After Havana and beach resorts along Cuba’s north coast, most tourists will want to see the town of Trinidad. Why? Because, with loads of historic charm, its cobble-stoned center is small, walkable and traffic-free; it’s also extremely photogenic and feels totally authentic. Maybe you won’t be transported back to 1513, the year Trinidad was founded, but you will certainly feel as though you’ve stepped back into the early 1800s, when Trinidad reached its economic zenith due to the sugar-boom.
Sugar brought Trinidad European immigrants and new wealth, but also the African slaves whose labour created that wealth. Today you can see a few of the mansions built by the sugar barons, containing rich furnishings imported from Europe; several are open to the public as museums. And if you are really observant, you can – sadly – also witness vestiges of slavery on the former sugar plantations, in the form of manacles, bells and watch-towers.
What makes Trinidad especially picturesque are the rows of more ordinary houses, one-storey buildings built right out to the sidewalk or street, with their window grilles made of iron or wood.
With no glass in the windows, these grilles (e.g. the blue things on the right) allow cooling breezes to enter, but not prying eyes. The houses themselves are pastel blue, green, yellow… with curving roofs of hand-made red tiles.
Once in a while, you’ll notice that one of the bigger houses has been converted into an antique shop, where the tableware of Trinidad’s richer colonial inhabitants is on display.
Another of my favourite spots in Trinidad is the Plaza Mayor (see photo at top), a small, carefully manicured park with statues, tall palms and benches, where you can just sit and people-watch.
Finally, live music is also a key element of Trinidad. It ranges from salsa to cha-cha to son in the Casa de la Trova or Casa de la Musica, (see my account of a dance lesson here.) But there’s also live music accompanying meals in many restaurants. I happened to catch a local group called Rason while having lunch one day, and their special sound has stuck with me every since – partly because I was smart enough to buy the CD they were selling. (Tip: buy the CDs of groups whose sound you like right away. You’ll never find them in any stores later on.)
So the question is actually not “Why visit Trinidad?’” but “How long should you stay?”. I’d suggest spending at least three days in one of the many casas particulares available. That way, you can also enjoy the calm waters and reefs of the Caribbean at Playa Ancon and go on excursions to nearby places. I was impressed by the view from the tower at the Manaca-Iznaga sugar plantation (take the historic sugar-valley train to get there) and, above all, by Topes de Collantes, a large nature park famous for stunning hikes featuring waterfalls, orchids and colourful birds. A must in my opinion.