The Parque José Martí, formerly the Plaza de Armas, is the historic center's hub. It's a broad city park with a gazebo/bandstand at its center and a little Arco de Triunfo (Arc of Triumph) dating from 1902 at its western end. Surrounding the park, you'll find Cienfuegos' most interesting historical buildings. The stylish 1918 Palacio Ferrer (tel. 43/51-6584), on one corner here, is the city's Casa de la Cultura. This is a good place to find out if there are any interesting art exhibits or concerts going on while you're in town. You should also check out the view of the city from the rooftop cupola here; admission is CUC$0.50. The building is undergoing renovation but it's possible to climb the cupola. On the eastern end of the park, you'll find the Catedral de la Purísima Concepción, a beautiful neoclassical church finished in 1870. The church features wonderful stained-glass work imported from France. On the north side of the park is the Teatro Tomás Terry (tel. 43/51-3361; www.azurina.cult.cu). Inaugurated in 1890, the theater has been wonderfully maintained. It has been declared a national monument, and stars such as Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt, and Anna Pavlova performed here. Check to see if there will be any performances while you're in town; if not, you can tour the facility during the day. Admission is CUC$1 and includes a quick, guided tour. Across the park, on its south side, is the small Museo Provincial, which is only of interest to die-hard museum and local-history buffs.
Out on the end of Punta Gorda, past the Malecón, is the historic old Palacio del Valle (tel. 43/55-1003 ext. 830), an eclectic architectural masterpiece, which covers vast stylistic ground in its compact floor plan. The centerpiece here is the Salón Comedor (dining room), which dates to 1917 and tries to imitate the intricate Moorish stucco and tile work of Spain's Alhambra. Other rooms are done variously in baroque, neoclassical, and Gothic styling. The whole thing operates as a restaurant, and there's also a wonderful third-floor rooftop balcony bar and lookout, as well as a tapas bar and wine cellar with live music in the basement.
At the very tip of Punta Gorda, there's now La Punta, a small garden, snack bar, and bar open late.
Cienfuegos has two picturesque cemeteries, featuring elaborate marble headstones, mausoleums, and aboveground burial crypts. The Cementerio de Reina ★ is the older of the two and located on the western extreme edge of the city beyond the downtown center. The Cementerio Tomás Acea is in an eastern suburb of the city and features an elaborate entrance modeled after the Parthenon in Greece.
On the Outskirts of Town
Popular tours from Cienfuegos include visits to the Castillo de Jagua (tel. 43/59-6402; open Mon-Sat 9:30am-5pm, Sun 9:30am-1pm; admission CUC$1), which is located on the western flank of the narrow entrance to the harbor. Built between 1738 and 1745, the little fort sits on a hill above the quaint fishing village of Perché. Although the moat is dry, you still enter the castle by crossing the wooden drawbridge. Inside, there are some basic museum-like exhibits. You reach the castle by driving to the Hotel Pasacaballos, then parking and taking the constant little ferry across; the cost one-way is CUC$1. More convenient is the thrice daily ferry from the dock at Avenida 46 between Calles 23 and 25. It departs at 8am, 1pm, and 5:30pm, and returns at 6:30am, 10am, and 3pm; cost is CUC$0.50.
The Jardín Botánico Soledad, Calle Central 136, Pepito Tey, Cienfuegos (tel. 43/54-5334), was begun by U.S. sugar magnate Edwin Atkins in 1904, and taken over by Harvard University in 1919. With more than 2,000 species of plants covering some 90 hectares (222 acres), it is the largest and most extensive botanical garden in Cuba. The grounds are beautiful to walk around, and there's usually good bird-watching here, although everything tends to be overgrown and unkempt, and markings are sorely lacking. The gardens are 17km (11 miles) east of downtown, via the road to Trinidad. The garden is open daily from 8am to 4:30pm; admission costs CUC$3.
Near Playa Rancho Luna is the Delfinario (Dolphin Show; tel. 43/54-8120). Captive trained dolphins perform several times daily here. Although the amphitheater around a penned-in saltwater lagoon is spiffy, we find these types of shows and facilities depressing. The main pool and side pens here are particularly small and shallow. This place is open Thursday through Tuesday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and has a reasonably priced little restaurant. Shows are at 10am and 2pm. Admission is CUC$10 for adults and CUC$6for children. It will cost you an extra CUC$1 to take photos, CUC$2 to shoot video, and CUC$3to get a kiss from a dolphin. A 15- to 20-minute swimming session with a dolphin costs CUC$50; a show is included in this price. Cubanacán offers a package for CUC$45.
Farther away is El Nicho, in the Escambray mountains, a series of waterfalls (some up to 15 meters high) from which you can plunge into a natural pool; the scenery is lovely; there's a restaurant on-site. Agencies organize trips for CUC$30 although you can arrange private transport through local casas that works out cheaper.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.