After Havana, the next stop on the Cuban independent travel trail is the tobacco-producing area of Viñales or time-warped Trinidad. But I had read so much about the architecture of Cienfuegos that I was determined to make it my first stop after Havana. Yes, its architecture differed from the rest of Cuba reflecting its French colonial past. Give yourself one day in Cienfuegos to complete this task and then head either east towards Trinidad or west towards the Bay of Pigs. Here’s a flavour of that architecture.
It’s not that Cienfuegos was a disappointment but I simply lingered there too long and got bored. The golden rule of Cuba travel is this: never use a town as a hub to travel to other places. Public transport is limited so stay in the towns you wish to visit. For example, my trip to the Bay of Pigs could have been done as an inexpensive overnight stay at a casa particulare as opposed to an expensive day trip by taxi from Cienfuegos.
The Bay of Pigs exceeded my expectations. Somewhere in my brain politics, history and current affairs have a common meeting point and the Bay stimulated this cerebral junction. It’s a stunning coastal area more suited to a photo shoot rather than the shooting and military action which took place there in 1961.
But even before I reached the gorgeous beach of Playa Girón I was entertained as well as informed at Museo de Playa Girón, the museum which charts the ill-fated CIA-backed attempt by Cuban exiles to invade and overthrow Castro. The museum also looks at Cuba’s success in expelling “Yankee Imperialism” from the island. I can’t remember the admission fee but distinctly remember a feeling of value for money upon exiting.
The museum’s exhibition of conflict and combat is a far cry from the relaxing environment one will find in the general Playa Girón area. It’s popular with the scuba-diving fraternity as the corals are quite close to the shore and the limpid water makes for greater clarity, but I recommend the area to all travellers as the beach is simply gorgeous.
Another gorgeous beach, and possibly the best I experienced in Cuba, is Rancho Luna. Located approximately 15-20 minutes drive east of Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna was probably the safest and ultimately the most peaceful place in Cuba I visited.
Warm tranquil water, soft sand and friendly café staff made this a memorable experience. As you can appreciate, I reluctantly plied myself away in the evening to catch my taxi back to Cienfuegos. And despite what you may read elsewhere Cienfuegos city doesn’t have a beach.
Beach problems aside Cienfuegos also suffers from being over-rated. Lonely Planet calls it a “displaced piece of Paris” and I would love to know what piece of Paris they think is displaced. Last but not least, Cienfuegos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and perhaps it’s this tag which sets the highest expectation of all.
Check out my Cuba Solo Travel post for further information on destinations within Cuba.