Camagüey:A historic and contemporary city
By Masiel Fernández Bolaños Photos by José Tito Meriño and Publicitur
The city of Camagüey, known for its churches, legends and tinajones—large, earthenware vessels for storing water—is a place where the colonial and the modern coexist in harmony, a touch of distinction that has been one of its main attractions for over half a millennium.
Nicknames like “the city of tinajones” (due to the abundance of these vessels, which are still used for everyday purposes), “city of churches” and “the walking city” reflect the historical richness of a city that is the pride of its people and a delight for visitors.
It was founded as a Spanish colonial villa in 1514, a coastal town, with the name of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. Two years later, the original town was moved to more fertile ground, and in 1528, in a final relocation, it was moved further inland, between the rivers Tínima and Hatibonico. Over time, its name was reduced to Puerto Príncipe. Camagüey, an indigenous word that means “son of the tree,” became its official name in 1903.
Quickly after the town’s founding, ranching became the main livelihood for its people, and as livestock production grew, smuggling became a widespread activity, involving sailors from the British, French and Dutch Antilles. Smugglers evaded the trade monopoly imposed by the Spanish crown, and their commerce became a decisive element in the creation of considerable levels of wealth during that era.
At the same time, pottery-making was developed as an important activity among artisans, whose source of raw materials was the abundant clay found in the soil of the town’s surroundings.
According to historians, Camagüey’s historic district is the largest in the country, and part of it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
The urban area is made up of narrow, winding streets, with colonial-style pavements that inevitably lead to plazas and small squares, where you can find buildings with outstanding historical, cultural and architectural merits.
One of these spaces is Parque Ignacio Agramonte, a park that was first built in 1528 as the Plaza de Armas (main square or parade grounds). It is still the heart of the city’s architectural structure, despite the changes wrought with the passing of time.
Another important square is the Plaza San Juan de Dios, one of the city’s most symbolic sites. It is the oldest plaza in Camagüey and holds its best-preserved historical sculptures. The main building there is a church, the Iglesia de San Juan de Dios, which holds a life-size depiction of the Holy Trinity in human form, one of few such artworks in the world.
Growing attraction for tourists
Historical heritage featuring priceless artistic value and the natural beauty of its surroundings complement the attraction that Camagüey holds for tourists.
Just 10 kilometres from the city, sunbathers can enjoy the beach resort of Playa Santa Lucía, considered one of top destinations in the region. Experts say it is a place blessed by nature, with more than 21 km of beaches, and it stands out from other beaches on Cuba’s north coast for its colors and proximity to one of the longest coral reefs in the world.
The shallow waters of this beach resort are ideal for all types of nautical activities, and water-lovers can also participate in deep-sea fishing and boat and catamaran cruises on the other side of the coral reef. Scuba diving is one of the biggest draws here, given the 35-plus diving spots, enhanced by the possibility of discovering sunken ships from the 19th and 20th centuries and observing numerous marine species.
The greatest prospects for tourism in the area, in addition to the sustained development of the city of Camagüey, are associated with the cays located to the north. By 2015, some 21,000 hotel rooms should be ready for visitors to Cayo Cruz and Cayo Sabinal.
The predominance of expansive plains that characterize the province of Camagüey do not subtract from the area’s notable natural attractions for developing ecotourism.
Rivers have shaped a spectacular panorama of natural pools in limestone formations; one prime example is the Cangilones pools of the River Máximo. This river’s estuary, north of Camagüey, is a refuge for the river’s wildlife. Many migrating birds come here to rest after arriving from northern part of the American continent, and it is the largest nesting centre for pink flamingos in the Caribbean.
The people of Camagüey, kind and cultured, treasure a historic legacy that is enriched with the inevitable presence of modern times. With evident pride, they share that legacy with those who choose this city as their destination for enjoying a trip that will always be pleasing, a perfect combination of history and nature.