Last updated: 04:54 PM ET, Fri July 08 2016

Fathom Explores Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Jason Leppert | July 08, 2016

Fathom Explores Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba

Photos by Jason Leppert

Returning home from a cruise to Cuba aboard Fathom’s Adonia makes one realize just how special an opportunity it is to travel to the once off-limits Caribbean country, and I am grateful to have had the chance to experience it with my best friend, whose father is, in fact, from Santiago de Cuba. Havana was great, and Cienfuegos along with Santiago de Cuba rounded out the historic itinerary.

The itinerary is still in its infancy and a number of onboard programs were recently added to enhance the shoreside experiences, namely “getting to know” port orientations and Cuban history sessions, which are contextually invaluable to getting the most out of your time spent in the three destinations. But like I’ve said before, a more detailed timeline of what to expect in each port would go a very long way as well.

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Of the two last ports, Cienfuegos is only featured for a half day, and that’s honestly an adequate amount of time. With its eclectic architecture, the downtown area has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the port lacks the overall character of Havana. That’s not to say there aren’t points of interest, however, because there are those, particularly the central courtyard and its views from above from a high cupola.

Among the people-to-people experiences enjoyed here is a choral concert performed in the Teatro Tomas Terry followed by a Q&A. The interior of the building is quite stunning with its French and Italian influences, and the singing was equally resonant with a sonic pool below the stage and talents to match. Departing from the port required sinuous maneuvers along tight waterways, and locals came out to see our ship, as we too gazed upon the sights with fervent curiosity.

Santiago de Cuba was a more interesting stop in our opinion, one we felt would be better served with two days over the brief stop in Cienfuegos. There was much to be seen during the full day tour and each stop served to whet our appetite for wanting more time in each. Still, this was also the hottest port along the way, so any more time would account for more wilting in the hot sun and steamy humidity. The sights, of course, more than make up for the undesirable weather, but do bring lots of water, sunscreen and shade if you can.

Opening the day’s activities was a dramatic song and dance performance by Cutumba and Macumba, in air conditioning thankfully, that was entirely in Spanish, testing our deciphering skills but abstractly understood enough in pantomime as well. A Q&A followed for even more cultural immersion.

Meanwhile, a stop at the city center and Catedral de la Ciudad shone a light on Cuban architectural delights once more with the church curiously situated above storefronts and always surrounded by classic American muscle cars. A visit to Santa Ifigenia Cemetery also showcased the magnificent tomb of Jose Marti and the ceremonial changing of its guard.

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But the highlight of the day was another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the form of Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (also pictured in the header above), a coastal terraced fort perched above a spectacular cave system that is in many ways even more imposing than El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its sweeping vistas are stunning from above, and passing closely by its base onboard in the afternoon is a perfect sendoff to the excellent Cuban experience uniquely afforded by a Fathom cruise.

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