553km (344 miles) E of Havana; 110km (68 miles) E of Ciego de Avila; 328km (204 miles) W of Santiago de Cuba
One of Cuba's most historic and important cities, Camagüey is an excellent place to visit to get a feel for Cuba's colonial-era grandeur. Founded as the sixth of Cuba's original seven villas in 1514 -- as a port town originally named Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe -- the city was later moved to a different spot by Diego Velázquez himself in 1516 and transplanted again to its present, inland location in 1528. The town didn't receive its final name, which means "Son of the Tree" in the Taíno language, until after the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Camagüey retains a strong colonial imprint, with a highly irregular layout and warren of narrow, bending streets and alleyways, handsome colonial houses, two of the most dignified colonial plazas in Cuba, and an unequaled collection of impressive, if evocatively dilapidated 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century churches. In fact, Camagüey is often called la ciudad del Barroco (city of baroque) or la ciudad de las iglesias (city of churches). Another symbol of the city is the tinajón, a massive terra-cotta water jug used in the 18th and 19th centuries to collect rainwater. These now largely decorative items can still be seen in the serene gardens and courtyards of the city's colonial houses. Its historical and architectural wealth was recognized by UNESCO in 2008 and the historic core is now a World Heritage Site.
Travelers intent on experiencing the cultural offerings of urban, interior Cuba should not skip Camagüey. The birthplace of Cuba's national poet, Nicolás Guillén, Camagüey claims some of the strongest artistic and literary traditions in Cuba and one of the country's most vital cultural scenes, with an active community of plastics artists and the internationally renowned Camagüey Ballet. Camagüey is also recuperating its distinguished historical character, plowing ahead with invaluable restoration work of the city's classic colonial structures. The 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II gave the city added impetus to refurbish its crumbling set of colonial churches. Yet, it is not just a museum set piece -- it's a lively city that explodes with a vibrant cultural life and fiestas. Travelers could conceivably blow through and see the principal attractions in a day, but Camagüey requires at least 2 or 3 days or more to unfurl its significant charms and visit the nearby beaches and ecological attractions.