Palacio Cerrer in Cienfuegos

12 Best Things To Do In Cienfuegos Cuba By A Local (2024)

Cienfuegos, a town on the southern coast of Cuba, also called La Perla del Sud (The Pearl of the South), is unique in Cuba because of its French heritage.

I have visited this town several times over the five years I have traveled regularly to Cuba, and I am here to help you find out what you don’t want to miss when you visit Cienfuegos.

Cienfuegos is a different and quite “young” Cuban town established in 1819 by settlers from Louisiana and France (not Spain). It soon became a melting pot of cultural influences and still has unique features you won’t find anywhere else in Cuba.

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

Cienfuegos Is A UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Plaza del Pueblo in Cienfuegos at night with statues, light houses, palm trees, and people walking around enjoying the evening
Plaza del Pueblo

Cienfuegos is truly unique in Cuban history, architecture, and city planning, as it has a more French architectural style.

It’s so special for Cuba that in 2005, the historical center of Cienfuegos was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that deserve protection.

You might want to spend a few days and nights here or just stop by on a day tour.

Map of Cienfuegos

Trip map created using Wanderlog, a travel planner on iOS and Android

Things To Do In Cienfuegos Cuba

Statue on the Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos of a full-size man with a hat, in the background the Prado disappears in the distance towards the Malecon boardwalk in the city.
Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is not a very big Cuban city, and it does not have the long colonial heritage that other cities like Trinidad and Havana have – but it is unique in Cuban cultural and architectural history due to its origin!

1. Top Rated FREE Walking Tour Of Cienfuegos

Boulevard shopping street in Cienfuegos, with tiled road, palm trees, and shops on both sides on a bright summer day
Boulevard main street in Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba, also called The Pearl of the South, is unique in Cuban history.

It is the only city in Cuba founded by French settlers, although still under the Spanish crown in the early 19th Century.

Starting with the statue of Benny Moré, this walking tour of Cienfuegos will take you strolling along the Paseo del Prado and Avenida San Fernando and stop at the Artisan Market and Hotel La Unión rooftop!

Then, you’ll head over to José Martí Park in the heart of the historic center to learn about the founding of Cienfuegos and admire landmarks like the Government Palace, the Tomás Terry Theater, and the cathedral.

These are all great examples of the city’s colonial architectural heritage, which is why the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!

After visiting the Benny Moré Cultural Center, you’ll finish the tour of Cienfuegos at the Muelle Real, a pier where you can relax with a traditional Cuban drink and enjoy the view!

2. El Nicho Waterfalls Day Tour

The beautiful El Nicho waterfall outside Cienfuegos, in a National Park, surrounded by greenery on a bright sunny summer day
El Nicho waterfall

A tour of El Nicho waterfall gets you a few extra perks as well, not just the waterfalls!

Start your day heading for the Escambray mountains, tucked away between Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara, and Cienfuegos provinces.

In the lush rainforest, you’ll encounter the delightful contrast of heat from the city against the invigorating temperature of its tropical jungle. This is also Cuba’s coldest microclimate!

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“The excursion is very beautiful and highly recommended. The natural environment is beautiful”. 

You will explore the amazing San Martín Infierno Cave and its towering stalactite and see Hanabanilla’s majestic natural dam from a bird’s eye view.

Then you arrive at the breathtaking El Nicho Waterfalls – with their enticing turquoise pools that are certain to make your heart skip a beat.

The three waterfalls are La Cristal, Los Tres Deseos’ numerous cascades, and Poceta de Los Enamorados – an enchanting oasis to swim or even do a thrilling zip line adventure!

3. Stroll Across The Malecon

Life on the Prado Avenue on a bright summer day, with the typical Cienfuegos French colonial architecture, cars, pedestrians, and trees along the wide avenue.
Life on Prado Avenue

Each coastal town in Cuba has a Malecon – a waterfront where people can enjoy a walk in the late afternoon once the pleasant marine breeze has replaced the heat of the day.

Cienfuegos’ Malecon is a good place to spot locals walking and, at times, even exercising at the end of the day or on their way to Punta Gorda (more about this below).

4. Visit Punta Gorda

Me walking into the water in Cienfuegos Cuba, where lots of people enjoy playing in the greenish crystal clear and calm water
Punta Gorda Cienfuegos

One of the really nice attractions to experience in Cienfuegos is Punta Gorda.

Located at the end of the scenic Malecon boardwalk, it is the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll and breathtaking views of the bay, especially at sunset.

You can walk there from the center of Cienfuegos or hail a bici taxi if the heat or distance is a bit much for you (3 km).

Admire the architectural beauty of this 19th-century neighborhood out here; this upper-class part of Cienfuegos is packed with gorgeous villas and beautifully kept buildings.

Punta Gorda viewpoint

Once you are in the actual Punta Gorda, take a dip in the Caribbean Sea or head over to scenic Camila’s restaurant for a sunset drink or dinner.

5. Visit The Botanical Garden

Lush green scenery in the Botanical Garden in Cienfuegos with plants and trees with pathways through the lush life
Botanical Garden in Cienfuegos

Established a century ago, this unique institution is the oldest of its kind in Cuba and gives visitors an opportunity to observe meticulously maintained plants from all corners of the world!

Its lush greenery envelopes The Pearl Of The South’s entire garden; experts have proclaimed that its palm collection is regarded as one of the most comprehensive collections on the planet!

Amidst a thousand species, from the lively Ceiba tree to an array of stunning Caribbean flora, lies Cienfuegos’ majestic botanical park.

This immersive landscape holds an abundance of trees and fruit-bearing plants as well as its own area for conservation.

In recognition of these remarkable features, the National Monument has declared it their official monument!

6. Parque Jose Marti

The statue of Jose Marti in Cienfuegos largest square in Cuba on a bright summer day with blue skies, and palm trees scattered around the square
Jose Marti in Cienfuegos

Another must-see attraction in Cienfuegos is Parque Jose Marti, a tranquil city park with shaded park benches, trees, and flowers surrounded by houses in the typical architectural style of Cienfuegos.

Visitors can admire the architecture of this 19th-century area, as well as explore various monuments honoring Cuban heroes.

The Parque José Martí is home to a number of historical monuments, including the Monumento a la Bandera and the iconic Teatro Tomas Terry. If your Spanish is strong enough, you might enjoy a play!

While there, be sure to check out the popular Cienfuegos Museum of Natural History, which is home to an array of unique and interesting specimens from all over the world!

After a day of sightseeing, grab a bite at one of the many restaurants and bars nearby for some tasty Cuban cuisine.

7. Stop By Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral

The white cathedral in Cienfuegos with tall arched doors, and two white towers in different heights, facing the main plaza in the city on a bright summer day with blue skies behind it.
Cienfuegos Cathedral not as elaborate as in Havana or Santiago

On one of the sides of Jose Marti Park, you also find the Cienfuegos Cathedral, which dates back to 1869.

One of the particular features of this cathedral is its French stained-glass windows, which were created especially for this religious building.

8. Visit Teatro Tomas Terry

Teatro Tomas Terry in Cienfuegos in a warm beige color with white details, tall archways in the facade towards the street, and a small balcony on the second floor.
Teatro Tomas Terry

The Teatro Tomas Terry is another must-see attraction in Cienfuegos. This stunning 19th-century theater was built to honor the Cuban freedom fighter Tomás Terry.

Today, it still stands as a symbol of his contributions to the country’s independence and serves as an important cultural center for the community.

Catch a show while you’re in town, or take a guided tour of the theater to learn more about its history and architecture.

9. Climb The Tower Of Palacio Ferrer

Palacio de Ferrer in Cienfuegos, in baby blue with the famous corner tower where you can keep watch of the city, against a backdrop of a clear blue sky.
Palacio de Ferrer

Flaunting its magnificence, the remnants of Cienfuegos’ grand architecture are still evident – thanks to Don José Ferrer and other local sugar barons.

The “palace” erected by him in the early 1900s is now undergoing full restoration.

However, visitors can climb up a winding staircase into his corner tower with its blue-tiled mosaic for a breathtaking view of Parque José Martí.

Today, this 19th-century palace serves as a museum honoring Ferrer’s contributions to the country!

10. Take A Day Trip To Sierra del Escambray National Park

Escambray Mountains and National Park, with blue water on hte bottom of the wide valley, and green hills on all sides into infinity.
Escambray mountains

The stunning Sierra del Escambray National Park is located close to Cienfuegos; you can take a day trip there from Cienfuegos!

This protected area covers more than 253,000 hectares of lush tropical forests and is home to a variety of wildlife.

Take an exciting trek through its rugged terrain, or explore some of the nearby caves for a unique experience. Be sure to also take some time to admire the stunning views from the park’s many lookout points.

11. Palacio De Valle

Palacio de Valle view in Cienfuegos Cuba
Palacio de Valle view

The Palacio De Valle is a must-see attraction in Cienfuegos. This stunning 19th-century palace was built by the Cuban aristocrat Don Francisco Javier de Borbón y Vallé.

Today, the palace serves as both a museum and an event venue, an impressive example of neoclassical design. Take some time to explore its stunning gardens and admire the grand architecture of the building.

Inside, visitors can explore a variety of artifacts and displays, including a collection of Cuban art and sculpture.

12. Visit The Bay Of Pigs

A large national poster around the Bay of Pigs, saying Giron: Victoria del Pueblo; the peoples victory. Typical propaganda poster in Cuba.
Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs poster

From Cienfuegos, it is possible to make a day trip to the Bay of Pigs and the infamous Playa Giron.

The drive from Cienfuegos to Playa Giron is just over one hour. There, you can visit the museum of the failed US invasion in 1961 and learn about this incident from the Cuban perspective!

You can also stop by the Cueva de Pesces, which is only a few kilometers away from Playa Giron along the shores of the long Bay of Pigs, or Bahia de Cochinos in Spanish.

FAQ’s Cienfuegos Cuba!

The pier in Cienfuegos on a bright summer day, behind a white railing you see the long pier in the distance
The pier in Cienguegos

Is Cienfuegos Worth Visiting?

Cienfuegos is unique for being a very young Cuban city, in contrast to the colonial heritage of neighboring Trinidad.

It was founded as late as 1819 and is well worth a visit, but it will not take many days to explore Cienfuegos. It is also different because it has a strong French influence.

Cienfuegos was founded by French settlers from the start, although under the Spanish crown, which was the colonial ruler at the time.

As it is close to the infamous Bay of Pigs and Playa Giron, you can take day trips from Cienfuegos to these historically important places.

Getting A Visa For Cuba

The green Cuban tourist Card, also called a tourist visa.
turist visa lite 3

You do not apply for a tourist visa for Cuba; you simply buy one, a Cuban tourist card. You can do this from an online provider like East Tourist Card, which I normally use, or from selected airlines and tour operators.

You can probably also buy a tourist card from the Cuban embassy in your country.

Americans or travelers stopping in a US airport before entering Cuba need the PINK tourist card, while everyone else needs a GREEN tourist card for Cuba.

What Is Cienfuegos Cuba Known For?

Cienfuegos Cuba is known for being the only city in Cuba that was not founded by the Spanish – but by the French! (Although still under the Spanish crown).

How To Get To Cienfuegos?

You can fly to Cuba is Abel Santamaría Airport, which is the airport in Santa Clara, Cuba 84 km from the center of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

You can also fly to Varadero Airport or Jose Marti Airport in Havana.

From Havana or Varadero, you can take a taxi collectivo (shared taxi) or taxi privado (normal private taxi) to Cienfuegos. You can also take the Viazul bus from Havana, a journey of just over 5 hours that costs $16 online.

The viazul bus goes between a variety of destinations in Cuba, including between Havana and Vinales
The Viazul bus in Cuba

Cienfuegos Cuba Hotels & Casas

There are some good hotels in Cienfuegos and a variety of casa particulares for rent.

Check out some of the top-rated Cienfuegos casa particulares to get an idea of what you can expect.

Wrap-Up What To Do In Cienfuegos Cuba

The laid-back atmosphere and stunning natural beauty of Cienfuegos and the area around the city on the southern shores of Cuba have drawn visitors from around the world.

For anyone with a bit of interest in history, a tour of Cienfuegos will be well worth your time. You can easily spend a day or two in Cienfuegos without getting bored, but maybe not a lot more.

Related blog posts:

Is Trinidad Cuba Worth Visiting | A Remarkable Colonial Sugar Kingdom

Is Female Solo Travel In Cuba Safe? A Local Woman’s Advice

Sensational 7 Days In Cuba Itinerary By A Local

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