Variety Cruises – Sights & Sounds of Cuba – Chapter 1

Jose and Benny

MuseumWe wanted to see more of Cuba than just Havana and a beach resort but the thought of hours spent on Cuban roads and regular unpacking and repacking did not appeal. Variety Cruises’ solved that problem by offering a seven day cruise, taking in most of the places we wanted to visit. They were the only ones Id found to offer this itinerary, purely with Cuban ports. Wed only have to unpack once and a lot of the travel was done overnight.

The transfer from Havana to Cienfuegos, where we would join Panorama (a 25 cabin luxury yacht), was the longest road trip of our visit but the roads do have some fascination. When our relatively modern people carrier overtook an ageing Cadillac with huge wings, which in turn was overtaking a horse and cart, I thought, only in Cuba?

Statue that wasn’tThere was just time on arrival to be warmly greeted, briefed and shown to our cabin before we headed out for a walking tour of Cienfuegos. On a ship of this size our cabin was compact but with ample room for the little time we would spend in there. Cleverly designed use of space included AirCon, Fridge, TV, safe, a comfortable double bed and, an essential for me, a luxuriously powerful shower.

Cienfuegos Bay was discovered by Columbus in 1494 but the city itself wasnt founded until 1819 by a Frenchman from Louisiana. Hence the strong French influence, blended with Caribbean overtones, that gives Cienfuegos a unique architectural and cultural feel. These characteristics earned the historic centre UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 2005.

TheatreWe started our tour at the Parque Jose Marti and entered through the Arco de Triumph (Arch of Triumph) an imposing symbol dedicated to Cuban independence, with echoes of Paris Arch de Triomphe. Here youll find a marble statue of revolutionary hero Jose Marti and the park was renamed in his honour in 1906. We also found the compass rose, which marks the starting point for the city layout. originally a Majagua tree. I was admiring the bandstand and other aspects of the park when our guide brought my attention to the amazing bronze statues positioned on the marble benches. As I moved in for a closer look and a photo, it moved. Confession time, I was totally caught out. Ive never been caught by these statue impersonators before but the stillness, the colouring, absolutely brilliant.

Shrimp fishing at sunsetWe admired the buildings around the square next. The Cathedral dates back to 1869, but the original stained glass windows were in France for repair and it was probably more visually pleasing from the outside. The Museum, Government building and the Colegio San Lortenzo all added to the grandeur of the square and a little more history, but by far my favourite was the Tomas Terry Theatre. The art on the ceiling, the hand carved cuban hardwood, marble fittings and Italian influences adorn the individual boxes backed by louvered windows. This 950 seat auditorium is truly a step back in time and to be admired, although Id need to bring a cushion for the hardwood seats as my rear end would surely be numb after a couple of hours sat on those chairs.

PanoramaWe finished our walking tour with a 3Km walk along the Paseo del Prado, which took us all the way to the southern tip at Punta Gorda.  In the first stretch you can watch the locals go about their business and pass by the statue of Benny More (this one wasnt alive). Nicknamed the King of Mambo this child of the province loved the city and named one of his songs after Cienfuegos. As sunset arrived we made it to the second part of the walk, which takes you along the picturesque bay. Here the locals were out in the sea shrimp fishing and as the sky turned orange, we could see why it had been nicknamed The Pearl of the South.

We returned to see Panoramas sleek silhouette set against the last colours of the Cuban sky and enjoyed a cheery welcome back, a cold towel and fruit juice. I also needed a coffee after all that walking, which along with tea and water is complimentary. Id worked up a healthy appetite which did justice to the marvellous 5 course meal that was served for dinner. Gentle coloured woods grace a very comfortable and soothing dining/lounge area, all backed up with impeccable and attentive service. A swift nightcap in the bar upstairs brought the end to a lovely start to our cruise and bed beckoned me. Overnight our Captain would sail us to Casilda for our next sight and sounds of Cuba.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises

•  Read Variety Cruises – Sights & Sounds of Cuba – Chapter 2
•  Read Variety Cruises – Sights & Sounds of Cuba – Chapter 3

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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