One of the striking things about Cuba is just how close it is to the United States and yet feels like a world away. Our flight from Miami to Cienfuegos was only 45 minutes—not enough time for the drink cart to make it to my seat. After we landed we made our way through dark streets to our hotel in the center of Cienfuegos. No street lamps were lit, few houses had their lights on, and there were very few cars on the road. Carts drawn by donkey or horse seemed to be more prevalent than cars. Despite the darkness, people were out and about, meeting along the malecon and in the city square. We made it to our hotel and settled into a temporary life without internet, email, text messages or phone calls.
The next few days we explored Cienfuegos. Located on Cuba’s southern central coast, the city was once known as the “Pearl of the South.” Highlights of our visit included touring Cienfuegos’ historic district and the Tomás Terry Theater, eating at the Finca del Mar paladar, visiting an old country club that now serves as a community center, and listening to performances by the Cienfuegos Choir and La Colmenita, a regional children’s choir. Cienfuegos also served as a great base to visit the picturesque town of Trinidad.
In Cienfuegos, we stayed at La Union Hotel. I would absolutely recommend the hotel but would suggest asking for a room that doesn’t face the street. Across from the hotel is a bar that stays open late into the night, which makes it a bit hard to fall asleep.
After Cienfuegos, we drove northwest towards Havana. On the way to the capital, we stopped at the site of the Bay of Pigs, known to Cubans as the Battle of Playa Girón, and toured the site’s museum.
On our way to Havana we also stopped at the Finca Fiesta Campesina. It was part camping site, part zoo, part botanic garden, part watering hole. It was pretty great.