matanzas cuba

10+ Best Things To Do in Matanzas, Cuba

Located just east of Havana, Cuba, the province of Matanzas is one of Cuba’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations. If you think that Matanzas is just its most famous destination – Cuba’s number one beach resort town of Varadero – you’re sorely mistaken, as there’s so much more to do here.

As locals, we’ve been able to enjoy so much more of both the province and the city of Matanzas than most tourists ever do – and we’ve loved what we’ve found. Read on for all the best things to do in Matanzas and our insider tips about how to best enjoy your visit.

things to do in matanzas

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Best Things To Do in Matanzas

1. Visit Parque de la Libertad

The historic center of Matanzas isn’t as famous or as extensive as Old Havana, Trinidad, or Baracoa, but its charming streets and historic buildings make it well worth a visit.

Start your visit to the area at Parque de la Libertad, the main square in Matanzas. Surrounded by important buildings like the Teatro Velasco, the historic Ayuntamiento town hall, and the Museo Farmacéutico de Matanzas, there’s plenty to see and do right here. Two blocks east is the Catedral de Matanzas, also worth a visit!

After exploring, head through the center of town towards the Plaza de La Vigia along the waterfront, surrounded by stunning 19th-century buildings.

varadero beach

2. Take A Day Trip to Varadero

Let’s be honest: most travelers headed to the province of Matanzas are headed straight to Varadero. Can you blame them? This beach destination is home to 10+ miles of pristine beachfront that is widely considered one of the best beaches in the entire world.

If you’re traveling through the city of Matanzas or another part of the province, you’ll want to make at least a day trip stop in Varadero. The pristine beaches are public and easily accessible with public access points every few blocks, which is perfect whether you’re enjoying them from a towel or poolside at one of the best resorts in Cuba.

We also recommend spending at least one night in Varadero if it fits into your Cuba itinerary. Whether you want to stay at one of what feels like an endless number of resorts in Varadero or prefer a beach house or affordable casa particular guest house rental, it’s well worth the experience.

3. Wander Through the Iglesia de Monserrate Church

Making a visit to the hilltop Iglesia de Monserrate is easily one of the best things to do in Matanzas. While the tiny church circa 1875 is itself lovely inside, its location really makes it worth the visit.

The hilltop spot of this chapel offers incredible views over the city of Matanzas, the waterfront, and even into the Yumurí Valley. Located just on the outskirts of town, it is easily accessible from the rest of Matanzas via taxi.

yumuri valley

4. Explore the Yumurí Valley

If you’re looking for a great day trip from Havana, Varadero, or even just an escape from downtown Matanzas, the Yumurí Valley is an excellent choice for a lovely and varied retreat.

Located just north of the city of Matanzas, the Yumurí Valley is known for its lush landscapes, a long river that cuts through a stunning canyon, and incredible viewpoints overlooking mountainsides and beachfront. Visits often include boating on the river, exploring by jeep, visiting local haciendas for farm-fresh meals, and hitting the beach.

Organized excursions depart frequently from Varadero to the Yumurí Valley and from Havana to the Yumurí Valley, but there are less pre-planned, organized excursions to the Yumurí Valley that depart from Matanzas. Instead, you’ll find plenty of taxi drivers more than willing to take you through the valley independently – which is almost even better!


5. Visit Ediciones Vigía

Located in a bright blue historic mansion on the gorgeous Parque de la Vigía, Ediciones Vigía is an independent publisher, artist community, and creative center that keeps Matanzas’ tradition as being the “Athens of Cuba” alive. Founded in the 1980s by local artists and writers, Ediciones Vigía became well known in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union when paper (among other essentials) became scarce, and the organization started producing books made of recycled paper.

In addition to hosting cool events that bring together the community, the Ediciones Vigía space also serves as a showroom for handmade books containing original poems and stories, and much more. Paying a visit to this interesting center for the arts is one of the best things to do in Matanzas, especially if you’re looking to get closer to the city’s cultural heart.

Travel Essential

Don’t think about traveling to Cuba without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, especially in Cuba. 

6. Visit Lolo Galeria-Taller

Keeping with the theme of exploring the cultural side of Matanzas, head to the Lolo Galeria Taller, a unique gallery and workshop space in the heart of Matanzas.

Even those who aren’t interested in art will love visiting Lolo. Completely free to access and with its doors always open, the space welcomes visitors to explore, watch the creative process, and take in some of the coolest and most dramatic works of local artists. Bold imagery and artists excited to show off what they’re working on make the space one you’ll remember.

museo matanzas

7. See the Museo Farmaceutico

Among the beautiful and historic destinations to visit during your stay in Matanzas is the Museo Farmaceutico – the Pharmacology Museum – located in the heart of the downtown center on the Parque de la Libertad. The building was constructed in 1882 by Ernesto Triolett and was the first working pharmacy of this impressive style to be constructed in Latin America.

The museum is home to an array of bottles, flasks, tools, and other historic implements needed for the profession. While its collection is impressive, its gorgeous and historical style is what makes it stand out, making it worth a visit even just for a quick peek.

Travel Insurance

Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:

  • Visitors Coverage: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries, though not currently available to residents of New York and Maryland in the United States.
  • Insubuy: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries and states of the United States.
hershey train cuba
Pomp-Art / Shutterstock

8. Take the Hershey Train

Looking for a fun fact about Cuba? There’s a town in Cuba called Hershey that was once home to sugar plantations that fed the Hershey Chocolate we all know and love today – and the train used to transport it to the port of Havana still exists today!

While the town of Hershey was formally renamed Camilo Cienfuegos after the Cuban Revolution, riding the Hershey train that runs between Matanzas and Havana – or vice versa – is still one of the best things to do in Matanzas. The train lines were first built in 1916 and are the only surviving electric railway in Cuba today.

Keep in mind that the train runs quite slowly, transforming a journey that usually takes just over two hours into a three-and-a-half-hour experience. However, it’s a great way to experience part of Cuba’s history firsthand and enjoy incredible views of a scenic part of Cuba along the way.

What to Pack for Cuba

Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.

best things to do in matanzas

9. Visit the Matanzas Caves

Mexico is famous for its numerous cenotes – deep limestone caves often filled with water that dot the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula. While Cuba doesn’t have as many caves as Mexico, the fascinating cave systems found throughout the province of Matanzas are well worth a visit.

The Cuevas de Bellamar are the most well-known caves in Matanzas and the most popular to visit. While this cave system stretches on what seems like endlessly under the earth, sections of it are filled with water, making it a popular spot for swimming on a warm day. Other popular caves and cave systems in the area include Cueva de Saturno and Cueva de Ambrosio.

You’ll find plenty of options for day trip excursions from Varadero to the many caves in the area. If you’re based in Varadero, taking an organized excursion to the caves is the easiest way to enjoy the experience, though if you’re based in Matanzas, taking a taxi directly to the Cuevas de Bellamar, located just outside of town, is usually the best way to go about a visit.

10. Explore the San Severino Castle

Located alongside the Bay of Matanzas, San Severino Castle is a Spanish colonial fortress that was once used to protect the city of Matanzas. While not as well known as El Morro in Havana or Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca in Santiago de Cuba, San Severino merits a visit for its impressive architecture and dramatically layered history.

Today, San Severino is also home to a museum sharing vitally important information on the history and impact of the slave trade in Cuba. English-speaking guides are available for visitors and are well worth the few dollars to add to your visit. It’s a sobering and important destination to visit, and it also includes spectacular ocean and city views from its historic ramparts.

cuba requirements

Bonus: Day Trip to Havana

If you’re visiting Matanzas but your trip to Cuba doesn’t include a stay in Havana, taking a day trip to Havana is an absolute must. In addition to being the capital of Cuba and the most important city in Cuba, it’s a bucket list destination that lives up to and exceeds the hype – you won’t want to leave Havana off your Cuba itinerary!

From Matanzas, there are several easy ways to get to Havana. Take one of the Viazul interprovincial buses that leaves four times a day from Matanzas, hop in a shared taxi that will take you directly to Havana for a per-person price, or pre-book your transport ahead of time – there are plenty of ways to make the trip.

While the 2 – 2.5 hour ride to Havana can be a bit tiring for just a one-day trip, there is so much to see and do in Havana that it’s well worth it to take the drive. Spend a day exploring Old Havana, cross the harbor to take in the views from the Spanish colonial fortress known as El Morro, and enjoy some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city – you’ll wish you had more time to enjoy all the city has to offer.

Carley Rojas Avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.