Popularly known as the "Pearl of the South", the beautiful seaside town of Cienfuegos is a must-see for anyone looking to venture off the tourist trail. Founded in 1819 by Luis D’Clouet, a French immigrant, the city seduces with its unique blend of French style and Caribbean flair. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos was also the hometown of the world-famous singer, Benny Moré, who immortalised the city in a catchy guaracha of the same name. With its colourful streets, sumptuous architecture and surrounding national parks, there’s a myriad of unique attractions in and around the city - so without further ado, here's 8 things to do on your trip to Cienfuegos (and a playlist for you to listen to on the way)!
Explore the architectural marvel that is the Palacio del Valle
Built between 1913 and 1917, the Palacio del Valle was designed by the Italian architect Alfredo Colli for the millionaire merchant, D. Acisclo del Valle. Today, the palace houses a museum, as well as a fantastic rooftop bar & restaurant specialising in fresh seafood. Climb the spiral staircase to enjoy a 360° view of Cienfuegos and the adjacent glistening sea!
A cornucopia of eclectic styles, the palace combines mudéjar ornamentation, Gothic vestibules, Imperial-style ceilings, and a Louis XVI-inspired music room. Palacio del Valle also boasts three towers - each designed to represent a different theme. The first represents strength, and is inspired by romanesque-gothic architecture. The second recalls the Taj Mahal, and symbolises love. Finally, the third tower, inspired by Arabic architecture, represents religion.
Take the ferry to Castillo de Jagua
Enjoy the singular view of the Cienfuegos bay as you make your way across to Castillo de Jagua, a National Monument. The Jagua Castle forms part of a network of fortresses in the bay of Cienfuegos. These were constructed in the 18th century under the command of King Philip V of Spain, in order to protect the island from pirates. Cross the draw-bridge and enter the castle's recently-renovated museum, where you can learn about the history of pirates, privateers and colonialism in Cuba!
Watch the sun go down at Club Cienfuegos
With its privileged view of Jagua Bay, the terrace of Club Cienfuegos offers a luxurious setting for watching the Caribbean sunset whilst sipping on a refreshing cocktail.
Built in 1920 by the renowned architect, Pablo Donato Carbonnell, Club Cienfuegos opened its doors to the public in 1959, upon the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Since then, the formerly exclusive club has offered an outdoor swimming pool, a beautiful restaurant, and aquatic sporting facilities to all members of the public.
Stroll around and people-watch in Parque Jose Martí
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in itself, the Jose Martí Park was also declared a National Monument in 1978, and constitutes a grandiose symbol of the identity and culture of the province. Originally known as the Plaza de Armas, the square functioned as the central nucleus of the entire province in the early 1800s, when Cienfuegos was a new colony. The square grew in opulence in the 19th century, as the local aristocracy began to erect majestic buildings around the park, such as the Santa Iglesia, the City Hospital, House of the Governor and Town Hall. Stroll around and admire the park's numerous monuments - including a statue of Cuba's patriot and martyr, Jose Martí, and an Arc de Triomphe dedicated to Cienfuegos' labourers.
Tour the Teatro Tomás Terry
Sitting just off Parque Jose Martí, this grandiose Neo-Classical theatre was built in 1887 in honour of Tomás Terry, a successful Venezuelan industrialist. Terry had wished for a luxurious theatre to be built on the island, decorated by renowned artists with the finest of materials. Accordingly, the 950-seat auditorium was decorated with Carrara marble, carved woods, and a splendid ceiling fresco. Join a guided tour for backstage access and learn about the architecture and history of the theatre. Or visit the box office to enjoy a night of Cuban orchestral music at a surprisingly small price!
Visit Cuba's oldest Botanical Gardens
Spanning over 97 hectares, the Jardin Botanico de Cienfuegos was founded in 1901 by Edwin F. Atkins, an American sugar factory owner who sought to produce botanical research on sugar cane. The botanical gardens quickly expanded beyond sugarcane research and went on to grow into a unique collection of exotic plants. Declared a National Monument in 1989, the gardens are accessible via an avenue of Royal Palm Trees, emblematic of the island. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the exquisite garden and its 2000 species of trees, as well as a daily bird-watching excursion.
Hike or horse-ride through the Escambray Mountains
The majestic landscapes of the Escambray have witnessed numerous events throughout Cuban history - from underground plotting for independence in the 19th century, to the guerrilla "fight against bandits"" led by Fidel Castro in the 1950s.
Retrace Cuban history by foot or by horse, admiring the thick and diverse vegetation that envelops the mountain range - including citrus fruit trees, coffee bushes, and sugarcane, as well as cedar, mahogany and pine trees. Look out for wild parrots, tocororos and hummingbirds, as well as wild-pigs and deer!
You can also tour a series of enigmatic caves hidden within the thick forest. Just an hour's drive from Cienfuegos is the legendary Martin Infierno Cave, reaching 65-m above sea-level. The cave is named after a colonial-era slave who escaped a plantation and took shelter here. Not knowing the area, Martin tragically stumbled off a cliff just metres from the cave, falling to his tragic death. Although there is no evidence to substantiate the legend, the cave became a National Monument in 1990 in honour of this oral history.
Dip into the refreshing pool of El Nicho Waterfalls
A wonder of nature, El Nicho is an extensive range of waterfalls in the practically virgin national park of Topes de Collantes. Visitors can tour this paradise enclave, crossing rustic bridges, visiting "lovers dens", and climbing up to soaring viewpoints. Two of the waterfalls spill out into jade-green pools of water, where visitors can jump in for a refreshing swim. Conveniently, El Nicho is just an hour's drive from central Cienfuegos.
Visitors can also trace a stream called El Negro, flanked by wild orchids and diverse ferns along its riverbed. El Negro eventually leads to a 30-metre cliff, where the water falls and smashes against the rocks below, forming whirlpools of foam that give the surrounding area a persistent cloak of mist.
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