With its impressive historic architecture, grand theater, and enviable location near some of Cuba’s most pristine and beautiful natural wonders, Cienfuegos is a favorite city in Cuba for travelers. While Cienfuegos is often overlooked by travelers headed on the way to Trinidad, don’t make the same mistake – squeeze some time into your Cuba itinerary for this spectacular city.
Beyond its renown as a beautiful city, there are so many things to do in Cienfuegos that make it the perfect spot for a trip. From plunging waterfalls and nature reserves to historic monuments and nearby beaches, these are the very best things to do in Cienfuegos.
Things To Do in Cienfuegos, Cuba
1. Explore Old Town Cienfuegos
While Cienfuegos wasn’t founded until 1819 – centuries after the founding of other historic cities in Cuba like Havana and Baracoa which were founded in the 1500s – it exudes a historic charm totally unique to other spots in Cuba.
With its distinct neoclassical, French architectural style, exploring the old heart of Cienfuegos is easily among the best parts of a visit to Cienfuegos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Start exploring the old town of the city in Parque Jose Martí, surrounded by some of the city’s most beautiful architectural gems, inspired by colonial influences from the Spanish mainland, Moorish architecture, and even Spanish islands like Menorca, Spain.
The square is home to Cienfuegos’ famous Arco de los Obreros (Arch of the Workers) and the beautifully-colored Palacio Ferrer and Palacio del Gobierno.
While visitors can’t enter the Palacio del Gobierno, visiting Palacio Ferrer is a highlight! The museum on the bottom floor has interesting rotating exhibits, and the grand ballrooms and salons on the upper floors are quite ornate. Make sure to take in the views from the balconies as well.
From here, head towards the Paseo del Prado with its famous statue of Benny Moré, one of the legends of Cuban music. This avenue, with a pedestrian thoroughfare down the center, is a great way to get around the city.
2. Walk the Malecón
Havana might be the best-known city in Cuba for its Malcón sea wall, but Cienfuegos has its own impressive Malecón as well. While the Cienfuegos Malecón isn’t oceanfront – it faces the large Cienfuegos Bay – it’s still quite impressive and is a great spot for views. Along the way, you’ll find cafes and restaurants, as well as impressively renovated historic buildings.
Walking along the Cienfuegos Malecón is the best way to reach the stunning Palacio del Valle on La Punta (unless you want to take a bus or taxi), so save your Malecón stroll for when you plan to visit this palace or any other more upscale spots on Punta Gorda.
3. Take a Free Walking Tour
Is there anything better than a free experience? Civitatis offers free walking tours of a number of cities in Cuba, including Cienfuegos! While we’ve never taken this specific free walking tour, we’ve done the walking tours Civitatis offers in other Cuban cities and they’ve been fantastic – we highly recommend them.
These tours are very well done and the guides are excellent. This free walking tour of Cienfuegos explores the historic heart of town and includes stops at places you might otherwise miss. Take the chance with the local guide to get restaurant and activity recommendations as well!
Looking for free walking tours in other Cuban cities? Register for your spot here:
4. Visit El Nicho Waterfall
There’s no better way to cool off after a long day under the Cuban sun than taking a swim below a jungle waterfall. One of Cuba’s most famous waterfalls, El Nicho, is located just an hour outside of Cienfuegos in the stunning Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, making it a perfect day trip from Cienfuegos.
In the park, you’ll be able to experience several waterfalls and swimming holes, though El Nicho is the most impressive. Despite its growing fame, El Nicho is still quite off the beaten path and doesn’t feel overwhelmed with tourists or visitors.
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.
Headed to Trinidad after you visit Cienfuegos? Consider traveling onward from here after your day trip to Topes de Collantes, as Topes de Collantes is about halfway between Cienfuegos and Trinidad and is a great way to break up the trip while enjoying one of the best things to do in Cienfuegos.
Don’t think about traveling to Cuba without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, especially in Cuba.
5. Take In a Show At Teatro Tomás Terry
One of the most impressive buildings in Cienfuegos is undeniably the Teatro Tomás Terry, the city’s grand theater in the heart of old town Cienfuegos. Ornate frescos on the ceiling, gilded decor, and plush red velvet curtains set the stage for an unexpected historic gem that you can’t miss – a visit is among the very best things to do in Cienfuegos.
While the entrance to the theater costs just a few dollars and is well worth it, try to catch a show here to see the theater in all its glory. The stunning curved box seating and spacious floor area are all the more enchanting when filled with an adoring crowd!
Read More: Cienfuegos, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
6. Enjoy Sunset Drinks From a Rooftop
For some of the best views of the bay, head down the Malecón towards Punta Gorda (La Punta) as the afternoon turns to evening and head to a rooftop to take in the sunset.
You’ll find tons of options for this, and part of the experience is just exploring this lovely neighborhood and stumbling upon hidden gems as you go. It may sound simple, but it’s one of the best things to do in Cienfuegos, Cuba.
Camila’s is a waterfront bar and restaurant with a dock which makes for a fabulous evening overlooking the water – we couldn’t recommend this place enough! Hotel Jagua also has a stunning pool deck with great views, which is definitely worth at least a visit.
Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:
7. Hit the Beach (At The Bay of Pigs)
While you’ve certainly heard of the Bay of Pigs before, I’d bet it’s not in this context! Known as the site of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba after the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de los Cochinos) is actually one of the best beach destinations on Cuba’s southern coast.
An easy day trip from Cienfuegos, the Bay of Pigs is a great spot for a beach excursion from Cienfuegos, with some of the areas of best beaches like Playa Girón and Playa Larga. The water at these sandy beaches is known to be incredibly clear, and the nearby reef makes for some excellent snorkeling and swimming.
An international dive center here makes it a great spot for scuba diving, with all the needed gear easily accessible. It’s a great activity to enjoy in one of the destinations we consider to be among the best places to visit in Cuba.
If you’re looking for a longer stopover, consider adding a stay at nearby Ciénaga de Zapata to your itinerary as well. It’s one of the best places for hiking in Cuba and is filled with stunning and unique wildlife, with everything from endemic birds to crocodiles.
8. Explore Ciénaga de Zapata
Ciénaga de Zapata – the Zapata Swampland – may sound less than appealing, but trust us, this natural gem is a great destination for a day trip from Cienfuegos or even a longer stay. Just over an hour and a half from Cienfuegos, this national park is home to impressive wildlife, stunning vistas, and great adventure sports like kayaking, biking, and hiking through lush landscapes.
There is plenty to see and do here, from world-class birding excursions to see the dozens of endemic species in the swampland to kayaking adventures where you’ll spot everything from crocodiles to flamingos.
A guided visit is a requirement for entering this national park, and it’s all for the better; the guides are truly excellent and offer a range of excursions, routes, and activities to explore the park.
Whether you want to pair a visit to the Bay of Pigs with a trip to Ciénaga de Zapata or not, this fascinating and unique destination in Cuba is definitely worth an addition to your itinerary. Whether you visit for a few days or just as a day trip from Cienfuegos, it’s among the best things to do in Cienfuegos!
What to Pack for Cuba
Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.
9. Tour Palacio del Valle
Yet another historic architectural gem in Cienfuegos, the Palacio del Valle at the end of the Malecón is an absolutely stunning building, making a visit one of the best things to do in Cienfuegos by far. With its unique mix of architectural styles, it’s totally unique to almost anything else you’ll see in Cuba.
While the ornate exterior is worth countless photos, don’t skip out on taking a tour of the interior of the palace! Both the interior and the exterior are quite well preserved, and the palace’s countless rooms and salons are just as ornate as the exterior portends!
There is a restaurant and bar on the rooftop, and while items here are a little on the pricey side for Cienfuegos, it does boast incredible views. This can be a great place to enjoy a sunset beverage overlooking the bay before exploring the rest of the neighborhood, one of the best things to do in Cienfuegos.
10. Visit Poco Bonito Gallery
Cienfuegos isn’t all historic architecture and natural gems; it’s also filled with galleries, restaurants, cultural events, and plenty of signs of things to come in Cuba. Make sure to take in a bit of this other side of the city with a stop at Poco Bonito Gallery, home to the work of several impressive Cuban artists.
You’ll get to see plenty of new works on display and likely get to meet and chat with some of the artists or even see them in action. Just two blocks from Parque Jose Martí, it is easily accessible from the heart of the city and makes for a great addition to your time in Cienfuegos. You’ll love meeting some of the most inspiring young minds in the city.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.