The nickname applied to Cienfuegos could not be more suiting. The “Pearl of the South” is a hidden gem situated amidst a growing tourist culture in Cuba. A quaint city that caters to a diversity of visitors, you can always expect something unique from this fascinating city. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2005 by UNESCO due to its collection of neoclassical architecture and Spanish modern urban planning, Cienfuegos is the most relaxed, unique and intriguing interactive history classroom in the Caribbean.
Situated slightly inland, the city of Cienfuegos and its surrounding province include a variety of landscapes to enjoy. The city itself is located on the Bahia De Jagua, sheltered from the main coastline. However, the white beaches and green water of the Caribbean Sea are very close by and easily accessible, as is the mainland and other connecting cities.
Cienfuegos offers an excellent balance between the relaxed atmosphere of Cuba and the historical traditions the country has to offer. Whether you want to relax on the beaches of the Caribbean Sea, or take in the old sites of the mainland, Cienfuegos is the hidden gem where it all begins. The relatively small yet developed city has a number of accommodation options; from private hotels in the city, to discounted rooming options, to all-inclusive resorts on the ocean, Cienfuegos is open to all budget levels.
The best place to start exploring Cienfuegos is the city itself. Declared historically important by multiple levels of government and international organizations, the city is packed full of history. Spend some time wandering the main streets and learning about the urban planning of the Spanish Enlightenment, the primary reason why the area was declared a World Heritage Site. Labeled as one of the first ‘modern’ cities in Latin America, the historic centre of Cienfuegos is remarkably preserved like no other site in the Caribbean. Take your time exploring this window into the past and appreciating 19th century neoclassical architecture.
During your time in the historical centre of Cienfuegos, do not miss some of the top historical and architectural gems. To get acquainted, start in the Plaza Jose Marti. Sit on a bench and watch the Cuban and touristic world go by surrounded by a planned park with plenty of shade. Once you’ve taken in the Plaza, wander past surrounding buildings and monuments for some fantastic photos of historic architecture. Pick up a local guide book or do some research ahead of time to get acquainted with the important sites as signage and guided tours are not yet very developed.
After some time in the historical centre of Cienfuegos, take a quick trip out to the edges of the city to experience the Palacio de Valle. This absolutely breathtaking building fits with the astonishing scenery surrounding it. Now an upscale restaurant, this once private residence is still seeping with luxury. Whether you stop in for some fresh seafood at the restaurant or would just prefer a refreshing drink on the rooftop patio, this opulent building will make anyone feel like a VIP.
Consider straying a bit further from the city of Cienfuegos to catch a glimpse of one of the oldest structures in the area, Jagua Castle. Whether travelling by ferry or with an excursion tour, this site is very close by but feels like a different world. An excellent example of a Spanish defensive fort from the colonial period, the castle is well worth some of your historical attention. Visiting the site and wandering the surrounding town can easily be done in an afternoon, saving time and energy for your other sightseeing excursions.
After photographing a lot of man-made structures, why not consider heading out to a natural wonder: the El Nicho Waterfalls. Access this site either by taxi from the city or a tour company, depending on your needs and sense of adventure. An absolutely stunning natural site, the waterfall pools are also open for swimming (a rare treat!). Still relatively untouched by modernity, this natural site is pristine with a number of hiking trails in the surrounding forests.
Situated close to the Caribbean Sea, Cienfuegos has a number of white sandy beaches that will greet you after some long days of touring the historic and natural sites. The closest and most popular with locals is Playa Rancho Luna. A short drive from the city of Cienfuegos, this beach is not crowded with too many tourists but still offers a diversity of amenities. A bit of a further drive will get you to El Ingles Beach, an ideal spot for snorkeling to catch a glimpse of the diversity of coral and marine life.
Cienfuegos is the ideal destination for tourists interested in a few history and cultural lessons along with their quiet vacation paradise. With such a unique display of urban planning and 19th century architecture, Cienfuegos is a window into an idealized vision for developing cities that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In this interactive history classroom, you can put yourself in a bygone era while enjoying every comfort of a Caribbean destination and the relaxed Cienfuegos atmosphere.