Celebrated in the travel guides and registered as a Unesco World Heritage List, Cienfuegos is considered one of the most beautiful Cuban colonial cities! As far as we’re concerned, we preferred Trinidad and Havana. But Cienfuegos is a nice stop which fully deserves being included in your travel itinerary! It is also an ideal base to explore the city’s surroundings, especially the Bay of Pigs!
Located in the Province of Cienfuegos, 140 miles southeast of Havana, Cienfuegos is one of major cities in Cuba. With its privileged location in the Bay of Jagua and its historic city centre, Cienfuegos has come to be nicknamed the “Pearl of the South”.
But Cienfuegos is also a Cuban industry flagship. The outskirts of the city, with countless refineries and factories, starkly contrast with the colonial architecture of the historic centre.
Discovering Cienfuegos’ history
Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by immigrants coming from France and Louisiana. The city still remains deeply devoted to its French roots. Its 19th century colonial architecture, very much infused with French influences, earned it the title of UNESCO World Heritage in 2005.
Even though the city shares its name with famous Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos, it was actually named after José Cienfuegos, general governor of Cuba, in the 19th century.
Buses (20 CUC) and shared taxis drive from Cienfuegos to Havana daily. It’s 4 to 4.5 hour drive).
Flying to Cienfuegos from Havana, Montreal and Toronto is also an option. The city counts a small regional airport. For more information, we recommend having a look at the website of airline company Cubana. The airport is located a 5-10 minute drive from the city centre (5 CUC for the taxi ride).
Parque José Martí
Parque José Martí, named after the famous Cuban independence activist José Martí, is a large colonial square in the heart of Cienfuegos. Even though the kiosk the benches scattered around the square are quite lovely, we have to admit that we found Parque José Martí rather empty and lacking warmth… We much preferred the lively and cheerful atmosphere of Plaza Mayor in Trinidad or Plaza de Armas in Havana.
It is a shame as Parque José Martí truly is a colonial gem!
Teatro Tomás Terry
Tomás Terry Theater is a beautiful colonial building located on the Parque José Martí, in Cienfuegos city centre. The theatre, which is inspired by Italian theatres, is open to visit.
The entrance fee is 2 CUC… To be honest, we didn’t feel like the theatre was really worth it. Visiting the theatre barely takes more than 5 minutes.
The Museo Provincial (2 CUC) is also situated on Parque Marti. This antiquated museum chronicles the history of Cuba and the city of Cienfuegos.
If you’re not fluent in Spanish, spare yourself the trouble of visiting the Museo Provincial: you won’t understand a thing!
Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral
You’ll find the cathedral in the north-east corner of Parque Martí. This neo-classical monument was built in the second half of the 18th century and is mostly known for its French stained glass. Don’t miss the Chinese lettering on the columns of the cathedral: it’s quite an odd and peculiar sight in Cuba!
Paseo del Prado, Malecón & Punta Gorda
Paseo del Prado is a long avenue running from Río El Inglés to Punta Gorda and lined with lovely neoclassical houses.
South of the city centre, Paseo del Prado becomes the Malecón, running along the bay. It is a meeting point where cienfuegueños gather to discuss or listen to music, drink in hand.
Farther on, the Malecón reaches Punta Gorda, a lovely neighbourhood where you’ll find the nicest houses in Cienfuegos (some truly look like palaces).
The bay of Cienfuegos could be absolutely gorgeous, but it is unfortunately covered in litter…
Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua
Located at the entrance to the bay, Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua (3 CUC) is a fortress built in the 18th century to protect the bay from pirates.
It looks just like a medieval building and therefore contrasts with the architectural style of the rest of the city. From the fortress, the view on the bay of Cienfuegos is quite beautiful.
Two ferries leave Cienfuegos for the Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua daily, at 8am and 1pm. Tickets cost 1 CUC. You’ll reach the fortress in 40 minutes or so.
Excursions around Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos Botanical Garden
Exotic plants lovers will fall in love with Cienfuegos Botanical Garden (2.5 CUC). Located 10 miles from the city, the garden counts a total of over 2000 varieties of plants including a plethora of bamboo, cacti, fig and palm trees.
Unfortunately, no public transport serves Cienfuegos Botanical Garden. If you want to go, you can book an excursion at the Cubanacan office in the centre of the city (10 CUC per person) or take a taxi (you’ll find lots of them near Parque Martí).
Located 11 miles south of Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna is a small, unpretentious seaside resort. It might not the most beautiful beach in Cuba, but the coral reef is really close to the shore.
A diving center onsite offers excursions to discover the coral reef and sunken ships hidden at the bottom of the sea.
The Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is quite close to Cienfuegos and that’s actually one of the good reasons why you should include the city in your itinerary.
As far as we’re concerned, we found Playa Larga quite disappointing (it was really crowded and manky), but the museum in Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz and the Cueva de los Peces are definitely worth seeing. If you like diving and/or snorkeling, you should most definitely stop by the Bay of Pigs to explore the coral reefs and observe the countless tropical fish! Playa Larga est selon nous décevante, mais le musée de Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz et la Cueva de los Peces valent sans aucun doute d’y faire une halte. La Baie des Cochons fera le bonheur des amateurs de plongée de snorkeling ! Dégainez vos masque et tuba ! Au menu : récifs coralliens et poissons tropicaux !
If you haven’t rented a car, you can book an excursion at the Cubanacan and Havanatur offices in Cienfuegos. On our end, we chose to take a private cab (60 CUC for the day).
Boca des Guama
Boca de Guama is a tourist complex located north of the Bay of Pigs. Some excursions make a stop there after exploring Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz, etc.
If you decide to rent a private taxi to visit the Bay of Pigs, do not hesitate to ask for a stop to Boca de Guama.
What is there to see onsite? Lagoon, mangrove and crocodiles!
El Nicho is a natural park where you’ll discover several breathtaking waterfalls and natural pools. This is one of favourites in Cuba and we can only recommend that you stop there! Be warned: the water is quite cold (18°C)! But El Nicho is an absolutely gorgeous spot, in the middle of the Sierra del Escambray!
We strongly recommend an excursion which you can book at the Cubanacan office: it starts in Cienfuegos in the morning, stops by El Nicho and then ends in Trinidad (44 CUC, lunch included). If you plan on going to Trinidad after your stop in Cienfuegos, it’s the ideal option to kill two birds with one stone: visit El Nicho and get to Trinidad!
Our recommendations in Cienfuegos
You’ll find Villa Lagarto at the end of Punta Gorda, on the waterfront. It is both a really nice hotel and a delicious restaurant.
The restaurant offers a really generous three-course menu including starter, main course and dessert for 18 CUC. The house’s specialty is char-broiled meat. Service is great and the location is beautiful with a lovely pier.
The hotel is charming as well: hammocks, greenery and bedrooms overlooking the sea.
Find out more : Villa Lagarto
Services in Cienfuegos
Banks & currency exchange agencies:
- Banco de Crédito y Comercio: at the corner of avenida 56 and calle 31
- Cadeca: avenida 56, between calle 33 and calle 35
- Bus station: avenida 58, at the corner calle 49
City information desk / Excursions & tours desk:
- Infotur: calle 37, between avenida 54 and avenida 56
- Cubanacan: at the corner of avenida 54 and calle 29
- Etecsa: calle 31, between avenida 54 and avenida 56
Cienfuegos in a word
On paper, Cienfuegos is quite perfect, with its priviledged location in a bay and beautiful colonial city centre. But to be quite honest, we thought that the city was lacking warmth and vitality. We were also disappointed with the bay, which could be beautiful but is currently littered with garbage.
That’s the reason why we preferred Trinidad, Havana or Santiago de Cuba to Cienfuegos.
That being said, Cienfuegos is worth visiting and also is an ideal base to explore the surroundings. Don’t miss El Nicho, a favourite of ours!