Ciego de Ávila24 12 2015
Hosting two of Cuba’s best municipal museums and now its most intriguing urban park, the city is the most modern of Cuba’s provincial capitals, founded in 1840. Growing up originally in the 1860s and ’70s as a military town behind the defensive Morón–Júcaro (Trocha) line, it later became an important processing center for the region’s lucrative sugarcane and pineapple crops (the pineapple is the local mascot). Ciego’s inhabitants refer to their city as ‘the city of porches’ – a reference to the ornate colonnaded housefronts which characterize the center.
Famous avileñas include Cuban pop-art exponent Raúl Martínez and local socialite Ángela Hernández Viuda de Jiménez, a rich widow who helped finance many of the city’s early-20th-century neoclassical buildings, including the 500-seat Teatro Principal.
If you’re faced with a long wait for the bus or have a posse of hyperactive kids to amuse, the small Parque Zoológico might fill a vacant half-hour.
Fábrica de Tabacos el Sucro
The cigar factory right in the center of town is a post-revolution addition to the local economy. Tours are normally group-only. Ask at the Havanatur office and you may be able to tag along.
Centro Raúl Martínez Galería de Arte Provincial
On Calle Independencia, this gallery has works by Raúl Martínez, Cuba’s king of pop art, on permanent display, alongside works by other local artists.
Ciego’s newest feature is the three-block stretch of Calle Independencia between Parque Martí and Calle Agramonte that has been pedestrianized and beautified with streetlights, benches, outdoor art and green areas. Come and view Cuba’s confusing dual economy working at full throttle.
Parque de la Ciudad
The once-scrubby wasteland between Hotel Ciego de Ávila and the city center on the northwestern edge of town is now a vast park (featuring an artificial lake, the Lago la Turbina, with boating available, children’s playgrounds and good eateries). With its off-beat attractions and amiable understatedness, it’s just possibly Cuba’s most interesting urban green space.
It’s also testimony to the wonders achievable with scrap: old steam trains have been dusted off in homage to Ciego’s transport history; there’s impressive artes plasticos (modern art) including an elephant statue fashioned from old car parts; and, best among the eating possibilities, an old Aerocaribbean aircraft converted into a restaurant.
One block south of Parque Martí, the grand Teatro Principal more than compensates for the park’s lack of illustrious edifices. Built in 1927 with help from local financier Angela Jiménez, it purportedly has the island’s best (theatrical) acoustics.
Museo de Artes Decorativas
Cuba’s most beautiful beds? Not in Varadero, nor in one of the island’s classic colonial stop-offs, but downstairs at this quirky museum. The thoughtful collection contains items from a bygone age, such as a working Victrola (Benny Moré serenades your visit) and antique pocket watches. Up top, the exhibits impress with ornate oriental art: check the striking Chinese screen. A CUC$1 tip gets you a local guide (in Spanish).