Guide to CIENFUEGOS – the Fancy Side of Cuba

Let me guide you to Cienfuegos, Cuba ‘s very French city. There is good infrastructure, charming places, strong drinks, and cool waters. Basically the fancy side of Cuba.

Parque Jose Martí in Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos’ beautiful central square is called after Jose Martí, the great Cuban writer and philosopher. There he stands waving. The blue building behind him is the Museo Provincial and on the left, the building with the big cupola, is the Palacio de Gobierno, the Governmental Palace.

Also, it’s a great gateway for many day trips to the beautiful surroundings.

The Discovery

Christopher Columbus discovered the region around Cienfuegos in 1494. Like everywhere else, the Spaniards began to colonize the area that was inhabited by indigenous people.

Malecon of Cienfuegos in Cuba
If you really, really don’t find anything to do in Cienfuegos, you can still stroll up and down the beautiful Malecon.

Around 1745, the Fort Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua was built to protect against pirate attacks. The settlement was extended and also a port was added. Then, in 1819, 46 families from France and the nearby French colonies settled in the fortress. Nevertheless, the place was still under Spanish rule and named Fernandina de Jagua, honoring Spanish King Ferdinand VII.

French to the Core

After a storm destroyed large parts of the city in 1825, it was reconstructed under the direction of city planner D’Clouet, a French immigrant. He designed the chessboard-like road network that characterizes the city to this date. Only in 1829, the city was renamed honoring the Spanish Governor-General José Cienfuegos.

There are basically two main areas of interest to visitors. Obviously, the Pueblo Nuevo, the city center that made it on the UNESCO World Heritage List for a reason.

Yacht Club
Cienfuegos posh Yacht Club can also be enjoyed by landlubbers.

Further south is the peninsula Punta Gorda. It’s a rather posh residential area which, however, has some of the most alluring landmarks, namely the Yacht Club and the Moorish Palacio de Valle.

Not only is the city of Cienfuegos a lovely place. There are also some really nice places that should be visited on day trips. Therefore, you might want to foresee two, better yet three days for Cienfuegos.

Pueblo Nuevo – the Historic Center

To this date, the French influence is visible in the city. Because of this elegance and beauty, the city is also called Pearl of the South. Since 2005, the historic city center has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sugar, Sugar

French traces there are – for example, at the main square stands Cuba’s only triumphal arch. The early settlers erected it in memory of their distant homeland. It stands at the western side of Parque José Martí, Cienfuegos’ main square.

Arco de Triunfo in Cienfuegos
The Arco de Triunfo – celebrating the Cuban Republic. In the background the famous Teatro Tomás Terry. I find it very confusing that this theater has been named after a magnate who was involved in the slave trade. Not so very much a revolutionary.

Across the street from the Arco de Trionfo is the Palacio Ferrer that today houses an art museum. The palace was commissioned by sugar baron José Ferrer between in 1817. In 1920, famous tenor Enrico Caruso stayed here when he performed at the Teatro Tomás Terry.

Palacio Ferrer in Cienfuegos
The elegant Palacio Ferrer.
(Photo: VelvetCienfuegos palacio ferrer 2, cropped 2:3, CC BY-SA 4.0 )

From the tower of the Palacio Ferrer, you have a beautiful panoramic view.

The famous Teatro Tomás Terry, where not only Caruso performed, stands on the northern side of the Parque.
At the end of the 19th-century, it was commissioned by Venezuelan sugar baron Tomás Terry. It is shaped in the so-called Italian coliseum. Hence, in a horseshoe-shaped hall, the audience is placed on four levels. However, always facing the stage.

Teatro Tomás Terry
The Teatro Tomás Terry was built in a neoclassical style and has room for 900 people.

National and international artists such as Sarah Bernhardt, Ana Pávlova, and Jorge Negrete performed here.

On the Other Sides

As you continue your walk around the Parque, on the eastern end, you’ll get to Cienfuegos’ cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, hence, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Cienfuegos' Catedral Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
One of the iconic buildings that made the historic center of Cienfuegos a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

The original building was inaugurated in 1833 at the time of the Spanish colonization. Eventually, various extensions and improvements were made. Finally, it was declared a cathedral in 1903.

Palacio del Gobierno.
Palacio del Gobierno.

Finally, on the southern front of Parque José Martí is elegant Palacio de Gobierno. This is the city’s town hall and cannot be visited, obviously.

As you keep walking east on San Fernando street, you’ll be probably surprised seeing stores and agencies. Yes, here the scarcity is…scarcer than in many other places. Four blocks and you’ll reach the Paseo El Prado, actually Cuba’s longest street.

Take a look at Señor Benny Moré – or rather his statue since this great singer died already in 1963 at the young age of 43. All he left was his music sung in his captivating voice.

Punta Gorda

Walking down the Paseo El Prado is just so much fun. There are long lines of shade-giving trees with benches where you could sit for hours and observe the good people of Cienfuegos plying their trades.

Paseo El  Prado in Cienfuegos
A stroll along the Paseo El Prado….as if in southern Europe; except maybe for the young pioneers.

The low houses lining this boulevard are very well-maintained and painted in bold tropical colors. At every crossroad is an artistically crafted arch with a lantern – yes, it actually does look like a French boulevard. A Caribbean French boulevard, though.

Classic band playing on the Paseo El Prado
Classic Sunday concert on the Paseo El Prado
Colonial house in Cienfuegos
Tropical elegance.

However, the best part of the Prado is yet to come. Namely, as you get to La Mar street when to your rights are no houses, but just the open sea. Strolling along Cienfuegos’ Malecón under the swaying palm trees in a refreshing breeze from the ocean – it cannot get more Caribbean.

Malecon at Cienfuegos
Where the blue of the sky meets the blue of the water – Cienfuegos’ Malecón.

Luxury Without the Pricetag

What’s that? You’re thirsty from all that walking? Well, no problem since a couple of minutes further south, you’ll reach the posh Yacht Club from 1920. Here, you can order dinner or just enjoy a mojito on their terrace while overlooking the yacht harbor and listening to the Salsa tunes played by a live band.

Band playing at the Yacht Club of Cienfuegos
Mojitos and complimentary Salsa concerts wherever you go.

Will it burn a hole in your wallet? Nope. The reason is simple: The Yacht Club is state-owned. That means that the staff might deem a bit spiritless like most of the state employees. However, the drinks are at governmental prices, too – 3 CUC standard price. Location and view don’t matter. Definitely the upside of Cuba.

Yacht Club of Cienfuegos
The sun shines through the Yacht Club Cienfuegos.

As you can see in my picture, you are already at the best place to enjoy the sunset. However, if you’re not too tired, you definitely should make it two blocks down to the famous Palacio del Valle. After all, this historicist splendid villa is one of Cienfuegos’ main attractions.

Palacio del Valle
Arabian Nights at Cienfuegos.

These Moorish inspired structures are the work of Italian architect Alfredo Colli and were initially commissioned by merchant Celestino Caces. Eventually, Caces sold the palace to land baron Acisclo del Valle who had it completed by 1917.

Salsa Band at the Palacio del Valle in Cienfuegos
Of course, also on the terrace of the Palacio del Valle, the drinks come with a free Salsa concert.

Just like the Yacht Club, the Palacio del Valle is under governmental management and therefore very affordable despite the luxurious setting.

Note


You know how I always thoroughly write down the addresses and phone numbers and link the name to the business’ or museum’s website? Well, in a guide to Cuba, unfortunately, it is hardly possible since most of the places do not have a website. Sometimes it’s even not possible to find a real address online. Therefore, at the end of each chapter, you’ll find a map that shows you where to find all these great spots. And maybe one day there will be referring sites and I will update my posts – and google will be happy, too.

Out of Cienfuegos

Depending on how long you stay in Cienfuegos – and I find one can stay there pretty long – there are at least two-day trips you should join. I say join since in Cienfuegos it’s actually easy to do a tour with a governmental tour agent. Big Plus for us solo-travelling gals.
Havanatur, Cubatur, Cubanacan – they all offer day trips.

One trip will take you to the Botanic Garden that’s said to be spectacular. Since I find that a tropical country is a botanic garden in itself, I opted for a trip to the famous El Nicho waterfalls.

I booked a day tour with Cubanacan – the office is at Paseo El Prado. I paid 35 CUC with the entrance fee and a nice lunch included.

The El Nicho waterfalls are inside the Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes about 50 kilometers east of Cienfuegos. Actually, it’s basically halfway between Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes
This is why I didn’t need a Botanic Garden.

Already the drive across the Escambray mountains was just breathtakingly beautiful. Once we got to the premises, we had to hike on trails through a dense forest.

Waterfall El Nicho
Water falling….

There are various waterfalls at El Nicho. The most popular one falls into a big pool where you can splish’n’splash – and you certainly will since the water is actually ice-cold.

Waterfall El Nicho
…into pools where you can enjoy a refreshing dip.
Waterfall El Nicho
What you see is what you get: These waters do not only look cold.

While in Cienfuegos a trip with Cubanacan worked out like a charm, in other places it was hopeless. The person in charge of the office came late or didn’t show up at all. Or for some reason, they were not able to book a tour or….it’s a governmental agency, so nuff said.

Map

This map should give you an idea of where to go once you’re in Cienfuegos:

Practical Information

How to Get There

By Plane

I believe that no one will take a domestic flight to Cienfuegos, however, you can do so, but only from Havana. Other than that, there are international flights between Cienfuegos’s Jaime González Airport and Montreal as well as Toronto. You can check flights on the website of Cubana airline.

By Bus

The two daily Viazul buses between Havana and Trinidad stop at Cienfuegos, as does the daily bus between Santa Clara and Trinidad.

By Train

There are actually two trains going to Cienfuegos from Havana, Santa Clara, and Sancti Spiritus. However, as I explained in the general post on Cuba, getting train tickets is kind of a lottery. But if you don’t need to arrive on a specific day at a certain hour, you can still give it a try. On this page, you can check the connections. However, the timetable is from 2018, it hence might have changed.

How to Get There and Around

Both the center and Punta Gorda are easy to walk. However, they are about 3 kilometers apart. You can check with the host of your casa particular if they can arrange a bicycle for you.

Obviously, there are also cabs. Like everywhere in Cuba, you have to be a bit careful about not getting duped.

Where to Stay and to Eat

The casa particular Hostal La Verde where I stayed is just a ten minutes walk from either the Yacht Club or the Palacio de Valle. Perfect for dinners in post settings.

The host is lovely, professional, and very helpful. He picked me up at the bus terminal and even gave me a ride back downtown.

The only flaw is that they are serving only breakfast, no other meals. Also, if you prefer to stay closer to the center, the actually very nice location in a relatively fancy neighborhood might not be ideal.

Anyway, here you can check out some alternatives*:

Booking.com

Cash and Cards and Connection

There is an Etecsa Office in Cienfuegos as well as another sales point where you can obtain scratch cards. On this page you’ll find ETECSA’s complete list of hotspots. To narrow it down, you need to choose Cienfuegos from both dropdown menus Provincia and Municipio. Then, you’ll see all the places where you can access the internet.

Parque José Martí in Cienfuegos
For Cubans and visitors alike, the Parque José Martí is basically an open-air internet café. However, in the main post on Cuba, you’ll find a link to a list of hotspots.

Cienfuegos is a big city, consequently, there are banks with ATMs. Those are around the streets San Carlos and San Fernando close to the Parque José Martí.

Cienfuegos was only one of many beautiful places I’ve visited in Cuba. To read about the others, go to the main post and take your pick!

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17 Replies to “Guide to CIENFUEGOS – the Fancy Side of Cuba”

  1. Wow, I had no idea there was a French area in Cuba. I’ve been wanting to visit Cuba for a few years now, thanks for adding another city in Cuba to my list. I’m curious, does anyone there speak French as well as Spanish?

  2. The architecture is absolutely stunning, the Yacht Club and Palacio Ferrer were absolutely gorgeous and colourful. All the music is inspiring as well! And the waterfalls are absolutely gorgeous as well and the pools look so inviting for a dip.

  3. I love this! I was there, but did not see as much as you did. I am embarrassed to admit that I was hurting from the worst sunburn of my life, and I didn’t want to move much haha. Seems I have to go back and discover more of what you mentioned here.

  4. The French influence is palpable!
    The architecture, Sunday concert, Yacht Club along with the tropical surroundings – CIENFUEGOS is certainly an interesting place to visit.
    Surprising to know that some museums etc do not have websites! Old world charm 🙂
    Thanks for sharing detailed tips.

  5. What a lovely spot! The city looks great, but I really love the natural landscapes too. I always appreciate all the information you provide about visiting certain destinations. Most helpful!

  6. The architecture and landscapes in your photos are beautiful. I have a friend who visited a few years ago and saw a different side of Cuba that was not as nice. This place looks amazing though.

  7. I thought it was really interesting that a lot of businesses do not have addresses or websites… seems like it could make planning difficult. Love that you included the map!

  8. I’m really interested in visiting Cuba. It just looks so colorful and fun. I haven’t heard about any other city besides Havana so it’s great to see a different side of Cuba!

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