Central Cuba: Places to Explore

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Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is an attractive, laid-back port city of 110,000 that overlooks a deep bay of the same name. Its small historic core is surrounded by a gray ring of cement-block housing and industrial buildings, beyond which lie fields of sugarcane and the dark green mass of the Sierra de Escambray.

A relatively young provincial capital, Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by immigrants from Bordeaux as part of a Spanish scheme to establish a city in a region that had long been the haunt of pirates. Originally dubbed Fernandina de Jagua ("Fernandina" honors Spain's King Ferdinand and "Jagua" was the indigenous name for the region), the city was later named after General José Cienfuegos (a colonial governor of the province). It quickly became an important port; sugar plantations came to cover its hinterlands, and slaves were imported to work on them. Families who made fortunes from cane and human bondage built mansions (known locally as palacios or palaces), many of which still stand.

Cienfuegos's French roots are reflected in some of its architecture, and are celebrated every April with a Francophile festival. Nevertheless, it's a very Cuban city where the breeze often carries the melodies of local hero Benny Moré, one of the giants of the Cuban music son.

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