Third World Resort at a Third the Price

 I’m thinking I need to return to Cienfuegos, Cuba. I originally visited as part of a back roads trip to Cuba to experience the country outside Havana and the popular beaches.

I came away impressed with everything about Cienfuegos, and I know it would offer even more on my next trip.

I stayed in a private home, part of the casas particulares network of private places to stay in Cuba. Private enterprise has taken hold. Cubans have learned that they can make a lot more money privately renting rooms in their homes than they can working for the state, the only alternative to private entrepreneurship.


Cienfuegos is on the southern coast of Cuba right about the middle of the island. As with many seafaring towns, it has a rough and tumble maritime feel at times, but it is ameliorated by the remnants of the elegance of living by the sea. Along the ocean, a wall, called the Malecon, serves as an outdoor park and the city’s living room where locals meet for a date and to play dominoes.

In town, the main street, “The Boulevard,” is closed to traffic, forming a pleasant pedestrian mall that is both easy to navigate and serves as outdoor exhibition space for local talent, whether street musicians or people acting like statutes, an excellent for people watching. Unlike Havana, it’s easy to find things you may need or want to buy, because there are shops for everything in this one area.

At the end of the mall, the main plaza, surrounded by nice restaurants and artists’ studios, beckons. It’s one of the most magnificent plazas anywhere, with beautiful French-inspired architecture.

The city is compact enough to be able to walk everywhere, but there is also a motorized tourist train that will take you along the waterfront, past the Malecon.

At the end of the train ride you will find the elegant Jagua Hotel, around $110/night. I use that word “elegant” loosely, as the place would only really seem elegant to a rural Russian tourist.

Still, it has several nice restaurants, a pool, a beautiful setting and nice lobby. Its beach overlooks a half-finished nuclear plant abandoned when the Russians left. Jagua Hotel is a very good place to go if you like a resort at about one-third the price of a “real” resort, and that is why it attracts tourists from around the world, other than Americans, who have yet to discover Cienfuegos.

Right next door to Jagua Hotel find the Cienfuegos Marina. In most places the marina is a snobbish place that only rich yacht owners inhabit. In Cuba it takes on a more egalitarian twist. The marina is open to anyone to rent a boat or sit at the bar and watch the boats in the water. On the day I was there, I was nearly alone.

Directly next to the marina, don’t miss the Cienfuegos Club, a beautiful mansion surrounded by tennis courts, a pool, and beautiful grounds with various restaurant options inside. It was probably once the home of a wealthy family. Today there’s no requirement to enter other than a small daily admission fee. After all, this is communist Cuba. Still, the atmosphere is very first worldly and a lot of fun. I enjoyed having dinner on the veranda facing the sea while enjoying cheap rum cocktails, a good Cuban cigar, and excellent music. As a bonus, at night, admission is free.

Around town there are various other locations where a lively music scene exists. Cienfuegos has a rich musical history. The son of a freed slave, Benny Moré, popularized Cuban music here at the turn of the 19th century. His statute adorns the entry to The Boulevard.

For anyone looking for a fun-filled resort experience that is different than your typical resort and inexpensive, too, consider Cienfuegos. You can fly directly to Cienfuegos from the US. Flights, too, are currently not expensive. Best not to visit during the summer as temperatures sizzle.

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