Travel Guide Draft Cienfuegos
Travel guides are often forgetting Cienfuegos, much less famous than Havana, Santiago or Trinidad. However, Cienfuegos was called from its foundation “The Pearl of the South” for many reasons.
The spectacular beauty of its bay, one of the most beautiful of the Caribbean, the fabulous neo-classic architecture of its palaces, listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The charming and colorful city center, the relaxing and friendly atmosphere billowing its neat streets… have always seduced the travelers.
Visit the “Paseo del Prado”, the “Teatro Tomas Tery”, the “Palacio de Valle” or the “Cemetario Tomas Acea”, enjoy the “Benny More International Music Festival”, participate in the “Shrimp Fest” (the city’s specialty) or celebrate the foundation of the city in April…
Located on the coast, Cienfuegos is a nautical city, offering more than 50 diving spots and underwater caves all along the coral reef, go for kayaking, sailing or simply chill on “Rancho Luna”, Cienfuegos closest beach.
Located on the South coast of the island, between “Playa Giron” and Trinidad, Cienfuegos is the smallest province of Cuba. The capital city of the Cienfuego’s Province is the homonym city, 228km South-East of Havana.
Except for the “Sierra de Escambray” and its great waterfalls, the landscape is essentially flat, making it a suitable place for the culture of sugar cane, offering a scenery of fields, plantations and mills.
When in 1492 Cristopher Columbus discovered the bay, it was inhabited by the Jaguas, and the region called “Cacicazco de Jagua”. Jagua is an aboriginal name meaning ‘beauty’. Nothing much happened in this region until 1745 when the Spanish built a fortress, the “Castillo de Jagua” to defend themselves against pirates.
French migrants coming from Bordeaux and Louisiana, led by Louis de Clouet, founded the city of Cienfuegos on April 22, 1819 (under Spanish domination). Initially named “La Colonia Fernandina de Jagua”, the city got its actual name 10 years later, after the Cuban governor Jose Cienfuegos. Anyway, Louis de Clouet who developed the city in a very modern checkerboard grid around the “Plaza de Armas” (now Parque Jose Marti”), board side the French colon with magnificent neo-classic palaces.
The city rapidly become a main commerce center for the exportation of sugar cane, coffee, tobacco…
See and Do
Charming and historical city, Cienfuegos hosts a rich variety of national monuments and wonderful places. Walk around the city center from the “Parque Jose Marti”, its gorgeous XIXth and XXth century mansions and the only arch of triumph in Cuba, down to the “Paseo del Prado” to the “Malecón” till the peninsula of “Punta Gorda” and its nautical clubs.
Palacio de Valle
Truly fascinating, the superb “Palacio de Valle” was built in 1917 for Acisclo del Valle Blanco. The most original building in Cienfuegos cleverly mixes Moorish, Byzantine, Venetian, gothic and baroque architectural styles to create the impression of real Arabian-Nights like Palace. Its three towers represent love, power and religion. A must see for architecture lovers, you can also enjoy a stunning view of the bay, especially for sunset, on its spacious terrace hosting a bar and a restaurant.
Teatro Tomás Terry
Funded by a rich Venezuelian sugar baron Tomas Terry, it was inaugurated in 1890 and still has its original flair. This splendid theater, located near « Parque Marti » is as attractive from outside than it is from inside. Step inside and admire the circular frescos representing the 7 Musas decorating the ceiling the beautiful italian style architecture featuring balconies and a huge stage. Declared national monument, Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt or Ana Pavlova performed in this theater. It worth checking if there are any performance while you are in Cienfuegos. You can anyway aenjoy a guided tour during the day.
Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion
Located on Jose Marti Square, the cathedral dates back to 1869. This beautiful building mix a neoclassic architecture and some baroque elements. It features two ‘twin towers’, Corinthians’ columns and magnificent stained glass windows imported from France, representing the 12 apostles. Usually a very peaceful place, it is very crowdy on Sundays during masses.
Parque Jose Marti
Cienfuegos main square is a very attractive and lovely place, probably one of the best in Cuba. In the heart of the historical neighborhood of Cienfuegos, it was the site chosen by the French colons to establish their new city in 1819. A rosace on the ground mark the location chosen by De Clouet, the founder of the city. Fountains, gardens shops restaurants… Ornamented with the “Arco de Triunfo” and the white marble statue of Jose Marti, two lion statues are guarding its entrance. All around are numerous sumptuous palaces such as “Palacio Ferrer”, “Casa del Fundador”, “Palacio del Gobierno”… Making it a charming and delightful place to wander around. Take the spiral staircase to get some fantastic views of the surrounding area.
Now hosting the “Casa Provincial de la Cultura”, this art nouveau building built in 1918 features Italian marble floors and a half opened spiral staircase leading to the cupola roof from where you will appreciate a panoramic view of the city.
Casa del Fundador
Cienfuegos oldest building was once the residence of Louis de Clouet, the founder of the city. This pure neo classic building now host a souvenir shop.
Palacio del Gobierno
Hosting the provincial government, this 1898 grandiose building unfortunately doesn’t allow visitors but worth a look when you pass by on the South side of the Jose Marti Park.
Arco de Triunfo
The Paris of Cuba is another name for the city of Cienfuegos because of its unique in Cuba “Arco de Triunfo”. In Jose Marti Park, it is erected next to a marble statue of the revolutionary and is dedicated to Cuban Independence.
Statue of Benny Moré
On the Paseo del Prado, just before the Malecon you will find the statue of the local emblematic figure native from the city, the “The Great One of Rhythm”, musician Benny Moré.
Necropolis Tomas Acea
Designed as a ‘garden cemetery’ featuring lanes, plants and fruit trees, it is one of the two ‘national monuments listed resting places’ in Cienfuegos. The huge entry pavilion featuring 64 Doric columns is a replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Historical and unique visit, you will observe many intriguing old and new graves, including the mausoleum to the fallen revolutionary heroes of Cienfuegos, the marine martyrs who died during the 1957 Cienfuegos naval uprising.
Cemeterio de la Reina
Older than the Necropolis Tomas Acea, the 1837 “Cemeterio de la Reina” features neoclassical mausoleums, above the ground burial crypts and marble headstones. There, you will see graves of Spanish soldiers who died during the War of Independence and the famous grave statue of the “Bella Durmiente” (Sleeping Beauty), which is a tribute to a 24 years old woman who died from a broken heart. Another particularity, it is the only cemetery in Cuba were bodies are ‘buried’ above ground, due to the high groundwater level. The best way to make it an amazing visit is to take a guided tour. You will learn cultural practices, methods of burial, details and stories about the meaning of the symbols on and around the graveyards.
El Castillo de Jagua
The “Castillo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Jagua” was erected in 1745 by Spanish king Carlos V. This fortress, situated at the entrance of the bay of Cienfuegos, was protecting the Southern coast and the city from pirates and enemies of the Spanish crown. It was the third largest military complex built in Cuba.
It now hosts a very interesting and informative museum, featuring a timeline that helps you understanding the history of the city and the island, as well as exhibition of old weapons and models of pirate ships. Legend says that the ghost of the “Senora Azul” (Lady in Blue) is haunting the place. Moreover, the fort offers an incredible view of the bay of Cienfuegos. . It is one of the top things to visit in Cienfuegos.
You can also visit the small but nice fishermen’s village located around the fortress. Being located in the bay, from Cienfuegos you can access the Jagua Castle by ferry.
Jardín Botánico Soledad de Cienfuegos (Cienfuegos Botanical Garden)
This 97 hectares’ botanical garden, founded in 1901 is the oldest in Cuba, the largest and the most extensive. At first it was a research garden dedicated to enhance sugar cane production and quality. Its founders, passionate by plants started to collect diverse plants, and it quickly became a tropical garden. It hosts a huge variety of more than 2000 plant species comprising 670 varieties and 125 families, some of them coming from as far as China or India. Orchids, ficus, bamboos, a stunning collection of palm trees and an immense banyan tree.
If you have a morning to spare around, this is a perfect place to spend it. As the garden is overgrown and unkempt with few indications, it is better to go around with a guide. You will learn a lot about these different plants and trees. It is also a great place for birdwatching and you will be amazed by the impressive number of butterflies flying around. Located 15km away from the city center, the garden is open daily from 8am to 4pm.
The seaside famous boulevard offers exquisites views of the finest bay of Cuba. It is also a very lively place at night, with musicians, painters, writers and couples wandering around.
Paseo del Prado
Near the Malecon and going all the way down to Punta Gorda, this avenue, built in 1922 features many old buildings and monuments. There is also a lot of shopping to do on this avenue.
Colegio San Lorenzo
You can admire from the outside only this 1920’s building and its colonnaded façade.
Near Playa Rancho Luna stands the Delfinario’s amphitheater where dolphins and sea lions perform shows in a natural saltwater lagoon. The show is educative, entertaining and humorous. Then you have the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. An incredible experience when the sea mammals will perform tricks with you, simple hugs and kisses, they will also push you through the water and balance you above water before letting you fall back into the lagoon.
The former relaxing spot of aristocrats is a gorgeous place with impressive colonial buildings, parks, gardens, bars and restaurants. Do not miss the Pelicano, small and charming restaurant serving amazing food. 45 minutes away from the city center along the waterfront, Punta Gorda is a nice chill out zone away from the buzz of Cienfuegos where many locals gather in the evening to relax, enjoy the fresh breeze and the nice views over the bay, especially at sunset
Built in 1893 on the South side of Parque Jose Marti, the former Spanish Casino is now hosting the province museum. Mostly displaying refined furnitures and porcelains from the XIXth century French-Cuban society. It also exhibits some pre-Colombian artifacts.
Museo Historico Naval Nacional
Located in the former headquarters of the ‘Naval District of the South’, the museum is dedicated to the history of the Cuban Navy. It is featuring many documents about the aborted uprising against Batista in 1957 and a very interesting collection about the Cuban marine.
Museo de la Palmira
10 kilometers away from Cienfuegos is the city of Palmira, the museum shows the Afro-Cuabn traditions and folklore.
Hidden at the back of a gym, this small museum is dedicated to the local boxing hero Julio Gonzalez Valladores who won a gold medal during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Museo de la Clandestinidad “Hermanas Giral”
Between the “Sierra Escambray” and the Caribbean coast, Cienfuegos and its vicinities is rich in various activities for everyone, wheter you prefer to go inland to discover the marvels of the natural parks or stay by the sea for sunbathing, swimming to enjoy some snorkeling or scuba diving and other watersports.
Playa Rancho Luna
White Sandy beach with calm clear turquoise waters, 18 kilometers away from the city of Cienfuegos, “Playa Rancho Luna” worth a visit to spend a relaxing day. Contrary to many other beaches in Cuba, it is not overcrowded with tourists but mostly frequented by locals. THe atmosphere is calm, the beach is great and trip there is a good way to relax if you are staying in Cienfuegos.
Scuba Diving Cienfuegos
Famous for the wonderful coral reefs and the calm and clear waters of its bay, Cienfuegos is also a paradise for overwater and underwater adventures.
From Marlin Marina Cienfuegos you can book different excursions, kayaking the bay of Cienfuegos or an open sea cruise and for the sports addicts a deep-sea fishing excursion.
Faro de Luna is a must for snorkelers and divers. Characterized by the purity of its waters and its numerous reefs, amongst which the ‘great barrier’ also called “Nuestra Senora”, and underwater channels, the diving zone offers no more than six shipwrecks to explore and one of the richest underwater universe in Cuba.
There are three main diving sites around the Pearl of the South, which are considered the finest of the island.
La Corona features narrow coral channels and a huge sandy plateau. Many coral species around which are going groupers, barracudas, lobsters… It is not impossible for you to share the spot with some impressive and serene whale sharks.
Camaroneros is specific for its two shipwrecks that turned into artificial reefs, now shelter for many corals and numerous colorful fishes.
Punta Sabanilla will ravish you with the abundance of its corals, creating narrow channels, home for various fishes, mollusks and crustacean
El Nicho Waterfalls
The very scenic waterfalls of “El Nicho” is a must. Much less touristy than other similar
Attractions such as “Topes de Collantes”. You can take a guided tour riding you up
to the waterfalls while learning more about the vegetation and getting interesting
details about the three magestic waterfalls before a refreshing swim in the great
natural pools. There is also a small area where you can jump off and into the pool
under the fall.
This protected area, located in a mangrove and swamps environment formed by he
Arimao River before it flows into the bay, is a natural refuge for many migratory bird
species. Take a guided tour of the area to observe the unique fauna and flora as
well as the stunning scenery. You will start by a walk through the forest where you will
see tarantulas in their natural environment, then continue with a rowing boat ride
which will take you some 100 meters away from a more than 2000 pink flamingos
colony, herons, pelicans…
Also in this area are many archeological sites dating back from pre-Colombian
time and early Spanish colonization.
Sierra de Escambray
Sierra de Escambray is the biggest mountain range of central Cuba. Dominated by “El San Juan” (1156 meters high), the Sierra is alternating between peaks and valleys, caves and waterfalls in a lush tropical vegetation. Take a tour to “El Nicho”, “Topes de COllantes” for the nature and impressive waterfalls, to “Cueva Martin Inferno” to see a 67,2à meters high stalagmite, one of the biggest in the world, but also to “San Juan peak” or “Hanabanilla”.
Guajimico offers a natural environment, picturesque villages and a lot of activities for those who like to hike and dive.
From the source of the Hanabanilla river you will get the chance to observe the marvelous landscape of the Escambray mountains and the Santa Clara province and to bath under the Hanabanilla waterfalls. Although pretty difficult to access, the place really worth a trip for its great nature landscapes. Better way is to go by cab or to rent a car or motorcycle. As the local restaurant is overprice, bring food with you.
Between the Escambray mountain and the coast lay the stunning Yaguanabo Valley crossed by the homonym river, offering some of the most incredible country landscape scenery.
Parque Natural Montemar
In the Zapata Peninsula is the biggest marsh of the Caribbean. UNESCO Reserve of Biosphere, it hosts a great diversity of endemic fauna and flora, as well as some archeological sites.
Like everywhere in Cuba, food is an institution. Cienfuegos is not an exception, and the Pearl of the South hosts many fine dining place for all the possible tastes. Excellent seafood, wonderful traditional Cuban meals and very scenic restaurants while give you a huge variety of choices for your dinners in town.
Palacio de Valle In the most famous building in town stands, in a luxurious and ornate surroundings, a dazzling restaurant offering a large and good quality selection of fish and seafood. Do not miss the rooftop bar for a fabulous view over the bay. Entertainment includes music as Maria del Carmen Iznaga Guillen or a pianist often sing and play.
Restaurante Villa Lagarto This private dinning is at the vanguard of Cuba’s restaurants. Wonderfully located on the bay of Cienfuegos, you’ll be as much impressed by the view than you will be by the food. Traditional Cuban dishes such as roasted pork or excellent seafood like lobsters or prawns will leave you a memorable impression.
Finca del Mar Best seafood restaurant in Cienfuegos that would make jealous any other coastal city. Here everything is perfect, from the setting to the service, from the quality to the quantity. This is definitely the place to try lobster.
Restaurante Bouyon Near the city’s main square stands the best “a la parrillada” (barbeque) restaurant of Cienfuegos. Truly dedicated to meat lovers, grills includes four different types of meat usually served with some Chilean reds.
Cueva del Camaron Located on Punta Gorda, this restaurant is offering, from its patio or its terrace, a splendid view over the harbor. The speciality here is the seafood, especially the lobster, but it worth to try the paella, along with a fresh beer or a glass of the nice imported wine.
El Tranvia The concept of this restaurant takes you back to the city’s past, and honor the tram system that once existed in eight Cuban cities including Cienfuegos. Historical pictures, a vintage bar in an old carriage, even the waiters are dressed as station guards. While the food is average, the atmosphere is unique and worth a detour.
Teatro Café Tomas Terry Very animated place located between Teatro Tomas Terry and Colegio San Lorenzo, this café is the perfect spot to observe locals going around the Parque Jose Marti. It gets very atmospheric in the evening when the music is on, and you will appreciate the true personality of the place when listening live jazz or trova under the flower canopy covered patio.
Restaurante La Verja Tasty simple traditional Cuban cuisine in one of the old buildings of El Bulevar.
Drinks and Nightlife
Patio de Artex In Punta Gorda is one of the trendiest nightlife venue of Cienfuegos. Live vibes from son, salsa or trova along with a touch of Benny More music create a vibrant atmosphere that both Cubans and tourists like to appreciate from its patio and terrace.
Casa de la Musica. Like all the others Casas de Musica all around Cuba, the one of Cienfuegos is one of the best venue for live music.
Club Benny More Named after the famous, ‘Barbarian of the Rhythm’, this club is more about techno and international music than about Cuban standards. Made for entertainment, you will not get bored in this club. The club is divided into an indoor and an outdoor area where you will enjoy profusion of cocktails, dancing.
Jardines de Uneac Another usual entertainment venue you can find in most Cuban cities, UNEAC is the perfect place for live music. The patio is waiting for you to appreciate some Afro-Cuban live performances in a very laid back atmosphere.
Cabaret Costasur Cabaret Costasur is an open-air disco featuring local music. Very popular on Saturday nights.
Bar Terrazas Cocktails and live music in an old-fashioned way at the ‘Hotel la Union’.
Cabaret Guanaroca In Hotel Jagua, the Guanaroca offers a fantastic cabaret extravaganza experience.
Tropisur Located on the Prado, this open-air venue offers traditional Cuban rhythms. It is famous for its Cabaret shows.
El Bolevar Ideal shopping street in Cienfuegos, a part of the avenue is pedestrian. You will find many shops and terraces. A good bet for souvenirs
Casa del Habano The place for cigar shopping.