Matanzas, which means "killings," takes its unfortunate name from the slaughter in 1510 of survivors of a Spanish shipwreck by an indigenous tribe. Ironically, the city was also Cuba's early livestock abattoir and exporter of meat to Spain. Despite its rather gruesome name, the city today has an optimistic energy about it, with tidy streets lined with elegant pastel-hued facades of Neoclassical buildings, many under restoration. The architecture, museums, and restored churches make the city well worth investigating. The San Juan and Yumurí rivers cut through the city center and empty into the vast Bahía de Matanzas, still an important sugar port. Breezes off the bay cool and freshen the city streets and there are panoramic views from high above the city. During the day, the city is fairly quiet, but comes to life at night when the residents—many of whom work in the nearby Varadero hotels—come home. Head for the Parque de la Libertad where most of the action is in town.
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