San Carlos Cathedral Calle del Medio e/ Milanés y Calle 282, Matanzas (+53) 45 248342

Recently restored on the outside, this massive, neoclassical church with two ornate towers is famous for its interior frescoes. In front of the church, there is a huge ceiba tree with a heavy, metal bell hanging from one of the branches, commemorating the bells that were rung to call in slaves from the sugar plantations. On the ground below lies a large, antique metal gear from a sugar mill.

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Triolet Pharmaceutics Museum Calle Milanés (Ca. 83), esq. de Calle Santa Teresa (Ca. 290), Matanzas

This museum is a perfectly preserved 19th-century natural-medicine pharmacy that looks out onto the Parque de Libertad through large stained glass windows. The pharmacy closed its doors in 1964, and has been preserved exactly as it was on that day, down to the huge, ornate cash register; the log book with handwritten recipes for each prescription; the rolls of brown paper to wrap the glass bottles that were individually filled and labeled; and the ceiling-high, handsome wood-and-glass cases holding hundreds of decorative porcelain jars. There are guided tours to the distillery behind the shop, where the pharmacists manufactured their world-famous trademark syrups and tonics. 

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Oscar Maria de Rojas Museum Calle Calzada 4 y Calle 13, Cárdenas, Matanzas

This beautifully restored museum is worth a visit for its wide-ranging exhibits on everything from archeology to ethnology to numismatics to colonial weaponry. The museum has a beautiful, bright inner courtyard displaying some lovely, early 19th-century furniture, as well as an ornate horse-drawn hearse. Lots of natural light illuminates the quirky, Victorian-era potpourri of natural-history exhibits, from bugs, butterflies, polymitas (snails with multicolored shells), to preserved fleas in nuptial dress, viewed under a magnifying glass. Antique buttons and buckles, pen nibs, death masks, a Masonic lodge throne in the shape of a peacock. On the historical side, there are the usual photographs of Cárdenas heroes of the wars of independence and the Revolution and a gruesome reminder of the risks rebels took, in the form of the garrote used to strangle victims to death. 

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Provincial Museum of Matanzas Calle 272 y Calle 83, Matanzas

This distinctive, slate-blue building was built in 1838 for the wealthy del Junco family and since 1980 has housed a collection of artifacts, photographs, memorabilia and tools—some of them gruesome—chronicling the sugar and slave industries, on which the city's wealth was built. 

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Plaza de la Vigía Calle 272 y Calle 83, Matanzas

A little overwhelmed by passing traffic, this landmark square is the cultural hub of Matanzas, with the Matanzas Provincial Museum on one corner and the magnificent, neoclassical Sauto Theater taking up a whole side. In the middle of the square is the marble statue of an anonymous independence fighter known as El Soldado Desconocido (The Unknown Soldier). A couple of cafés face the theater and there's a modern art gallery to browse.

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