Adorned with stunning colonial-era buildings and scenic lagoons, Cienfuegos is often referred to as ‘The Pearl of the South’. This coastal Cuban city has a vibrant Caribbean ambiance. It is also the only place in Cuba that was founded by the French. In fact, you can admire the city’s French heritage while walking along the main streets of the city which are lined with elegant, neoclassical buildings. Cienfuegos is also located at the heart of Cuba’s sugar cane and coffee growing region, and there are plenty of places in the city where you can sip a good cup of Cuban coffee.
Whether you want to spend a few days in Cienfuegos or visit the city on a day trip, there are several must-see attractions besides the famous historic centre. Here are some of the best things to do in Cienfuegos.
1. Visit the Teatro Terry
Teatro Tomás Terry in Parque José Martí is an architectural gem. Named after Venezuelan businessman Tomás Terry, this 19th-century theatre boasts a wealth of architectural and decorative features, including ceiling frescoes, Carrara-marble carvings and a majestic facade with paintings inspired by Byzantine art. The theatre has 950 seats and often hosts concerts and plays. You can join a guided tour of the theatre to learn more about its history and its architectural features.
2. Take a boat trip to Castillo de Jagua
The Jagua Fortress sits across the bay from Cienfuegos and was built by the Spanish conquistadors to protect Cuba’s Caribbean coast from pirate attacks. You can explore the fortress by taking a boat trip from Muelle Real. The ferry trip takes about 40 minutes and you can check out the day’s schedule at the port. The fortress offers panoramic vistas of the bay. From here, you can also spot the unfinished Juragua Nuclear Plant. Works on this nuclear plant started in 1970s but came to halt following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
3. Enjoy a cup of Cuban coffee
Cienfuegos is a great place for coffee lovers. Coffee growing is one of the main agricultural activities in the Cienfuegos province. The beans are harvested in the Escambray Mountains, which stretch across Cuba’s central region. Many coffee farmers use organic methods to plant and harvest the beans. While the majority of locally grown beans are exported, you can still enjoy a good cup of Cuban coffee while you’re in Cienfuegos.
Mon Petit Café has a great selection of coffee drinks, made with locally sourced beans. Another great place for coffee is La Buena Pipa, a colourful coffee shop that also serves as a cultural space for art lovers.
4. Meet the gorgeous flamingos at Laguna Guanaroca
Located about 12km from Cienfuegos, Laguna Guanaroca is home to more than 2,000 pink flamingos. This bird-populated saline lake is the only natural protected area in the Cienfuegos province. Other bird species you may be able to spot here include pelicans, hummingbirds and tocororos: Cuba’s national bird. You can also admire local tree species, including the güira tree, which yields the thick-shelled fruit that is used to make maracas.
You can explore the nature reserve on a kayak tour, where you get to see the mangroves that grow along the laguna and get a closer look at the beautiful flamingos.
5. Visit Cementerio la Reina
While cemeteries do not often feature on people’s travel itineraries, Cementerio la Reina is a place worth visiting. Many of the people buried in this 19th-century cemetery are French immigrants and people from the wealthy families which ran the sugar cane plantations in Cienfuegos. Most of the graves are therefore adorned with exquisite statues and headstones. There are also several graves of Spanish soldiers who died in the Wars of Independence. One of the most beautiful statues in the cemetery is called Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty), which stands on a grave of a young woman who is believed to have died of a broke heart.
There is normally a caretaker at the cemetery who shows visitors around and explains the significance of the statues.
6. Hike to El Nicho Waterfalls
If you want to get out of the city for a few hours, take a trip to El Nicho Waterfalls, which are about an hour’s drive from Cienfuegos. The hike to the waterfalls is easy but the path can be a bit slippery. You can explore the waterfalls on four different levels, starting from a crystal clear natural pool at the base and climbing up to admire the spectacular cascade and the turquoise waters of a larger second pool which is a popular swimming spot among locals and tourists. In fact, if you want to have these natural pools all to yourself, get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds. At the very top of the path you can enjoy staggering views over the Escambray Mountains.
TIP: The road to the waterfalls is very curvy, so if you suffer from travel sickness make sure to take something to soothe your stomach.
7. Dance to Cuban music
End a busy day of sightseeing with some dancing. Patio de ARTex is a great place to experience live Cuban music, including son, trova and salsa. This lively club is located on the promenade of the peninsula area of the city, called Punta Gorda, so you can grab a drink and dance while enjoying the lovely sea breeze coming in from the bay.
Want to spend some days exploring Cienfuegos and its beautiful surroundings? Our tailormade itineraries are customised to suit your interests and we will put together an itinerary in Cuba that you will never forget. Get in touch with us on email@example.com for more information.