For many visitors, the extent of their Cuban experience is limited to flamboyant Havana. But a handful of lesser-known colonial cities dot the island, each with its own appeal and integral role in Cuba’s past and present.

Matanzas, Cuba - Cuba Cultural Tripsballet in Matanzas, Cuba - Cuba People-to-People Educational Exchange Rumba kids dancing at Matanzas, Cuba - Cuba Cultural Trips

Given its close proximity to Varadero, Matanzas—the government seat of Matanzas Province—surprisingly sees relatively few tourists. Very much a working town, its narrow busy streets are lined with architectural gems in varying states of (dis)repair and shaded plazas. With monikers such as the “City of Bridges,” Venice of Cuba,” and “Athens of Cuba” this romantic city is known for its beautiful bridges, waterways, and famous poets. Once a prosperous port town and a hub of Cuba’s sugar cane industry, the city developed as a center of learning, the arts and culture. Even today, Matanzas boasts a concentration of artists, writers, dancers and musicians that rivals that of La Habana.

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