Snaking its way around fields and woodlands on its journey to the coast, the Río Canímar meets the Bay of Matanzas 4km east of the city. With thick, jungle-like vegetation clasping its banks and swaying bends twisting out of sight, a trip up the Canímar is an easily accessible way to delve a little deeper inland and is one of the most rewarding ways of experiencing the Cuban countryside around these parts. A short stay at the Hotel Canimao, which overlooks the river, combines well with one of the boat trips that leave from below the Puente Antonio Guiteras, the impressive bridge spanning the river near its mouth and the focal point for the area. Next to the hotel is the Tropicana, sister venue of the internationally renowned Havana cabaret and one of the most prestigious entertainment centres in the country; while the Museo El Morrillo by the mouth of the river offers a rather more sedate diversion.
Directly opposite the turning for the Hotel Canimao, a road slopes down to an isolated, simple two-storey building known as the Castillo del Morrillo, an eighteenth-century Spanish fortification near the mouth of the river and alongside a scrappy little beach. With its terracotta-tiled roof, beige paintwork and wooden shuttered windows, the so-called fort looks more like a large and very plain house, and only the two cannon facing out to sea suggest that it was once used to defend Matanzas from pirates and other invaders. Nowadays it’s the home of the Museo El Morrillo, currently only partially open (and temporarily free) as it undergoes renovations with no known reopening date. The interest here is in the connection the building has to Antonio Guiteras Holmes, a political activist in 1930s Cuba. With his companion Carlos Aponte and a small group of revolutionaries, Guiteras plotted to overthrow the Mendieta regime, and chose the Castillo del Morrillo as a hideout from where they would depart by boat to Mexico to plan their insurrection, exactly as Fidel Castro did twenty years later. Intercepted by military troops before they could leave, they were shot down on May 8, 1935, at this very spot. Among the bits and pieces commemorating Holmes’s life and death are usually the rowing boat that transported the corpses of Guiteras and Aponte, as well as the tomb containing their remains, currently the only visitable room.