Once a French settlement, this Spanish trading center has become a truly modern waterfront city with interesting architecture and a varied slate of activities.
Cienfuegos is an elegant town, now a UNESCO World Heritage center, recognized for its stunning 1800s architecture with an eclectic style mix. Visit this city, known as the Pearl of the South, to see the gleaming white and pastel buildings of the Historic Center against a backdrop of blue sky and bay.
While this area of the island of Cuba was inhabited by indigenous people for centuries and settled by French immigrants with permission from the Spanish governor Don José Cienfuegos. Walk along Boulevard San Fernando and Paseo el Prado to see some of the notable architecture with a French influence.
The pastel yellow Palacio de Valle overlooks Cienfuegos’ beautiful bay. Notice the red dome and green ironwork of this unusual mixed Moorish, Gothic and Baroque structure as you approach. Step inside to see the intricate imported marble, stained glass and mosaics of this building completed in 1917. Have drinks in its restaurant or rooftop bar.
In the Historic Center visit José Martí Park and gaze at the statue of the man who gave his life in support of his dream for Cuban independence. Along the square is the Tomás Terry Theater, another elegant pastel structure with four levels of patron seating inside. Take a tour or see a rehearsal or performance. In earlier days Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso and Anna Pavlova all performed on its stage.
Other interesting city buildings include the pale blue Ferrer Palace with an elegant rooftop veranda; the House of Lions, once the British consulate, guarded by lions at the entrance; and the 18th-century Castle Jagua. About an hour’s drive east of Cienfuegos, swim in the river at the multi-streamed El Nicho waterfall.
Drive 2.5 hours southeast from Havana to reach Cienfuegos or fly into the local Jaime González Airport. Find your way around the city very easily as it is laid out in uniform numbered blocks. Charter a boat to sail on the serene, protected bay or venture out into the Caribbean Sea for offshore diving.