Camaguey was chosen as a stopping point on my Cuba trip because its historic center is a UNESCO site and because I wanted to break up the long bus ride from Santiago to Trinidad. It is a city famous for its history of pirate attacks, winding streets, colonial architecture, and its many churches. I knew that I had to spend a couple of days getting to know this rarely talked about city! A visit to Camaguey, Cuba is an excellent idea.
My first piece of advice is to bring a map because the winding streets and lack of street signs make it really easy to get lost. Also, the fact that street names and building names have changed over the years make it difficult to use guidebooks. It wasn’t until the last afternoon that I was there that I finally felt like I wasn’t getting lost all the time.
Places to visit:
Calle Republica: This is the main street in town. It is blocked off to cars, but a few bici-taxis manage to find their way there from time to time. Go here to enjoy sidewalk cafes, music, and the internet (two plazas and a couple of hotels have it).
Colonial Churches: I think I only made it inside of one of the churches because they were always closed, but if you are persistent I’m told that they are open in the early morning. Check with your casa owners/hotel concierge. My favorite churches were the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen and la Iglesia de San Juan de Dios (this one was actually open mid-day). Iglesia de Nuestra Corazón de Sagrado Jesús is a neo-gothic church that looks like someone stole it right out of a plaza in Europe.
Plaza del Carmen: This was by far my favorite place in Camaguey. I loved the cobblestone streets, the pinkish colored church, shopping for handmade souvenirs and art, and enjoying a bite to eat at the nearby cafes. I also thoroughly enjoyed visiting with an old man who told me about how he was the model for one of the statues in the plaza.
Plaza de San Juan de Dios: The church here was one of the few churches that was actually open when I was walking around mid-day which was a nice change of pace. It is a simple church though a little dark for my tastes. Outside of the church is a cobblestoned plaza with cafes, a street market, and many art galleries. I sat on the steps in this plaza and journaled for a while because this place had such great energy.
Galeria de Martha Jimenez: It was really fun to stop in this gallery in Plaza Carmen. Martha Jimenez takes a quirky, honest look at society and brings it to life through her sculptures and paintings. You can immediately enjoy Ms. Jimenez’s voluptuous sculptures outside of the galleria, but I highly recommend peeking into the galleria to see more sculptures and to check out the prints she has for sale. I’ve been told that the galleria accepts USD and CUC and will wrap your purchases for travel.
Where to Eat:
El Patio: A local painter told me to try out this place and I am glad I listened! I originally went for dinner and I liked my ropa vieja so much that I came back the next day for lunch. The prices are about half the cost of some other places in town and the ideal spot on Calle Republica meant it was easy to find.
Due to the timing of my buses, I didn’t make it to Casa de la Trova, but my casa owner assures me that the music here is top notch and that this place is worth the visit. When I stopped by during the day, the man at the door told me that the music doesn’t start until 10pm.
Where to Sleep:
There are many casa particulares in Camaguey so if you have the time I suggest that you look around for a nice casa upon arrival. I booked a very popular casa via Airbnb, but it was one of my least favorite casas on the island.
One place that my friend recommended to me (and that I always had to pass on my way back to my casa) is the Hotel Colon. It looks like a gorgeous colonial hotel stuck in a time warp. If you have a lot of bags you might want to call the hotel ahead of time, because due to its prime location right on the walking street, Calle Republica, your taxi has to stop about a block away from the hotel.
My absolute favorite part of this city was simply wandering around and coming across the gallery of an artist Eduardo Rosales Ruiz (erosalesgallery.com) near the Plaza de San Juan. He called a fellow artist to find a painting of people salsa dancing (everyone does it in Cuba, but hardly anyone paints it!), chatted with me for about an hour while sharing a drink of rum mixed with honey, and asked to paint me. He even uploaded some salsa music and videos onto a thumb drive for me. If you are in the area, please tell him Amanda says “hola”.