Welcome to our home port of Cienfuegos, the "Pearl of the South". We chose Cienfuegos as our home base for being one of the most beautiful and also most "normal" cities of Cuba with an unique setting on a bay which is well-protected by a 300 m wide entrance, 20 km deep and with a surface of 88 km².
We hope you will have a little time before or after your sailing voyage to see some of the city and her surroundings. For this, we would like to give you some information about history and what to see. Our base personnel and the marina team will be glad to tell you more.
The bay of Jagua, on which Cienfuegos is situated, was discovered by Columbus during his second voyage in 1494. The name originates in Indian mythology, with Jagua being the daughter of the first pair of humans. Some sources put the foundation of a settlement named Fernandina de la Jagua here by Bartolomé de las Casas to the year of 1514. However, the area remained widely unsettled long after.
During the following centuries, the bay was notorious as a hideaway for pirates like Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, who are said to have anchored here. In 1745, construction of the harbor fortress Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Jagua was begun to put an end this curse and also to smuggling. This is displayed in a small exhibition inside the fortress. Around 1750 the first sugar mills of Cuba appeared in this region, soon followed by plans to extend the city and the harbor facilities.
Today’s city was founded on April 22, 1819, by 46 French families from Louisiana and Bordeaux, led by Louis D’Clouet y Piettre, who was the architect and father of the city-to-be. A portrait of Clouet in French uniform can be seen in the bar "El Palatino" at Parque Martí.
As early as 1825, the new settlement was destroyed by a storm, only to be rebuilt immediately. After this reconstruction, ca. 1830, it received its modern name after the Spanish general and governor José Cienfuegos, who had called for the French settlers to avoid black plantation slaves becoming the majority of the population. Numerous pale-skinned, even blond and blue-eyed Cienfuegeros still witness the success of his this idea nowadays.
The name Cienfuegos - literally "hundred fires" - therefore is neither related to the camp fires of native people nor to the revolutionary hero Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos (+1959), as frequently is assumed.
Cultivation of tobacco, fruit and, most of all, sugar, brought enormous wealth to the city, still reflected in the buildings - amongst them a one-thousand-seat theater - around Parque Martí. This square, with the memorial for poet-revolutionary and national hero José Martí, founding father of independent Cuba. The lovely Glorieta pavillion, the small arc of triumph commemorating the foundation of the republic in 1902, together with the city hall, the cathedral and the theater form one of the most beautiful architectural ensembles of Cuba.
Today, at a population of 135.000, Cienfuegos is one of the most important industrial centers of the country (shipbuilding, petrol refinery, thermoelectric power plant, cement, fertilizer and paper mills), the third-ranking Container terminal in Cuba, the number one sugar port worldwide, and also home port to a major part of the Cuban shrimp-fishing fleet.
The construction of an atomic power plant, started with Soviet aid in 1982, has been abandoned for ecological reasons, amongst others. The project - 75% of the construction and 20% of the equipment being finished - can be seen across the bay in the southwest.
Despite this industrial development, Cienfuegos could keep her special flair with wide streets, classically and moorish appearing buildings and rich musical tradition. The beautiful situation on the bay makes Cienfuegos the true "Pearl of the South".
The "heart" of Cienfuegos beats around Parque Martí with its unique architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The "main artery" however is the Paseo del Prado (Calle 37), which is flanked by columns and leading straight across the city and along the bay to Punta Gorda - Cuba’s longest promenade.
Right across the cathedral, two marble lions mark the entrance to this impressive park, with the statue of national hero José Martí in its center. The other end is dominated by an arc of triumph from 1902 to commemorate the foundation of the Republic of Cuba. The formerly impressive royal palms still show some consequences of the hurricane of November 2001.
Seen from this short side of the park in front of the cathedral, at your right-hand side first is the Colegio San Lorenzo of 1927, now a school again, and next the famous Teatro Tomás Terry, one of the most important monuments of architecture in the country. Behind the arc of triumph at the end of the park, former Palacio de Ferrer (1918) is the home of a cultural center with a mirador tower that offers a wonderful view of city and bay.
At the left-hand side of the square, the blue Palacio de Gobierno with its red cupola, formerly city hall, is now home to the regional administration. The building of the provincial museum, which is next, dates back to 1898. Across Calle 27 follows one of the oldest buildings of the city with the Bodega "El Palatino", where you can end your small tour and enjoy the view of the whole park again from a table in the shadow of the arcades with a mojíto or another typical Cuban cocktail or some soft drink.
This square, like uncounted memorials in the whole country, is dedicated to José Martí (1853 - 1895), the great historic liberator, hero and national poet. Besides political scripture, essays, novels and theater plays he wrote moving lyrics, and also the text of the famous song "Guantanamero".
The admiration he enjoys in today’s Cuba goes back to his paramount role in the Cuban liberation and independence movement of the 19th century, but also to astonishing parallels of his life with the early years of today’s President Fidel Castro: political and revolutionary activities at very young age, trial and banishment to Isla de Pinos (Isla de la Juventud), exile in foreign countries, the beginning of a revolution by a landing by ship in the Oriente province.
But here the life of Martí ends, one month after beginning the war of independence he died in one of the first battles in 1895. When success was near for the Cubans, the United States intervened in 1898 and Cuba became independent from Spain, but only to remain under the control of the US until the 1959 revolution of Fidel Castro.
Back to our walk around Parque Martí.
The east of the square is dominated by the Catedral de la Purisima Concepción. The two-towered, neo-classical building was finished in 1869 and consecrated as cathedral in 1904. Besides the column-ornamented altar and the powerful organ above the entrance, some monumental, stained-glass windows originating from France and displaying the twelve apostles, must be noted.
The patron, Tomás Terry from Venezuela came to Cinefuegos around 1820 and made a fortune in milling sugar and trading slaves. His son had the theater built in his honor from 1887 to 1889 and set a memorial of Italian Carrara marble for his father in the vestibulum. The theater was opened in 1895 with the Verdi opera Aïda, world-famous artists like Enrico Caruso, Anna Pavlova and Sarah Berhardt appeared here. The audience, seating over 900, can be elevated to stage level, thus forming an enormous dance hall.
While the facade with stucco pilasters and mosaics has been renovated, the interior still breathes unchanged historical flair. From the front balconies, there is an excellent view to the historical stage technology, across the lovely folding seats of the main audience, dark mahogany furnishing and cast-iron decorum. The ceiling shows a painting by Camilo Salaya with dancing muses of art and nude beauty with a clock that displays the hour when the work was finished: 4 p.m. In the corners, there are portraits of Cuban poets.
This light-blue, palace-like building with its columns, corners, balconies and balustrades was erected for the sugar magnate Don José Ferrer in 1917/18. Caruso stayed here in 1920. Today it is home to a cultural center, which regrettably neglects the stucco- and marble-ornamented inside rooms. The way across the labyrinthuous interior to finally climb up to the view tower is rewarded by a beautiful sight over city and bay.
Behind Palacio de Ferrer - this means further west - the way would lead across former Chinatown to the harbor installations and the historical La Reina cemetery with wonderful Carrara marble statues and memorials. More to the northwest is the naval museum Museo Histórico Naval Nacional in the former Cayo Loco navy base. It reminds of the revolutionary rising of navymen against the dictator Fulgenico Batista on September 5, 1957. But also the naval history of Cuba and especially the Cienfuegos region from pre-columbian time to the modern buoyage system and lighthouses is documented. It closes with a small display of modern Cuban art.
Back at Parque Martí, across the intersection of the Palacio de Gobierno begins the pedestrian zone of the Boulevard San Fernando (Avenida 54), where you can stroll along kiosks, shops, boutiques and cafés to the main street of Cienfuegos, Paseo del Prado (Calle 37) with its pillared buildings.
Up to the 1950s this Boulevard was separated by a rope, with one side for the white and one for the colored inhabitants to walk along. The Prado is continued by the Malecón, leading along the bay to Punta Gorda, a neighborhood of villas, where you can find our marina, the Hotel Jagua and the Palacio del Valle.
Before leaving the center of the city, on the way back to Parque Martí, you might wish to have a look inside the courtyards of the newly renovated Hotel Union, which was originally erected in 1869, and where besides bars and a swimming pool, there is an exhibition of modern art and photography (One block from Parque Martí, corner Ave. 54 / Calle 31). Another block further north, on Avenida 58, are the city market building of the 1920s, today again a farmer’s market, and some dollar-supermarkets.
Our marina is directly surrounded by the villa neighborhood of Punta Gorda, dominated by the newly renovated modern Hotel Jagua and the immediately neighboring historical Palacio de Valle. On the way to the very end of the peninsula you will find some rich decorated wooden villas - pre-fabricated and imported from the states - though some of them and also the waterfront street and promenade have severely suffered from the 2001 hurricane. In the streets around the marina, some interesting 1950s bungalow architecture is still furnished with the original cars of the period.
Moorish decorations dominate this lovely mix of fairy tale palace and fortress, of east and west, of gothic, venetian and arabian style. Since 1890 Don Asisclo del Valle Blanco had craftsmen from Spain and Morocco rebuild his childhood memories from southern Spain. Some evidence for the phantasy of his Italian architect Alfredo Colli: the towers symbolize power (the fortress-like tower), religion (the tower in the middle) and love (that with the cupola). This tale from a thousand and one nights was finished in 1917. Shortly before the revolution, a brother of Batista wanted to make a gambling hall of it, but then an academy of arts moved in. Today, a restaurant welcomes its guests with piano music and unique interior decoration. Don’t miss the upper floors and a "sundowner" at the bar on top of the roof with its excellent view across the bay.
The botanical garden lies about 15 km east of the city, near the Pepito-Tey sugar mill and the village of Guaos. At the Karl Marx cement factory turn right, then you will find the Jardín Botánico soon at your right hand side. Enter through an alley of royal palms.
For the visit (2 to 3 hours) a guide is highly recommended, because in the large (ca. 100 ha) area there are hardly any marks or signs. It’s not a garden of blooming flowers, but has a serious scientific background, specializing in tropical vegetation (2.300 species), especially bamboo (28 species), ficus (89 species) and palms (305 species) as well as medical plants.
The garden was started by the American sugar millionaire Edward F. Atkins at the site of a former sugar plantation to do research in different types of sugar cane. Soon more tropical plants from all around the world were added. Harvard University took over in 1919, and in 1961 the Instituto de Ecología y Sistemática of the Cuba Academy of Science followed.
The Tomas Acea cemetery is situated at the eastern main exit road Avenida 5 de Septiembre. The entrance shows a replica of the Parthenon of Athens/Greece from 1926.
At the Faro Luna beach, which is situated about 17 km from Cienfuegos, only recently a small delphinarium was opened. Besides a sea lion show there is the opportunity to swim with the dolphins in a small, natural cove at the price of 30 US$ (which is an absolute worldwide bargain). Direct contact and talks with the trainers are also possible occasionally.
The beaches of Cienfuegos are Rancho Luna and Faro Luna, here you can find hotels, bars, the dolphin show and the"Whale Shark" diving center of Puertosol.
By following the road to Faro Luna 5 km more, you get to Hotel Pasacaballo directly above the harbor entrance. At this stretch of highway the immense power of the hurricane of 2001 is still very obvious.
Below the Hotel Pasacaballo, a small ferryboat crosses to the picturesque fishermen’s village of El Perché. Above sits the harbor fortress Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Jagua of 1745. In the castle, there are a small museum, bar, restaurant and the view across the ships’ access to Bahía de Cienfuegos.
No castle without its spook: The pretty wife of commander Juan Castilla Cabeza de Vaca was buried in the fortress. Many years later, soldiers reported a big black bird changing into the ghost of a blue woman at night. One guard became insane after being attacked by the spirit. The next morning, blue parts of cloth were found on his sword...
At a distance of about 70 km from Cienfuegos, and accessible only by four-wheel-drive via Cumanayagua. Turn right at about 2 km after leaving Cumanayagua at a rather inconspicuous wooden signpost, which correctly indicates a distance of 18 km to the natural reserve area of El Nicho. A one-hour driving time will be needed for this scenic mountain road.
The way leads across tropical mountain forest to the Sierra del Escambray mountains and provides some breathtaking viewpoints. Well-prepared walkways - some of them with steps and ladders - lead to the cascades of El Nicho. Close your visit with a bath in one of the sweetwater pools between the waterfalls....
Normally, you will drive from Cienfuegos to Trinidad on a well-maintained coastal route. The alternative - with some potholes, but no problem to drive with a normal car - leads across the Escambray range. One full day should be planned for the round trip of about 200 km back to Cienfuegos.
From Cienfuegos, take the direction of Cumanayagua to Manicaragua, then via Jibacoa and Topes de Collantes in the direction of Trinidad. The route is marked far better this way than in the opposite direction, but anyway you should include some stops in order to also enjoy the view back. The spa area of Topes de Collantes was begun in 1954 and is still an important destination for "health tourists" looking for a wide range of special treatments. The region receives the highest amount of precipitation in all Cuba. Therefore, a multitude of rain forest plants flourish here and a unique animal life can be observed. One of the most popular tours leads along a rock face to the Caburní cascades or across eucalyptus and pine forests to the summits of the Sierra del Escambray.
Now the road turns to a steep downhill stretch, always facing the sea, and finally leads to Trinidad, a world cultural heritage site of UNESCO and the oldest existing - and perfectly preserved - town of Cuba.
It is very rewarding to follow the road about 15 km more in the direction of Sancti Spiritus, to enjoy the view over the Valle de los Ingenios, the valley of sugar mills, from a mirador immediately next to the highway and climb the Torre de Iznaga at the ancient sugar plantation of Mañacas Iznaga, which has become a symbol of this beautiful region. The return trip to Cienfuegos on the excellent coastal route in the light of the setting sun will take a bit more than one hour.