Western Cuba: Places to Explore

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Matanzas

Matanzas, which means "killings" or "slaughters," was Cuba's early livestock abattoir and exporter of meat to Spain. (An alternate story attributes the name to an ambush and murder of Spanish shipwreck victims by local natives.) Despite its rather gruesome name, the city has a charm that makes it well worth investigating. The San Juan and Yumurí rivers cut through its center and empty into the vast Bahía de Matanzas, still an important sugar port. The typical provincial faded-pastel facades of elegant houses with fluted columns are found scattered throughout the town center and along the rivers.

To reach Matanzas, take the wide and quick Vía Blanca (White Way), which runs 100 km (62 mi) east from Havana and then another 40 km (25 mi) on to Varadero. With views of the coast and the Valle de Yumurí, the Vía Blanca is one of Cuba's finest highways. The so-called Hershey train—a four-hour run from the Casablanca district across Havana harbor—is the other classic way to visit Matanzas. Including lunch at La Viña, a quick tour of central Matanzas could take two to four hours, plenty of time to get the feel of this once-opulent 19th-century town.

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