Matanzas is a beautiful beach town, the lesser known of the northeastern beaches that adorn the coast of Cuba. The bay is the deepest on the Island and it is home to the oldest pharmacy in all of South America. If your hankering is to visit the beloved beaches of Varadero, consider staying a night or two in Matanzas.
You will not find a good wifi connection in the city center, nor will you find famous restaurants, bars, nor a hustle of tourists. You will instead find a town full of close friends and family in a tight knit community excited to talk to foreigners about their culture and history.
Matanzas is full of local hangouts alongside the rocky banks of the bay. Local restaurateurs take pride in their makeshift cuban sandwich joints and will often set up speakers and a disco-ball as the sun sets to attract those looking for a dance party.
The last night I stayed in Matanzas, sun-poisoned, and dehydrated from my earlier trip to Varadero, I stumbled into a sandwich shack along the bayside. Jagged rocks outlined a small alcove which was lit with neon lights, full of locals dressed in either bathing suits or skirts and high heels. The sun had soaked my energy and I was in no mood to dance, so I sat comfortably with the local teenagers who were eager for rum and enjoyed my Cuban Jamon con Queso. I called it an early night around 11pm and shamefully turned down the party. It was Sunday night, and in Cuba, Sunday is the craziest night of the week.
In short, I recommend Matanzas if weary from blending in with arrogant tourists and being ripped off by guides and taxistas who are trying to squeeze an extra CUC from the tourism business.
TRAVEL TIP: always take the moto taxi. They are safe, savvy and super cheap.