Good advice usually comes from first-hand experience. So when my friend, Emma, suggested I stop off at Cienfuegos for a night before heading to Trinidad because she enjoyed her time there, I quickly factored it into my itinerary.
Located on the foot of a bay, Cienfuegos has a delightful mix of seaside appeal and the buzz of a small city.
There were three main things I liked about Cienfuegos: The buildings, waterfront and the shops. It’s extremely out of character to say I liked the shops, but one thing you soon discover in Cuba is how rare it is to find shops supplying everyday simple goods. Even supermarkets are really few and far between and the shelves are often sparse. With that in mind, ensure you pack these everyday items before your trip because you’ll have difficulty finding them in Cuba, unless you make a pit stop at Cienfuegos!
I’d read this before travelling to Cuba, but I didn’t really believe the true extent of it before arriving, hence why I hadn’t packed soap, nail clippers, plasters or even a hairbrush. Needless to say by the time I arrived in Cienfuegos after several days of getting sweaty in the heat and dirty from horse riding and hiking around Vinales, I looked like a bedraggled street rat peeping out from the sewers in broad daylight.
Seeing shops selling chocolate, clothing and perfume felt nothing short of a mirage; even if the chocolate was lack lustre, clothing not to my taste, and perfume overbearing. Simply put, they weren’t anything to write home about, but for the first time in a week I was able to bask in the quiet enjoyment of wearing a fresh pair of new, clean socks with my pumps.
Cienfuegos doesn’t have the grit and grim of sprawling Havana, instead, it positively shines like a happy seaside town. Lonely Planet describes it well,
‘While much of Cuba is visibly reeling in the current economic crisis, Cienfuegos seems to positively glitter… And with much-needed UNESCO money now arriving, as well as growing industrial clout, the future for the city and its fine array of 19th-century architecture looks bright.
This being said, it’s only a small city that can be explored on foot in less than a couple of hours which is why visiting here doesn’t require longer than a night or two. We didn’t do much besides potter around but we were craving some down time after our sensory overload in Havana and the activities we did in Vinales. It offered us a scenic place to relax, stroll and enjoy.
My highlight came when I stumbled across a chess club. I gestured to the players inside if I could come in and they were more than welcoming. I ended up having a game and lost quite dramatically, as was predicted! Whilst I was playing, Ruchi managed to charm most of the sweet, older men in the club with her feminine ways (cough).
To share my enthusiasm for the buildings and pretty waterfront, I’ll leave it up to my photos to do most of the talking.
Ensure you wander further away from the town centre to more residential areas where the streets become quieter but are still packed with lots of charm and colour, albeit a little more tired looking.
All in all, Cienfuegos might not have the captivating Cuban soul of Havana or the abundance of restaurants and bars you’ll find in Trinidad, but its carefree energy and array of eclectic buildings deserve a place in your trip to Cuba. If you have more time, or want to travel further afield there are a variety of day excursions you can do too, including a trip to El Nicho waterfall and the unique experience of seeing flamingoes in flight at Laguna Guanaroca.
Where to stay: Hotel La Union is a landmark building, and if you’re looking to mix things up between homestays and hotels, then it’s the only hotel you need for the job. Located in the middle of the city with an eye-catching exterior, it offers a slice of unapologetic luxury when you want nothing more than to relax and indulge for a night or two.