Caibarien is small city with a population of 38,000 located at the start of the causeway between the mainland and Cayo Santa Maria. Since the city is just 48km from the island it’s a popular day-trip and excursion destination.
Primarily a fishing town it is also the main port for the province of Villa Clara. Caibarien was founded in 1832 from a map designed by Estratón Bauza. In 1878 the town already had stores, churches, schools and newspapers. Caibarien, despite being a small city it has its own Caibarien Airport (ICAO) and provides for some distinctive 19th century colonial architecture.
Caibarien is also known as “La Villa Blanca” (The White Town), the locals say this name stands for its sands and beaches. Caibarien is famous for its “Parrandas” (Carnivals) along with the neighboring Remedios located 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of the city.
Many of Caibarien´s buildings have fine wooden porches with a distinctly French influence, and some are pretty grand properties. Life movies slowly in the city with a fair number of horses in town, either with single riders or carts. The sidewalks are ornate affairs made of large stone slabs set in concrete.
Caibarien has little in the way of tourism, meaning visitors can wander around unhindered by hustlers. The highlight of the city is the Malecón which is lined with abundant warehouses originally used during the 19th century for storing sugar cane, most of which are being renovated to accommodate a new fishing zone in the east with a new road, coconut palms and several cool bars and cafés where visitors can sit and admire the view.
The main epicenter of the town is a large square, with an 1850 church and the impressive neoclassical Lyceo (1926), where the Museo Municipal de Caibarién María Escobar Laredo, can be found on the second floor. You’ll find permanent and temporary exhibitions, including the furniture previously owned by María Escobar Laredo, who was one of the founders for the city.
The elaborate gazebo in the center of the main plaza was built in 1915, the largest in Cuba and famous for its excellent acoustics. If you’re in-town you can see some concerts by local bands on Thursday and Sunday nights. Also on the plaza is a store called London City, which was, during the first decade of the 20th century, a custom-made tailor’s store.
Interestingly, much of the local culture is influenced by slavery and African traditions. Like Remedios, Caibarién also has its colorful carnivals called parrandas. Caibarien is the place to be on Christmas Eve when a non-religious celebration is held, first held in 1892 it is said to have begun with the banging of a drum by a 110 year old former slave called Juan de Jimagua. People from the city then followed him plus many other conga players around the town, a tradition still popular today.
Cayo Conuco is a tiny island located 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Caibarien which is joined to the mainland by a stone causeway, the island is a weekend retreat for beach goers from the local community and can be quite fun. Cayo Conuco is biosphere reserve with lots of flora and fauna, and a campsite. You’ll find the ruins of a former cholera hospital, erected by the slaves in the 19th century to quarantine victims of the devastating disease.