This is a map of Cuba. Can you see Cienfuegos? Look for Cuba in red. Cienfuegos is right above it.
Welcome to Cienfuegos! This is a shot of the harbor as we sailed in, but that is not my ship. The Empress of the Sea is much bigger.
This is another shot of the harbor. Can you see the boats up front? The mountains in the distance?
I didn’t know Cuba had mountains. When we sailed around the island on the way to Grand Cayman, we saw them in the distance. It was my first view of Cuba.
Here’s one last shot. It looks beautiful from the boat, not touristy, Just land and water and nature. Beautiful!
Let’s Go Ashore
This is the tender we took to ferry us into Grand Cayman and back. It took about an an hour or two for everyone to get off the boat. Easy peasy!
Cienfuegos wasn’t! Imagine that Grand Cayman tender cut in half. That’s the boat we climbed aboard. It had one deck that held about 40 people. It took 35 trips (3-4 hours) to unload everyone from the ship. The first 15 trips took forever! Really! But we weren’t in any rush. By the time we slept in and ate breakfast we were waiting for Tender 28 out of the 35. Sleeping in is always a good thing!
This is a paper reminder that you need to get a special Cuban passport before you can set foot on the island. It’s $75 a person, $150 for my husband and me. We paid for it before we even climbed aboard the ship in Miami. In return we each received two documents to fill in.
One was from the American government. We had to pick a reason why we wanted to go to Cuba. We marked we were there to support the Cuban people. Correction- we took a third party tour from a local group.
The other document was from the Cuban government. It was much shorter and asked for basic information like our names, address, birth-dates, passport numbers, and why we were there, at least that’s what I remember. We were told that we’d have to show that document at Cuban customs, and that they would take it from us either in Cienfuegos or Havana.
When we landed in Cienfuegos, we went into the old customs building. We were packed in like sardines, waiting our turn with the customs officers who’d look over our paperwork. My husband and I each carried an American passport, a Cuban passport, a key card from the ship, and a questionnaire for the American government. The official looked over my documents and sent me through the gate. I waited for my husband to follow. Next up, getting some Cuban money! They don’t accept American dollars or credit cards in Cuba. On to the next line!
At the next gate there were 4 sets of cargo containers that worked as bank offices. We waited in line, again, to exchange our money. It was a great deal for the Cuban government. They got 13% when we traded our dollars into CUCS, and then another 13% when we trade the CUCS back into dollars. That’s 26% total, or like $26 out of every $100 in American money. Like I said, a great deal for the Cuban government.
Look at the money carefully because there are 2 kinds of bills floating around Cuba. One kind has people on it. The other has places. You want places on yours because it’s worth more. Be careful when you buy from a street vendor. Make sure you get back bills with places, not people. I took a picture of the front and back of my bills and coins. I had a 1, 5, 10, and 20 in CUCS. Those were the bills we used. Thank goodness they were all places! I’d hate to have money troubles…I have so much fun spending it!
The coins above were hard to see so they got a close-up. Sorry, I didn’t have a 1 cent coin left, but I still had 5’s, a 10, and 25’s. The coin on the top left is worth 5 cents. The bottom left coin is worth 25. The middle one is worth 10 cents. Look at the coins on the top and bottom right. They always have the same picture, on the back, the Cuban coat of arms.
Once we finished exchanging money we headed out for an adventure. This is the 1st thing we found was a train, like the ones you find at an amusement park. It costs 5 CUCS a person to ride the train. I’m in the middle with my brother-in-law on the left and my husband on the right. We’re ready to take a tour down Main Street of Cienfuegos, Cuba. All aboard!
Main Street, Cienfuegos Style
When we climbed aboard, I had no idea where we were going, but I soon discovered that we were taking a trip down Main Street. Time to explore, Cienfuegos style!
This was the 1st building to catch my eye. It was built in 1920 as someone’s house. Later it became a hotel. Ready for the name…The Green Hotel. Really! In the states, it’d probably a bed and breakfast.
Take a look at the cars parked in front. They look like they’re from the 50’s and 60’s. That’s because Cuba used to be an American territory, like Puerto Rico. In 1959, Fidel Castro started a revolution, and the US and Cuba became enemies. The Americans put an embargo on products going in and out of Cuba. It’s still in effect today.
The picture beside the red car reminds me of a road in Florida with its palm-lined center strip and 2 lanes on either side. The difference…in Florida the road would be packed full of cars.
Both of these buildings started as private homes. Both were built in the early 1900’s, The first, the Cienfuegos Yacht Club now sits next to the marina and houses a restaurant. BTW…I didn’t remember all of this. I googled it to write this post.
The second, the Palacio de Valle was designed and built by a wealthy Spaniard. It’s a little small for a palace...only 8 bedrooms. In the 50’s someone wanted to turn it into a casino, but the 1959 Revolution stopped that. Now you can take a tour and stop in for lunch.
The building above is the Palicio Azul, The Blue Palace. Why? It’s painted powder blue. I love blue! It was built in 1921 and was owned by a rich tobacco baron. Cuba is known for its tobacco and its cigars. In 2004 it was renovated and became The Hotel Encanto Palacio Azul. With only 6 bedrooms, book early to stay here.
Beside the Palacio is a more modern hotel, well modern for the 1950’s. The Hotel Jagua is one of the most famous hotels in Cuba. It looks like a great place to stay!
Let’s Go to the Park…Parque Jose Marti
Look where the train dropped me off at…Jose Marti Park. Jose was a Cuban poet and journalist who fought for independence. He died on the battlefield, a hero.
Today Jose has a park in the heart of Cienfuegos. It’s a great place to sit, relax, and enjoy the greenery. For the Cuban people it’s where they remember a hero.
I had an hour to take pictures and shop before the train returned. There are statues scattered throughout the park. The lion, above, caught my eye. He’s on a marble pedestal. When I googled, I discovered lion statues mark the entrance to the park. Find a lion, and you’ll find a statue of Jose Marti nearby. If only I’d known!
As for the other statue above, I don’t know who it is. I searched google and found this same silhouette facing the Ferrer Palace. If you visit this palace, please look up this statue and send me its name.
This building, the Antiguo Ayuntamiento, is across the street from the park. Antiguo means old, and Ayuntamiento means municipal council. It doesn’t look old, but it’s still the home of Cienfuegos provincial government. Cienfuegos is both a city and a province. The only thing I could learn about this building is that it’s supposed to look like the Capaitolio in Havana.
The Teatro Tomas Terry is also across from the park. Tomas Terry Adams owned a sugar factory back in the day. Later he became Cienfuegos’ mayor. Sorry, this wasn’t his house, but it was built after his death all because Tomas put aside to money build an Italian-style theatre in Cienfuegos. Here it is! Famous singers like Enrico Caruso performed here. I wish Tomas could have seen and heard it during his lifetime!
Here’s the last building I captured on camera. It’s the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It’s old, finished in 1819. Next year will be its 200th birthday. The Cathedral was the first church built in Cienfuegos, and it’s now a national monument. It’s a beautiful old building with its 2 bell towers, 3 arched doorways, and French stained-glass windows of the Twelve Apostles.
I found several factoids when I was googling information for this post. Cienfuegos means100 fires, but I didn’t read anything about fire in its history. The true story— it was named after Jose Cienfuegos who was the Captain General of Cuba from 1816-1819. Maybe someone in his family lit 100 fires. I hope not! Cienfuegos is also called the Pearl of the South, and it’s the only city in Cuba founded by France. The rest of the island belonged to Spain.
Shopping, Street Style This is the only picture I didn’t take. It’s the street market off Jose Marti Park. The vendors stretch 3 or 4 blocks down the street.
When I was there it was sprinkling. I shop by walking from booth to booth scanning for treasures, but a treasure must call me back. There was a toy jeep made out of recycled Coke cans that made me laugh. I was planning to go back for it.
A block or two later the rain poured down, and I’d somehow wandered away from my family. That’s scary when you’re in a foreign country, even if you’re an adult. I found my sister-in-law, who said my husband was looking for me. Ruh-roh! I’d hurried past him. I walked back slower, heart pounding, rain pouring down. Thank goodness we found each other! By then the vendors closed up to keep things dry. The Coke Can Car, gone! We waited on a covered porch till the rain stopped. We boarded the train, and luckily back at the dock, I found shopping and something to buy!
I found these booths in front of customs when we got off the train. They’d closed up for the rain and were reopening again. This time I took pictures. No Coke Can Car, but souvenir cars for kids were for sale. Next door was a booth of wooden things like statues, drums, and fans. They were touristy-cute, but nothing called me.
Next up jewelry. I glanced at the necklaces and earrings, but nothing called me here nor next door at the leather stand. Shoes, purses, baseballs, and wall hangings. When I wrote this post I thought I missed something to the right of the Chevrolet Legendario, I thought it said Buckeye, and I was wishing I’d bought it. Happily it says Bucanero so nothing was missed after all.
Finally, a treasure, something that called me back! It was a necklace made from seeds. I’d never seen anything like it so I walked back again.
The newspaper was my shopping bag. Cienfuegos is a very poor place. The street vendors don’t buy bags. They make them from recycled newspaper.
One last thing I remember from Cienfuegos were the dogs. They were thin like Greyhounds, but they were Mutts. I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t want to remember. I'm not used to seeing animals who aren't cared for.
Leaving, on a Tender
This is where I waited to leave. I was bored so I tried to take a picture of our ship. It’s not the big cruise ship. It’s off in the distance. Can you see it? Look at bow and follow it back. I can barely make it out, but I blew it up for you. Look!
See! Hello, Empress! Good-bye, Cienfuegos! Here’s to a one day sail tomorrow. Then it’s Havana Na Na Na!
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!