Cienfuegos

Dubbed La perla del sur (The pearl of the south), Cienfuegos boasts a certain chic elegance – perhaps unsurprising as it was settled by French immigrants in the 19th century. Nestling around a spectacular bay, this colonial gem was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 for its well-preserved historic centre and classical buildings.

Highlights

Most of the main sights are found around the central Parque Jose Martí. The park itself is a National Monument and Cienfuegos' historic heart.

The Teatro Tomás Terry was built between 1887 and 1889 in a French-Italian style, including gold-leafed mosaics on its façade. It once hosted acclaimed performers such as Enrico Caruso and Anna Pavlova and if you think it looks grand from the outside just wait until you step inside. Its 950-seat auditorium is decorated with Carrara marble, ceiling frescoes and hand-carved hardwoods.

Also nearby is the Arco de Triunfo, the only “arch of triumph” in Cuba, and the Antiguo Ayuntamiento (Old Town Hall), modelled after Havana's Capitolio and now housing the provincial assembly.

Palacio Ferrer was built by sugar baron Jose Ferrer Sires in the early 1900s in Catalan modernist style. Climb the dome-tower for great views over the square and the city beyond.

The stunning Catedral de la Purísima Concepción (Cathedral of Immaculate Conception) was built between 1833 and 1869 and features a neoclassical façade, two bell towers of differing heights and exquisite French stained-glass windows.

The Malecon running along the seafront offers sublime views. Just like Havana’s longer version, the seawall comes alive at night with romancing couples and impromptu troubadours.

On the other side of the bay stands Castillo de Jagua, a fortress that predates the founding of Cienfuegos by almost a century.

For a dip in the sea, try Playa Rancho Luna, 18 km from the city centre. Popular with locals, its white sands are gently lapped by crystalline turquoise waters and the thriving coral and shipwrecks make for great snorkeling and diving.

At a glance

  • Paseo del Prado is Cuba's longest street. It runs for 2 km from the Inglés river to Punta Gorda.

  • Where Avenida 54 meets Paseo del Prado you'll find a statue of Benny Moré, the charismatic Cuban singer and composer who popularised mambo, guaracha, bolero and son montuno. Listen to his infectious songs, particularly the one he dedicated to his hometown, aptly named “Cienfuegos”.

Need to know

Cienfuegos is around 250 km from Havana. Few organised tours stop here overnight, but you can stop for lunch en route to Trinidad. It’s an easy-going sort of place and not particularly known for its nightlife, so don’t expect raucous nightclubs and steamy salsa venues – with the notable exception of the Benny Moré nightclub which is lively enough.

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