Day 6: Port of call: Cienfuegos
I made a rookie mistake. In every port there are a variety of tempting options that can be explored but doing more than one in any given stop is simply impossible. In Cienfuegos, I unfortunately opted for the tour of Trinidad, which is a 500-year-old city that many claim is the most beautiful in the country.
First of all, Trinidad is a bit of a hike from Cienfuegos, which eats up valuable shore time. Once again we found ourselves touring through the lush Cuban countryside, which was fine, but I had already had my fill of this previously.
In Trinidad, our tour began in a local pottery and ceramics shop that was just too touristy for me. Judging from the photos of famous people who had visited over the last 50 years, I would say this proprietor had friends in high places. The pottery generated some gushing from a few shoppers but all I wanted to do was to get out of there!
Luckily I spotted a simpler gift shop next door where I did pick up a few fabulous gifts for ridiculously little money. I perked up a bit.
Back on the bus our next stop was equally unfortunate – a buffet lunch of the sort Cuba is infamous for with a rather uninspiring selection of mystery meats and tepid side dishes. On the plus side, the excellent live troubadours that performed during the meal quickly distracted us from the food.
Landlocked between mountains and sea, Trinidad had been isolated for nearly two centuries from the rest of the country. This isolation has served to further preserve its historic roots even beyond the time warp we experience in the rest of the country. In the centre of town we walked via the narrow cobblestone streets that could no longer accommodate the bus to the Municipal History Museum for a way-too-long presentation (in Spanish and painstakingly translated into English by our tour guide). The more energetic of the group scaled the bell tower for a panoramic view of the town then we walked to the town’s main city square, which was extremely picturesque.
Out on my own, imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a Bodeguita de Medio, Trinidad location! This bar, originally made famous by Hemingway in Old Havana has a number of outposts including here, Miami, Palo Alto, Playa del Carmen and elsewhere retaining the authentic flavour of the Havana original. Decorating the walls inside is a fine collection of black and white photographs of famous patrons including Errol Flynn, the legendary American actor from the 1940s (neat trivia: Flynn’s last known work was a short film called titled Cuban Story: The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution (1959), which he narrated.) There’s a lot of Cuban history to be found here.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Trinidad’s streets and shops and snapping some memorable photos.
Following the bus hike back to Cienfuegos, we were treated to a whirlwind bus tour of the city, which is lovely. Cienfuegos has a definite Parisian influence and is, in fact, the one Cuban city that was settled by the French. There are many art galleries and cafes worth visiting. Later, fellow cruise mates who had opted to “do their own thing” in town, reported that they had a most enjoyable day with the salient points of interest within easy walking distance of the ship. Next time!
Back on the boat we picked the ship’s Alberta Steak House, the premium restaurant on board that features Alberta beef (remember, the ship is run by a Canadian company). Between the quality of the food and the attentive service it was well worth the $34.95 CAD supplement. This was, so far, my most enjoyable meal of the trip. Had I discovered it earlier, I think I would have dined here more than once. Lovebirds, take note. I could easily see marriage proposals taking place or anniversaries being celebrated here.
Sadly, time was beginning to run out for our Cuba Cruise. Tomorrow, the Isle of Youth would be our last stop before disembarkation in Havana.
Cuba Cruise travel tips: If you opt for the Trinidad excursion use it more as bus transportation and skip an entire tour (advise the tour guide and to secure the departure time and location of the bus.) Touring Cienfuegos may be the better choice for your limited shore time at this port of call.
AJ Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.
To begin AJ’s cruise on Day 1 click here