maze of small and bendy streets and a series of squares. The entire old town has been designated an UNESCO Heritage Site.
-Plaza del Gallo The intersection of Calle Republica with Ignacio Agramonte. Although small, it’s the heart of the city, completely surrounded by colonial structures everywhere.
-La Soledad Church Built in 1779 from bricks with one of the best baroque interiors in the city.
-Hotel E Santa Maria Across from la Soledad, making the corner with Calle Republica.
-Cinema Avellaneda From 1913, one of the old cinema jewels in Cuba.
-Hotel E Camino De Hierro Right across at the opposite corner from the other E hotel.
-Calle Ignacio Agramonte Heading west from Plaza del Gallo along this street you will enjoy some of the finest architecture and will reach the next important square, passing cinemas, restaurants and bars.
-Plaza Trabajadores One of the largest and most charming squares in the city even with its reduced size.
-House of Ignacio Agramonte The birthplace of one of the most notable Cuban Revolutionaries (1841—1873), nowadays the museum about his life.
-Central Post Office The next building after the Casa de Agramonte.
-Cinema Guerro Easy to spot, the only very blue building in the square with its turret. One of the nicest neoclassical constructions.
-Nuestra Señora de la Merced Church Built in 1748, the largest built in the city.
-Calle Padre Valencia From the northwest corner of Plaza Trabajadores. Full of colonial and neoclassical buildings all along.
-Teatro Principal From 1850, one of the 8 grand theatres in Cuba.
-Nuestra Señora de Santa Ana Church Continuing west along Calle Padre Valencia, take Calle Ninas south to reach this church, along the parallel street General Gomez.
-Calle General Gomez Parallel to Padre Valencia, head directly back into the heart of the city intersecting with Calles Cisneros, Independencia, Maceo, Republica and Avellaneda, terminating at Parque Marti.
-Calles Cisnero and Independencia Both very beautiful as they head south from Plaza Trabajadores. Take any of these to reach the main square in Camaguey.
-Parque Ignacio Agramonte The Plaza Mayor as it was known during the Spanish colonial times is the most religious centre, home to the city’s cathedral.
-Casa de la Trova Patricio Ballagas Along the western side of the square, single floor building painted blue with beautiful patio and garden inside is a music hall.
-Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria Built at the beginning of the 18th century, the current look dates from 1864.
-Plaza San Juan de Dios Continuing south along Calle Cisneros, then a block south parallel to this you reach the next square with important architecture.
-San Juan de Dios Church From 1728 in colonial baroque style.
-Calle Padre Olallo From the north side of San Juan de Dios Church take this street making a bow all the way to Parque Marti.
-Parque Marti Nice square at the eastern edge of the historic town.
-Sagrado Corazon de Jesus Church The highlight in the square.
-Polyclinic Jose Marti The west side of the square is flanked by this nice hospital building.
-Calle Cristo and Marti Both streets parallel to each other cross the historic centre from Parque Marti towards the west. Take any of these and you are back at the Parque Ignacio Agramonte enjoying beautiful architecture everywhere.
- East of the city Once outside the historic core, the rest are the residential districts with not much to see from a tourist side perspective. Still there’s an important sight:
-Plaza de la Revolucion With the huge monument to Ingnacio Agramonte as the highlight.
Although there’s a small commercial airport, Ingnacio Agramonte, the routes offered are very limited and as weird it sounds, no other destination in Cuba except for Havana and some international charter flights. Therefore the only possible ways to reach Camaguey overland are by bus or railway from the main cities in Cuba. For example, there’s the night daily train departure to both Havana and Santiago, and an alternate days daily train to both Havana via Santa Clara and Santiago. Not the most optimal to be honest as you depend on being there on the day where the train departs as otherwise there’s no train. However, the best option is by bus, the Viazul company. With twice daily connections, if no more depending on which city, you can connect anywhere towards Havana, Varadero, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.
To book your bus tickets remember to do so at least within 2 weeks before the date, any earlier it’s not possible in the website, and any later the seats might sell out. The Viazul website is very easy and straightforward, therefore do not risk it by going to the bus station to try your luck. It’s a mess like no other, and the chances you won’t manage a ticket are almost guaranteed. Book them at their official website.
Once in Camaguey, distances are not too big and the entire historic centre is extremely compact. The only way for enjoying the sights is on foot. For farther distances if you would ever need it, there are some bus lines radiating to the surrounding neighbourhoods, and plenty of taxis, both motorized and cycle ones.
Being one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba it also means one of the most visited by tourists. The hotel industry although not too big, is good enough especially because we are talking of stays of 1 or 2 nights in most of the cases, hence not much needed than a comfortable bed and a clean room. If hotels is what you are seeking for, then a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers, Gala Hotels or TUI. Please note most of these will not offer any results in Cuba, this is to do with the USA embargo. Try the respective European sites instead if needed be, although the best sites for Cuba would be Gala Hotels and TUI.
In the other hand since hotels are generally very expensive, there is something way much better you could do (and should do if you’re staying overnight); this is a private house. There are lots, beautiful, most of them in historic colonial buildings, with very nice and friendly hosts. In airb&b you can have a first look, then have a more generic online search for other websites.
We stayed at the Hotel Plaza, in Calle Van Horne, between Calles Republica and Avellaneda, near the train station right at the northern edge of the historic centre. Forget about what the name Plaza could lead you think. This has nothing to do with the generally up-scale Plaza hotels. This is a state run property, therefore considering the standards in Cuba and how expensive are the good hotels, where even the good ones are all having terrible reviews; this was one of the best value for money we could find. Good enough for short or longer stays, at one of the best locations in order to start your sightseeing having the train station next door if needed, and a short walking distance to the old town. Staff was very nice and friendly, and they gave us a larger than average room. It could definitely do with a full makeover, but at least it was a comfortable bed and all very clean. The breakfast although not a big choice, was one of the best in the entire trip, cooked-to-order.