I fell in love with Cienfuegos the moment I stepped off the Viazul bus, which had left Viñales at 06:45 and dropped me off in Cienfuegos at around 14:30. I was met by a middle aged gentlemen who was holding a piece of paper with my name on it. He greeted me and quickly negotiated a bici-taxi to take me to my Casa Particular.
The Cienfuegos urban historic centre is framed with bountiful amounts of gorgeous French architecture and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the country. Cienfuegos can easily be explored on foot.
Arco de los Trabajadores. The Arch of Triumph on the western edge of Cienfuegos’ serene central park catapults the plaza into the unique category: there is no other building of its kind in Cuba. Dedicated to Cuban independence, the Francophile monument ushers you through its gilded gateway toward a marble statue of revolutionary and philosopher José Martí.
Teatro Tomás Terry. French and Italian influences, this theater on the northern side of Parque José Martí is grand from the outside (look for the gold-leafed mosaics on the front facade), but even grander within. Built between 1887 and 1889 to honor Venezuelan industrialist Tomás Terry, the 950-seat auditorium with Carrara marble, hand carved Cuban hardwoods and whimsical ceiling frescoes.
Stately Paseo del Prado (Calle 37), stretching from the Río el Inglés in the north to Punta Gorda in the south, is the longest street of its kind in Cuba and a great place to see Cienfuegueños going about their daily business.
Malecón. Keep heading south on Paseo del Prado and the street becomes the Malecón as it cuts alongside one of the world’s finest natural bays, offering incredible vistas.
Punta Gorda. When the Malecón sea wall runs out, you will know you have landed in Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos’ old upper-class neighborhood, characterised by its bright clapboard momes and turreted palaces.
Next stage: Trinidad (Cuba) treasure trove or tourist trap?