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Our Cienfuegos Travel Guide

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If you’re planning a day trip from Santa Clara, Cienfuegos should be at the top of your list of must-sees in Cuba. Situated about sixty-five kilometres south-east of Santa Clara, this pretty little town is well worth a visit as it offers the whole package: historic Cuban architecture, lots of private restaurants, a Spanish castle and lots of pink flamingos!

Settled mainly by the French, with a hint of Spanish influence, Cienfuegos has a very continental feel, with its wide boulevards lined with beautiful and well-preserved examples of neoclassical architecture. In 2005, the city was inscribed on the World Heritage List as the best example of early 19th century Spanish Enlightenment urban planning.

With some of the most beautiful streets and squares in Cuba, Cienfuegos invites visitors and residents alike to take a slow stroll and see the sights. The plazas are full of families, music and entertainment. It is easy to spend much of your time people-watching and filling your photo stream with gorgeous shots of pretty pastel-coloured colonial buildings. That would be a shame, because there are plenty of other things to do in your all-too-brief time in Cienfuegos. Here are our recommendations for a great day out in the city.

Where to Eat in Cienfuegos

  • Local Paladars: Paladars are local, privately owned restaurants in Cuba, as opposed to the state-run establishments that used to be the only restaurants on the island. The name paladar is associated with Vale Tudo, a very popular Brazilian soap opera broadcast in Cuba in the 1990s, where one of the main characters in the show ran a chain of restaurants called Paladar (Spanish/Portuguese word for palate). The term paladar was taken up in Cuba in the 1990s when the government began to relax regulations and allow citizens to run small independent restaurants. Paladars have become popular places to eat in Cuba, they tend to be family run with owners who are passionate about serving the best food available.
  • Casa Prado Restaurant: Don’t let the less-than-stellar facade put you off trying this place; Casa Prado is one of the most popular paladars in Cienfuegos. The restaurant has two dining options: you can try the BBQ on the roof terrace, accompanied by live Cuban music, or the regular menu in the more formal dining area on the main floor. It was an obvious choice for us to head up to the roof where the cool breeze, great music and grilled food made for a perfect night out in Cuba.
  • D’ Carmelina: Located in one of the most elegant areas of Cienfuagos, D’Carmelina is a popular family-run restaurant in the city. You share a long table with other customers, making this a great place to meet, chat and make new friends.
  • Mon Petit Café: Head to Mon Petit Café for your latte fix or a casual meal, located near the city centre at Calle 41 Avenida 62, Paseo El Prado, Cienfuegos, Cuba, this cute little bistro should be your go-to spot in Cienfuegos for yummy desserts and great tasting coffee.

La Laguna Guanaroca Nature Preserve

Pink Flamingos! The early bird catches the worm, or perhaps the best birdwatching opportunities. The entrance to the reserve opens at 8am, and if you manage to get here by then you will be rewarded with few people, calm waters and lots of flamingos, pelicans and herons. A rowboat and guide will take you on a leisurely trip around the lagoon, where you can get up close and personal with the wildlife. La Laguan Guanaroc is home to a colony of around 2000 flamingos and, at certain times of the year, the Florida manatee.

If you can’t get here early in the morning, buy a ticket to the reserve at the Cubanacan outlet in the Hotel La Union in Cienfuegos, which will put you at the front of the line for the boat ride to the lagoon. The reserve is about 12 kilometres from Cienfuegos and is easily accessible by taxi or local bus.

Castillo de Jagua

Getting to the castle is almost as much fun as being there, and the hour-long ferry ride in one of Cuba’s interestingly preserved boats is rewarded with a leisurely tour of the bay.

Head to the ferry docks in Cienfuegos at Avenue 46 and Calle 25 for the twice-daily trip to the castle. The ferry leaves at 8am and 1pm and a word of warning, the 1pm ferry is packed!

Built in the 1740s by the Spanish to protect Cienfuegos from pirates and enemies of the Spanish crown, this small fort sits at the mouth of the bay and has impressive views of the city. Once you arrive, be sure to ask to lower the drawbridge, which is still in working order, and take a guided tour for a more complete experience.

Stroll Along the Malecon

Stroll along the 8km stretch of the Cienfuegos Bay promenade, the Malecon, where Cubans gather to chat with friends and family, dance and play music. How can you resist the lure of the sea breeze, the beautiful mansions that line the avenue and perhaps the perfect sunset photo?

Jardines de la UNEAC

End your day with a visit to the Jardines de la UNEAC (Union Nacional De Escritores Y Artistas De Cuba) in Cienfuegos for an evening of music and dance. The Union of Cuban Artists promotes art and culture on the island, and in Cienfuegos is located on the west side of Plaza Jose Marti. The organisation offers nightly entertainment in its beautiful garden, where you can truly experience Cuba through its music and its people. Come early to get a good seat, order a mojito and dance the night away, or just sit back, close your eyes and enjoy the music.

El Nicho Falls

If you have more than one day in Cienfuegos, or are doing a combination of Cienfuegos and Trinidad during your stay in Cuba, make a stop at El Nicho Falls, located halfway between the two cities. Leave Cienfuegos early in the morning and spend a few leisurely hours exploring the park before heading to Trinidad or back to Santa Clara in the late afternoon. Get off the beaten track and try hiking the many trails, swimming in the (very) cool waters or caving. Our favourite activity? A picnic lunch on the rocks near the waterfalls. A word of warning, the road to El Nicho is slow and rough, so it would be wise to hire a guide who knows this part of the country.

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