Trinidad de Cuba seems frozen in time. That was my immediate reaction on arrival. That was also my leaving thought after exploring it for one week. It’s difficult not to fall in love with such an enchanting and unique city especially after experiencing a completely different vibe in energetic Havana.
Trinidad is a town in the province of Sancti Spíritus in central Cuba, a mere 5-6 hour drive from Havana. It was built on the back of the area’s highly profitable 19th century sugar and slave trade. Trinidad not only has such a fascinating history but together with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, it has been one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 1988. Surrounded by spectacular landscapes, exquisite valleys, waterfalls and pristine blue seas coupled with a rich culture and heartwarming locals, Trinidad is known for being a living museum and a paradise for visitors. Like the rest of Cuba, it’s also a photographer’s paradise.
The once rich and thriving city, with a beautiful backdrop of the grand Escambray mountains, had some of the finest Spanish colonial mansions, squares and churches on the island. All of which are well maintained today and are an important part of the tourism trade.
So what are my must dos in Trinidad?
Plaza Mayor is a beautiful square in the centre of old town from which hours can be spent people watching, especially in the cooler evenings when the locals are out. Surrounded by beautiful buildings including the elegant and majestic Iglesias Parroquuial de la Santisima (the largest church in Cuba) on one side and the Casa de Aldemán Ortiz on the other which now houses Bodeguita del Medio de Trinidad.
Visit Homes with Period Furniture
Typical features of Trinidadian houses include a large entrance door with two smaller doors cut into it, the barrotes which are grills that cover the large windows (traditionally made of wood but iron is used nowadays) and a terracotta tiled roof with large wooden supports. Local home owners have proudly maintained their antique furniture, so proud they are that many open their doors for visitors to have a look and admire such beautiful period furniture. Each house is like a museum of its own.
Palacio Cantero Museum
One well worth the visit is the former home of Justo Cantero, one very colourful figure in Cuban history. His home is now known as the Palacio Cantero and is the Trinidad General Municipal Museum reflects his creativity. A climb up the tower give some splendid views of Trinidad and it’s surrounding mountains.
Wander the Streets
The quaint cobble stoned streets are a signature of Trinidad. With little traffic on these streets they are fun to wander on and explore the old city. Locals tend to relax sitting outside especially in the cooler evenings and are very friendly so it’s also easy to make friends along the way, soak up life in Trinidad and practice your Spanish.
Visit the Art Galleries
Apart from the typical souvenir shops, there are a few art galleries around town with local artists proudly displaying their work. These artists, whilst they appreciate a sale, are happy to explain their thought process behind their paintings or let you sit and watch them at their craft. It’s another place to understand how the locals feel patriotic towards their country, leader and rich history.
Learn from the Locals
Life in Trinidad may seem slow with little internet and cable access but the locals teach you that slowing down and spending quality time with each other is their way of life. From playing music under the trees on the small squares to chess in the midday heat, they may not have wifi and cable but make the most of their time doing what they love.
Take a day tour to explore the history of the area
In the beautiful Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), at the height of Trinidad’s sugar industry, 56 sugar mills were manned by more than 11,000 slaves who were shipped from the west coast of Africa. The Cubans have preserved this history well and it is possible to visit former estates including areas such as these slave quarters – sixteen slaves shared small rooms like these – a visit that truly brings history to life.
The majestic Iznaga estate, which was once owned by the notorious Pedro Iznaga who was infamous for trafficking slaves in the area, gives you the opportunity to soak up the wealth of the region including antique relics, the railway bridge and steam train, a colonial hostelry and a working sugar cane press from which you can learn to press your own cup of sugar cane juice just like the slaves did in the old days.
Relax on Playa Ancon
A quick taxi/bus ride or longer bicycle ride out to the peninsular is the gorgeous Ancon beach, which is also popular with the locals on the weekends. With such a beautiful beach within distance, it makes for the perfect relaxing spot after exploring the sugar estates, hiking or even the cobble stoned streets of Trinidad.
Take Salsa classes
If there is one place you’ll want to learn salsa classes it’s in Cuba! Private salsa classes are not expensive, I paid US$5 per hour for a few classes during my stay and it’s easily arranged by your Casa owner or hotel. You’ll then be encouraged to spend the evenings at Casa de la Musica. Day or night, the open air Casa de la Musica is busy and entertaining. Music seems to be a permanent feature and dancing is whenever people feel like dancing! It is right next to Plaza Mayor and there are many popular bars and restaurants close by so you don’t have to rush anywhere.
Explore the Culinary Scene
There is a variety of paladars in Trinidad to choose from but a recent emergence of modern restaurants has been changing the culinary scene in town. One of my favourties is Taberna La Botija which offered a mix of traditional and international cuisines 24 hours a day. The unique décor includes sugar cane plantation artifacts from the family’s personal collection – well worth the food, ambience, super friendly staff and happy hour drinks too!
Eat Local Fruits!
Buy fresh delicious tropical fruits from the local vendors driving their carts around town – like mobile markets with a little of everything – from bananas, mangoes and pineapples to the local mamoncillo.
Go clubbing in Discoteca Ayala La Cueva!
Definitely one of the craziest places to visit for a party. This unique disco is set in a huge cave with stalactites & stalagmites and water running down the rocks! Both local Cubans and tourists dance the night away to the latest “Reggaeton.” It’s definitely an experience, one that requires no safety hats
There is so much more to this unique city and its surrounds that even one week felt too short for me. It left me wanting to return one day. And given it is a UNESCO site, Trinidad de Cuba maintains its authenticity and preserves its natural beauty. Life in Trinidad has taught me a lot, you can’t help but feel different upon leaving. A good different!