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.
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.