Camaguey is a treasure trove of architectural gems from Cuba’s colonial era. Located right in the heart of Cuba, Camaguey is the third largest city on the island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its historic centre is a cobweb of colourful winding streets and hidden squares. Camaguey is also home to several beautiful Baroque churches and cathedrals, as well as amazing bars and restaurants. However, despite its beauty and historic significance, Camaguey remains one of the most overlooked places in Cuba. This means that it is less hectic and touristy than other Cuban cities like Havana and Trinidad and boasts a more local ambience.
There are plenty of things to do in Camaguey, from simply wandering through the maze-like streets to attending a world-class dance show. Whether you’re thinking of visiting Camaguey on a day trip or basing yourself here for a few days, here are our top must-dos in this charming city.
1. Wander through the streets & plazas
If you simply enjoy strolling through quiet alleyways, you’ll love Camaguey. The narrow, twisting streets of the city centre are lined with pastel-coloured houses and dotted with cosy plazas. It is thought that the labyrinth-like layout of the streets was planned in such a way as to make it easier to defend the city against pirate attacks, which were a common occurrence in the past.
Must-see plazas in Camaguey include the recently stored Plaza Del Carmen, which is decorated with beautiful clay pots and bronze statues, and the colourful and well-preserved Plaza San Juan de Dios. Another lovely spot is Parque Ignacio Agramonte, where you can sit on one of the benches under the shade of trees and just watch the world go by.
2. See the Camaguey Ballet at the Teatro Principal
If you want to get a taste of local culture, make it your priority to see a performance by the Camaguey Ballet. Founded in 1967, this prestigious ballet company is the second most renowned in Cuba after the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and its artistic achievements are recognised internationally. The Camaguey Ballet is renowned for its various artistic styles, ranging from classical to contemporary ballet. Their performances are held at the Teatro Principal, a beautiful Neo-Classical building.
3. Visit the various churches
One thing you’ll notice within your first few hours in Camaguey is the large number of churches and cathedrals. In fact, Camaguey is nicknamed the ‘the city of churches’. Each church and cathedral has its own unique character and story, and you are bound to find one in every plaza.
Some of the churches worth visiting include Iglesia de Nuestra Corazón de Sagrado Jesús, a Gothic triple-spired church in Parque Marti, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, a church that is steeped in mystery, and Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, whose cream-coloured tower dominates the Camaguey skyline.
4. Visit an artist’s workshop
Camaguey is also known for its ceramics. If you love watching artists at work, take a trip to the workshop and gallery of Martha Jimenez Perez. Here you can watch one of Cuba’s popular artists producing beautiful art pieces, including paintings and pots. You can also browse through her work at the gallery. The bronze sculptures of three gossiping women (known as Chismosas) in Plaza del Carmen were also made by Martha Jimenez Perez and donated to the city on its 500th anniversary.
5. Go for a swim (or a dive) in Playa Santa Lucia
Just an hour’s drive from Camaguey, Playa Santa Lucia is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Cuba, with clear turquoise waters lapping against a 20km stretch of golden sand. This beach is also home to one of the largest barrier reefs in the world, which makes it a popular diving and snorkelling spot. There are over 30 diving spots around the bay, where divers can explore sunken ships dating back to the 19th century and enjoy a rich diversity of marine life. A main must-see for diving enthusiasts is a shark-feeding show organised by one of the local diving centres.
Playa Santa Lucia is not as popular as the tourist resort of Varadero and most of it remains deserted, with just a few beach resorts. If you’re not into diving or snorkelling, you can just enjoy a quiet swim, go for a stroll along the beach, or head inland where you are likely to encounter pink flamingos and other birds.