Cienfuegos Cuba

Cienfuegos Cuba is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Most of these sites are cities (like Old Havana), towns, structures, or cultural landscapes with significant architecture and historic importance; the other two sites are national parks protecting beautiful landscapes and unique flora and fauna. The city of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in what was already a Spanish territory, but it was settled primarily by French immigrants from both France and New Orleans. Because of this, the elegant architecture that is mostly concentrated around Parque Jose Marti is unusual, providing an atmosphere similar to New Orleans' French Quarter.

The major port city of Cienfuegos Cuba is located on the southern coast of the island, a bit to the west of center. While it is a coastal city, it is set along the shores of a large bay that has only a narrow opening out to the sea. This means it doesn't have the best beaches in the region, but those are still easy to reach from here. The best beaches in the area are on land that front the Caribbean Sea, eleven miles due south, where lovely Rancho Luna Beach is located and to the east along the road that leads to Trinidad (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Rancho Luna area is also where you will find Castillo de Jagua, a massive fortress built in the 1740s to protect the bay from the pirates and buccaneers who plagued the Caribbean. Even though this is not a great beach city, its location on the bay is quite beautiful.

Parque Marti
Parque Marti

What is most worthwhile about the city is its harmonious architectural ensemble and its unusually broad avenues and boulevards, due to its French heritage. Parque Jose Marti is set at the heart of the city, with a broad pedestrian boulevard connecting to the Paseo del Prado. This, in turn, connects to the malecon, a bayfront pedestrian area lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Jose Marti has fewer bars and restaurants than the malecon area, but is nonetheless a popular area both with locals and tourists. There is a traditional domed bandstand, where music is played during weekends and at festivals and other special events. And there are plenty of tree-shaded patches of lawn for sitting and picnicking.

Most of the city's finest architecture (which includes six building dating from 1818-1850, 327 buildings dating from 851 to 1900 and more than 1,000 buildings dating to the first half of the twentieth century) is located around the park. There is no other place in the Caribbean with such a striking concentration of classical and neoclassical buildings. There is a small replica of Paris' Arc de Triomphe; an impressive1902 statue of the revolutionary for whom the park is named; the elaborate Palacio Ferrer mansion built in 1917 with its cupolas, gracious balconies, and room used by opera virtuoso Enrico Caruso. You will also find the stately building that was once the elite Casino Espanol. Today it is the Provincial Museum and filled with antiques formerly belonging to the wealthy and aristocratic members of the casino club. There is also the ornate Tomas Terry Theatre built in 1889 with wonderful period murals and a beautiful frescoed ceiling.

By car, Cienfuegos Cuba is about an hour from Trinidad. There is bus transportation from both Havana and Trinidad as well as train service. The city also has an airport with flights from Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Montreal, Toronto, and Miami. There are a number of Cienfuegos hotels and casa particulares to choose from. Casas particulares are private homes that have been licensed to rent out no more than two rooms to visitors, and they provide an excellent way to really get to know the local people. Most of these are named for the husband and/or wife owners. These change from time to time, so it is best to book a regular hotel for your first night or two and then walk around the better neighborhoods looking for the sign on the door indicating rooms are for rent. A good city center hotel is La Union Boutique Hotel, located near Parque Jose Marti at Calle 31 esquina A-54 and boasting a great rooftop bar with panoramic views of the city. The hotel is housed in a mansion built in 1869 and offers the kind of amenities you would expect of a good three/four star property.

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