How to get there
If you are planning your trip through Cuba and you are certain that you want to see Playa Larga and Trinidad, a two day stop in Cienfuegos , which is between these two cities, is definitely a great idea. There is a very comfortable Viazul bus connection from Playa Larga to Cienfuegos. However, if you ask for this connection in advance tourist offices in Havana, you may often hear the answer that Viazul busses do not stop in Playa Larga, only in Playa Giron. Well, this is not true, the most reliable information about any Viazul connections you can get at the Viazul bus stations and there you can buy your tickets in advance.
In Playa Larga there is no bus station, instead there is a bus parking place, where all the tourists are sitting on their backpacks and waiting for a bus to come. If you decide to use a bus from Playa Larga to Cienfuegos, remember to get to the bus stop much earlier. Our bus left 20 minutes before its official departure time!
The most convenient way to get from your casa to the bus parking is to take a bicitaxi; for our we paid around 1-2CUC.
What to do in Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is the architectural pearl of Cuba, that in 2005 landed on the UNESCO list. The city is called Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South) and Cuban Paris. Although usually we are not big fans of looking for “Paris” or other equivalents around the globe, in this case it was worth it. The city was founded in 1819 by a French immigrant from Louisiana, who wanted to increase the population of whites in Cuba. And that is the reason why around 40 families from New Orleans, Philadelphia, and France decided to establish the settlement. I must admit that I find the initial reason for founding Cienfuegos at least ridiculous, if not offensive. Still I’m really grateful for this colonial architectural gem in the middle of Cuba.
Cienfuegos with its colonial city center, 20th century palaces, and eclectic architecture is one of a kind place in Cuba. However, many tourists decide to skip Cienfuegos and head straight to Trinidad. But the truth is, Cienfuegos and Trinidad are totally different, and you can’t really compare them. So if you have two days to spare, be sure you stay in Cienfuegos. We booked 2 nights in a local hostel called Gardenia Blanca (great location, nice staff, poor and overpriced breakfast) and started our sightseeing with an evening walk.
We started our sightseeing in the city center. It was a perfect choice. We took Avenida 54, which at some point becomes a boulevard, and headed to Parque Jose Martí. Most of the buildings in the center of Cienfuegos are renovated, but even those which are not, look simply amazing.
Parque Jose Martí and the City Center
This park is the heart of Cienfuegos. It is surrounded by the Catedral de la Purísima, Teatro Tomás Terry, Casa de la Cultura Benjamin Duarte, Palacio de Gobierno, Casa del Fundador, and Colegio San Lorenzo. All of those buildings have an interesting history and are worth seeing. The best part is: they are all so close to each other that you don’t have to run around the city for sightseeing. You can simply stand in the middle of the park and you have a panorama of the most notable buildings in Cienfuegos 🙂
We make a stop at Parque Jose Martí. After few minutes we see how Zosia is chasing pigeons and playing with local kids, and we know, that today we are simply staying here. I sit and talk with Cuban mothers. Despite my poor Spanish, I have longer conversations with these mothers than with ones I meet almost every day on Munich playgrounds (some of them do not even answer “hello” ). It is a perfect spot to enjoy the Cuban life: kids are playing, people are sitting and talking, and some are Skyping on their mobiles, as this is as well the Wi-Fi place in Cienfuegos.
After a while we take some random street and go to the bay. We pass by souvenir stalls, families sitting in front of their houses, resting, talking, smiling… In Cuba it is really easy to feel like at home. As soon as you decide to visit places on your own, you become a part of the local society. You stop from time to time, talk to people. Even if your Spanish is very poor, you’ll be always able to have some chit-chat on your way. It is so refreshing!
The sun is slowly going down. It can’t be more perfect. The beautiful Bahia de Cienfuegos, the red sun, Cuban life music played in a local bar, and people dancing. A stereotypical Caribbean scene. Well, that’s the thing about Cuba: whatever you’ve seen on the postcards, you’ll see in reality.
After the breakfast we decide to pack and get to Punta Gorda. It takes a while to walk there from the city center but it is definitely worth it. Of course you can take a taxi or a bicitaxi, but our tip would be: take a walk there and on your way back pick a bicitaxi.
Paseo del Prado
It’s one of the longest boulevard streets in Cuba. On the way you will pass beautiful neoclassical buildings and have a chance to observe a daily life of the city.
At some point Paseo del Prado becomes the Malecón, which leads you directly to Punta Gorda and Palacio de Valle. The Malecón is not such a busy street as the one in Havana, so it is really nice to walk here and admire one of the world’s finest natural bays. For this walk we took our baby stroller. There were only two times during our whole Cuba trip that we were able to use our stroller: during the first and the second day in Cienfuegos 🙂 In every other city, you could literally put your stroller into the trash. Cuban streets are amazing but definitely not designed for baby strollers.
Punta Gorda was designed as an upper-class neighborhood in Cienfuegos. Here you can admire Palacio Azul and Palacio de Valle. Palacio Azul, built in the 1920s, is an example of the eclectic style. Its characteristic blue color makes it easy to notice. The palace is located close to the Cienfuegos Yacht Club.
But Palacio Azul is only a starter, our main course is Palacio de Valle. The first thing that will probably come to your mind when you see Palacio de Valle will be the Arabian Nights. The palace looks like a richly ornamented Moroccan palace – Kasbah. It is really an amazing building and a must-see attraction in Cienfuegos. There is a fancy restaurant with a terrace bar inside. And, wait for it…., it has BLACK TEA!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, black tea! If you think that rum and cigars are luxurious products, you are wrong. You can get them in Cuba everywhere, but try to get a black tea in Cuba and you will realize why I’m getting so ecstatic about it 😉
From Palacio de Valle continue your walk to C35 street and it will lead you to Centro Recreativo la Punta. It is another place where locals come to chill, watch the sunset or simply rest.
Look for local festivals! We had an amazing luck to be in Cienfuegos during the international theater festival. And on this particular day there was a parade with artists, musicians, and locals that went through the city center. An amazing experience! Everyone was joining, so did we 🙂
If you are staying in the area longer, there are a few more places worth visiting:
- Palmira: famous for Santeria brotherhoods;
- Laguna Guanaroca: where you can spot pink flamingos and pelicans;
- Rancho Luna: beach + diving;
- El Nicho: one of the most famous Cuban waterfalls.
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