Trinidad Cuba was originally located on a Caribbean harbor a few miles from its current location at a town now named Casilda. But after continual attacks from pirates, the Dutch and the British, the citizens gave up and moved the town inland. The current city’s location was founded in 1514. It maintains many of its original pastel-colored buildings, Spanish red-tile roofs, window guards (to protect against pirates), not to speak of its bone-jarring cobblestone streets (which are still angled down to the center, through which the city’s sewage used to run). Built on riches from the slave trade and sugar cane, it has its share of lovely restored mansions (many of which currently serve as museums) and UNESCO World Heritage designation.
The city was originally founded around the pretty, but generally merchant-class Santa Ana Square. The city’s aristocracy, however, built their houses about a block away, on the much more open (for views, sunshine and fresh air) open Plaza Mayor. It is this square that is now the center of town. It is surrounded by the Neo-Classical Church of the Holy Trinity (with its Spanish wooden stature of the Man from Vera Cruz, which ended up in Trinidad after the three attempts to ship it to Mexico ended in the winds taking it to Casilda) and multiple mansions with pretty wooden balconies, most of which are now either museums or art galleries.
The center city has two other other major landmarks:
- San Francisco Convent, an elegant Franciscan church that, during the first revolution, was used as a garrison for Spanish troops, and is now the Museum of the Bandits, commemorating its role as temporary holdout for a group of counter-revolutionaries who held out against the Communist takeover; and
- Cantero Palace Tower, which was the mansion of a wealthy widow and widower who combined their fortunes. While the tower offers wonderful views of the city, the Neo-Classica building is now the Municipal History Museum which both demonstrates the lifestyle of the Canteros and also the history of the city, including the economic transformation (from arming to ceramics to the ways in which the steam engine transformed the sugarcane industry), the city’s expanding cultural life and the island’s continual struggle against colonial control—from the Spanish to the Yankee-sponsored puppet government.
We explored the streets around the square and had a traditional, music-accompanied drink at Canchanchara, into which tourist groups pack for a cup of the unjustly (at least in our view) famous concoction made of rum, lime, water and honey.
We also made a quick stop at La Casa del Alferero, the gallery of a famed Trinidad potter that not only shows its work, but to the obvious delight to tour groups, allows visitors to try their hands at a pottery wheel.
Beyond the center city is the lovely neighborhood of Cespedes, an area developed in the late-18th through the-mid-19th centuries and centered around the lovely, manicured Cespedes Park. The square is anchored by two particularly lovely buildings: the beautiful, five-star Hotel Iberostar and the pretty San Francisco church.
The nearby Gutierrez Street (known by locals as Antonio Maceo), meanwhile, is the home of many galleries and the former Brunet Theater, which, although it had fallen into ruins, has been converted into an open-air neighborhood party venue. Not all neglected buildings, or even theaters have been so lucky. Another old theater, several blocks away, has been the subject of a couple of private renovation proposals; all of which the government has declined in favor of allowing it to stand vacant.
Trinidad Music Clubs
To our great delight, our hotel, located just off Plaza Mayor, was surrounded by five music clubs, which allowed us to select one based on the music.
For the first evening, we wandered into Casa de la Troya. It was delightful–at least for the first hour-long-set of Cuban-style jazz to which we enviously watched people dancing with style and grace. We left—along with half of the crowd–a few songs into the ballads of the second act which featured a sedate guitarist and singer.
For our second evening, we stopped in Casa de la Troya (which was just changing bands) and Palenque before joining the crowd at the huge, packed, outdoor, auditorium-style Casa de la Musica. The first few numbers were the type of high-octane songs that virtually had the audience dancing in the aisles. After leaving, we decided to check out, but did not stay at one other venue, La Parranda.
Beyond Trinidad’s City Borders
We then visited two nearby destinations outside the city:
Cuban Nature and Historic Park where we took a rather boring four-mile hike that had three redeeming features: a farmhouse with wooden walls and thatched palm leaf roof; a fascinating cliff-face from which hung thousands of small (roughly 6-8 inch-long) wasp nests (whose inhabitants were luckily, not home at the time) and a pretty waterfall that culminated in a pretty rock grotto pool of water (very suitable for sa cooling swim).
We also drove through the so-called Valley of the Sugar Mills, which was covered with sugar cane plantations and mills in the early 19th century. Although few field and no mills remain, the past is somewhat recalled through the Iznaga sugarcane estate. The estate house, which now serves as a restaurant, has a number of mementos of these days, such as oil paintings of slaves working the fields and the steam loco motive that revolution transport of the cane (not to speak of the steam engines that revolutionized the milling process). It also has several artifacts of the estate, such as a working, slave-operated sugarcane press and old iron boiling pots. The greatest attraction, however, is the 142-foot tower that played both a symbolic and a practical role in its day. The symbolic role was in symbolizing the Iznaga family’s wealth and power to the valley’s other plantation owners. The practical role was as a platform for watching over the land and to ensure that its slaves weren’t slacking off).
- The Galleon, a pretty restaurant located near the original town (now named Casilda), is, unfortunately, largely the province of tour groups. We managed to find a table in a smaller room away from the large group who joined the band in singing Guantonamera—multiple times. Our food was quite good and quite inexpensive. It included a light, tasty fish soup with a nice chunk of lobster, a small salad and a for each of us, a large, grilled Caribbean lobster tail (a bit dry from being grilled, but still very tasty).
- The Vista Gourmet is not exactly gourmet, but it is pretty good. We had the full meal, which began with full access to the salad, appetizer, soup, pasta, fruit and dessert bar. We began with sampling of appetizers including fish tartare, steak tartare, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, deviled eggs, plantain chips, meat lasagna and black bean soup. TOO MUCH. By the time we got to our main dishes—grilled lobster and lobster enchilada (a very unusual enchilada with loads of lobster chunks in a light onion fin sauce, without a hint of tortilla or cheese), we couldn’t finish. We also had to struggle though our wine, a 2015 Castillo del Diablo chardonnay from a very limited list.
We stayed at Encanto Meson del Regidor in Trinidad. This is a small hotel of 6 rooms in an old building right off of the square. We were on a private floor that one got to from some steep steps (thank goodness the luggage was carried up for us. The bathroom was a separate room outside of the bedroom but was still in an area that only we could access. While we had nice cross ventilation in the room, we needed the air conditioning, which also blocked out any street noise. The room was very dark even with the lights on but this seems to be normal in Cuba. The hook for the hand-held shower was broken which meant holding the shower head, but the room and bed were comfortable. All in all, the room was probably good for Trinidad as it really doesn’t have luxury places.