256km (159 miles) SE of Havana; 67km (42 miles) S of Santa Clara
Known as La Perla del Sur (the Southern Pearl), Cienfuegos is an uncharacteristically calm and inviting port city. Although Columbus visited the deep and protected harbor here on his second voyage, and the Spanish built the Castillo de Jagua in 1745, it wasn't until 1819, when a group of French colonists settled here, that Cienfuegos began to grow and develop. The French influence continued through most of the city's history, particularly throughout the 19th century, when Cienfuegos became a major shipping point for sugar, tobacco, and coffee. As trade with the United States increased, Cienfuegos lost some of its strategic importance to the northern ports of Havana and Matanzas.
Nevertheless, today Cienfuegos is still a busy port, with an assortment of heavy industry and important sugar-producing plantations surrounding it. In fact, the industrial smokestacks, high-tension electrical towers, and an abandoned nuclear plant significantly mar the landscape. However, the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, the beautiful bay and harborfront buildings, the charming wooden homes of Punta Gorda, and the Malecón make it a wonderful city to explore and enjoy.