ABOARD LOUIS CRISTAL-I think I’m in love – Cienfuegos is sun drenched, with wide colonnaded streets, pink and blue and yellow stuccoed buildings, and plenty of charm. No wonder it is called the Pearl of the South ( La Perla del Sur) and it’s easy to see why it earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation. It is three and a half hours driving time from Havana, so visiting from the ship is a much easier way to see this colonial beauty.
I did the city tour, which was partly a driving tour and partly a walking tour, and our guide was excellent. She supplied enough history to satisfy our curiosity, and enough stories to make it fun.
The city was originally founded by French settlers from Bordeaux, Louisiana and, interestingly, Philadelphia. The beautifully preserved neoclassical style theatre on Plaza Jose Marti was where the famous singer Enrico Caruso performed, a brief time before his death. He stayed overnight in the best house in town, a birthday cake-like building looking onto the square. The Cathedral de la Purisma Concepcion and the elegant city hall also look onto the square.
There’s good shopping, notably for rum and cigars, and some interesting looking restaurants, all along a shopping promenade.
In the outer reaches of the city, there are residential streets with the houses of the former wealthy inhabitants whose properties were nationalized. They speak of a time of elegance and prosperity. And beside the sea is the Palacio Azul, The Blue Palace, now a five star hotel, built in the 1920’s by an Italian architect and now restored to grandeur.
We ended our day with mojitos and a salsa lesson at the Yacht Club, once a private club and now open to all. The music was bright and happy, the mojitos perfectly chilled, and our ship, the Louis Cristal, was visible in the harbour a few miles away.
It was a good day!
video of the Cuban musicians at the Yacht Club, Cienfuegos