Trinidad, Cuba (12.01.16)
The charismatic colonial city of Trinidad, just a stone’s throw from the south coast, is rightly a Cuban favourite. It is delightfully small, beautifully preserved and charmingly positioned beneath the Escambray Mountains.
Every Cuban will testify that Trinidad has a heart, soul and musical beat to enthral any visitor. Its time-forgotten setting is dominated by yesteryear churches, bell towers, terracotta roofs, plazas and swathes of brightly pastel-coloured low-level houses.
Trinidad is as calming and charming as it is colourfully colonial and quintessentially Caribbean. The moment I arrived, which was after dark, I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of stepping back in time in the unlit, wide cobbled streets.
So important is Trinidad to Cuba’s history that today it is a living monument to the country’s past, immaculately preserved and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. It is arguably the island’s most important town, architecturally.
Explore the gentle maze of cobbled streets that lead you to the most exquisite of sights – five main squares, four churches, a scattering of palaces and a never-ending collection of family houses with open air porches and street-meets – but don’t forget that the surrounding area is as much of a delight as the town of Trinidad itself.
The local countryside includes a stunning collection of local beaches – powder white, leading into turquoise seas – that hug the impressive Peninsular Ancón. These provide a perfect break from the inland heat and are only a short 8km drive, or bike ride, from Trinidad. Moreover, the inland wetlands, with considerable birding opportunities, make any trip to Trinidad’s seaside a journey to remember. If you fancy an off-shore excursion you can also visit the Cayo Blanco de Casilda with equally beautiful beaches, and a variety of sea birds and fish, turtles, lobster and crab.
I also recommend driving up into the mountains to the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, with its easy-to-follow walking trails, proud revolutionary hideout history and fabulous views across thick jungle landscapes and nearby coastline. Depending on your energy levels or lack of, you can decide how far to walk, cycle or drive as the mood takes you. The cooler temperatures at that altitude and welcoming high canopy foliage allow for some impressive jungle exploring, with several swimming opportunities among the tropical undergrowth.
To fully understand the heritage of Trinidad, which was built on wealth derived from slave-trading and sugar production during the 17th and 18th centuries, I would also recommend a visit to the slave-trading centre at Valle de Los Ingenios, 12km out of town towards Sancti Spiritus. The valley, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is as rich in history as it is fertile. It produced the enormous sugarcane crops that made so many of the landowners wealthy enough to build Trinidad in the first place.
The Iznaga Estate Tower, located next to one of the original plantation houses, can still be climbed, just as it must have been climbed by plantation owners watching over thousands of enslaved plantation workers. Today you can enjoy phenomenal views across the valley.
Trinidad has a rich history and is beautiful, welcoming and above all, fun. The music scene is regarded as one of the most lively in Cuba, and the growing number of bars, restaurants and accommodation options are testament to the pulling power of such a special Cuban treat.
So for however long or short a time you are planning to visit Cuba, make sure you do not miss it.