Featured in tourist guides (and listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2005), Cienfuegos is considered one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Cuba! On our side, we preferred Trinidad and Havana.
But Cienfuegos is still a nice stopover that is worth including in your itinerary! It is also an ideal base to discover the surroundings of the city!
Cienfuegos in a few words
Located in the Province of Cienfuegos, 228 km southeast of Havana, Cienfuegos is one of the most recent large cities of Cuba.
Its privileged location in the Bay of Jagua and its historical city center have earned it the nickname of “Pearl of the South”.
But Cienfuegos is also a flagship of Cuban industry.
The outskirts of the city, where refineries and factories follow one another and look the same, are in stark contrast with the colonial architecture of the historical center.
History of Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by immigrants from France and Louisiana.
The city is still very attached to its French roots.
Its 19th century colonial architecture, very much inspired by French architecture, earned it a place on the Unesco World Heritage List in 2005.
If the city now bears the same name as a famous revolutionary, Camillo Cienfuegos, don’t be mistaken! It is in fact in honor of José Cienfuegos, governor general of Cuba, that it was named in the 19th century.
How to Get to Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is very easily accessible from Havana.
Buses (20 CUC) and collective cabs make the trip daily.
Allow 4 to 4.5 hours driving time.
The city also has a (very) small airport served by flights from Havana, Montreal and Toronto.
For more information, you can visit the website of the Cubana airline.
The airport is located 5 to 10 minutes from the center of the city.
Allow 5 CUC for the cab ride.
Things to do in Cienfuegos ?
The Parque José Martí
The Parque José Martí, which takes its name from the famous Cuban independence fighter, is a large colonial square located in the heart of Cienfuegos.
If a kiosk in the center of the square and many benches invite you to relax, we found this square a bit empty… We are far from the bustle of the Plaza mayor in Trinidad or the Plaza de armas in Havana.
It’s a pity, because the Parque José Martí is a real little jewel of colonial architecture!
Tomás Terry Theater
The Tomás Terry Theater is a beautiful colonial building located on the Parque José Martí, in the center of Cienfuegos.
It is possible to visit the interior, very inspired by the Italian theaters.
Count 2 CUC for the visit… an amount not really justified according to us.
You will make the tour of the theater in 5 minutes top chrono.
The Provincial Museum is also located in Parque José Martí (2 CUC per entry).
As old as it gets, it tells the history of Cuba and of the city of Cienfuegos.
If you don’t speak fluent Spanish, save yourself this visit, which you won’t understand much of!
The Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción
The cathedral stands at the northeast corner of Parque Martí.
Built in the second half of the 18th century in a neoclassical style, the cathedral is best known for its French stained glass windows.
Don’t miss the Chinese characters inscribed on the columns: improbable!
Paseo del Prado, Malecón & Punta Gorda
The Paseo del Prado is a long avenue running from Río El Inglés to Punta Gorda, lined with beautiful neoclassical houses.
To the south, the avenue becomes the Malecón and runs along the waterfront.
This is where the inhabitants of Cienfuegos meet in the evening to chat over a beer and listen to music, sitting on the low wall along the sea.
The Malecón is then covered with people.
The Malecón then leads to Punta Gorda, a very pretty neighborhood where you will find the most beautiful houses of Cienfuegos, real small palaces.
The bay of Cienfuegos could be absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately it is very little maintained and littered with garbage…
Fortress of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua
Built in the XVIIIth century to protect the bay from pirates, the Fortress of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua (3 CUC) is located at the entrance to the bay.
With its medieval look, it contrasts with the architectural style of the rest of the city.
From the fortress, you will have a nice view of the bay of Cienfuegos.
To get there, you can take one of the two ferries that run daily from Cienfuegos at 8am and 1pm.
Count 1 CUC for a 40 minute trip.
Excursions from Cienfuegos
Botanical garden of Cienfuegos
Located 17 km from the city, the botanical garden of Cienfuegos (2,5 CUC) will delight the amateurs of exotic plants! There are more than 2,000 different varieties of plants, including a plethora of bamboos, cacti, fig trees and palms.
Unfortunately, the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden is not served by public transportation.
To get there, contact the Cubanacan agency in the center of Cienfuegos (they offer a trip to the garden for 10 CUC) or ask for a cab (you will find them without any problem near the Parque Martí)
Located 18 km south of Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna is a small and unpretentious seaside resort.
It is not the most beautiful beach in Cuba, but the coral reef is close by.
A diving center offers trips to discover the coral reefs and wrecks that litter the sea floor.
The Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs is very easily accessible from Cienfuegos and is one of the very good reasons to make a stop in the city.
Playa Larga is in our opinion disappointing, but the Playa Giron museum, Punta Perdiz and the Cueva de los Peces are definitely worth a stop.
The Bay of Pigs will make the happiness of snorkeling lovers! Get your mask and snorkel! On the menu: coral reefs and tropical fish! If you have not rented a car, you can book an excursion at the Cubanacan and Havanatur agencies in the center of Cienfuegos.
It is also possible to take a private cab (60 CUC per day).
Boca de Guama
Boca de Guama is a tourist complex located in the north of the Bay of Pigs.
Some excursions stop there after exploring Playa Giron, Punta Perdiz and others.
If you decide to hire a private cab to visit the Bay of Pigs, don’t hesitate to ask him to make a detour to Boca de Guama.
On the program: lagoon, mangrove and crocodiles!
El Nicho is a natural park with a set of magnificent waterfalls and natural pools.
This is one of our very (very) favorite places in Cuba and we can only advise you to stop there!
The water is at 18°C (yes it’s cold!) but the setting in the middle of Sierra del Escambray is breathtaking! The Cubanacan agency proposes an excursion from Cienfuegos to Trinidad that stops at El Nicho.
Count 44 CUC, lunch included.
Our good addresses in Cienfuegos
If you go to the very end of Punta Gorda, on the seafront, you will find the restaurant Villa Lagarto.
It is a good address which proposes a very copious menu.
Count 18 CUC for the menu starter, main course and dessert.
The speciality of the house is the meats cooked on charcoal.
The service is very nice and the setting is magnificent: a pontoon overlooks the sea (you can even swim)!
Hotel Villa Lagarto
Villa Lagarto is also a hotel, which is a very good address if your budget is not too tight: hammocks in front of the rooms, view on the sea and a lot of greenery.
Bank & exchange offices:
- 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
- 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
In Summary, does it worth to visit Cienfuegos?
On paper, Cienfuegos has everything to please: a privileged location nestled in a bay and a beautiful colonial city center.
But in reality, we found the city lacking in life and animation.
It’s also a real pity that the bay is so poorly maintained! That’s why we prefer Havana, Trinidad or Camagüey.
Cienfuegos is a very good starting point to explore the surroundings.
Don’t miss El Nicho, a big favorite!