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Our day in Cienfuegos should actually be called our morning in Cienfuegos! After a night at sea, we arrived around 6 am in Cienfuegos. Unfortunately, in order to reach our next port of call (and arrive back in Miami on time), we only had about 6 hours to explore the city. Before leaving for Cuba, I had scoured the internet for blog posts, articles, and personal advice on what to do in Cienfuegos with such a short amount of time!
As the unofficial tour guide of Cuba for my family, I had a packed six hours planned! We started out by heading from the port into the city center (a massive square called Plaza de Armas). As it was only around 8 am when we left the ship, the city of Cienfuegos was still quite sleepy ;)
One of the many murals that we passed on the way to the city center. This translates to “Forever Revolution.” I should note that I was in Cuba less than a month before Fidel Castro died. I will write a separate post on my tips, hints, and overall observations on Cuba but it was super interesting to talk to the younger population about Fidel Castro and their impressions on the revolution, direction of Cuba, and opening of relations between the US and Cuba. Overall, Cubans were really excited to have these opening relations and embraced us Americans so warmly!
The first stop on our agenda, Palacio Ferrer, was an abandoned palace in the center of the city. It is amazing how intricate and colorful the architecture is both on the exterior and interior. Unfortunately, the palace is entirely in ruins although restorations efforts are in place. The palace was built about 100 years ago although the original family that commissioned the palace barely lived in it before moving to Havana. The views from the palace give a great overview of the entire city center (see the first photo of this post, taken from the top of the palace)!
Seriously, if you love colors, Cuba is the place to come! Everything was so vibrant and alive! In terms of Plaza de Armas, the main city square, don’t miss Teatro Tomas Terry (Thomas Terry Theater), Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral aka Cienfuegos Cathedral), and Palacio de Gobierno. It is stated that the city center of Cienfuegos has the densest population of Neoclassical buildings in all the Caribbean.
While the city center might be your first stop in Cienfuegos, make sure to drive up the long, skinny peninsula of Punta Gorda to view all the old, gorgeous homes (mostly from the early 20th century). There’s a reason why the city is nicknamed “the Pearl of the South.” Actually, as one of the best preserved harbor cities in all the Caribbean, the entire historical city center of Cienfuegos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded by both French and Spanish settlers and is one of the best examples of Spanish Enlightenment in urban planning.
After hiring two vintage cars to drive us around, we stopped at Palacio de Valle, one of the most famous buildings in all of Cienfuegos. Built 100 years ago, the palace was built in a Moorish style, taking influence from its Spanish roots. Originally planned to be a casino, the palace now houses an upscale restaurant. To be honest, my photo doesn’t do Palacio de Valle justice. Here’s a better picture in order to fully comprehend the scale, architecture, and beauty of the palace.
While the city center of Cienfuegos and Punta Gorda are well-maintained and absolutely gorgeous, the streets surrounding these areas are a stark contrast and more representative of reality in Cuba. Everything is in disrepair and poverty is rampant.
After arriving back to Plaza de Armas, we stumbled upon Calle 29 and had enough time to explore it before heading back to our cruise ship. The street had an open market and we took advantage of all the stands! The street runs directly into the old customs house (Aduana) and eventually the water. There were about 4 soldiers outside the customs house so I refrained from taking pictures ;)
We ended our day in Cienfuegos by walking along the water before boarding our cruise ship again. However, that wasn’t the end of all the pictures as I was able to capture some gorgeous views (that last picture is of Punta Gorda!) from the ship. Thanks for a great time Cienfuegos, you were a pearl ;)
I’ve rounded up below all of the places I’ve mentioned throughout this post along with a few other must-see places in Cienfuegos!
+ Plaza de Armas – city center and historical area
+ Parque José Martí – located in Plaza de Armas, this park has a huge statue dedicated to the Spanish-American War hero José Martí
+ Palacio Ferrer
+ Palacio de Gobierno
+ Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción – main cathedral of Cienfuegos
+ Teatro Tomas Terry
+ Aduana – the old customs house and right along the water
+ Palacio de Valle – the Moorish architecture can’t be missed!
+ Punta Gorda – go admire the gorgeous houses overlooking the water
+ Calle 29 – hopefully you can catch the open air market!