Why Cienfuegos is the Most Underrated City in Cuba
Why Cienfuegos is the Most Underrated City in Cuba
Cienfuegos is the most underrated city in Cuba. We didn’t meet anyone else that planned on visiting this city, and most people had never even heard of the city on the Caribbean coast. There’s loads to do, it’s beautiful, and it’s cheap. What could be better?
When we arrived after an hour long taxi from Trinidad, we weren’t quite sure about things to do in Cienfuegos. I had heard of the gorgeous El Nicho waterfall nearby and that was my main reason for going.
Unfortunately, the waterfall trip would have cost us far outside of our budget and we decided against going. I mean I was sort of upset, but also….I’ve seen waterfalls before for way less so I’m not too upset. And instead, we found some other great things to do in Cienfuegos.
While we were looking for things to do in Cienfuegos, we decided to just explore by foot.
Our casa was right off the main square. To be honest, if I were to do it again I would not stay here. But, it was really fun to people watch from the open window as the day went on.
Cienfuegos was settled originally by the French rather than the Spanish, and architecture buffs will be able to notice differences in the buildings. There is an ornate old theater (Teatro Tomas Terry) on one side of the square, and a City Hall on the other. The buildings were receiving a much needed face lift while we were there in anticipation of a celebration to be held in town. So now is the time to visit!
There is an art gallery on one of the corners that you can walk around. This, I actually highly recommend. While we were there, there were local Cubans teaching dancing classes, and different artist’s work on display. The building is dark and a little creepy but walking around this area of obvious community importance was cool.
If you’re looking for things to do in Cienfuegos, look no further than spending a sunset atop the Hotel La Union. This mint green hotel is considered one of the best in the city. While the actual hotel needs a little work, the rooftop has a spectacular view over the main square that looks out to the bay.
The drinks are expensive and awful but the sunset makes up for it. Don’t order anything besides a rum and coke. Or just a coke to be safe becaus there’s no way they put $6 worth of rum in that drink. Get there early to snag the good tables closest to the sunset!
Entrance to the hotel is free, and all you have to do is ride the elevator to the top floor. Or take the stairs, because the stairway is ornately gorgeous!
Okay. If you can imagine a thin sliver of land jutting out into the ocean, just wide to fit a single row of house,s, you’ve imagined Punta Gorda. This area reeks of old Cuban money. The houses are ornate, but the real draw is the view. Water on both sides, and insanely gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Double whammy.
If I could do it over again, I would stay out in this area. It’s a decent 20-30 minute walk from the center of town, but it’s so pretty it’s worth it. I mean take a look at Villa Cheer. There would be no need to go into town at all if you were staying somewhere like that.
Plus the neighborhood is fun to walk around. It looked like what I imagine a suburb of Miami looked like in the 1950’s. There’s one giant Moroccan looking palace that has been converted into a posh restaurant and bar. The Palacio de Valles is sure to wow you, and make you wonder about times past.
There are tons of fantastic options in the Punta Gorda area. This Blue Room and Hostal Lagarto Ciudad is what sitting room dreams are made of. And just look for the blue sign above the door if you want to shop around when you get there.
For $2 total, we had 3 ham sandwiches with cheese each, 3 sugary drinks sure to induce diabetes, and a mistakenly ordered omelet. If you’re looking for things to do in Cienfuegos, find yourself a cafeteria during the lunch rush. Our Spanish is horrendous at best, but the servers/cooks were nice enough to let us attempt orders and small talk.
This was probably one of the most real experiences we had in Cuba. Forget about the restaurants that you only see tourists at. Find a local spot and do as they do. The food’s going to be way better AND way cheaper.
If there’s one thing that you’ll figure out quickly in Cuba, Jose Marti is big time. I’m pretty sure that in every city we visited, there was a Parque Jose Marti, a stature of Jose Marti, or a Calle de Jose Marti.
A quick bit of history, but Jose was the guy who was the backbone of the movement to gain independence from Spain. No matter what people’s thoughts are on the current state of Cuban politics, Jose Marti is a national hero.
If you’re looking for things to do in Cienfuegos, head to Parque Jose Marti in the center of town. This park was not only a Wi-Fi park, but always seemed to have something going on. After dark the park becomes alive, so join the fun.
As with Havana, Cienfuegos boasts a malecon walkway along the Caribbean. The beginning of the Malecon starts in town and heads out towards the Punta Gorda area. If you’ve already walked along the malecon in Havana, this is very similar and not as breathtaking. However, the blue of the Caribbean Sea is dazzling. The walkway is the best during the twilight hours of sunset.
For whatever reason, there seemed to be an influx of hipster cafes in Cienfuegos. The best part about them though? They were so cheap! We stopped in one on Paseo del Prado that was super cool both temperature and atmosphere wise. They had all old school TV’s and really interesting art on the walls. I also drank 3 iced teas for under $1.
If you’re in Cuba and have an extra day or two on your hands, I would highly recommend checking out Cienfuegos. We weren’t sure what to expect, but there are plenty of things to do in Cienfuegos. Plus we left the city feeling like we had a much more authentic experience with Cuban life outside the normal tourist realm. If you hate everything about the city, eat your heart out of peso pizza and it can’t be that bad.