Trinidad is Cuba’s best preserved colonial city which makes it a popular destination for those heading to the island nation. That’s exactly the reason why I decided to visit. While Havana is easily the number one destination in Cuba, it is also slowly modernizing and saturated with tourists. Trinidad, on the other hand, is where you want to go if you want to experience the idyllic and romanticized Cuba of your dreams. This is where you need to come if you want to really understand that Cuban way of life. I wanted to discover Trinidad, Cuba myself! This city and region of Cuba certainly did not disappoint with it’s wonderfully preserved Old Town, lively bars and restaurants, and surrounding natural landscapes. I’d certainly go back to discover Trinidad again! If you’d like to discover Trinidad for yourself, check out the comprehensive guide I’ve put together for you.
Discover Trinidad: Getting There
If you plan to discover Trinidad, you need to get there first. Located in the Center of Cuba along it’s southern Coast, Trinidad is easily reachable from many of Cuba’s most popular destinations. The ride to the city is pleasant with great views. Or you can just be like me and fall asleep during the ride.
Options for public transportation are slim in Cuba. You won’t find Uber or Lyft pretty much anywhere in the country and there aren’t any regional flights. You’re only real options are to go by bus, hire a taxi, or rent a car.
Bus: I went by bus and it was only about $25 USD (one way) to go from Havana to Trinidad. The bus was comfortable and had air conditioning which was very nice. Make sure to plan travel time in if you plan to discover Trinidad. For more fares, check the Viazul website. You can purchase your tickets in advance online but it is cheaper to do it in person. Be sure to get your tickets at least a day in advance and be weary as tickets tend to sell out the day before.
Taxi: I did not travel across the country by taxi so I can’t give you a first hand account. However, I was told my many locals that a taking a taxi collectivo can be just as cheap as taking the bus. But then I’ve heard it can cost as much as $160 USD. If you’re traveling with multiple people, this could be the best way to travel as you will be able to stop for photos and such. Your taxi will also likely be one of the American classics cars which can be a lot of fun.
Car: If you decide to rent a car to discover Trinidad, I’ve heard it can cost as much as $85 a day for a cheaper option. That price includes insurance and it’s a great way to see the country at your own leisure. However, as rental cars are sparse in Cuba, you’ll need to book weeks (or longer) in advance. You aren’t likely to get a rental a car if you try to do it the day of.
Discover Trinidad: History
As one of the first Cuban towns founded by the Spanish, Trinidad contains a wealth of unique history. The majority of it’s history was is heavily influenced by the once thriving sugar industry. Trinidad was one of the wealthiest cities in Cuba at during the 18th and 19th Centuries and it owed it’s wealth to the tobacco, cattle, and sugar industries. When it comes to sugar, the region where Trinidad is located produced more sugar than most other sugar cane-growing regions of the world. However, most this wealth was built on the backs of African slaves and there is a strong African influence in the area which can be seen to this day through music, art, and with Yoruba religion.
The wealth accumulated as a result of African slavery and the sugar industry funded the construction of grandiose palaces, bright colonial homes, and large plazas for plantation owners during the 18th and 19th Centuries. However, with fizzling out of the Cuban sugar industry and abolition of African slavery, these projects eventually ceases, wealthy landowners moved to other regions, and the city was practically left abandoned and neglected. However, it was not completely abandoned as it continued to be inhabited by the poorer members of society. It would remain isolated until the 1950s when projects to connect the remote city and region to the rest of Cuba began. Even so, not much more thought was given to Trinidad until 1988 when it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status which led to the restoration and preservation of the city.
Now, many visitors visit to discover Trinidad and all it has to offer!
Discover Trinidad: UNESCO World Heritage
When Trinidad received it’s UNESCO World Heritage status, it really changed things for the city. The city’s isolation most likely helped it receive the designation, since much of the city was left undeveloped from its colonial days. Suddenly, restorations began and tourists started to visit. This had a ripple effect and helped to stimulate the local economy. It was granted UNESCO status due to it’s Old Town which mostly remains intact and is one of the best representations of colonial Spanish heritage in the world. Combined with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), it represents more than 500 years of history. The city is often described as an open-air museum dominated by colonial buildings, lovely cobbled streets, large squares, and pastel colored houses with excellent woodwork. It’s as though the city was left frozen in time and now we can all experience what a true Spanish colonial city in modern times.
Discover Trinidad: The City
There are two main areas I explored during my excursion to discover Trinidad. Both are considered historical areas though only one is protected by UNESCO. These typically are the areas where visitors explore. In colonial days, the city was set up slightly different than other cities. An area was set up for residential and religious purposes and an area was set up for governmental purposes. I suggest exploring both these areas a bit.
Plaza Mayor: This is the heart of the city where all the action happens. It was the area designated as a residential and religious area and still serves as such to this day though with the addition of quite a few mom and pop businesses. Plaza Mayor is home to all the of Trinidad’s museums and is typically pretty packed with tourists. You can have lunch or dinner and grab a coffee or mojito at the many restaurants and cafes filling the buildings surrounding the plaza. It’s the logical starting point to discover Trinidad. The surrounding Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and definitely something you should explore!
Plaza Carillo: Located a short 8 minute walk from Plaza Mayor, Plaza Carillo is often ignored by visitors. This area was once designated as the center for government and still serves as home to the Trinidad’s town hall. You’ll find plenty of locals and local eateries in the area and can explore some of the neighborhoods. This is also where you will arrive and depart by bus.
After you’ve explored the historical areas of Trinidad, there is the nearby Valle de los Ingenios with plenty of history and natural wonders to explore. You can also head to the beaches to do beachy things which I’ll cover a little further down.
Discover Trinidad: Where To Stay?
An important thing to remember when you visit any part of Cuba is there idea of luxury is a bit different than the rest of the world. Even the most luxurious of lodging options in the country might feel lacking compared to normal Western standards. Just remember the country has remained in practical isolation for more than 50 years. It’s to be expected. When you visit Cuba’s smaller towns, this becomes more and more evident. Personally, I was happy my lodging had hot water and air conditioning. It’s a different world and try to keep in mind you are there to have a Cuban experience…both the good and the bad.
That being said, you have a three options for lodging in Trinidad a hotel, Casa Particular, and Airbnb. These are your same basic options wherever you go in the world with the exception of Casa Particulares.
Hotels: As I traveled through Cuba, I didn’t know notice very many hotels. In Havana there were quite a few but that’s to be expected of the capital city. Hotels are often run by the Cuban government, so if you’re American, you should technically try to avoid them. In Trinidad there are a number of hotels located in prime areas. The nicest hotel in the city is the Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad and it is privately owned.
Casa Particular: Casa Particulares are the homes of local people. Family’s and homeowners might rent out a room in their home giving you access to a bathroom and a place to sleep. Renting a room in a Casa Particular is a great way to get to know locals and is usually cheaper. I rented a room in a Casa Particular called Hostal Los Ramses for $25 a night. That price really can’t be beat. It was a nice space and had AC and hot water, as already mentioned. The bed was comfortable and for $5 extra, I was served breakfast each morning. There’s no need to book ahead. When you arrive to the city, there are more than enough options and Casa owners are usually waiting to offer you the best deal. If you’re staying in a Casa in another city, be sure to ask your host if they know of a good Casa in the city you plan to visit. They often are connected to other Casas and can phone ahead for you.
**Staying in a Casa Particular can help you meet the US requirement that you spend time “Supporting the Cuban People.”
Airbnb: Yes, Airbnb does operate in Cuba and yes, you can rent an entire apartment to yourself. You can also find Casa Particulares on Airbnb. It’s the same concept as anywhere else you might visit. A perk of using Airbnb is you can pay ahead with your credit or bank card.
Discover Trinidad: Let’s Eat!
There’s no better way to discover Trinidad than through it’s local cuisine. Just like any city, there are plenty of restaurants offering great meals and drinks for any budget. There are many choices for dining but, unfortunately, I was keeping to my budget and mostly ate on the go. Here are just a few places you can go to grab lunch, dinner, a drink, or coffee.
Taberna La Botija: Discover Trinidad’s only 24 hour food joint. The small restaurant is dedicated to the history of slavery in Trinidad. Slaves used to work in the sugar mills and decor in this restaurant includes chains, shackles, and more. There is also live music every night. Food options include everything from traditional fare to pizza, pastas, and tapas.
Address: 71B Calle Amargura, Trinidad 62600, Cuba
La Redaccion Cuba: This restaurant serves food which can be described as Caribbean fusion. Menu items include seafood risotto, Caribbean lamb curry, and even vegetarian options. The restaurant is artistically decorated with super friendly staff. Even by Cuban standards, the pricing is reasonable.
Address: Calle Gutierez 463, Trinidad 62699, Cuba
Cafe Don Pepe: This small coffee shop is beautiful with it’s gorgeous outdoor seating area. It’s a great place to grab a coffee or a mojito. In fact, according to one local, Cafe Don Pepe makes the best mojito in Trinidad.
Address: 363 Calle Boca, Trinidad 63600, Cuba
La Canchanchara: Known for serving the local mixed drink called, Canchanchara, it’s a great place to take a drink break in the middle of the day. It’s also known for having awesome live music both during the day and at night.
Address: 90 Calle Real de Jigue, Trinidad 62600, Cuba
Disco Ayala…A Club In a Cave!
As for clubs and bars, there are not very many in Trinidad. I wasn’t focused on this kind of activity so I didn’t really explore that scene very much. There is one very interesting club called Disco Ayala. In order to get to the club, you go down a pretty sketchy-feeling road that is not well lit. Then you walk down a set up of steps. As soon as you arrive, you’ll know because the club is located inside a cave. Drink prices are a bit high and you’ll need to be careful because the ground can be a bit wet. As you walk to the club, you can often buy drinks on the street for the $1. It’s worth going just for the novelty of it.
Discover Trinidad: Things You Must Do!
Plaza Mayor: Plaza Mayor is the heart of the city, dating back some 500 years, and there is a lot to see in the area. Enjoy the beautiful plaza and explore some of the city’s great museums. Check out Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad which is the city’s cathedral and makes for an excellent Instagram shot. Or just grab a mojito and relax.
Old Town: A UNESCO World Heritage site, discover Trinidad through its Old Town. With very little car traffic, it’s easy to meander through the streets of this historic area and lose yourself in your own thoughts. Plaza Mayor is located in Trinidad’s Old Town as are all the city’s museums. It’s a great way to understand Cuban culture!
Museums: Trinidad is home to a number of museums offering important works of art, archaeological insight, military artifacts, local history, architectural exploration, and 19th-Century antiquities. There’s definitely plenty to keep you busy if you love history. The museums include:
- Museo Romantico (Address: 52 Calle Cristo, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Museo de Historia Municipal (Address: 423 Calle Desengaño, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Museo de Arquitectura Colonial (Address: 83 Ripalda, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Museo Historico (Address: Calle Simon Bolivar (just below the Plaza Mayor, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos (Address: Calle Cristo, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Museo de Arqueologia (Address: Calle Real del Jigue, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
- Galleria D’Art Calleyro (Address: Calle Boca, Trinidad 62600, Cuba)
Have a Yoruba Experience: Trinidad has a huge Afro-Cuban heritage because thousands of African slaves were forced to work in the sugar mills. These slaves brought their religion and traditions with them which contributes to Trinidad’s vibrant culture. Despite the Spanish forcing Christianity on the slaves, their Yoruba beliefs thrived. Today a mixtured of Yoruba and Roman Catholicism is practiced known as Santeria. You can actually have an authentic Santeria experience by booking an experience through Casa Muñoz. The experience involves going to a sanctuary and meeting with a santero or priest. This is an excellent opportunity to broaden your cultural horizons.
Learn to Dance Salsa: An eight count rhythm can make your body want to move! Trinidad is an excellent place to learn to dance salsa. You can take lessons at Trinidad’s Casa de la Cultura. There are also many private businesses offering salsa lessons. I’d say it’s a must-do. Then you can go show off your salsa skills at La Casa de la Musica.
Discover Trinidad: Beaches
Playa Ancon: The most popular beach in Trinidad and definitely saturated with tourists. It’s popularity means it’s a bit developed and you can find vendors selling beer and such. It is located 7 miles (12 km) from the city and is a 2.5 miles (4 km) long beach covered in white sand. It’s perfect for scuba diving.
Maria Aguilar Beach: This beach is also filled with plenty of tourist as there are three hotels lining the beach. Located about 9 miles (14 km) from Trinidad, this beach offers umbrellas for rent and there are a few places to purchase drinks and snacks at. The waters at this beach are great for snorkeling.
La Boca: This beach is located in a suburb of Trinidad called La Boca located only 5 minutes by car and 20 minutes by bike from Trinidad. The beach is off the beaten path and not as saturated with tourists. It is not a sand beach and there are no amenities. However, if you’d like to get off the beaten path then this beach is for you.
1- 1Discover Trinidad: Valle De Los Ingenios
Valle de los Ingenios or the Valley of the Sugar Mills is an important part of Trinidad history and is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. As previously stated, African slavery played a major role in Trinidad’s history and the sugar mills were located very near the city. This area is important part of Trinidad, Cuban, and world history. Valle de los Ingenios is actually made up of three connected valleys called San Luis, Meyer, and Santa Rosa. During the valleys’ productive history, more than 50 sugar mills were operated.
There are many things to do in the valley including lookout points, hiking, and exploring the remains of the sugar mills. I, personally, opted to go horseback riding through the valley and it was awesome! The 5-6 hour experience takes you through the valley as you learn about its history and take beautiful photos. About a quarter of the way through, we had the opportunity to buy a a beverage made of sugar cane juice and rum called a Guarapo. The major highlight was visiting and swimming at El Pilón, a gorgeous waterfall with a deep pool and interesting cave. It was well worth the price and I highly recommend it!
Discover Trinidad: Things to Know
1- When you set off on your own trip to discover Trinidad, you should plan for 2-3 days in the city. You don’t need to spend much more time than that in the city in order to see and experience everything.
2- For LGBT travelers, it’s important to understand Cuba is not a very progressive country. While most people will not worry about your sexuality or identity, LGBT presence is still not very common. However, you can hop on Grindr and meet quite a few gay guys. If you don’t have WiFi access, good old cruising tactics work great. I met a guy in one of the plazas who showed me around the entire city. He ended up being a great friend!
3- You can use Airbnb to book excursions and experiences ahead of time. This allows you to pay for things while you are still at home using your bank or credit card.
4- If you do not or are not able to book ahead, make sure you bring all the cash you’ll need. Most places do not accept bank or credit cards and definitely not US cards.
5- There are two places where you can access WiFi in the city. One is next to the telecommunications building near Plaza Carrillo and the other is across from Las Case de la Musica in Plaza Mayor. You’ll need to purchase a WiFi card. It costs less to wait in line at the telecommunications office ($5 for a five hour card) but you can buy them on the street too (though it will cost you more). You’ll have to decide if waiting line is worth the savings.
6- Don’t drink the water. Unfortunately, Cuba does not have proper water sanitation on par with Western standards. Drinking the water may lead to parasitic infection and diarrhea. Nobody wants that.
How does Trinidad, Cuba sound to you?
Are you ready to have a Cuban adventure?
– J. Harvey
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