Welcome to the maze. Camagüey’s odd, labyrinthine layout is the byproduct of two centuries spent fighting off musket-toting pirates like Henry Morgan: tumultuous times led the fledgling settlement to develop a peculiar street pattern designed to confuse pillaging invaders and provide cover for its long-suffering residents (or so legend has it). As a result, Camagüey’s sinuous streets and narrow winding alleys are more reminiscent of a Moroccan medina than the geometric grids of Lima or Mexico City.
Sandwiched on Carretera Central halfway between Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunas is Cuba’s third-largest city, easily the suavest and most sophisticated after Havana. In 2008 its well-preserved historical center was made Cuba’s ninth Unesco World Heritage site.
Camagüey is known as Cuba’s Catholic soul, which is immediately evident when you arrive in the city. There are many gorgeous churches and cathedrals, most of which you’ll see just by wandering around
Most of the Spanish colonial cities are designed in a grid-like pattern. Camagüey’s streets however, are wonderfully abstract, with tangled alleyways leading to small plazas all over the city. Exploring any of the back streets outside of the popular squares will reveal some interesting gems. You’ll find friends and families having block parties, kids playing baseball, people sitting on steps watching the world go by, and vendors walking around selling various goods.
Plazas are where people get together to mingle with friends, where kids run around playing, and where you often find live music and great eateries. Every city in Cuba has plazas, and the ones I found in Camagüey were lovely.
Cuba isn’t renouned for great food! However, I had some great meals in Camagüey, and as an added bonus, the food was very affordable.
I was able to walk around uninterrupted and without feeling like a walking dollar sign. Whenever I walked from my casa to the city centre, people spoke with me and appeared to be very genuine.
Camagüey was one of my favourite places in Cuba; so much so I ended up staying an extra night. This created problems later on (with my pre-booked Viazul bus tickets) – more on this later.
I also stayed in another wonderful casa particular – Casa de Humberto y Inés:
Next stage: More of Camagüey.