With its impressive colonial buildings, ornate architecture, and even a distinctly French feel, there’s nowhere in the Caribbean quite like Cienfuegos, Cuba. While the city of Cienfuegos doesn’t have the name recognition of some of Cuba’s other beautiful cities like Old Havana or Trinidad, it has plenty to offer travelers looking for charm, history, and a laid-back, tourist-free experience.
In this ultimate traveler’s guide to Cienfuegos, we’re sharing the best parts of this city and why it has become one of our favorite places to visit in Cuba. With recommendations on where to stay, the best places to eat, and all the most exciting things to do in Cienfuegos, this guide will help you plan your perfect trip.
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Despite its renown for its historic architecture, the city of Cienfuegos is one of the “youngest” major cities in Cuba. While the Bay of Cienfuegos was first explored by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, the city wasn’t established until the mid-1700s. French settlers gave the city its distinct architectural style, totally unique in Cuba.
Today, Cienfuegos is one of Cuba’s major cities, though it maintains a gentile feel and laidback disposition. Cienfuegos is also conveniently located in Cuba for most travelers, especially the majority of whom tend to stick to the eastern and middle parts of the island on a shorter Cuba itinerary.
Located between Havana and Trinidad, it’s quite easy to add a day or two in Cienfuegos to many itineraries. Spend a few days exploring the historic city center, appreciating its architecture, strolling on the bayfront malecón, and hiking through the mountains that envelop the city.
Cienfuegos is more than just a stop-off – it’s a highlight you won’t want to miss!
Personally, I wish more travelers made it to Cienfuegos. It’s one of Cuba’s most fascinating and charming cities, and if you have the pleasure of visiting, you’ll love just how laid-back and uncrowded it is, especially when compared to Old Havana and the historical center of Trinidad.
Is Cienfuegos Worth Visiting?
Cienfuegos is definitely worth visiting! Not only is it charming and vibrant, but Cienfuegos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunning architecture, totally unique to anywhere else in the Caribbean. It’s well worth spending time here.
While most Cuba itineraries tend to favor Trinidad as a “second-city” to visit after time in Havana, Cienfuegos is a beautiful, charming, and historically-significant destination that will show you a whole other side of the country. With a fraction of the tourists that crowd the streets in Trinidad and Old Havana, Cienfuegos might just be your favorite of all cities in Cuba.
What is Cienfuegos Known For?
Cienfuegos is best known for its historic, French-inspired colonial architecture in the heart of the old city. Ornate buildings like Teatro Tomás Terry, the Palacio del Gobierno, and the Palacio del Valle will impress you with their incredible design, even from the outside!
Why is Cienfuegos Called Cienfuegos?
Cienfuegos translates directly from Spanish to “one hundred fires,” though it’s a relatively common last name in Spanish. However, the city of Cienfuegos was named after José Cienfuegos, a Spanish capital who lived in Cuba in the early 1800s and was a leader on this part of the island.
Cienfuegos happens to be the last name of one of Cuba’s most famous revolutionaries, Camilo Cienfuegos, who fought in the Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro. The name of the city has no connection with Camilo Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos Cuba Map
Use this clickable, downloadable Cienfuegos Cuba map to plan your visit to this incredible city. We’ve included all the recommendations we give in this article as well as some of the favorite things to do in Cienfuegos to help you plan your stay!
Things To Do in Cienfuegos, Cuba
1. Visit Palacio del Valle
Of all the architectural wonders in Cienfuegos, the Moorish-inspired Palacio del Valle is the most impressive. Located waterfront on the skinny peninsula known as La Punta at the south end of the city, Palacio del Valle is a former palace turned public space where visitors can take in some of the most unique architecture in Cuba.
Today the building is home to a rooftop bar and restaurant that makes the most of its impressive views of the bay and the city of Cienfuegos. While the food isn’t anything particularly special, the drinks are fantastic and the sunset views alone make it well worth a visit.
Read More: 10 Best Things To Do in Cienfuegos
2. Tour Teatro Tomás Terry
As one of the buildings recognized in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the city of Cienfuegos, the Tomás Terry Theater (Teatro Tomás Terry) is one of the city’s most spectacular spaces. Beautiful exteriors give way to even more ornate interiors covered in marble, frescos, and ornate wood paneling everywhere you turn.
A visit to the theater is an absolute must when you visit Cienfuegos. Tickets cost around $5 to enter, and no tour guide is required, though visiting with a guide would certainly be the best way to enjoy the space. Experience the theater in about 20-30 minutes, or even better, attend a show.
3. Take the Ferry to Castillo de Jagua
Just after the colonial fortresses in the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba is the Castillo de Jagua in Cienfuegos. This fortress was built in the mid-1700s by the Spanish to defend the city and the island’s southern coast against pirates and potential invaders.
Now, the fortress preserves historic artifacts from the colonial era in a number of small museum displays and welcomes visitors to enjoy beautiful views of the bay from its historic walls.
Not only is the visit to the fortress a highlight, but the journey to reach it is memorable as well. To reach the fortress, visitors board a ferry and cross the bay, an experience that offers great views of the entire city and surrounding countryside. If for nothing else, this makes it one of the best things to do in Cienfuegos.
4. Hike to El Nicho
One of the best day trips from Cienfuegos is to the famous waterfall known as El Nicho, nestled in the Escambray Mountains just about an hour and a half away from the city. This large waterfall and swimming hole is located in the lush jungle, though the paths once you arrive by car aren’t too challenging to walk and explore.
While there isn’t public transportation out to the park, you’ll likely be able to share a taxi with other travelers, which is a great way to save on the cost. Or, you can schedule a small-group excursion to El Nicho ahead of time via Civitatis, which is a great hassle-free option.
El Nicho is also a popular destination for tours from Trinidad, so keep this in mind if you’re planning a trip from Trinidad as part of your itinerary. You may find more options for group excursions to El Nicho that depart from Trinidad, though the falls are about equidistant from Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Read More: 10 Best Things To Do in Trinidad, Cuba
5. Explore Escambray Mountains
Extend your trip into the mountainside outside of Cienfuegos by exploring more of the Escambray Mountains, not just visiting El Nicho and heading home. The Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, a popular nature reserve referred to more commonly as just Topes de Collantes, has much more to offer than just El Nicho.
Other highlights of the area include visiting local coffee plantations. Take the Sendero Vegas Grandes to hike through the park to explore and visit the coffee plantations firsthand, and make sure to stop for a taste test. Or, visit Hacienda Codina to bathe in the medicinal mud baths and learn about local life.
If you’re planning on heading to Trinidad after visiting Cienfuegos, your travel day between the two cities is the perfect time for your visit. Use a shared taxi or an excursion with a private car and you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone, seeing this beautiful area while heading in the direction of the next stop on your Cuba itinerary.
Where To Stay in Cienfuegos
Palacio Barón y Balbín
Set in a 20th-century baroque-style palace, Palacio Barón y Balbín is easily one of the best hotels in Cienfuegos and a personal favorite among all the hotels in Cuba we’ve experienced. With incredibly ornate and historical architectural details and gorgeous antique furniture, this spot is truly one of a kind.
Not only is Palacio Barón y Balbín beautiful, but the rooms are comfortable and the staff is excellent. Every room offers strong air conditioning and even wifi (internet is still not everywhere in Cuba).
Gorgeous accommodations aside, you really won’t find a better place to stay in Cienfuegos. The hotel is located in the heart of the historic center of the city and easily walkable to all the best attractions and things to do in Cienfuegos.
Casa Buena Vista
Casa Buena Vista is one of the best casa particular accommodations you’ll find in Cienfuegos, with everything you could ask for in a guesthouse in Cuba. Delicious complimentary breakfast, beautiful, historic accommodations, and incredibly helpful, welcoming staff make staying here a true delight.
Simple, affordable, and comfortable, Hostal Sunrise is among our top recommendations for budget accommodations in Cienfuegos. A large rooftop terrace with chairs and a table is a highlight of the property and a great place to catch sunset views over the city.
While rooms are a bit basic, they’re perfectly comfortable and impeccably clean. Located close to the historic center of the city and near all the attractions, it’s one of the best places to stay in Cienfuegos.
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Best Restaurants in Cienfuegos
There are a good number of places to eat in Cienfuegos, including everything from nice restaurants to very informal cafes serving Cuban coffee, sandwiches, and other small bites. While most of the food is Cuban and doesn’t necessarily constitute fine dining, you’ll be happy with your options here.
These are our favorite places to eat in Cienfuegos when we visit the city.
Delicious Cuban favorites and wonderful mixed drinks make Camila’s one of the best restaurants in Cienfuegos. Camila’s is located on the tip of La Punta, a strip of land that extends from the city into the bay. This means that the restaurant has a gorgeous waterfront location and great views over the bay – it’s hard not to love eating here.
Columpios 36 is known for its great mixed drinks and service, as well as its fun swing seats that add a quirky twist to the restaurant. While this spot offers good food, plates tend to serve more as accompaniments to drinks rather than main courses, though they’re quite good.
Grill Punta Gorda
With a good mix of favorite Cuban dishes and drinks, Grill Punta Gorda is a low-key and casual spot among the better restaurants in the city. Located near the historic center of Cienfuegos, it’s quite easily accessible from the rest of the attractions in the city. The menu changes frequently, but we also love the seafood dishes on the menu.
Getting to Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos is home to a small airport, the Jaime González Airport. While the airport receives flights from larger cities in Cuba like Havana and Santiago de Cuba, the schedule is infrequent and irregular. Given that Cienfuegos is just around four hours from Havana by car, we generally recommend traveling to the city by car rather than trying to fly.
Havana to Cienfuegos
There are two daily buses that depart from the central bus terminal in Havana, near the Plaza de la Revolución for Cienfuegos. These Viazul buses are usually quite nice, and the journey takes about 5 hours.
As of the last time I checked, one departed at 9:00 AM, and another departed at 3:25 PM. Tickets cost $16, or its equivalent in Cuban pesos.
Alternatively, find a shared taxi departing from in front of the bus station. Drivers will be announcing their destination of Cienfuegos and will usually wait to depart until the car is filled. While tickets are more expensive, you’ll usually shave about an hour or an hour and a half off of your journey.
Read More: 47 Best Things To Do in Havana
Trinidad to Cienfuegos
The colonial city of Trinidad is just over an hour away from Cienfuegos, so there tends to be a lot of movement between these two cities. There are usually two daily buses between Trinidad and Cienfuegos, but not that they both depart early in the morning, at 7:00 and 7:30 AM.
If you’d prefer to share a private car, you should have no problem finding space in a taxi between these two cities. This can be arranged either by speaking with the host at your casa particular or by simply arriving at the bus station, finding a driver heading in your desired direction, and waiting for the spaces in the car to fill with travelers.