Sometimes you find certain wonderful things in the most unexpected place. An example of this is the local headquarters of the Cuban Association of Craftsmen and Artists (ACAA for its Spanish abbreviation) in Cardenas, less than a half-an-hour drive from Varadero.
There, you’ll be pleasantly surprised in many different ways as you peruse real pieces of art and tuck into delicious local fare; also known as “comida criolla”. The old building which houses this arts and crafts centre has changed as time has passed and nowadays stands as a cultural haven in Cuba’s Flag City (Ciudad Bandera).
First opened on 18th September, 2007, the craftsmen headquarters in Cardenas, is a place you should not miss out on visiting. Keep reading, I’ll quickly tell you why.
Exhibitions, live concerts, craftworks and books
There is always an array of activities and shows to attend at ACAAˈs local headquarters. The daily programme frequently includes exhibitions at the “Olga Vallejo” Art Gallery or performances by local artists, music groups and comedians from Cardenas, Matanzas and elsewhere around the island.
My favourite show is “Tony à la carte” in which local troubadour Tony Avila gives a stellar performance with a repertoire of his own songs and "guarachas" (traditional Cuban music). This artist, with his friendly personality and unusual closeness to the audience, turns each performance into a party where people freely request their favourite songs, as his showˈs name suggests.
Tony Avila is a troubadour from Cardenas and in my opinion; this singer and songwriter is one of the leading exponents of Cuban culture nowadays. Therefore, attending his show (held one Saturday of every month) brings about a great opportunity to get an insider’s glimpse into raw Cuban culture, well removed from the typical clichés you’ll find in most tourism propaganda.
Another good option is paying a visit to “La Tertulia” bookshop. There, you can get your mitts on rare second-hand books (either national or international) for very reasonable prices, and, at the same time be amazed at the rather interesting object collection from different time periods and countries.
From Thursdays to Saturdays (9 am - 4 pm) many artists and craftsmen are gathered around the backyard to skilfully create, right in front of you, their own handcrafted products, which will later be up for sale at affordable prices. I can also assure you that these products will be cheaper than any similar one sold in Varadero; Cuba’s largest tourist resort.
I also highly recommend a stop by “La Vigia” store. Also part of this cultural complex, it offers, in collaboration with outstanding craftsmen from the entire province of Matanzas, a fine selection of beautiful jewellery, furniture, craftworks, clothes and shoes. All these objects, without exception, are exclusive handcrafted products and for its most part, they are unique pieces. So, I can almost guarantee that you wonˈt be going back empty-handed as I’m quite certain you won’t be able to resist taking home at least one or two of these unique, expertly handcrafted souvenirs.
A variety of contests, exhibitions and other similar activities are frequently hosted in this lively cultural institution, with one of its other main attractions being the “Salon Embotellarte”. Every year, the finest bottle craftsmen in the province gather here to battle it out in a peculiar competition. Their aim is to turn bottles into unique and attractive pieces of art.
The headquarters of the Cuban Association of Craftsmen and Artists in Cardenas has also become a popular place for enjoying hearty breakfasts, snacks and meals on its backyard restaurant (mostly referred to as “La Taberna”). There’s also an adjacent bar “Encangrejarte”, with a very good selection of Cuban and international cocktails, with the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of the “Piña Colada” being the one in highest demand.
In addition to these two venues, ice cream lovers can head to the ice-cream parlour “Frio Arte” (Cold Art). There, the delicious ice cream comes in many flavours, including Cuban tropical fruits.
Tips and reccommendations for a visit.
The peculiar cultural an culinary attractions found at the headquarters of the Cuban Association of Craftsmen and Artists in Cardenas, make this place a highly recommended space for those who want to journey further into Cuba’s colourful culture. Thatˈs why, I strongly advise you not to forget saving a bit of your holiday time to make your way here during your stay in Varadero.
Location: Coronel Verdugo street between Cespedes Avenue and Ayllon Avenue in Cardenas.
Hours: Monday to Sunday (9:00 am-10:00 pm)
If you are a fan of craftworks, books and traditional Cuban gastronomy, you must come to this place. Donˈt forget to visit “Olga Vallejo” Gallery, where local artists exhibit their most recent projects.
ACAA’s headquarters in Cardenas is not an expensive place to visit. The cost of both, food and art, usually ranges between $1 and $10 CUC.
However, the real value of this place is its authenticity because it’s not typically included in traditional tourist routes. A bit off the beaten path, here you will get to experience an unseen side of Matanzas, absorbing authentic Cuban culture and folklore among everyday Cubans looking to have a good time.