An hour drive west of Trinidad in Central Cuba lies the port city of Cienfuegos. Known as the “Pearl of the South“, Cienfuegos was built along a peninsula overlooking one of Cuba’s largest bays, Bahia de Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos was originally inhabited by the French who arrived in 1803 with 40 families from Bordeaux and Louisiana. In 1819, the Spanish arrived and founded the town which would become an important industrial area after the Cuban Revolution. Sugar refineries, flour mills, cement factories and a naval base transformed Cienfuegos into an important economic hub for Cuba.
Most people visit Cienfuegos today for its amazing location along the Caribbean Sea and its access to beaches and culture. The historic center of Cienfuegos is a World Heritage Site lined with gorgeous Spanish and French colonial architecture reminiscent of Cienfuegos’ heritage and past. Cienfuegos also boasts a strong cultural scene with one of Cuba’s finest Chamber Orchestras (which we got to hear) and a surprisingly developed art scene. Unfortunately we only had a few hours to spend in Cienfuegos but it was well worth the visit. Here are some highlights.
Our first cultural visit was at a cooperative art studio called “Art in your Hands“. The studio has 8 artists in residence each with a unique artistic style and expertise. Not only do the artists paint, they also design carvings and engravings using linoleum, wood, pressboard and stone. We got to watch them work and tour their studio. Works of art were for sale and the Cuban government does allow foreigners to take art out of the country as long as they have the appropriate documentation. A few of us bought art but I only left with a postcard (not for lack of wanting to buy something!).
Cuba is one of the better places to live as an artist as you actually are paid the same as everyone else (i.e. $20-25/month salary) meaning you can actually survive as an artist. Artists flourish in Cuba and for the most part have some freedom of expression as long as they aren’t criticizing the Communist regime.
After our visit with the artists, we had a half an hour to walk around the main central square of Cienfuegos before lunch. I snapped some photos of the beautiful 19th and 20th century buildings and architecture. I loved the pastel-hues of the buildings.
Cienfuegos felt very different from the other towns I’d been to so far in Cuba. For some reason, it didn’t seem nearly as rundown as Havana. Everything seemed to be in well order, well maintained and restored. But then again, I was only there for a few hours and didn’t have time to get off the beaten path with camera in hand and explore. One thing that was the same: The lovely Cuban people with their smiles.
After a brief look at the main square it was time to head out to Punta Gorda, the beautiful area along the sea that is dotted in fabulous, extravagant mansions from the wealthy colonial past.
These beautiful homes were once owned by the rich sugar plantation owners and today operate as tourist facilities. I was longing to go inside them and look around but there just wasn’t time. Little did I know, our tour leader saved the best for last.
Our next stop was at perhaps the most beautiful mansion in town, the Palacio de Valle, where we would have lunch and I would take an obsessive amount of pictures. It was so incredibly spectacular that I am giving it an entire post of its own. Stay tuned…
Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’d love to see those parts of Cuba.
It was great! 🙂
It certainly looks better than Havana.
Yes the parts I saw was but then again I didn’t see nearly as much!!!
cuba sounds like an intrigueingplace
It is a fabulous place!
Great shots again, thanks for posting. Such colors!
So glad you enjoyed! 🙂
Beautiful architecture! Love the street art work. The smiling sister photo is a wonderful capture 🙂
Thanks! The girls were adorable! 🙂 They were hoping for handouts of candy but all I brought were school pens.
Your wonderful photos make this town seems a beautiful and placid place. That gorgeous range of pastel colors under that amazin bright blue skay is fantastic. Hoewever, I’m gonna let you guess which photo I like the most?! I know you must have an idea!
Not sure! Which one is your favorite?????
The very first one Nicole (not the map!) I love everything in that picture: the masterful composition, framed by that leafy branch; the harsh light; those innocent children, totally absorbed in what they are sharing; and, finally, and my main point of interest in this photo, the drama in the face and pose expression of the lady, looking straight to the camera, as saying …?! Another GREAT document Nicole (I would put this one, along with the one of the lady resting on the bench in Plaza de Armas, Old Havana; the one of the man atop a donkey with his “for rent”, and the man with the hat on horseback, taken from his back, as well as the musicians, in Trinidad streets; and the wedding couple in the vintage car along the Prado, and surely along with some others that will appear soon, all together into a special box, to go assembling a condensed photographic series about Cuba)!
So fascinating about the artists being paid. Really enjoyed the mural work. Looks very neat and tidy and love the green car photo especially.
Thanks Sue! 🙂
LOVED your beautiful, insightful post. Wouldn’t it be nice to survive as an artist……….
Thanks! Yes it would be but they still don’t make much money to live on. I read an excellent article about it I believe in Time magazine. They said Cuba is the one place artists can not be “starving artists” and actually make a living. It was an interesting take on things.
Maybe I need to consider it ..whew. All the photos you and others have posted make it very appealing ! My dream finally come true 🙂
I wonder if the town is called ‘A Hundred Fires’ (Cienfuegos) because they burn the sugarcane fields after harvesting? During sugarcane harvest time in Nicaragua, we can see huge fires across the lake at night. This city is gorgeous. I especially like the mural of the woman in hair rollers. Jeje. Reminds me of sleeping with huge hair rollers when I was a teenager. Oops. I guess I’m showing my age. 🙂
Now that is a great thought! There wasn’t much on Cienfuegos in my book or on the net but I bet you are right! Sugarcane is what made Cuba rich and I know this area had a lot of it.
This looks like a wonderful part of Cuba to visit. At least they haven’t put out the fire of art!
Yes indeed true! We also listened to the chamber orchestra play for us and it was absolutely gorgeous. Cuba has so much culture.
Wow! Such amazing architecture, Nicole. Love those smiley faces, too. 🙂
Always love the architecture but the street art was quite amazing. 🙂
Cienfuegos is really one of my favourite places in Cuba – along with Camagüey – and…. (too many places). It’s a beautiful and airy town. Lovely images you have captured.
Thank you! Looking forward to seeing where you are headed when you return to Cuba.
Wonderful article. Beautiful people and beautiful landscapes; I enjoy my visits. Cienfuegos was named after one of the Spanish oppressor generals; it was a long favored home of the indigenous people, the Siboney. Before they were wiped out by those same Spaniards. Cuba is a fascinating place-artists and doctors each making the equivalent of $25/day. Wonderful. But it did make me sad on my last visit to meet 2 young female doctors prostituting themselves for needed money and free dinners to visiting Canadian old men doctors; kind of gross. It didn’t fit my ideal of a worker’s paradise.
Thanks for your comment. Yes sad reality indeed.