Cienfuegos is the only city in Cuba that was founded by the French. As a result, it feels a little different than other Cuban cities, with wider streets. There are two main areas of interest to tourists; Pueblo Nuevo, the city centre; and Punta Gorda, a peninsula with lots of 1950s homes. It's a nice place to visit for a day or two, but after that, you might run out of things to do.
- Trinidad – About 1 hr, just stay by the coast most of the way. Not all turns are signposted.
The two daily Viazul buses between Havana and Trinidad 1 stop at Cienfuegos, as does the daily bus between Varadero, Santa Clara, and Trinidad. This last bus arrives from Varadero heading for Trinidad at noon, and arrives from Trinidad heading for Varadero at 16:00 (it is missing from the Viazul website). Travellers heading east and wishing to catch the 8:00am Viazul bus from Trinidad to Santiago de Cuba can sometimes arrange for an early morning minivan through Viazul. Ask at the bus station.
There are two trains that run from Havana: a very slow daytime train (every second day) that returns the following day, and a somewhat faster late-evening train (every second day) that operates via Matanzas and returns overnight. Trains may also leave for Santa Clara (very) early in the morning and return in the evening, and leave for Santa Clara and Sancti Spiritus in the afternoon, returning the following morning. Check that the trains are running in advance.
Jaime González Airport has three flights a week: leaving Miami at 8am Mondays and Fridays, returning 10:45; and leaving Miami 17:30 Wednesdays and returning later in the evening (20:00). A roundtrip ticket is US$509. The airline is a charter. The telephone number is (800) 493 8426, the website is http://www.destinationcuba.com/.
Both the centre and Punta Gorda are easy of walk around, but are about 3 km apart. They are joined by Calle 37 (del Prado), which runs by the sea. If you don't fancy walking, the principle public transportation is coches or horse-drawn carts that seat 6 or 8 people. They go up and down Calle 37. The price is CUP1 for Cubans or CUC1 for tourists.
You can most likely easily arrange taxi at your place of stay, esp. if you'd like to visit one of the more remote parts (e.g. Playa Rancho Luna).
- 1 Castillo de Jagua. An 18th-century fortress built to protect Cienfuegos against (English) pirates. There's an abandoned nuclear power plant behind the castle, built by the Soviets but never finished.
- 2 Delfinario (Rancho Luna, south of Cienfuegos, near Castillo de Jagua). Daily 10:00 and 14:00. Dolphin shows, where sometime the audience participates. For example, a dance contest for kids where the winners get kisses from the dolphins. You can also swim with the dolphins for about CUC50. For further fee, you can get a photo taken by the employees—it's not allowed to take it yourself. CUC10.
- 3 Tomas Terry Theatre, Parque Jose Martí (North of Parque José Martí). Victorian theatre, built in 1890. Lots of original features, and very pretty. Also has a nice cafe. CUC2.
- Museo Histórico, Av 54 e/ calles 27 y 29 (south side of Parque José Martí). A historical museum, with exhibits ranging from archeology of the original Indians, to the colonial eras.
- Palacio de Valle. See below.
- 1950s Houses.
- Freshwater fishing. Drive to the nearby secluded mountain lakes to fish for the plentiful bass.
- Harbour boat trip. Take a boat trip round the harbour, stopping off at an island and chatting to the locals and enjoying a mojito.
- 1 Malecon. Walk along and hang out at the malecon (sea front) in the evenings.
- 2 Laguna Guanaroca. A lake full of flamingos in the southeast of Cienfuegos. The entrance fee includes a guided walk to the lake explaining the flora and fauna (1h) and as well includes a boat trip on the lake to get closer to the flamingos (1h). Lake is surrounded by mangroves and ashore hummingbirds can be spotted. Go there early as it can get very hot and you will be exposed entirely to the sun when sitting in the boat. Cubanacan sells you the ticket but you have to find your own transport. A taxi is CUC20 both ways. Wait in the office for other tourists to share the taxi with. CUC10 for foreigners.
- Teatro Tomás Terry. The 1889 built neoclassicist theater centrally located at the José Marti square is most impressive on the inside where little has been changed since its inception
- 1 Boulevar pedestrian street, Av 54, between calles 29 and 37. The street contains many shops with souvenirs, but also household and others. Outdoor music is performed here often too.
- Tienda Artex, Av 54, between calles 33 and 35 (two blocks west of Parque Marti). Good shopping for gifts, such as shower curtains printed with paintings from the Museo Bellas Artes.
- 1 Club Cienfuegos (Yacht Club). Quite touristy but pleasant to eat in the formal restaurant upstairs or the informal snack bar in the basement.
- 2 Palatino, Av 54 e/ calles 25 y 27 (south side of Parque Marti). Nice, quiet restaurant for lunch. The grilled tuna salad sandwiches are delicious!
- Mi Ringcón, Av. 37, btw. 50 and 52, #5020. A small cafeteria catering for Cubans where you can have breakfast. Offers a variety of sandwiches, some juice and coffee. Try the Café Bonbón, a coffee made with condensed milk and chocolate. Pay in National Pesos. CUC0.04-0.50.
- 3 Restaurante, Calle 31, btw. 56 and 58 (on the right-hand side of # 5606, mint-colored door). Cuban restaurant that offers a variety of creol food as well as a vegetarian option on request. Pay in National Pesos. CUC1-2.
- 4 Food stalls, Paseo del Prado (Cl 37) btw. Av 48 and 50. On the Paseo del Prado you will find a good number of Pizza stalls, icecream shops and juice vendors. All payed in National Pesos. CUC0.10-0.50.
- 5 Te Quedara's, 3509 Boulevar (Avenue 54), ☏ . 11:00-01:00. Bar and restaurant a few floors up. It has a small balcony where you can sit and study the life on Boulevar. Live music in the evenings. CUC2-15.
- 1 Benny More (Arte Centro). A nightclub which features Salsa Music and dancing.
- 2 Palacio de Valle. Adjacent to the Hotel Jagua south of the Malecon, this is an amazing building, lavishly decorated in Moorish style. There is a fairly standard fare restaurant, but it is worth climbing to the rooftop bar for a drink sitting under an arched gazebo looking over the city and the harbor.
- 3 Piña Colada. A small open-air pub at the harbor, some snacks are sold here too.
- Hotel Faro Luna. Staying at the Faro Luna is like being at your own villa, only 25-30 rooms a beautiful pool overlooking the Caribbean and attentive staff.
- Hotel Jagua. This is a large hotel to the south of the city, around 2 km from the city centre. The building itself is a square concrete block and fairly unattractive. However, the rooms and facilities are pretty good by Cuban standards. For cheap water and drinks, visit the shop outside the hotel, opposite the entrance, rather than the hotel shop itself and pay half the price.
- Hotel Pascacaballo. This is a big, modern resort-hotel at Rancho Luna, on the coast, opposite Castillo de Jagua. Lunch was awful, unless you like jello and canned vegetables. The hotel looked like it was maybe a quarter full.
- Teresita y Yhanes, Ave 52 Nr. 4323 e/43 y 45, ☏ . Very nice central place with very helpful owners. Depending on season from CUC15.
- Sr. Jose Luis Alvarez Leon y Sra. Beatriz Ortega Turiño, Ave. 60 No. 3301 e/ 33 y 35, ☏ . Independent apartment with kitchen and all commodies.
- Casa de Nadia Hernández Garcia. Ave 16 #4307 Altos (upstairs) e/ (between) calles 43 y 45 (streets). In Punta Gorda, big room with a refrigerator, air conditioner, and bathroom. Good food and laundry. CUC25, plus CUC4 for breakfast and CUC10 for dinner.
- Hostal Elena y Elio, Ave 62 #3107 e/ Calle 31 y 33, +53 43 593611, email@example.com helpful couple sometimes meet arriving buses and can arrange onward travel/tours, from CUC20 (double room).
- Casa Colonial (Milagros & Gerardo), Av. 52 #2524 btw. 25 and 27. A friendly casa particular in a colonial house with high ceilings and just a block from the Jose Martí park. CUC20-25.
- Inés María, Calle 41 #5601, between 56 and 58., ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Two-room casa, close to both the center and the Viazul bus station. It has a terrace on the top floor from which one can see the city. Air-con and hot water.
- 1 Marilope Hostal, Avenida 56 No. 4924 e/ 49 y 51, Cienfuegos (Across the bus station, 500 m from the center), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: After 12:00 (flexible), check-out: Before 12:00 (flexible). Colonial house adorned with windows and columns, in the center of the city, just opposite the bus station. Hosts are the Lopez family. Private rooms available. The house is a single level, in a central area, with two large rooms, each having two beds, fans, air conditioning, bedside lamps and a private bathroom with hot and cold water. US$25.00.
- 2 Hostel Casa Las Palmas, 36 Avenue, number 4102B, between 41 and 43 streets. Just 200 m from the Malecon and close to the center of the city. Hostess is named Maira. Cozy rooms and some terraces with hammocks. The two bedrooms are at the second level. Air-con and hot water. Breakfast included.
5 Septiembre is the local periodical.
Before 2003 Cienfuegos had a reputation for teenage prostitutes. Girls would skip school to go to the airport three times a week for the flights from Canada and meet Canadian men. Beginning in 2003 the police cracked down on prostitution and now Cienfuegos has a reputation for the most vigorous anti-prostitution police patrolling in Cuba (and there are no longer flights from Canada). After dark be careful at nightclubs, restaurants, or on the streets; simply asking an innocent young woman for directions could get her arrested. Don't bring a Cuban guest into your casa unless she signs the guest book; several home owners lost their homes because tourists brought "girlfriends" home for the night. If a woman is arrested twice in a year for being with a tourist she is fined. If she's arrested three times she goes to prison for four years. (Tourists are usually not arrested or punished.)
- Santa Clara – Take a day trip to Santa Clara, ca. 1 hr away, to visit the museum and resting place of Che Guevara.