Cienfuegos is considered one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Cuba and has been featured in tourist guides and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
To be candid, Captain Ulysses preferred Trinidad and Havana, but would still recommend including Cienfuegos in your itinerary as it is a pleasant stop and an ideal base for exploring the surrounding areas.
👉 Cienfuegos in a nutshell
👉 A brief history of Cienfuegos
👉 Weather in Cienfuegos
👉 Getting to Cienfuegos
👉 Top tourist attractions in Cienfuegos
👉 Excursions around Cienfuegos
👉 The Captain’s recommendations in Cienfuegos
👉 Practical information
💡 Planning Your Trip to Cuba 💡
🇨🇺 Visa: Before you depart, be sure to apply for your tourist card (which is your visa for Cuba). You can easily order your tourist card online through CubaVisa.
🛏️ Accommodations: To book your accommodations in Cuba, the Captain recommends Expedia. In Cienfuegos, the Captain especially recommends 4 casas particulares/B&Bs with very good value for money (Hostal La Escala, Casa Bella Epoca, Casa Buenavista, Hotel Palacio Barón Balbín).
📸 Activities: Horseback-riding, hiking, day trips… there’s plenty to do in Cuba. To book your activities, the Captain highly recommends Civitatis.
Cienfuegos in a nutshell
Cienfuegos is located in the Province of Cienfuegos, 228 km southeast of Havana. It is one of the newest major cities in Cuba, but its privileged location in the Bay of Jagua and its historic city center have earned it the nickname “Pearl of the South.” Despite being a flagship of Cuban industry, with refineries and factories on the outskirts, the colonial architecture of the historic center remains impressive.
Brief history of Cienfuegos
The city was founded in 1819 by French and Louisiana immigrants, and its French roots are still evident in its 19th-century colonial architecture. This architecture heavily inspired by French architecture earned Cienfuegos a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. Although the city shares its name with a famous revolutionary, Camillo Cienfuegos, it is actually named after José Cienfuegos, Governor-General of Cuba in the 19th century.
Weather in Cienfuegos
Weather in Cienfuegos is determined by two distinct seasons that affect the rest of Cuba as well: the dry season from late November to late April, and the rainy season from May to November.
During the dry season, temperatures are typically mild, while during the rainy season, they tend to be higher. Precipitation is low during the dry season and brief showers are more common during the rainy season.
However, the amount of sunshine remains relatively constant at around 8-9 hours per day.
Getting to Cienfuegos
Getting to Cienfuegos from Havana is quite easy. You can take a bus or shared taxi, with the journey taking approximately 4 to 4.5 hours.
Additionally, Cienfuegos has a small airport with limited service, but it does have flights from Havana, Montreal, and Toronto.
💡 Fun Fact 💡
if you happen to see a sign featuring Hugo Chavez against a backdrop of refineries while entering Cienfuegos, don’t be surprised. The sign used to be a symbol of the friendship between Cuba and Venezuela, but it’s unclear if it still stands today due to the cooling of relations between the two countries. Let the Captain know in the comments if you have any updates!
What are the top attractions in Cienfuegos?
If you don’t mind walking a little, you can easily explore the city on foot. However, if you prefer not to walk all the way to Punta Gorda, you can always take a taxi or a coco-taxi.
José Martí Park
One of the key attractions in Cienfuegos is José Martí Park, a large colonial square in the heart of the city named after the famous Cuban independence fighter. While there’s a gazebo in the center and plenty of benches for relaxing, the square not quite as lively as the bustling Plaza Mayor in Trinidad or the Plaza de Armas in Havana.
That being said, José Martí Park is a true gem of colonial architecture!
Tomás Terry Theatre
Tomás Terry Theatre is situated in the heart of Parque José Martí and boasts an exquisite colonial-style architecture, which draws inspiration from Italian theaters. While you do have the option to pay a fee of 2 CUC to take a tour of the interior, Captain Ulysses doesn’t believe it’s worth it as you can easily see everything in just 5 minutes.
The Provincial Museum, which is also located in Parque José Martí, is a charming museum that showcases the history of Cuba and Cienfuegos. It charges an admission fee of 2 CUC. However, if you don’t have a fluent command of Spanish, you may want to consider skipping this visit as the language barrier might make it challenging to comprehend.
Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral
The Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral stands on the northeast corner of Parque Martí. This 18th-century cathedral boasts a neoclassical architecture and is particularly famous for its stunning French stained-glass windows. Don’t forget to take a look at the columns, which have Chinese characters inscribed on them – it’s quite an uncommon sight!
Paseo del Prado, Malecón & Punta Gorda
Paseo del Prado is a long avenue that extends from Río El Inglés to Punta Gorda, showcasing numerous stunning neoclassical houses.
As you move towards the south, the avenue transforms into Malecón, which runs parallel to the waterfront. In the evenings, the locals gather here to socialize, sip on beer, and groove to some music while perched on the seawall. It gets quite crowded during this time.
Malecón eventually leads to Punta Gorda, a charming neighborhood that features some of the most impressive houses in Cienfuegos – they’re like little palaces!
Cienfuegos Bay has the potential to be breathtakingly beautiful, but regrettably, it’s poorly maintained and littered with trash.
Fortress of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua
Built in the 18th century to safeguard the bay from pirate attacks, the Fortress of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua (3 CUC) is positioned at the mouth of the bay.
Its medieval design stands out from the architectural style of the rest of the city, and visitors can savor a lovely view of the Cienfuegos bay from the fortress.
To reach there, tourists can board one of the two ferries that operate daily from Cienfuegos at 8 am and 1 pm. The fare for a 40-minute ride is 1 CUC.
Excursions from Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos Botanical Garden
Situated 17 km away from the city, the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden (2.5 CUC) is a dream destination for anyone who loves exotic plants! It showcases more than 2,000 distinct plant species, such as bamboo, cactus, fig trees, and palm trees.
Sadly, there is no public transportation available to the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden. Tourists can either sign up for a garden excursion through the Cubanacan agency located in the heart of Cienfuegos (for 10 CUC) or hail a taxi driver (who can be found near Parque Martí) to get there.
Rancho Luna, a cozy and unassuming beachfront destination, can be found 18 km south of Cienfuegos. While it may not be the most picturesque beach in Cuba, it has a nearby coral reef that’s worth checking out. A diving center is available that organizes excursions for exploring the coral reefs and shipwrecks that dot the ocean floor.
Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is conveniently accessible from Cienfuegos and is, in fact, one of the top reasons to make a stop in the city.
Despite Playa Larga being underwhelming, the Playa Giron Museum, Punta Perdiz, and Cueva de los Peces are definitely worth exploring. The Bay of Pigs is an ideal destination for snorkeling enthusiasts, as you can discover coral reefs and tropical fish.
Tourists who haven’t rented a car can book an excursion at the Cubanacan and Havanatur agencies situated in the heart of Cienfuegos, or they can take a private taxi (which costs 60 CUC for the day).
Boca de Guama
Boca de Guama is a popular tourist spot situated north of the Bay of Pigs. Some excursions make a stop there after exploring Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz, and other nearby attractions. Tourists can request their private taxi driver to make a detour to Boca de Guama.
The activities offered at Boca de Guama encompass a lagoon, mangrove forest, and a crocodile farm!
El Nicho is a stunning natural park that boasts mesmerizing waterfalls and natural pools. It’s one of our absolute favorite destinations in Cuba, and we strongly urge visitors to include it on their itinerary! While the water may be chilly at 18°C, the surroundings, nestled in the heart of the Sierra del Escambray, are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The Captain’s recommendations in Cienfuegos
Towards the end of Punta Gorda, adjacent to the waterfront, lies Villa Lagarto restaurant – an exceptional spot for a wholesome meal. A typical three-course meal comprising an appetizer, main dish, and dessert will set you back by approximately 18 CUC. Villa Lagarto is particularly famous for its charcoal-grilled meats. The service is amicable, and the ambiance is magnificent, with a pier that overlooks the sea (you can even take a dip there)!
Villa Lagarto doubles up as a hotel and is a fantastic choice for those not on a tight budget. The rooms are adorned with hammocks outside, offer stunning sea views, and are surrounded by lush greenery.
Captain Ulysses also recommends the following casas particulares and hotels:
- the most affordable: Hostal La Escala
- the best value for money: Casa Bella Epoca
- the most exclusive/luxurious: Casa Buenavista | Hotel Palacio Barón Balbín
Banks & currency exchange:
- Banco de Crédito y Comercio: at the corner of avenida 56 and calle 31
- Cadeca: avenida 56, between calles 33 and 35
- Bus station: avenida 58, at the corner of calle 49
Travel agencies / excursions:
- Infotur: calle 37, between avenidas 54 and 56
- Cubanacan: at the corner of avenida 54 and calle 29
- Etecsa: calle 31, between avenidas 54 and 56
On paper, Cienfuegos has all the makings of a great destination: a prime location in a bay and a beautiful colonial city center. However, in reality, the Captain found the city lacked vitality and excitement. It’s also a shame that the bay isn’t better maintained!
That’s why he preferred Havana, Trinidad, or Camagüey.
Nonetheless, Cienfuegos is a great starting point for exploring the area and is an almost essential stop on any Cuba trip. Most importantly, don’t miss El Nicho, one of the Captain’s favorite spots in Cuba!