Discovering Cienfuegos in one day is mandatory during your trip to Cuba. The main reason were that the neoclassical buildings of the so-called Pearl of the South, which were awarded with the title of Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It is a very common stopover traveling on the way to Trinidad, as Cienfuegos is only 1 hour and a half from this popular city. However, although a day trip is enough to visit it, we decided to stay one night.
Apart from the urban center, where most of the tourist attractions are concentrated, what we liked most about Cienfuegos was the sunrise and sunset from its Malecón (boardwalk), that has little or nothing to envy that of Havana.
So if you like good twilight photographs, we strongly recommend that you book a night to spend in Cienfuegos and enjoy these moments of warmer lights.
things TO do IN CIENFUEGOS IN ONE DAY
Cienfuegos can be visited perfectly in a day. Most places of the tourist interest are centered on the José Martín Park. However, the area that we liked the most was Punta Gorda. This is reached through the entire Paseo del Prado until it has become the Malecón of Cienfuegos. From here you can enjoy the sunrise/sunset which make worth staying at least one night in the city.
JOSÉ MARTÍ park
Surrounding the José Martí Park are the most emblematic buildings of the city. It is so to speak the heart of Cienfuegos. Most of the commerces are located bordering the park itself.
This eclectic style building from the late 19th century is the jewel of the park. The Ferrer Palace, located at the José Martí, takes away the prominence of any other building. Its intense blue color, which we will also see in other buildings in the city, hides that it is in a long process of restoration.
However, when we went up to the first floor we discovered that there are workers repairing the defects that the long time has caused; replacing the marbles and putting the finishes. The palace is a gem even half done.
The size of the rooms and decoration details reveal the purchasing power of the former owners.
When we look out on the balconies we see another view of José Martí Park and its Arc de Triomf. The monument was built voluntarily by the workers of the city to celebrate the independence of Cuba.
However, what stands out most from the palace is its lookout tower from which you can see all over Cienfuegos. The Catalan merchant who built this tower intended to control the entry of ships and goods to the port. And it is true, from here you can see absolutely all Cienfuegos.
And yes, you should abstain from climbing it if you have vertigo because if you are of my height when you reach the last step you will have more body above the viewpoint than below.
PROVINCIAL HOUSE OF THE CULTURE BENJAMIN DUARTE
Perhaps what surprised us most about Palacio Ferrer is the use of its lower floor as the Provincial House of Culture. This space has been reserved so that local artists can show their most carefree works, as well as to rehearse plays, dancing performances, ecc.
The decoration has nothing to do with the first floor. Here, it shines more by the lack of it. Clear and vivid colors were randomly distributed on the walls that flaked at times. There were lilac, yellow, and green rooms. A good canvas for a photoshoot playing with the lights of the windows while the hip hop sneaks in the next room, where a group was rehearsing a choreography.
Catedral de la Purísima Concepción
At the other end of the park is the Catedral de la Purísima Concepción in a neoclassical style. Cienfuegos had not been inhabited before the colonization. However, when the Spaniards arrived they decided to establish a city there since the bay of Cienfuegos was ideal to build a port. With the foundation of Cienfuegos, the first mass was celebrated in the same land that today occupies the cathedral.
Two other buildings that will not go unnoticed during your visit to the José Martí Park are the Government Palace and the Tomás Terry Theater; arranged one in front of the other.
paseo de PRADO
The Paso de Prado is the main artery of the city. If you explore Cienfuegos in one day it gives you time to walk at least a large part of it. Although the tourist attractions are few here, this is where you find the essence of Cienfuegos. With its two kilometers in length, it is the largest promenade in Cuba. And just as Cuba itself, the Walk of Cienfuegos is also a permanent contrast between decadence and splendor.
I encourage you to go as far as possible and discover for yourself the colourful colonial houses of the highest level, close to buildings in ruins.
The avenue of Paseo del Prado cuts Cienfuegos from North to South. In the middle of the avenue, there is a pedestrian crossing with palm trees and very nice benches where you can sit and relax.
However, do not stay alone in the central part of the walk. At the sides, you can find unique places like the shake house. In this place, you can take a fruit shake very cheap since it is paid in CUP. I was surprised by the place since you see how they make the shakes based on a paste, we assume it is made from fruit and water.
In addition, if you didn’t try a Coppelia ice cream in Havana, on the Paseo de Prado in Cienfuegos you will have a second opportunity to try one.
In the most southern part, the Paseo del Prado momentarily becomes the Cienfuegos Malecón. From here we will find a Cuba that you have not imagined. With mansions of intermingled styles that make Cienfuegos the most eclectic city in Cuba. This is the end of Cienfuegos, Punta Gorda, as gross as the wallet of the historic owners of these homes.
The best part of discovering Cienfuegos in one day is to walk along its boardwalk. The Cienfuegos Malecón does not overlook the sea but to the Bay of Jagua. Its calm waters are navigable by those ships that cross the narrow channel that connects the Caribbean Sea.
The best time to visit is during sunset. When the heat stops to clench, the Cubans come to enjoy life on the boardwalk. This is the best time to approach and talk about any topic with the locals.
If you are lucky you will also see children boxing at sunset since it is one of the national sports.
While the coach prepares one of his students, the others keep training. Some with the rope and others running along the boardwalk, which begins to dye.
When the seawall ends, walk to the West Coast and we promise the dreamy sunsets. Just at the moment when the sun crosses the horizon, you have the best shots.
Unlike the Malecon in Havana, the one in Cienfuegos is much more painstaking. The decoration of palm trees will be the icing on the compositions of your captures.
And this was just the first of many sunsets that Dani and I saw on our visit to the island. We were in paradise.
Palacio de valle AND OTHER MANSIONS OF PUNTA GORDA
However, even if the sun goes down, Punta Gorda does not stop shining thanks to its super luxury mansions where you will literally be left speechless.
With indefinable styles since they mix all kinds of elements, you will find mansions as striking as the Cienfuegos Club or the Blue Palace.
We entered the Palacio de Valle, which was at the end of the tip and now functions as a restaurant.
We did not have the chance to look at the menu but we understand that the menu would not be cheap. The interior, with all kinds of Moroccan decoration, is not something we could expect to see in Cuba. Although the best, without a doubt, was its upper terrace where they play live music.
Like this palace, there are many others in this area. Most of them are currently hotels or restaurants, so if you have a bigger budget it may be a good idea to stay in one of these mansions. Especially so that next morning it does not take long to get to the Sports Fishing Area.
THE SPORTS FISHING Area
This small bay of Punta Gorda facing east is the best place to take pictures at dawn. With the first rays of light, not only photographers will approach this area, but it is usual to meet Cubans practicing the cebe fishing.
For what we saw this type of fishing consists of dragging a net and picking up the shrimps that remain trapped inside, taking advantage of the shallow depth of the bay in this area.
This dawn marked a before and after in Dani’s photography. What looked like a catastrophe instead was a turning point for him. After a couple of shots and while changing the lens, it fell into the water.
His first camera was already running a little short, so this is the last trip you will see him using his Nikon D3200.
WHERE TO EAT IN CIENFUEGOS
In Cienfuegos, there is no place to eat as exquisite as Doña Nora’s paladar. Its eclectic decor, soft live music, varied dishes and views of the Paseo del Prado make it the ideal place to dine.
We booked a table on the way to Punta Gorda when we went to see the sunset. So, on the way back to the center of Cienfuegos we had dinner there. Despite being in low season the restaurant was quite full. It is highly recommended to book a table; at least if you visit Cienfuegos in high season. Also if you do it on time you can ask to be sit on the terrace and enjoy a perfect romantic dinner by the candlelight.
HOW TO GET TO CIENFUEGOS from havana
As we already said in the complete Guide to planning your trip to Cuba, to make the journey Havana – Cienfuegos we can use different means of transport. The most recommended in this case is the private bus that can be booked at any hotel, regardless of whether you are staying there or not. In this way, you will not have to go to the Viazul station, which is on the outskirts of Havana.
Another option that we rejected was the shared taxi, for the same reason. Shared taxis depart from the Viazul station, so not choosing this option would save us that journey. Also after trying the shared taxi, I will tell you that they are not a good option for long trips. These taxis usually carry three or even four people at the back, which is very uncomfortable.
The worst part of making this trip by bus is that it takes four and a half hours. We made two stops; one of them quite long. Considering this, I think it is the best option, for the price and the convenience. As we discussed in the travel budget, this trip price was 22 CUC per person.
To be used as a reference, the Viazul bus price would be 20 CUC. By shared taxi is 17 CUC.
Do not forget to come back here to tell us about your experience traveling through Cienfuegos in one day.