Cienfuegos Cruise Port

Port of Cienfuegos: An Overview

Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos enjoys a position as a seaport on Cuba's southern coast. This gave the city an advantage during the island's Spanish Colonial times, as the port became a center for trade with Jamaica and South America.

You can tell that the city once had money, just by walking around town. Cienfuegos earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status because it's the best existing example of 19th-century Spanish Enlightenment urban planning. That's a fancy way of saying that Cienfuegos is pedestrian friendly, with a median promenade down its main traffic street, a pedestrianized street full of local shops and restaurants and Plaza de Armas, a main square with intact neoclassical buildings.

Cruise ships sailing Cuba usually stop at Cienfuegos for a half-day. If your cruise has a full day here, you're in luck -- another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad, may be several hours away, but the full-day excursion draws raves.

Don't Miss

Plaza de Armas: The square is the center of most tours and with good reason; it's spectacular for a city of its size. Some cruise lines, particularly those with a people-to-people focus, schedule a choral concert inside the Tomas Terry Teatro, a gorgeous theater built in 1890 that the residents are justly proud of. You'll want to go inside anyway to see the boxes that rise several floors, as well as the elaborate ceiling paintings.

Other features on the Plaza include a domed cathedral, a park with a neoclassical band shell and an arch that's the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Make sure you check out the arcade surrounding the square as the different storefronts hold art galleries and museums. There's also several blocks of souvenir vendors just off the Plaza, on Santa Isabel.

Punta Gorda: Some cruise ship tours of Cienfuegos take you along Jagua Bay to the Cienfuegos Promenade, where many elaborate buildings still remain; you'll find many residents renting out private homes in this neighborhood to supplement their meager rations. These tours either offer you lunch at the Cienfuegos Yacht Club or a drink at the Palacio de Valle. Both buildings wouldn't look out of place in a wealthy European seaside resort; although the interiors may have become shabby, they are a testament to Cuba's proud past.

Trinidad: It's a 90-minute bus ride each way to Trinidad. But the UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered one of Cuba's "museum cities" and shouldn't be missed. Founded in the early 16th century, Trinidad became the center of Cuba's sugar trade and the neighboring Valley de los Ingenios -- the Valley of the Sugar Mills -- has remnants of 75 cane mills, plantations and barracks. Within the town, many historical buildings remain intact, representing a variety of architectural styles, from 18th-century Moorish and Andalusian to 19th-century neoclassical. Shoppers will want to check out Casa Chichi, where the Santander family has been making pottery since the island's Spanish days.

Where You're Docked

The Port of Cienfuegos looks out onto a concrete lot where tour buses park. To disembark, you'll need your passport and visa, as well as your keycard. A doctor is in the customs house and may randomly scan your head to make sure you don't have a fever. Once you go through security, there are several money exchange booths, as well as souvenir stands. If you aren't taking a tour and want to walk, Cienfuegos' main square is about four blocks away.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Tourists in Cuba are required to use the CUC. The exchange rate is about 1 to 1 for all currencies, but there's a 10 percent surcharge on American dollars. You can exchange money at exchange booths at the port. As a rule, American bank cards and credit cards do not work in Cuba.

There's a 6 CUC tax on pieces of art that is collected by the Cuban government; customs officials will look for rolled-up paper tubes and pull you aside to pay the tax (it seemed to be randomly enforced, as not everyone with artwork was told to pay the fee).

For up-to-date currency exchange rates, visit www.xe.com.

Language

Spanish. Only people in the tourist trade speak English and even then, it's pretty broken. Best to know a few phrases, particularly if you want to bargain.

  • Cienfuegos: Celestyal Crystal
    mryouness
    The tour in general was good but they took us to a location for an hour where we had to watch young people dance amateur Cuban dancing that wasn't good and dragged out. ... Read more
  • Cienfuegos: Celestyal Crystal
    born2swim
    This was a very interesting port and not quite as poverty stricken as Havana. We saw a local choir group who were quite good and had lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the water. ... Read more
  • Cienfuegos looks to be a resort town that has seen better days. We were given a bit of a rather worthless song-and-dance about the government-provided pharmacy, food markets, dry goods, etc. We were again treated to a pleasant town square (which ... Read more
  • Awonderful town. We got a horse drawn taxi and were lucky enough to get the most fantastic Guide (Lester). If you go to Cienfuegos ask for Lester and his brother. They are wonderful and show you all there is to see in Cienfuegos... ... Read more