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Basics - Getting There - Getting Around - Places To Stay -
Where To Get Drunk - What To See And Do

Parque Agramonte


Camaguey, Cuba's third largest city overall and largest inland, is the capitol of the sprawling Camaguey province. It was one of the original towns founded by the first Spanish colonists (albeit in a different location and with a different name). Today it is known for it's gracefully decaying churches, its many preserved colonial buildings and it's confusing, irregular street plan (the story that it was a deliberate ploy to deter attacking pirates is a urban legend, (geddit?!?), which was pretty unsucessful in any case). Today most tourists tend to by-pass the city and its considerable attractions to head for the coastal resort at Playa Santa Lucia. More relaxing and less tourist-orientated than Havana or Santiago, Camaguey is well worth a visit.

Getting There

Camaguey is reasonably well connected to most major cities in Cuba, and also boasts its own international airport, Ignacio Agramonte about 5 miles from the city centre. Ignacio Agramonte by the way is definitely the local hero, a general in the Cuban fight for independence, killed in action against the Spanish in the 19th century; I'll come back to him later. There are no longer any direct flights from Camaguey to the UK (Leisure International, a charter airline used to fly here, but stopped a couple of years ago) but there are regular charter flights to Italy, Germany and Canada. The international terminal is a modern, spacious glass-and-steel construction, the domestic terminal next door is slightly more basic. In fact it's basically a shed with a check-in desk; Rochdale train station has more facilities.

The only scheduled domestic flights are to Havana on Cubana Airways; the timetable is subject to change, quite often at extremely short notice. Now, Cubana Airways has attracted something of a reputation, and not a good one, and it's not too hard to see why. Although they have one or two modern aircraft (including at least on Fokker) most of their domestic flights are in old, Soviet turboprops, planes that were perhaps not that reliable to begin with and which are now 30 years old, and hard to find spare parts for. In other words, flying death-traps. At least that's what the pessimists would have you believe. For those who like to look at their glasses as being half-full, if these planes are 30 years old and are still flying they must be safe. And anyone who has witnessed the improvisation of a Cuban mechanic would realise that spare parts are not always essential. My own personal view is that I've flown on Cubana three times (twice in an Antonev 24, great plane, looks like a second world war bomber, and once in a Yakolev god-knows-what) and have not only survived to tell the tale but enjoyed myself in the process. Before my first ever Cubana flight I was not exactly keen on flying; after it I figured that if I'd survived that I'd survive anything and so now I actually enjoy flying. At this stage I must confess my first ever Cubana flight was aided somewhat by the fact that, realising what I was in for I decided that my best policy was to adopt a state a blissful, alcohol-fuelled ignorance and spent the afternoon before the flight alternately downing beer and duty-free Jagermeister until I reached such a state that I would have probably been able to fly without the assistance of the plane; it's a good job that Cubana seem to have a fairly relaxed attitude towards the carrying of drunks. Anyway, some details; the flight to and from Havana takes about 90 minutes (if you're on the evening flight to Havana you get some quite often spectacular views of the setting sun) and costs around £90 return. The service is very popular and usually full (remember Cubans are paying for their flights in pesos, effectively monopoly money) so book as far in advance as possible, preferably from the UK (Cubana's UK office is at 49 Conduit Street, just off Regent Street, 020 7734 1165; the staff there are very helpful and friendly and they can also sell you a tourist card). When the flights board your hand-written boarding card may have a seat number on it but the seating arrangement is in fact a first-come-first served, every-man for himself affair and there's usually a charge for a seat at the front as they're furthest away from the toilets, which is basically a hole, trough and bucket contraption and often smells absolutely rank. In flight catering? Well, sort of. You'll usually be handed a boiled sweet before take off (don't know if it contains a sedative), and during the flight you'll probably be offered a cup of short, strong coffee. There's also an in-flight "shop" (well, trolley) where you can purchase such essentials as chocolate and bottles of rum. On one flight I was on I was alarmed to see the steward coming out of the cockpit with a half-empty bottle of rum; I tried not to think about what happened to the rest of it. Speaking of alarms, the old Cubana turboprops have a strange type of air-conditioning which, as far as I could tell, involves opening up some kind of hole in the fuselage and letting air directly into the plane; when this happens it produces a hissing sound and clouds of water-vapour; it looks like smoke but it isn't so don't panic. I have to say that on the times I've flown with Cubana I've found them to surprisingly reliable, taking off bang on schedule every time.

The other recommended way of getting to Camaguey is on by train; Camaguey is about halfway on the Havana to Santiago line. There are advantages and disadvantages of travelling by train when compared with travelling by plane. The disadvantages are that the train is much slower (the journey from Havana taking anywhere between 9 and 12 hours), extremely unreliable, and has rather inconvenient timetables that involve arriving at and leaving Camaguey in the middle of the night. The advantages are that tickets are cheaper (around $25, first class), easier to get hold of, and most importantly when something goes wrong with a train it doesn't tend to crash to earth from 20 thousand feet.

Cuba's railways are in a pretty poor state (nearly as bad as Britain's in fact); the track was built in the 19th century since when nothing seems to have been done to it. The rolling stock is 1950s and 60s vintage Eastern European issue and is prone to breaking-down (still sound like Britain). All this combines to make for a slow, if interesting journey. You should definitely buy tickets in first class (or "especial"); it isn't that expensive, gets you a reserved seat and the carriages are infinitely more comfortable than in the other classes. Considering the length of the journey it's a good job that the carriages are comfortable; they are well air-conditioned (sometimes to the point of being cold), and you get a nice airline-style seat with plenty of legroom (even I was comfortable). One thing worthy of mention is the toilets. Each carriage has a couple and in the name of decency somebody came up with the sensible idea of blackening out all of the windows. Sadly he failed to follow up on this with what should have been the next logical step of installing lights with the result that you can't see a thing in there; during the day this isn't so much of a problem as the toilet itself basically consists of a hole in the floor that drops straight down onto the track so there is a patch of light coming up through the floor for you to aim for. At night you're on your own. Take a torch. Then again maybe you don't really want to know what's going on in there. One other thing; the carriage attendants get very upset if you perform your functions while the train is in a station; normally this situation wouldn't present a problem but in that dark, isolated world you have no idea what's happening outside, and the train stops so often anyway you can never tell if you're in a station or not, and some Cuban stations don't look like stations at all (and I'm thinking of Matanzas, where I received my reprimand, where basically the train stops in some sidings and this is considered to be Matanzas station). Needless to say, there is no toilet paper on the train.

To change the subject, patience is certainly a virtue on Cuban trains. The train will crawl along, quite often coming to a stop for no apparent reason, and at one point the train I was on even went backwards for a while. They tend to hang around at stations for a while too. The advantage of this is that it gives you chance to admire the beautiful Cuban countryside, at least until it gets dark when you can't see anything. By the way, when it gets dark they turn all the lights off too.

All things considered my advice would be that, unless you're particularly scared of flying, try both out; to get the best of both worlds take the train from Havana and then fly back. You could of course consider travelling to Camaguey by bus or coach (Camaguey lies on Cuba's major road, the Carretera Central); you could also consider root-canal surgery without anaesthetic. Cuban roads are not smooth and Cuban coaches are not modern; they tend to shun modern conveniences such as suspension, toilets and air-conditioning. Services are even more unreliable than the trains (which at least have a timetable of sorts) and, because despite all this bus and coach journeys remain a popular mode of transport among Cubans, it's almost impossible to get a ticket. Still, if you want to try don't let me put you off. It would definitely be a good way of meeting ordinary Cubans.

Getting Around

The best way to explore Camaguey is on foot; the old city centre is compact and is riddled with interesting-looking side-streets and courtyards where cars can't take you, and walking around is the best way to meet the people. Camaguey's deliberately confusing street-plan means that it's pretty much inevitable that you're going to get lost sooner or later; you'll need a decent map, and be prepared to ask locals for directions; this shouldn't be a problem as they're a friendly lot and will be only to happy to help out or even offer to guide you to your destination. Be careful because a lot of the roads are in terrible condition and there are many gaping holes that present a particular danger to the rambling drunkard, especially at night with the lack of street-lighting. The story that the original idea of the confusing street-plan was to deter pirates is unfortunately not true, but they could have deterred anyone by leaving the roads in the same condition that they're in now. Even Genghis Khan would have thought twice about tackling the streets of Camaguey when he'd had a few. When walking be sure you keep to the pavements lest you be accosted by a gang of uniformed primary-school children blowing whistles at you if you walk in the roads; it's some kind of Cuban road-safety campaign and having been on the receiving end of it I can confirm it's pretty effective. Staying on the pavement is also the best way of avoiding some of Camaguey's psychotic cyclists; it's not unusual to see 3 or even 4 people on one bike. Or goat...

goats and children on a web site. is that legal?

For those in whom casualness runs deeper there are alternatives to walking. Firstly there are Camaguey's many pedalos, basically a bicycle-rickshaw that can carry anything up to 4 people (not fat ones, obviously). These can be found plying their trade throughout Camaguey, but tend to congregate in Plaza Maceo, and shouldn't cost you more than one or two dollars (for a fairly short journey; I doubt they'd be too keen to take you to the airport or, say, Havana). By the way, one of the finest anti bicycle-theft devices I have ever seen had been adopted by one of Camaguey's pedalo drivers; when leaving his vehicle unattended he removed the seat. This alone might not have been too much of a deterrent, so he had sharpened the part of the frame where the seat slots in to a spear-point. Nasty, but effective

There are also horse-drawn carriages which serve as buses, although these aren't usually to be found in the town centre itself but tend to run to the suburbs from North of the railway station; as they don't really head anywhere interesting you probably won't take one, and the sad, emaciated condition of the horses means you probably won't want to take one for the fun of it either. If for whatever reason you do end up using one, the "carriages" vary from a plank with wheels through to dilapidated wild-west style coaches. The fare is technically in Cuban pesos but I doubt you'd be refused if you offered to pay in dollars.

As I mentioned, Camaguey's street-plan is confusing even to the sober. If you wish to see what I mean click on this link for a map. For those attempting to find their way around the main road in the North-South running Republica, which becomes Avenida de los Martires after it crosses the railway tracks.. This road has most of Camaguey's shops and you'll also find the railway station here (you can't miss it as the tracks run across the street), as well as the Cubana office at number 400. Avenida Carlos Finlay, which is the first street to the north of the railway station is where you'll find the local bus station from where you can travel to other towns within the Camaguey province. If you're planning on doing this I'd advise you to go along to the station at take a look at the condition of the buses (which make London buses look like the pinnacle of automotive engineering) and you'll realise that you've that you've got a better chance of getting wherever it is you're going on foot. Carlos Finlay is also the road to the airport (and was re-tarmacked a few years ago to provide a smoother ride for the popemobile on JP2's visit here); to get to and from the airport you're almost certainly going to have to take a taxi, unless you can find a particularly adventurous pedalo driver.

The Bridge over the River Hatibonico

Running South West off Republica at its southern end is Maceo, undoubtedly the most exclusive street in Camaguey in that most of it's shops actually sell something. This will eventually lead to Parque Ignacio Agramonte (actually a small square) and the Cathedral. If Camaguey town centre has a focal point then this is probably it. A block to the East takes you to San Pablo which runs south, over the Rio Hatibonico (Camaguey's major river which, to be frank, bears a striking resemblance to an open sewer. Don't go paddling here) and then to the Carretera Central, Cuba's major motorway. You need to go a couple of miles down this to find the long-distance bus station, although whether you'll find a bus there or not is a different matter.

Places To Stay

Camaguey boasts a large number of cheap, reasonable quality town-centre hotels. Near to the train station on are the somewhat dingy looking Puerto Principe on Avenida de los Martires, and the much nicer looking Plaza, directly opposite the station (don't worry, Cuban trains don't go fast enough to wake you up) which enjoys an excellent reputation. Further down Republica is the Colon (stop sniggering; you'll find lots of "Colons" throughout Cuba and indeed Latin America; it's not some kind of anal-fixation, Cristóbal Colón is Spanish for Christopher Columbus). I can't comment on the quality of rooms in the Colon but it has the best lobby in Camaguey, more on that later.

My favourite hotel in Camaguey (and to be honest, the only one I've actually stayed in) is the Gran Hotel on Maceo, an unbeatable location right in the heart of the city. The hotel was built in the 1920s on the site of an old colonial mansion and is built around an open courtyard complete with fountain. The rooms are large and clean and all have primitive but effective air-conditioning and en suite bathrooms complete with baths ( a real rarity in Cuba). The hotel has a restaurant on the top floor (which also has the best views of Camaguey), a piano bar and 24-hour snack bar on the ground floor. Best of all is the small, unheated outdoor swimming pool which also comes with its own bar and is as good a place as any to tackle the midday sun. The staff are very helpful and friendly and if you're going to stay in a hotel in Camaguey this is the place I'd recommend. Last time I was out there I paid $27 for a single room and, even allowing for inflation, you shouldn't be paying more than $35-40. Other hotels in Camaguey will probably set you back even less.

The Gran Hotel

The hotel used by most tourist parties (who tend to only pass through Camaguey anyway) is the Hotel Camaguey, a monstrosity from the school of Soviet architecture. As it's on the Carretera Central, and about 3 miles from the town centre, you should have no reason for staying there anyway.

The alternative to staying in a hotel is to stay in private house (or casa particular). If you spend enough time wandering round the town centre looking like a confused tourist (not difficult!) sooner or later somebody (usually some young chap) will ask if you want to stay in a private room. If you do want to do this, and there are many reasons why you might, not the least of which is that many of them will offer to cook you meals as well, always have a look at the place first. Obviously you'll want somewhere close to the town centre, but what you're being offered will vary from a room in a family house with a shared bathroom to an entire flat to yourself. Bearing this in mind the price will of course vary, but you shouldn't pay any more than you'd pay for a hotel.

One place I can recommend without reservation is the casa particular of Senor Manuel Banegas Manesa, also known as Manolo. He has the second floor of a large colonial house overlooking Plaza Maceo right in the city centre; the house itself is amazing with tiled floors, shutters and a balcony running all the way round. Manolo and his brother Hector live in the house but he also has three bedrooms for rent at less than $20 a night. You can also get your meals there; breakfast (usually bread and cheese, omelette and papaya) for less than $5 and main meals (usually chicken, pork or fish with rice, plantains and salad) for $7, and the food is far superior to what you'd get in most of Camaguey's restaurant. Manolo himself doesn't speak English but he's a friendly chap; the only drawback is that you don't get your own key but Manolo and his brother seem happy enough to let you in at whatever time you come back, and whatever your condition. Given it's location and spreading reputation Manolo can quite often be full so it's a good idea to book in advance; anyone interested in staying there can e-mail me for phone numbers and further information.

Placa Maceo with Casa Manolo in the back-ground

Where To Get Drunk

To be honest if Camaguey has an achilles heel then this would be it. In common with the rest of Cuba the standard of restaurants is not high; most of the hotel restaurants are fairly poor, and the state run tourist restaurants aren't too much better. Your best bet might be to look out for the privately run paladares, although their menu, not to say location, can change by the week. Another idea might be to stay in a private house with meals included to give you the chance to try real Cuban-style home-cooking. The situation is slightly rosier regarding bars; there are some good ones although you'll probably end up doing most of your drinking in the hotel bars. Nightlife takes us back to depressing though; away from the hotels there isn't too much happening.

OK then, lets start with restaurants. If you're eating out two places worth considering are the tourist oriented restaurants in the Plaza San Juan de Dios; I particularly liked the Campana de Toledo where you can try the house speciality, bolliche mechado (beef stuffed with ham) or more mundane meals such as pork steaks or spag bol. Meals are less than $10 and beers (bottled) $1. The restaurant itself is housed in a renovated colonial mansion and there's a great open-air tree-shaded terrace at the back which is a very  pleasant place for an afternoon beer or four. You'll quite often be serenaded by the band too. Next door is the Parador de los Tres Reyes, aimed at a similar market but not quite as atmospheric.

Rancho Luna in Plaza Maceo is usually busy; they take dollars but the menu varies.

The restaurant on the top floor of the Gran Hotel is probably the classiest place in town and boasts great views of the city. Unfortunately the service is unbelievably slow and the most of what's on the menu usually isn't available. On my first visit there I was told that the beef, chicken and pork were all "off" and so ended up with omelette and chips, which took nearly an hour to arrive. On my second (and last) trip my fat ginger friend ordered the fried chicken. It took over an hour and a half for a small chicken leg to arrive by which time the rest of us had finished the pork (which was actually available). At least they never seem to run out of beer. The snack bar on the ground floor is probably a better bet; there's only a very limited selection of food (chips, hot ham and cheese sandwiches, iced cream) but what's on the menu is always available and it never takes long to arrive. The atmosphere is a bit lacking and the place tends to attract flies and beggars but you can also get tanked up in here as they have beer and, best of all, cocktails; a superb mojito or daiqiri can be yours for $1 and this alone makes it worth a visit. One of the barmen in here speaks perfect English and is one of the friendliest, most helpful people I've ever come across on my travels. If you get him, tip heavily and tell him Steve says hello. Cheers. Also on the ground floor of the Gran Hotel is a piano bar; it's a friendly enough place, and it does indeed have a piano which is sometimes even being played; the lighting in here is always kept to a minimum which gives the place the slightly seedy air of a major pick-up joint. I think this is a good thing.

Directly the opposite the Gran Hotel is an outdoor fast food place which offers unspeakably vile hamburgers; don't even thing about it. If it's a quick snack you're after try the bakery next door which does reasonable and cheap cakes and freshly baked bread. probably the best place for Western-style fast food is, surprisingly, the Cupet service station on the Carretera Central near the Hatibonico bridge; they do chips, chicken, sandwiches, ice cream, etc and also have a dollar-shop where you can buy food. Worryingly for a motorway service station they do cheap beer as well.

Just behind the Gran Hotel on San Salida is small outdoor bar; although fairly quiet and innocuous during the day at night it undergoes a transformation more dramatic than Clark Kent to become one of Camaguey's hottest night-spots. This has probably something to do with the lack of competition rather than its own qualities (which include music from an amplified cassette and lots of outdoor tables and concrete benches) but it's one of the few places where you can drink into the night and it is Camaguey's main pick-up joint. This was a distinction previously held by a ridiculously small disco (about the size of the average front room, including the bar) just along from Parque Agramonte, but this place is quite often closed.

There's a decent-looking bar on the northwest corner of Parque Argramonte which offered an amazing range of rums. Also on Agramonte is the Casa de la Trova, where you can listen to traditional Cuban music.

Heading up Republica there are several decent bars, some of which only take pesos; these may be your best chance to sample a bottle of the locally-brewed Tinima beer. The bar in the lobby of the Hotel Colon has to be one of the best places to drink in Camaguey; the bar itself (and all the shelves and fridges behind it) is the original 1920s issue, and wouldn't look out of place is some wild west saloon or prohibition speakeasy; the lobby is fairly well air-conditioned, and there are some great rocking-chairs to sink into. The beer is all canned, but they have adopted the admirable practice of chilling the glasses too. On the subject of strange hotel bars, there's a really weird one in the Puerto Principe; although the piano bar in the Gran Hotel is merely dark this place is pitch black (unless it was just because the lights weren't working when I went in); weird. The Puerto Principe also has a disco and nightclub on the roof (there are railings, I understand), but I never saw any evidence of this being open while I was there., and also has a reasonable snack-bar. Another weird hotel bar is the Canadian-themed one at the Hotel Camaguey; lots of flags of Canadian provinces on the ceiling for some reason. This bar does a reasonable collection of cocktails. The Hotel Camaguey also has regular discos and cabarets.

Your best chance for a good night out in Camaguey comes every Saturday night when most of the town centre becomes one giant out-door party, with live music and impromptu discos, bars and barbecues setting up along Avienda Republica. This goes on well into the night and it seems like everyone in town turns up. Although this is great fun, it is not quite so entertaining when your taxi has to try and force its way through the throng of party-goers when you're trying to get to the airport in time for your flight....

What To See And Do

Camaguey has an interesting selection of museums and old Spanish colonial buildings but is perhaps best known for its churches.

Starting on Republica and to North of the railway station is the Museo Provincial Ignacio Agramonte, housed in a striking building that was once a Spanish cavalry barracks. The museum was closed for renovations on both my previous visits to Camaguey but apparently it contains exhibits on local history, flora and fauna (looking through the window I could see a few display cases of stuffed animals). Don't expect any information in English either. This may be the sort of museum where it's worth going in just to get a better look around the building.

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

Head South down Republica past the railway tracks and you come to one of Camaguey's churches the 18th century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. From the outside it's huge but it's run-down, peeling appearance may put you off, as might the fact that it's often closed (although since the Pope's visit to Camaguey most of the churches are open more than they used to be). The interior though makes it well worth the trouble of trying to get in, with a large collection of statues and idols and some great if not particularly religious floral murals. Like many of Camaguey's churches it's usually a lot cooler inside than out (which doesn't give you the excuse to sit in there for a couple of hours knocking back cans of Mayabe).

If the Soledad puts you in an ecclesiastical frame of mind head West on Calle Mayor General Ignacio Agramonte and not 5 minutes away on Plaza de los Trabajadores("Workers Square"; this is a communist country) is the towering white-washed Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced. This too looks slightly seedy from the outside, which once again fails to prepare you for what's inside; a graceful vaulted ceiling painted a pale yellow and with more strange, fairly secular murals. This Church also has a small museum in a crypt under the altar; there are some old religious relics, you can see the foundations of a previous church on this site and, best of all, there are some skeletons. Be warned that this has to be one of the smallest museums in the world; it is not recommended for the claustrophobic nor for the fat as the doors are tiny and it would be easy for a person of stout girth to become lodged. And if you're under 5 feet tall you'll probably keep banging your head. This "museum" is usually kept locked but if you ask someone at the reception desk as you enter the church they'll probably show you around; there isn't a charge as such but I think it's expected that you make a donation to the restoration fund. For those of you, like me, who have a nun-fetish you'll be pleased to hear that La Merced has a convent attached, although you might have to hang around a while before a nun appears as it closed in the 1960s, since when it has served as the Diocesan House. I'm reliably assured that nuns do sometimes stay there...

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced

Opposite La Merced is the Casa Natal de Ignacio Agramonte, the birth-place and family of home of Camaguey's number-one hero, the 19th century revolutionary general, killed in action against the Spanish in 1873. The museum traces Agramonte's life, career, and campaigns and has exhibits such as his letters and guns. The story is told entirely in Spanish but even if you can't speak a word of Spanish and you're not remotely interested in Ignacio Agramonte (which, I imagine, would describe most of my readers) it's still worth paying to get in (and it costs less than £1 anyway) as the house has been restored to how it would have looked in the mid-19th century complete with authentic period furniture.

courtyard in the Casa Natal de El Mayor

At this point you're pretty much in the middle of old Camaguey, and this is about the point where it becomes really easy to get lost. This is not necessarily a bad thing though; there are lots of interesting 17th and 18th century colonial buildings around and the best way of exploring this part of town is to just wander round until you find something interesting. There's nothing here as grand as the colonial mansions of Old Havana, but then there are considerably less tourists too and so you're a lot less likely to get hassled.

Teatro Principal

From Parque de los Trabajadores head for the Teatro Principal on Padre Valencia. the building itself is attractive and interesting enough with it's stained-glass windows and chandeliers in the foyer. It is also the home of the internationally renowned Camaguey ballet. I will, for once, resist the temptation to make some off-colour remark about watching lithe, teenaged Cuban girls prancing around in tights and a tutu (by the way, one of the showers in Casa Manolo has cold water only).

Heading back to Plaza de los Trabajadores (OK, you don't have to but it's less confusing this way) if you go south on Cisneros (which will take you past the small Plaza Maceo, which is basically a bust of Antonio Maceo, another revolutionary general, on a traffic island) or Independencia and you will arrive at Parque Agramonte (named after you-know-who) and the Cathedral (or, to give it it's full title, Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria); if Camaguey has one, then this it's focal point. Parque Agramonte is infact a small square; it doesn't take a genius to figure out who the statue of the chap on the horse waving his sword about is of. There are plenty of benches where you can sit and watch life go by for a while; this is where the old people meet during the day and the young lovers meet at night. There are plenty of palm trees to give you shelter (and, as with many things in Cuba, even these have some historical significance; the ones at each corner of the square are replacements of originals that were planted in the 19th century in memory of 4 Cuban patriots executed by the Spanish). The big clay pots are tinajones, and you'll find them all over Camaguey; due to the lack of major rivers (for evidence of this, see Camagueys major "river" the Hatibonico) they were devised for storing water. They are not dustbins and are most definitely not urinals. If you hang out in the Parque for long enough you may see a coach pull up, disgorge it's load of European or Japanese tourists, who will then wonder around gormlessly taking photographs for 10 or 15 minutes, before getting back on their coach and disappearing from whence they came. Pretend you're Cuban and ask them for money, or offer to make their wife a happy woman. It'll be funny!

Statue of Ignacio Agramonte in Parque Agramonte

The Cathedral, while being Camaguey's largest (it's actually bigger than Havana Cathedral), and while also having a cool statue on top of the tower, is not as interesting as Camaguey's other churches. Although there's been a church on this site for nearly 500 years it's been rebuilt and added to on many occasions. The Cathedral reopened after major renovations in 1997, and when I was last in Camaguey construction was still going on. I'm not sure what the penalty for wearing a hard-hat in a Cathedral is.

The tower of Camaguey Cathedral

Parque Agramonte is surrounded by mostly well restored colonial buildings; worth looking at is the Casa de la Trova where you can also listen to traditional Cuban music.

Right, this is where directions get confusing so pay attention. Take the road at the southwest corner of Parque Agramonte (Cisneros, by the Cathedral's tower); keep going until you see either Angel or Pacio Recio on your right, take one of these and then at the next corner go left on Doctor Emilio Gonzales, which goes to Hurtado and this will lead you to probably the highlight of Camaguey, the Plaza San Juan de Dios, now a National Monument. Either that or you could follow the signs that they've put up since my last visit. Alternatively you'll now realise that you're hopelessly lost and have to ask someone for directions. Either way, with luck you'll end up at the Plaza San Juan de Dios and you can stand there for a minute or so and think how worthwhile it was coming down here. This is an 18th century square which has been completely restored, as have all the colonial-era buildings than surround it. The fact that all the buildings have been paint-washed in different colours only makes it even more photogenic.

buildings in Plaza San Juan de Dios

The most striking building in the square is the Iglesia San Juan de Dios with it's tiled floor and striking wooden roof. Attached to the church is what used to be a hospital but what is now the local heritage centre; it has a small museum and is a good place to ask if you're interested in finding out more of the city's history (if you speak Spanish). Also on Plaza San Juan de Dios are a couple of old mansions that have been converted into restaurants; after all the walking you've been doing you're bound to be thirsty and there's no better place in Camaguey than the tree-shaded terrace of the Campana de Toledo for a quick beer or three.

Iglesia San Juan de Dios

From the Plaza San Juan de Dios there are a few places you can go. Personally I would head west on Matias Varona for 5 or 6 blocks until you come to a road called to Desengano. Head north up here and you will (hopefully) reach probably the other highlight of Camaguey, the Cementerio General otherwise known as Camaguey's Necropolis (incorrectly named in some guidebooks as "Cementario Raul Lamar"). I've been in a few cemetaries in my time (it's a hobby) and this one of my favourites. It's huge, a veritable city of the dead divided into blocks and with graves and mausoleums in a profusion of architectural styles, with parts of it like something from a spaghetti western. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering around here. The attached church of San Cristo del Buen Viaje is attractive enough and worth looking round too. From the Necropolis if you head north until you hit Marti and then turn right you can almost complete your collection of Camaguey's churches with the baroque Iglesia de Carmen.

Cementerio General

Alternatively, if you're still in Plaza San Juan de Dios and you're too idle to walk to the Necropolis, and there isn't a pedalo driver handy, follow your nose and ears and head south to the farmers market (which is worryingly close to the sewer-like Hatibonico). This is a good place to buy fresh fruit and home-made soft-drinks. Try and avoid the meat section though or you'll probably not want to touch any food in a paladar or casa particular again, unless you develop a yearning for fly-faeces.

If you've made it this far, have a wonder down South of the Hatibonico River; the bridge crossing it is attractive enough but hold your nose. Passing the strangely magnetic Cupet station (you can buy beer and ice-cream here), you'll see a big yellow mansion with lots of palm trees on the other side of the Carretera Central. This is the Palacio de los Matrimonios (or something like this) and is where all Cuban couples have to come when they want to get married (all marriages have to be registered with the state). The house and its grounds and gardens are very attractive and worth pottering round for a while, and it's fun to watch the procession of just-to-be and recently-married couples coming and going.

Palacio de los Matrimonios

You can keep heading Southeast on Avenida de la Libertad; there are several interesting buildings, if nothing that's outstanding. If you keep going far enough (about 7 blocks to be precise) you can tick another church off your list when you arrive at the Iglesia de la Caridad which has a strange tower and is dedicated to Cuba's patron saint. The Church was rebuilt in the 20th century, although the vestry and tower are from an older, colonial church

Iglesia de la Caridad

When you head back up to the town centre, turn right before you cross the Hatibonico (or, more likely, instruct your pedalo driver to turn right) and you'll find a collection of small, pleasant parks where you can shelter under the trees, look at the statues of soldiers and the bandstand and try and figure out the significance of the totally bizarre false grotto. It stumped me.

I know that at this stage you'll be really be dying to look at another church so after crossing the Hatibonico bridge you can breathe in again you can turn right and keep going until you find a road called Academia; go up this and it will take you to a small square containing some benches, a couple of bus-stops (but usually no buses) and the tall baroque-ish Iglesia san Francisco. You can fend-off all the enthusiastic school-children who realise you're a tourist.

If you've really had it with churches, from the Hatibonico bridge head up Republica (which will eventually lead you back to where you started) but which has a small museum at number (ahem) 69, the Museo del Movimiento Estudantil Insurreccional Camagueyano (roughly paraphrased in English as the Museum of Revolting Student Movements; they should have seen some of the revolting movements produced by one of my old flat-mates, Jules, at University); this in the former home of one of the Cuban revolutionaries killed with Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Other attractions that I wasn't quite able to fit neatly in my guded tour include the Museum and birth-place of Nicolas Guillen, a famous Cuban poet. No fan of Cuban poetry should miss this. This is on Hermanos Aguero at number 58. Nearby, on Cisneros is the Palacio de Justicia, opposite which is the Centro Provincal de Cultura Comunitaria.

(My special thanks go to Professor Hector Juarez Figueredo at the Camaguey School of Hospitality and Tourism for pointing out and correcting the numerous errors I made in the first version of his page. Lots of mistakes probably still remain, but they are entirely my fault, and considerably less thanks to him. Gracias! I would be considerably obliged if anyone visits Camagey after reading this page seeks out the good Professor and buys him a pint of something cold and fizzy on my behalf. Cheers!)