City Guide: Cienfuegos
Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is a picturesque coastal town with laid back charm known as Cuba's Pearl Of The South. Top drawcards include the historic city center and nearby beaches.
Located along the shores of an immense natural bay, Cienfuegos, known in Cuba as The Pearl Of The South, is a meticulously well-preserved city that lies just four hours south of Havana. Complemented by striking colonial architecture and quiet cobblestone streets, the magic of Cienfuegos is captured by the juxtaposition of its natural surroundings.
To the east, the Escambray mountain range stretches far beyond the horizon, while to the immediate south, a few moments from the city center, gentle Caribbean waves lap against the shores of the bay. The raw majesty of nature couldn’t be any more alive.
Upon arrival at Cienfuegos, you’ll be greeted by a billboard that quotes lyrics by Benny Moré, a legend of 50’s Cuban Bolero and Son Monuto music. Having recorded a hit track with the city’s name as its title, Morés’ enthusiasm for all things Cienfuegos couldn’t have been any clearer: “The city I like the most”; a widely shared sentiment expressed by one of Cuba’s most celebrated voices.
View of Parque José Martí, Cienfuegos
Top attractions in Cienfuegos
José Marti Park
Officially declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005, José Marti Park is a picturesque setting and the best spot if you need a quick break from the midday sun. Located in the historic center of the city, the site is blessed with towering palm trees that are generously dotted amongst statues and water fountains. Make sure you check out the prestigious Arch of Triumph, a monument constructed as a tribute to Cubans who fell during the three liberation wars of the nineteenth century, the last of which being the Cuban War Of Independence fought from 1895 to 1898.
Tomás Terry theater
A renowned cultural symbol across the country, Cienfuegos’ 950 seat auditorium resonates elegance and sophistication thanks to its classy marble features and exquisite ceiling mural. Built in 1889 to honor the life of Tomás Terry, a Venezeluen born Cuban industrialist who at his death was regarded as one of the richest men in world, the theater has hosted international artists from a golden age of Latin music, such as Jorge Negrete, Joan Manuel Serrat, and Alicia Alonso.
The Tomás Terry theater hosts performances throughout the year and offers guided tours for as little as 3 USD between 10am - 6pm. We highly suggest you swing by and experience a fascinating era of performance art that’s been lost to the modern world.
Interior of Tomás Terry Theater, Cienfuegos
Paseo del Prado
Regarded as the longest street on the island, the Paseo del Prado begins at the entrance to Cienfuegos, just a short stroll from the El Inglés river, and finishes in Punta Gorda at the southern end of the city. Take your time to wander along its radiant central walkway and absorb the rhyme of daily life in Cienfuegos while appreciating the contrast between the pastel-colored buildings and the gorgeous turquoise blue of the Caribbean sea. At its intersection with Avenue 54, you will encounter the life-size, bronze statue of Benny Moré. Grab your camera and steal a photo with one of Cuba’s most iconic musicians.
Palacio de Valle
Constructed in 1917, el Palacio de Valle delivers an essence of southern Spain right to the heart of the Caribbean, thanks to its Moorish-inspired architecture that features deep-colored roof tiles, impressive turrets, and distinctive stucco walls. Originally home to a wealthy Cuban merchant, the palace is open to the public seven days per week and boasts one of Cienfuegos’ finest restaurants in addition to a roof terrace and bar.
Once you’ve explored the site and appreciated the intriguing Hispano-Moorish mosaics, take time to unwind in the palace’s lush garden surroundings and sample some of Cienfuegos’ finest seafood. The palace’s restaurant offers an extensive menu; however, we recommend local specialties such as Cuban ajiaco or tamale casserole. Ask the staff, and they will be more than happy to accommodate your requests.
Rancho Luna Beach, Cienfuegos
Things to do in Cienfuegos
Rancho Luna Beach
If you’re looking to enjoy Cuba’s rich marine biodiversity, Cienfuegos is the perfect choice for scuba diving and snorkeling. Less than 20km from the city, Rancho Luna beach is home to one of Latin America’s most extensive coral reefs. Visitors to the area can rent a boat from one of the many companies that line the shore, and within 20 minutes, explore depths of up to 30km and discover an abundance of exotic marine wildlife.
That said, if you’re more inclined to keep your feet dry, Guanaroca Lagoon, just a few kilometers from the beach, is a beautiful spot to witness the flight of Cuba’s gorgeous pink flamingos. Formed by the water from the Guanaroca river as it flows towards the Bay of Cienfuegos, the lagoon is part of 2km squared of protected natural habitat and home to pelicans, pink flamingos, and trogons; a colorful, insect-eating bird that is native to Cuba. Boat tours operate between 8am - 3pm; however, we recommend arriving early to give yourself the best chance of seeing the wildlife before it moves out of the sun and into the shade of surrounding trees and river plants.
El Nicho Park (and beyond)
To complete the Cienfuegos experience, take time to explore the natural wonders of El Nicho park, which lies less than one hour away from the city. Further to the east, you will discover the city of Trinidad, an iconic location that is a must-visit when traveling along Cuba’s south coast.
Boat trip in the Guanaroca Lagoon, Cienfuegos
Where to stay in Cienfuegos
Located in Punta Gorda, Hotel Jagua is a 4-star hotel that boasts spectacular views of the bay of Cienfuegos and the Escambray mountains. Its spacious rooms, elegant pool villas, and modern architecture complete a privileged setting, offering guests the perfect spot where they can wind down after a long day exploring the city. At sunset, grab a cocktail and take a stroll down the hotel’s promenade and witness some of the most memorable sunsets in the Caribbean.
Sunset over Palacio de Valle, Cienfuegos
How to get there
If you arrive at Havana’s international airport, you can easily make your way to Cienfuegos via the state transport agency Viazul which provides regular shuttles to the city for as little as 16USD. If you’re traveling on a tighter budget, transport can also be arranged with the private taxis waiting outside the airport, although a good level of Spanish will be essential to ensure you get the right price.
Streetlife in Cienfuegos
Written by Lorena Sánchez.
Published October 2022.
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