Don’t get me wrong, both those are must-see stops in the city. Casa de la Musica hosts live Cuban music outdoors on the cobblestone staircase overlooking the mountains with the pastel yellow town below you. The main square is home to the tower of San Francisco de Asis Church which provides the best views of the city. For history buffs, the original bell still hangs at the top and the bottom floor is dedicated to a revolutionary war museum.
Valley De Los Ingenios
Trinidad is steeped in history. The people in this town have seen a different Cuba than those who live in Havana. Now many people live in poverty and the once preserved parts of the city have begun to crumble with age. Once upon a time, this area of Cuba boomed in wealth due to the tobacco and sugar plantations that established themselves in the area and although most are not functioning today they do bring in some tourism to boost the economy.
Visiting the Valley de los Ingenios is just a quick taxi ride away from the city. Stop at the Mirador and gaze at the palms along the way. The slave run sugar plantations sit in the middle of nowhere surrounded by what was once flourishing sugar cane and tobacco fields. Now you can wander the ruins and get a little history lesson on the slave trade in Cuba. Many Cubans were enslaved when the Spaniards took over in the 1500’s. They were forced into cultivating crops and manual labor on what was once their own land.
Within The City
Having four or five days at least in Trinidad is ideal. Fitting in several day trips, as well as getting a real taste for the city (literally) takes time. Restaurants are everywhere, most boasting rooftop views of the sunset over the Escambray mountains. But all are offering up the signature Trinidad cocktail -The Canchanchara.
Served in a clay pot, this beverage is simple but delicious-Rum, lime juice, and fresh Cuban honey.
Ernest Hemingway’s iconic favorite mojito bar may be in Havana but La Bodeguita del Medio #2 is always bustling. With significantly more room than the small Havana location, you’ll be guaranteed a seat. After a couple mojitos, you’ll be ready for a traditional Italian feast. Yes, real Italian in the heart of Cuba. Nueva Era inspires a festive atmosphere with large families dancing conga lines around the dining room, drinking heartily, and dancing to live Cuban music. Nueva Era is also home to a 23-year-old Crocodile named Pancho. He sits in a chicken wire fence in the main dining hall and as power flickered throughout dinner he rustled around just 5 feet away awaiting the scraps.
For hands down the heartiest Cuban/American cuisine in Trinidad head to Taberna la Botija. With decor reminiscent of a torture chamber the food is phenomenal. The kitchen was the busiest and most streamlined I saw in Cuba so when your craving a big juicy burger, head to the tavern.
As for exploring the town, take a quick walking tour. Sample some coffee, walk through some art galleries, browse the outdoor market, whatever strikes your fancy. Just make sure you find yourself on a rooftop for sunset.
Topes De Collantes
Trinidad is more than interesting history, amazing food, and Cuban music. You also get a peek into the Escambray mountain range. Nature lovers can get lost (hopefully not literally) into the vast swathes of jungle filled with caves, waterfalls, and many species of birds. The most popular hike takes you 3 km down into the depths of Topes de Collantes (the national park) and ends at the green waters of Calburni falls. Locals jump from the rocks into the pool of water below and it makes for a refreshing swim after the sweltering jungle hike. Don’t underestimate the steep uphill hike on unmarked trails back out of the jungle and make sure you leave well before nightfall.
Located on the Yayabo river this 500-year-old town is a 3-hour taxi from Trinidad and known as it’s sister city. Similar in many architectural ways the sleepy town is an even less touristy version of Trinidad. Markets sell homemade tablecloths and delicately hand woven clothes not the traditional tourist garb. And the town is quiet. We were the only tourists in sight, having our full pick of the Casas nearest town center. Most taxis will bring you to the bus station and leave you to find a peddle bike taxi to take you to the city center.
Cafe Colga’o is a must. The crepes, flan, and menu pages full of coffee beverages are light, delicious, and dirt cheap. Paying in monedo national a whole meal will cost you less than 1.50USD
It’s more than the food and nature that captivated me about this city. It’s the energy. The people. Like most of Cuba, the locals are what truly make the experience what it is. Their kindness and eagerness to connect with strangers are remarkable for a country struggling the way they have. Trinidad is unique because it allows you to glimpse what cities were like before modern industrialization changed the way we live. Its quaint simplicity takes you back in time and gives you an experience as close to time travel as you’ll ever get.