Cuba: Cienfuegos & El Nicho

Cienfuegos was a more fleeting stop-off on route between Playa Gíron and Trinidad. Following almost a week in the countryside and on the coast, the French colonial architecture of this south coast city was another distinctive side to Cuba. The drive was only an hour and a half and once we arrived, we dropped our bags in the casa and headed out into the city. First we wandered around the city centre, a highlight of which was the Palacio Ferrer, a grand building currently under renovation - great for architecture geeks! Then we walked out to Punta Gorda, the city's peninsula with large and elaborate houses and park at the end, where locals were swimming and we enjoyed a good ol' piña colada.

Food-wise, we had two very good dinners in Cienfuegos: at Restaurant Bouyón 1825 we enjoyed a BBQ or parrillada in the back dining room of the restaurant for a very reasonable price, and at Finca del Mar I enjoyed a delicious and beautifully presented octopus carpaccio starter with great views out over the bay. It was certainly a more touristy and pricey affair, but a nice treat that should be booked in advance.

Most reviews recommended Cienfuegos as a day trip or for a single night stay, as it really doesn't take long to explore in itself, however it's a useful base for excursions in the surrounding area. We decided on two nights and spent our full day on the beach at Playa Rancho Luna (though quality wise it's probably not worth the trip if you're heading on to Varadero).

Cienfuegos is the start of an excursion to the El Nicho waterfalls organised by Cubanacán, the state run tourist agency. It had been high on my list of to-dos shortly after starting research our trip, and even better since after the trip we would be dropped off in the next city, Trinidad. Early in the morning we were picked up by our private jeep and drove the two hours through the citrus fields in convoy with two other jeeps up into the mountains. Our tour guide Ray was a real character ("I have 3 sons by 3 different women!!") with a clear passion for his job and country and told us so much about everything we saw throughout the day, about the nature, agriculture, society and culture in the region.

The waterfalls themselves were a sight to behold, and we donned our swimming gear and took a dip! Of course, little did I know, around the corner as we about to head off for lunch (and still drying off from our swim!) Ray the guide took us off to a quiet viewpoint, and Dan proposed!!! So our pictures are pre-engagement, but hey, who cares! Needless to say, with the last stop Trinidad in our sights, this was the best bit of the trip!

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