Located on Cuba’s stunning southern Caribbean coastline, Cienfuegos is unique in Cuba in that it was settled by immigrants from France, not Spain. The French heritage is evident in the French influenced architectural style of many of the city’s buildings. The street names also reflect this influence in this beautiful UNESCO-listed old town. It was named after a Spanish Captain General Don Jose Cienfuegos. In 1817 he approved a plan to settle French from Bordeaux and Louisiana in the area. The city is also commonly known as La Perla del Sur, ‘the pearl of the south’. The UNESCO listed region of Zapata Peninsula – home to the famed Bay of Pigs – lies just a short distance away by road. Intrigued? Here’s our top 8 of things to do in Cienfuegos and its surrounds.
1. Unravel Cuba’s Revolutionary History at the Playa Giron Museum
Playa Giron, also known as the Bay of Pigs, holds a significant place in recent Cuban history. In 1961 it was the site of a landing by an anti-Castro counter-revolutionary force, backed by US intelligence agencies. After three days of fierce combat, Castro’s communist forces managed to repel the invasion. To gain a deeper understanding of this event, visit the Playa Giron Museum. Outside the museum building, you’ll find tanks and aircraft used in the battle. Inside, you can delve into the intricacies of the conflict and its role in the narrative of the 1959 Cuban revolution.
2. Snorkel at the Bay of Pigs
Consider snorkeling at the Bay of Pigs in Cienfuegos, renowned for its underwater wonders. Just offshore, colourful fish abound. Coral reefs start at 3 meters, easily accessible from the beach in the Bay of Pigs. The calm, clear waters are safe even for those unaccustomed to the open ocean. Simply float and observe the abundant marine life below. Such a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
3. Explore Guamá
Built to resemble an indigenous Taino tribal village, there are a series of 50 wooden-built huts with thatched roofs on stilts over the water. There are also 32 sculptures depicting native wildlife. It’s only able to be reached by boat through the Laguna del Tesoro on route. A trip to this hidden gem on the Cuban coast will help you leave the ‘hustle and bustle’ of Cienfuegos behind you!
4. Visit Guama Crocodile Colony
For an extra dose of adrenaline in Cienfuegos, a visit to Guama Crocodile Colony is a thrilling choice. Situated amid the waters of Treasure Lagoon, it is run by the Ministry of Fishing. Established in the 1960s to help preserve endangered species, it’s now home to more than 10,000 of these creatures. They belong to two different species of crocodile, one native to Cuba and the other a Caiman from Latin America.
5. Hit the Streets of Cienfuegos
The wide boulevards and beautifully laid out parklands of Cienfuegos have long been a draw card for visitors. There’s perhaps no better way to delve into the sights, sounds, and smells of the city than on a guided city centre walk. Cienfuegos boasts many architectural wonders such as the Italianate Tomas Terry Theatre on Plaza de Armas. As well as the impressive Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción. Don’t miss the Ferrer Palace, the Palacio de Valle and Cienfuegos triumphal arch. The arch built to commemorate Cuban independence!
6. Take to the waters of Guanaroca Lagoon
Guanaroca Lagoon is a salt water lake southeast of Cienfuegos formed by the River Arimao runs into Cienfuegos Bay. A protected area for many years, it boasts a profusion of birds, fauna, and flora. Experts have counted more than 170 different bird species in the area, including the Tocororo. Most famously, the lagoon is home to a huge colony of around 2,000 flamingos. If you’re lucky, there’s also the chance to catch sight of a manatee.
7. Cool off at El Nicho Waterfalls
El Nicho Waterfalls are located within the boundaries of the hilly Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, roughly 1.5 hours from Cienfuegos. Cascading impressively even during the dry season, there is a large natural pool at the base of the falls where it is possible to swim. To get to the falls you’ll follow the trail through dense forest which is the natural habitat of various bird and lizard species. Continue on a short way beyond the falls and you’ll find a lookout with a view over the surrounding valley. Should you get hungry, there’s a small restaurant serving authentic Cuban cuisine. So add this to your list of what to do in Cienfuegos and get away from the “hustle and bustle” of Cienfuegos!
8. Unwind at Cienfuegos Botanic Gardens
Last but not least on our list of what to do in Cienfuegos is a visit to Cienfuegos Botanic Gardens, the Jardin Botanico de Cienfuegos (or Jardin Botanico Soledad). Just 14 kilometres from the centre of Cienfuegos, the gardens were founded in 1901. This makes them some of the oldest anywhere in Cuba. Covering an area of almost 100 hectares, it houses 2000 species of tropical and exotic plants, including 400 beautiful orchids.
The answer to what to do in Cienfuegos
That’s our list of the top 8 things to do Cienfuegos. Intriguing history, architecture and amazing natural sights, there’s a reason Cienfuegos is called the ‘pearl of the south’.