Cienfuegos is unlike any other city in Cuba.  Sitting on the southern coast of the island next to its best natural bay, Cienfuegos is fairly young for the cities of Cuba and certainly comes from different roots. While Columbus found the bay on his second expedition in 1494, it was long just a backwater until 1819 when a Frenchman named Don Louis D’Clouet arrived from New Orleans and soon convinced 40 families from New Orleans, Philadelphia and Bordeaux, France to settle there.  They virtually founded the sugar industry in Cuba and before long it became the locus of their French inspired culture.  The city center is unusually uniform in its French architecture and the grand mansions built on the Punta Gorda are witness to the competition among the wealthy to outdo each other in celebration of their wealth.  It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.

Cienfuegos is a relatively large city with 400,000 inhabitants, and most of the is what one would expect of a city of this size.  This includes what are rather affectionately and ironically called “Russian Taxis,” and while they are relatively common all over Cuba there seemed to be a concentration of them here.

DSC06910

Cienfuegos also seems to have a very high concentration of revolutionary billboards. While they are found all over Cuba, they seem to have proliferated in Cienfuegos, perhaps because it was a center of anti-revolutionary activity after the revolution of 1959.

DSC06853

DSC06857

DSC06914

DSC06934

The last is a billboard in support of five Cubans held in U.S. prisons on very long sentences and accused of being spies.

But the center of the city is home to amazing buildings of French influence.  The city’s central plaza, named the Parque Jose Marti after Cuba’s early revolutionary, with its grand gate is in the photo at the top of this blog.  And most of the rest of the plaza shows the same grand design.

DSC06955

Almost all of the buildings are fronted by arcades which provide shelter from both sun and rain.

DSC06943

Among the buildings on the plaza is the Theatro Tomas Terry, built between 1887 and 1889 and magnificent, particularly inside.  There is profuse Carrara marble and the ceiling frescoes are just out of this world.

DSC06925

DSC06932

Among the performers there in its finest years were Enrico Caruso, Anna Pavlova and even sweet Sarah Bernhardt.

DSC06929

While we did spend time in central Cienfuegos, most of our time was spent in that finger of land thrusting out into the bay called Punta Gorda.  Here the wealthy built their palatial homes, enjoyed their clubs, and exercised their whimsy.

Take, for example, the Club Cienfuegos, which was once a yachting club for the rich and is now open to the public, for a fee of course.

DSC06906

This is the street side.  The bay side is equally impressive.

DSC06867

Also particularly interesting is the Palacio de Valle, a Moroccan palace dropped close to the end of the Punta Gorda.  It is ornate, elaborate and endlessly decorated in the style of Moorish castles.  Originally built to be a casino in 1917, it now is an upscale restaurant and fourth floor terrace bar with great views out across the bay.

DSC06889

DSC06888

DSC06959

DSC06886

Being old sailors who spent six years living aboard our catamaran in the Mediterranean, we also spent some time walking the docks adjacent to the Yacht Club and had a pleasant hour or so talking with a Swedish couple aboard “Betty Boop” who lived on their boat for seven years before setting sail three years ago to head around the world.

DSC06878

The marina was quite full and there were perhaps ten more boats anchored out in front of our casa particular, all flying flags from all over the world but the United States.

There were also lots of school children around in the afternoons.  Here’s just one set we encountered along the malacon.

DSC06957

One of the real treats of our stay was the casa particular we had in Punta Gorda.  Close to the very end of the spit of land, it faced the bay on both sides and thus we were nearly surrounded by water.  It was beautiful, served wonderful meals, was run by the charming Isabel and charged only the equivalent of $25 per night.

DSC06898

DSC06964

The views from the porch at sunset weren’t bad either.

DSC06902

When we simply couldn’t stay any longer, Isabel ordered us up a 1957 Buick taxi to take us the short hop down the coast to Trinidad and bid us on our way.

DSC06969