Cienfuegos is a lovely, yet extremely underrated destination in Cuba. Part of the Province of Cienfuegos and not far from the more popular Trinidad, this small town has a nice historical center that is pleasant to explore, and enjoys a laidback atmosphere.
Yet, what you are likely going to enjoy the most in Cienfuegos is the surroundings. Gorgeous coves and beaches with the most transparent waters; natural pools; lush vegetation. Curious to find out more about this hidden gem of Cuba? Continue reading!
10 Things To See And Do In Cienfuegos, Cuba
Explore the city
Cienfuegos was founded in 1819, right by the sea. Though the vast majority of Cuba is known for the Spanish colonial style architecture, Cienfuegos is truly different, as it has a more French architectural style. It’s so unique that in 2005 the historical center was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
During your walk around Cienfuegos, make sure to pass by Cienfuegos Boulevard, famous for being the longest boulevard in Cuba and for the colorful buildings. José Marti Square is an airy plaza where you can admire plenty of beautiful buildings. You can go to the Arco de los Obreros – the Arch of Workers, literally (pictured above). This was dedicated in 1902 to Cuban Independence.
Other buildings you should take care to notice are the baby blue Palacio Ferrer, which dates back to 1918 and the Palacio del Gubierno – which you can only admire from the outside.
Visit Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral
Cienfuegos Cathedral dates back to 1869. It is located opposite Martí Park. You will definitely be impressed by the French stained-glass windows.
Admire Teatro Tomas Terry
It only costs $2 USD to visit Teatro Tomás Terry so make sure to check it out on the inside too. The auditorium can seat 950 persons. The theater was built between 1887 and 1889 in honor of Venezuelan industrialist Terry, in Italian style. It was declared a National Monument in 1978.
Walk along the Malecon
Each coastal town in Cuba has a Malecon – a waterfront where people can enjoy a walk in the late afternoon, once the heat of the day is replaced by the pleasant marine breeze. Cienfuegos’ Malecon is a good place to spot locals walking and at times even exercising at the end of the day, or on their way to Punta Gorda (more about this below).
Take in the sunset from Punta Gorda
No visit to Cienfuegos is complete without experiencing the sunset from Punta Gorda. This upper-class part of Cienfuegos is packed with gorgeous villas and beautifully kept buildings. It is located at about 3 km from the city center and you can get there by simply walking along the Malecon. If you are too tired to walk, just opt for a bici-taxi.
Once you are in Punta Gorda, pick a rooftop bar for a sunset drink and just enjoy the view.
Go to El Nicho
If you just take a day trip out of Cienfuegos, make it to El Nicho, part of Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes. It’s one of the most beautiful places you will see in this part of the country. There, the Rio Habanilla jumps in a series of waterfalls and forms a set of natural pools with the clearest, coldest waters in the lushes of settings.
There is a trail connecting the various pools, so you can see them all. The pools that are down from the main parking lot are less visited.
Make sure to wear a swimsuit and bring a change of closed and a towel. The water in the pools is freezing cold but you won’t resist the temptation to jump in!
It takes about one hour to drive to El Nicho, and as there is no public transportation you will have to arrange a car from town. The owner of your casa particular can help you with that.
And Cienaga de Zapata
The Cienaga de Zapata hosts some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It’s located in the province of Matanzas but it can be easily accessed from Cienfuegos during a day trip that takes you around the Bay of the Pigs. You will be able to see various kinds of vegetation, birds and reptiles.
There even is a crocodiles nursery (criaderos de cocodriles) that costs $5 USD and that was created in the 1960s with the aim of reintroducing crocodiles in the region. I hardly recommend visiting as I still have doubts regarding its ethics.
Another cool place to visit is the Cueva de los Pesces, a cenote – kind of swimming hole – with the most varied marine life you can imagine.
The best way to explore the Cienaga de Zapata is by car, so you can stop in many places along the way. You will have to arrange a car with your casa particular.
Spend an afternoon at the Botanical Garden
The Botanical Gardens of Cienfuegos are an incredibly relaxing place. This beautifully kept, vast park is home to an incredible variety of plants – the most spectacular are the giant bamboos. You can walk around by yourself or use one of the free guides onsite. Each day at 7:00 am there are birdwatching tours but you have to book in advance.
The Botanical Gardens are at about 17 km east of Cienfuegos. Admission is $2.50 USD and the park is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is no public transportation to get there so you will have to go there by private car.
Dive in the Bahia de Cochinos
You just can’t go to Cienfuegos and not visit the Bahia de Cochinos, the famous Bay of the Pig. This is the place from which the Kennedy Administration memorably failed to invade Cuba in 1961. Other than its historical significance, this is a great place for diving and snorkeling thanks to the nearby coral reef and the incredibly transparent waters.
You won’t really find sandy beaches here – the diente de perro (jagged rocks) is pretty much everywhere so you need shoes to walk around and get to the water.
Bahia de Cochinos can be visited on a day trip from Cienfuegos. The best way to get there is by car – arrange one with your casa particular and make sure to mention you also want to stop at one of the beaches mentioned below.
Go to the beach
There are many beautiful beaches near Cienfuegos. You should check out these ones:
Playa Larga – not a touristy place, it features incredibly clear waters;
Playa Giron – named after French pirate Gilbert Giron, who in the 17th century used to raid the area until he was caught and beheaded. It is a nice sandy beach with easy access to the coral reef;
Playa Los Cocos – on the eastern side of the Bay of the Pigs and also a nice sandy beach.
Caleta Buena – 8 km south of Playa Giron, it is not a beach proper but a tiny rocky cove with the clearest waters, blissfully protected from the currents and a perfect place for snorkeling. It is not free to access, but for a small fee you get a sun-bed, a lunch buffet and drinks throughout the day.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip
Getting a visa for Cuba
All travelers to Cuba need to get a tourist card. Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba.
Where to stay (and eat) in Cienfuegos
In Cienfuegos, I recommend staying at Casa Olga y Eugenio, in Avenida 50 n. 4109, between Calle 41 and 43. Olga and Eugenio are a lovely family, and the atmosphere at the house is relaxed. It’s great value for money and the house it at a stones’ throw from the city center and the bus station. Eugenio also speaks some English.
The best places to eat in Cienfuegos are Las Mamparas, in Calle 37 n. 4004, which is a popular place among the locals and very budget friendlyà, and Restaurante Dona Nora in Calle 37 which counts with a balcony overlooking the Prado.
How to get to Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is well connected to the rest of Cuba via a web of buses.
You can get there directly from Havana – just take the bus that goes to Trinidad; the trip takes around 4.5 hours.
From Trinidad, there are various buses daily and the trip takes around 1.5 hours.
There are also direct buses connecting Vinales to Cienfuegos with Transtur. The trip lasts around 7 hour.
Wherever you are traveling from, make sure to book your bus ticket in advance either online on Viazul website or in person at the bus station. You can also try to do so at any Havana or Cuba tour office in the city.
When to visit Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is best visited during Cuba dry season, between November and April. I went in February and the days were sunny and very pleasant, warm enough during the day to enjoy a day at the beach and swimming in the sea, and much cooler in the evening, when a blanket is needed to have a cozy sleep.
Other useful information
Remember you will need a good travel insurance for your trip.
These are other useful posts to plan your trip:
- The Best Cuba Travel Tips
- The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide
- The 31 Best Beaches In Cuba
- The 7 Best Places To Go Hiking In Cuba
- 10 Fabulous Day Trips From Havana
- A Great Guide To Baracoa
- A Short Guide To Camaguey
- The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 35 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes