Placed around a natural bay in south central Cuba, the charming city of Cienfuegos was founded by French émigrés in 1819. Their elegant style architecture and boulevards are still a sparkling remnant of this founding.
The center of town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with palaces built in the 1920s and beautiful ornate buildings. Climb to the iron dome at the top of the baby blue Palacio de Ferrer for views over the city, and stick around for dance classes within the palace. Watch an opera or ballet at the Teatro Tomas Terry which opened in 1895 and featured a curious raked stage. The Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion has pretty stained glass windows flanking a vaulted ceiling.
A walk through the Parque Marti or down the marble boulevard of Cienfuegos’ Prado is an opportunity to meet with locals and soak in the ambiance of this lovely town.
Dine and enjoy the live music in the restaurant within the 1917 Palacio de Valle located near the bay. This former palace was built by a Spaniard and infused with a combination of Mughal and arabesque designs. Those with a green thumb will want to see the Botanical Garden, established by a sugar baron and home to over 2,000 species of plants.
Before Cienfuegos was settled, the limestone Castillo de Jagua at the mouth of the bay protected the area from pirates prowling the Caribbean coast. A dive under the sea finds reefs with coral pillars called Notre Dame. Above water, sail and kayak through the sparkling sea. Visit the baroque Club Cienfuegos for catamaran rides or drink a cocktail on the terrace as the sun goes down.
Southeast of the city lies the Laguna Guanaroca, a natural protected area with wild avocado, lemon, pear, and gura, which are used to make maracas. This nature area is a magnet for pelicans and herons, but the main attraction is the sea of pink flamingos that congregate in the saline waters.