One of the best preserved colonial cities in the Caribbean
On this day trip from our base Varadero, we would come to discover not just one, but three cities: Santa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. While Santa Clara was brief just to visit the Monument and Mausoleum of Che Guevara, (we would return to this city in the next days), it was still nice to see such beautiful Spanish colonial architecture that later we would enjoy as no other with Trinidad especially. The only drawback we had was time limitation. For sure it would have been nice to count with one more day for each of the cities but that was not optional if we wanted to continue on a wider tour towards the eastern end of Cuba with Santiago the end point for this trip.
The best we could do, and strongly recommended to anyone falling in similar circumstances than us with time constraints, is to pre-book a full day trip to this places. Varadero seemed to be the perfect base for doing this, and it worked just perfect! As originally thought and planned. In fact we did not really believed there would be enough time for visiting every place but it really was, with a nice guided tour in English where no major sight was missed at all. Should you wish to know more on this sort of organised tours as the one we did, here is the info for our tour operator Cuba Travel Network.
Trinidad is considered the jewel of Cuba. A colonial masterpiece almost intact ever since its foundation, and with the addition of beautiful architecture through the centuries so perfectly preserved that it feels more like an open-air museum on every corner. Adding to this it was the largest and most important centre of sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries; all left an important patrimony and heritage not just the wealthy mansions for the land owners, but the countless sugar cane mills in the nearby Valle de los Ingenios. Both the city and the valley are listed UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Navigating you way through the city is straightforward. The old town core is very compact and small, and it’s just composed of few streets that generally meet at the central square, Plaza Mayor. All of the sights are just there and the nearby streets, while the rest of the city in its full is very charming and worth to walk up and down and enjoy its architecture. Such a great fusion of colours, so traditional and so colonial. Really welcoming to be anywhere, have a nice (although limited choice) lunch, a good coffee or a drink at one of the ancient bars. Why not to have the famous drink from this city, the Canchanchara? or perhaps a daiquiri or mojito, the drinks of Cuba.
For more information about Trinidad check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. And for everything important regarding Cuba such as visa requirements, currency and WiFi access, I would strongly recommend you to check the main post for Cuba, Havana, where everything is well listed and explained.
What to see and do in Trinidad
- Plaza Mayor The central and most important square ever since the foundation of the city. Centre of politics and religious activities, where majority of the main attractions are and in the nearby streets.
-Palacio Brunet By the northwestern corner of the square built in 1812 for the wealthy Borrell family. Nowadays the Romantic Museum.
-Catedral de la Santisima Trinidad Built in the 19th century in neoclassical style in the place of an older church destroyed in a cyclone. One of its most venerated treasures is the 18th century wooden statue of Christ “El Señor de la Vera Cruz” which was meant for a church in Veracruz in Mexico, yet the ship carrying it had to abort 3 times the journey from Trinidad there due to bad weather, and finally sailed without half of the cargo.
-Casa de la Musica Along the right side of the cathedral is the flight of stairs leading to this music kiosk where it is likely to see a band playing or dancing.
-Casa de los Conspiradores At the other side of the stars right of the cathedral, characterised for its wooden balcony at the corner overlooking the square.
-Museum of Colonial Architecture Aligning the eastern side of the square was from 1738 the house of the family Sánchez Isnaga.
-Casa Aludema Ortiz Along the southern side of the square was built in 1809 for the sugar maker Ortiz de Sunigi. Nowadays an art gallery.
-Museum of Guamuhaya Archaeology On the southwestern corner of the square where the Indigenous and Pre-Columbian Museum is.
-Palacio Cantero Heading west from the square, almost behind the Guamuhaya, is one of the most impressive and elaborate constructions in Trinidad, home to the History Museum.
-Museum of the War Against the Bandits Along Calle Boca meters west from Paza Mayor. Housed in a former convent, dedicated to the 1961-1969 fight against the US counterrevolutionaries. From the famous bell tower you will get great views of the city. Only for this, is already well worth to enter.
-La Canchanchara Right behind on the corner if the Museum of the Bandits, it is one of the most popular places to have a cocktail and listen to live music. Their famous drink is the Canchanchara, made with honey, lime, aguardiente, water and ice. (3 CUCs per drink).
- Valle de los Ingenios Also known as the Valley of the Sugar Mills lies around 12 kilometres from Trinidad and it is also listed and UNESCO World Heritage Site for the incredible amount in heritage from the sugar plantation business than once thrived here like no other place. Nowadays only the derelict mills legacy remain among some former land owner mansions and plantations.
There’s no commercial airport in the are meaning the only possible way to reach Trinidad and Cienfuegos is by bus from the main cities in Cuba. For example, you’ve got 3 departures per way from Havana, once daily from Santiago de Cuba via Camaguey, Holguin and Sancti Spiritus, and more frequent choice from the not so far cities of Varadero, Camaguey and Santa Clara. To book your bus tickets remember to do so at least within 2 weeks before the date, any earlier it’s not possible in the website, and any later the seats might sell out. The Viazul website is very easy and straightforward, therefore do not risk it by going to the bus station to try your luck. It’s a mess like no other, and the chances you won’t manage a ticket are almost guaranteed. Book them at their official website.
It is either this way you reach here, or you take an organised trip from Varadero, which is quite common among the tourist based there, and real example from our experience. After all, if you are planning on visiting Trinidad and Cienfuegos it’s not really that costly to have it all ready in a tour, being collected and dropped back in the hotel, have a guide all the time and actually ending up sightseeing more than originally planned since this tours generally also include Santa Clara; not that we care much about it since this city would be the next in our trip through Cuba and would be spending more time there but hey! that was also quite nice.
Once in Trinidad, everything is done on foot. Distances are very short, and for a tourist there’s absolutely no need for taking any transport anywhere (well, basically only taxis and shared cars anyway).
Our base was Varadero, so I cannot recommend any place to stay in this city. But being one of the most charming cities in Cuba it means is one of the most visited by tourists too. The hotel industry really lacks on properties here so do not expect any hotel chain other than state run Cuban hotels. However in the other hand, there is something way much better you could do (and should do if you’re staying overnight); this is a private house. There are lots, beautiful, most of them in historic colonial buildings, with very nice and friendly hosts. In airb&b you can have a first look, then have a more generic online search for other websites.
If hotels is what you are seeking for, then a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or Gala Hotels. Please note most of these will not offer any results in Cuba, this is to do with the USA embargo. Try the respective European sites instead if needed be, although the best site for Cuba would be Gala Hotels.