By Elien Blue Becque
Thousands of Americans are heading to Havana for the first time this travel season and discovering what Europeans and Russians have known for decades: that Cuba, while not the unfettered tropical paradise ’50s cinema might suggest, is a fascinating, worthwhile place to visit. The slightly more intrepid of new visitors to Cuba should also strongly consider making the journey to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site set on the coast between lush, wild countryside; mountains; and beautiful beaches.
Be warned that Lonely Planet hypes this town just a bit too much. Trinidad definitely embraces its status as a tourist town much more than Havana, and there seem to be many more tourists in the streets at night than locals. That said, it’s definitely worth visiting. The colonial architecture preserves a bygone era in many homes and buildings; the history of sugar-making and the gruesome history of slavery that made it possible is important in understanding Cuba’s history; and the lush flora and fauna of the natural environment is gorgeous—in many places the land looks like a storybook version of heaven. (Make sure you arrive and depart by day in order to take in the countryside.) If you need a break from touring, the town center is also just a 15-minute cab ride from some beautiful beaches with hot, white sand, shady palm trees, and crystal clear blue water. Trinidad is one part history lesson and one part tropical adventure and it’s interesting to compare the local culture with Havana, where locals can be brusque and unapologetic, a trait decidedly absent in Trinidad.
Phone: 5 3592297
Call him! He’ll take you on a great tour of the Valle de los Ingenios.
Total sweetheart, very gracious, not macho, not pushy. Very patient, amiable, and seems to know the entire town. Vladimir is a veterinarian by training (as seemingly 50% of all Cuban drivers are) and is experienced at taking you to all the places you’ll want to see when in Trinidad. Though he also put up with all our questions and what we thought we knew, he advised us wisely on the route and the order in which we should take in sights. Had it not been for him we’d have missed the sugar factory and Cafe Chichi, two of the best things about our day of sightseeing.
Book early in busy tourist season (and maybe try to go in the off season…), because there are lots of beautiful casas particulares but they sell out and there are many other not-so-nice accommodations as well that will leave you wandering enviously past the courtyards of old colonial mansions on your way to your more ramshackle accommodations.
It seems as though there is a lot of not-so-great food in Trinidad, quite odd since it’s a year-round tourist town, but:
1. We’d recommend making the effort to follow fellow travelers’ recommendations to eat better than you might otherwise.
2. Before you sit down at a restaurant ask the waiter if they actually have the different things that are listed on the menu. Often (especially it seems during high season), they might be out of some or most of the menu items.
Next to the yellow and blue Hacienda on top of the hill.
Ask Vladimir to take you there for lunch during sightseeing. It’s perhaps a good idea to call ahead to make sure they have food to prepare for you. They made us a very good lunch without warning, however: fried plantains; tortilla (very thin fried egg thing, not bad); fish; the typical salad of cabbage, cucumbers and tomatoes; and guava puree for dessert with homemade cheese. The views are stunning during the day, but it would also be fun to go there for dinner with a big group, as they can accommodate a lot of people.
Piro Guinart #228 (BOCA) e/ Gustavo Izquierdo Y Antonia Maceo 0152-489765
These people understand capitalism! Extremely professional service and a larger, better stocked menu than many in Trinidad. Three or four outdoor terraces as well as a lively main floor dining room and decent wine as well.
Corner of Christo and Alameda
A lovely little terrace setting on top of a not-very-tall building just off the main square, Obbatala has good cocktails and is not too loud! Looks like an efficiently run restaurant, too, though we didn’t try the food.
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