Between the beach and the mountains is the lovely little city of Trinidad, one of the oldest in Cuba. Here’s what you need to know about your visit.
A Little History
Chances are most pictures of neon, brightly-colored buildings and cobblestone streets you see of Cuba are from Trinidad. It is one of the best-preserved cities in the Caribbean, being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Trinidad was one of the first cities founded in Cuba, around 1514 by the Spanish. It quickly became one of the richest regions on the island thanks to a plethora of sugar cane, cattle, tobacco.
Today, it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists behind Havana. And for good reasons. Walking through the colorful streets is like stepping back in time or to another world. Live music is a constant. One can also find people sitting outside on the curb or lawn chairs drinking, smoking, and chatting. With the beach just a quick drive away, Trinidad is the perfect little slice of the Cuban countryside.
How to Get There
Taking a bus, renting a car, or hiring a taxi are the three options for getting anywhere in Cuba. Hiring a taxi generally ranges from $100-120 per day. It’s a great option if you’re not on a strict budget or traveling with other people so can split the costs. Renting a car can be tricky in Cuba, but it does give you the freedom of venturing wherever you want whenever you want. On your drive to Trinidad, you’re free to stop at one of the many stunning beaches alongside the main routes.
Personally, as a solo traveler on a budget, I opted for the bus. Most foreigners take the Viazul bus system that webs all across the island. Contrary to much of what you’ll read online about scheduling bus tickets before arriving in Cuba, you CAN do it with Viazul. And I recommend it. The terminal is chaotic and stressful. I imagine it is much more so on the day you’re trying to venture to a new part of the island.
The ride from Havana to Trinidad was 7 hours by bus with a stop at a little cafe in the middle. It sounds long, and it was, but time flies because you’re looking out into parts of the island you wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s beautiful. And when you near Trinidad and start along the coastline… there’s really nothing like it.
What to See
Plaza Mayor is the center of the city and will likely be the main part of your visit. It’s where many of the museums, restaurants, and the most popular Casa de la Musica is. I recommend being here at sunset on a clear evening. It’s gorgeous to watch the sun cast a low haze over the building’s vibrant walls, the palm trees, and into this main plaza.
One cannot visit Trinidad without spending an afternoon at Playa Ancon. With the picturesque white sands and crystal blue water, it’s paradise in a nutshell. From Trinidad, the ride usually costs 5-10CUC; however, I was lucky a managed to find a driver who would take me there and back for 8CUC. Lounging on the beach with my book for the afternoon was absolutely divine. Occasionally, people make rounds asking if they can bring you a drink or something to eat. Highly recommend checking this place out.
Climb the bell tower
This was where I got some of the best views (and favorite pictures!) of Trinidad. I loved it so much that I climbed it again on my second day there. Admission is 1CUC and you have access to the three levels of rooftops and a lower level detailing a rough history of the region. From the topmost level, you can see as far as Playa Ancon in one direction and the rolling hills of Escambrey Mountains in the other. Looking down on the city was such a treat.
I’d heard about this little bar again and again before arriving in Trinidad, but I really had no way to find it nor had I looked up the address before arriving in the country. However, it wasn’t long after wandering from Playa Mayor that I stumbled upon its iconic sign. La Canchanchara is named after the widely famous Cuban cocktail made of rum, lime juice, honey, crushed ice, and soda water. Don’t be surprised if during your visit here a band appears and begins playing music. Also, be aware that is it an incredibly popular destination for tourist groups. When one goes out, another comes in. Find a seat that allows you to steer clear of their flocks unless you want to join in for a little cocktail history lesson. I managed to squeeze in at one point and got chatting with a lovely elderly couple from the UK and learned a little from their tour guide, so it wasn’t all bad.
Casa de la Musica
As aforementioned, the casa de las musicas throughout the city are widely popular for both locals and tourists. You’ll find a pretty equal blend of both parties wherever you go. Both nights I was there I found myself spending several hours of the evening at the central Casa de la Musica just off of Plaza Mayor. Here, there is live music every evening. Chairs and tables are cleared from the area directly in front of the stage for couples to take the the floor and salsa. If you’re a woman, be prepared to be asked to dance. You should also be prepared to say yes. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know how to salsa. Most Cuban men who ask you to dance will know this and go easy on you, showing you the most basic moves as you go. It’s a blast. I ended up meeting a group of locals. We chatted, danced, and drank. One man had brought a bottle of the best Cuban rum I’d tasted since being in the country.