Past meets present: visit the historic center of Camagüey

Cuba

Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city, has several nicknames: ciudad del Barroco (city of Baroque), ciudad de las iglesias (city of churches), and ciudad de los tinajones (city of clay pots). You’ll find the inspiration for all these names when you wander the city’s historic district, defined by a maze-like network of streets and alleys that are punctuated by plazas and other colonial marvels. Such a labyrinthine layout in Latin America is so rare that Camaguey earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list for it.

 Plaza de los Trabajadores in Camaguey, Cuba.
Plaza de los Trabajadores in Camaguey, Cuba.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced is the most enthralling of Camaguey’s churches. It stands on the border of Plaza de los Trabajadores, one of the city’s numerous public squares. Built in 1748, the church has undergone several reconstructions and renovations. Noteworthy features include the clock on its facade which dates to 1773—it was the city’s first public timepiece. Inside the church, you’ll be hard pressed to miss the figure of Christ inside a glass casket. Known as the Holy Sepulcher, it was fashioned from silver coins in the late 18th century. Take some time to contemplate the 18th- and 19th-century paintings around the wooden altar, then head down to the crypts below where tombs and other artifacts are on display.

Plaza San Juan de Dios
From pastel facades to arched entryways to red-tiled roofs, Camaguey’s Plaza San Juan de Dios is a national monument and the crown jewel among the city’s squares. It has few rivals in Cuba. The Museo de San Juan de Dios stands along the square’s eastern edge, a former hospital that now serves as a museum devoted to Camaguey’s history. The square is also the site of the city’s oldest church, Iglesia San Juan de Dios. The interior reflects a Baroque style and the original brick floor is still in place.

Parque Ignacio Agramonte
Rest your legs at Parque Ignacio Agramonte, once Camaguey’s central plaza. Now a park, it’s lined with marble benches where you can sit and admire the bronze equestrian statue of the namesake figure, a local hero of Cuba’s War of Independence. There’s no shortage of tinajones—enormous earthenware pots once used to collect rainwaterCamaguey’s cathedral, the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, stands on the park’s southern edge. You’ll likely find yourself staring at this 19th-century construction, with its striking Christ statue atop its bell tower. You can climb to the top of the bell tower for small fee and take in a memorable view of the surrounding area.

Plaza del Carmen
Can’t get enough? See more of Camaguey’s famous tinajones and pastel-colored facades at Plaza del Carmen, a once-dilapidated colonial square that has been restored to its former glory. The same restoration happened with the church along its eastern end, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen. This 19th-century Baroque building is distinguished by its two towers, a feature found in no other church in eastern Cuba. Just as beautiful is the nearby Monasterio de las Ursulina, a convent that also dates to the 19th-century. It stands out for its broad, arch-lined patio and semi-circular stained glass windows.