Scorching heat and stunning architecture. These would be my two main memories from Cienfuegos if someone asked me today about visiting this port town. Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos featured on my travel itinerary from day one. Located on the Caribbean coast of south central Cuba it was a perfect stop for my friend Zofia and I on the way to Havana from Trinidad.
The city dates back to 1819 and although located in Spanish territory, it was a home to many settlers from Bordeaux and French colonies such as Louisiana. That French style and elegance are definitely visible until today.
Cienfuegos has strong marine roots and a rich agricultural history linked to impressive production of sugar, cane, mango, tobacco and coffee. Its prosperity in fact was primarily related to the 19th-century sugar boom. By the 1860s, Cienfuegos was the third most important city in Cuba in terms of economical wealth.
Only a quick walk around the main square Parque José Martí is enough to agree with a statement that if Cuba had Paris it would be it! We were lucky to stay in casa particular only walking distance from Parque José Martí. The square and its surroundings are full of French-inspired architecture including beautiful porches, pillars and columns and pastel colours and most strikingly the cupola tower on one of the corners.
Punta Gorda, that extends across a long peninsula, is a picturesque place and probably a perfect spot to capture the sunset. A park with a little quisque and some tables was slightly underwhelming but on the way there we could see interesting buildings. They were ranging from elegant wooden villas to the Hotel Jagua, a former casino and Palacio de Valle, with a dominant Moorish twist.
We ended our stay in Cienfuegos with a boat trip to the Jagua Fortress, sharing a daily commute with many locals moving between different villages scattered around the bay. It was a refreshing experience allowing us to see local life outside the tourist bubble.
If for some reason you want to escape the heat and enjoy a cold mojito, I recommend heading to a bar next to the Thomas Terry Teatro as it is situated in a shady courtyard overlooking the Jose Marti Park and square.