[Long read!] Trinidad Cuba is a beautiful colonial city on Cuba’s southern coast, in Sancti Spiritus Province.
The city was founded back in the 16th Century by the Spanish conquistadors and flourished in the colonial era as it became a center for sugar production and trade.
For a while, Trinidad was in fact the wealthiest city in Cuba!
One of the interesting facts about Trinidad is its structure and architecture are so well preserved, that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The reason the city is so well preserved today is that it lost the golden place it once had in the lucrative sugar industry.
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Why Was Trinidad Stuck In Time?
In the 19th century, competition from other Caribbean sugar states became too tough, and Trinidad became a quiet backwater and slipped away into oblivion and stagnation.
The city architecture froze in time missing out on the modernization that took place in other areas of Cuba.
Despite all the historic relics, Trinidad today is very much a living and vibrant city with lots of life, restaurants, music, bars, and services. Not to mention the beautiful Ancon Beach, which is only a ten-minute taxi ride away from the city center!
The Facts About Trinidad
Trinidad was founded exactly on December 23, 1514, by a Spanish guy named Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, who was friends with both Cristopher Columbus and his explorer-son.
It was first named Villa de la Santísima Trinidad, the town of the Holy Trinidad.
Situated around 300 kilometers from Havana across the island, it is a four to five hours drive from Havana in a taxi privado, and a bit longer by a collectivo or a regular bus.
507 years after its foundation, the city is referred to as “the museum of Cuba”. The preserved houses, streets, and details are like a historic snapshot of a colonial town that fell off the modernization wagon when the sugar trade vanished.
In 2021, Trinidad has a population of around 75.000, and the main industry is tobacco processing as well as a growing tourist industry. Tourism from Western nations has become a major source of income for the city.
The older parts of town are well preserved, and the city benefits a lot from hosting tourist groups.
In the region, and along the southwestern coastline of Cuba, there are lots of art, history, culture, and adventure waiting to be explored!
About 80 kilometers west of Trinidad, is the city of Cienfuegos. This city is also called La Perla Del Sur (the pearl of the south), as it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba.
Head another 96 kilometers west and you reach the Bay of Pigs and Playa Giron, where the failed US invasion took place in 1961. This was a monumental incident in history that had a huge influence on the relationship between Cuba and the US in decades to come.
Trinidad Colonial History – The Museum Of Cuba
Trinidad city lies in the terrain like a low, colorful coastal jewel, with one or two-story houses, churches, little towers, cobblestoned streets, as well as beautiful parks, plazas, and squares.
You can sit down for an outdoor coffee or just take a seat on the charming wide stone stairs at the plaza surrounded by flowers.
Only a few square blocks in size, the historic plaza area also is cobblestoned, surrounded by houses in the typical pastel colors with wrought-iron grilles covering doors and windows.
Apart from the main square, you can get a little happily lost in the streets of Trinidad, they all look a bit similar at first glance.
In addition to experiencing the historic city center and the white sands of Playa Ancon, Trinidad has a lot of other fun activities and worthwhile sights to offer the exploring traveler!
Interesting Things To Do In Trinidad
The region offers beautiful beaches and water activities, nature experiences as well as food, museums and history, and of course music!
When visiting you could start by spending a few hours just walking around in the historic streets of the city before you become a goal-oriented tourist. Take in the ambiance and vibe, and study all the details in architecture and art.
You can also opt for visiting tobacco farms on horseback, see how they roll the famous cigars, and try the local rum and sugar extract.
You don’t have to be in Havana to experience social dancing or a fun salsa class! In Trinidad, several places offer classes of Cuban salsa, including the Salsa Casino, to visitors (and of course locals).
You can also explore other dance styles, like the mambo, and rhumba, or even more exotic dances like the bachata and the kizomba.
The Cubans have made many of these dances their own, mixed and merged the styles into something very typical Cuban!
There are dancing schools in Trinidad offering classes if you really want to learn something. Some large hotels or resorts also offer classes, but these will often be more in the category of “fun and entertainment”.
If you feel confident, or simply adventurous, just being at places where there is dance, you can head out to the dance floor with a suitor within a few minutes (at least if you are a woman) to test your skills.
Parque Natural Topes De Collantes
There are several smaller and larger magnificent freshwater springs hidden in the hills around Trinidad. In some places, you can hike on lush green trails, and swim through little waterfalls in the greenish-blue water to cool down.
One of these is the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes.
Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve park situated in the Escambray Mountain Range in Cuba, around 15 kilometers, or 20 minutes, from Trinidad.
The whole area that comprises the large nature reserve has developed like this because of the wet winds from the Atlantic Ocean. This particular climate has made the northern side of the mountain range a refuge for a variety of plants and animals.
In the park, there are caves, rivers, falls, grottos, canyons, and natural pools with crystal clear water. Growing in the mountain hills from May to September is the flower mariposa (butterfly lily, which is Cuba’s national flower.
On the southern side, there is a drier climate which, which is where the Valle de Los Ingenios (below) and Trinidad lie.
You can easily take a day trip to this nature reserve park when you are in Trinidad or Sancti Spiritus Province, or you can stay for longer.
Whatever way you want to do it, you can go hiking the jungle-like trails, go for horseback riding tours, and swim in waterfalls and freshwater springs. Go explore the unique and beautiful flora and fauna of the Cuban naturaleza!
Trinidad And The Valley De Los Ingenios
Valle de Los Ingenios, or Valley of the Sugar Mills in English, consists of three interconnected valleys about 12 kilometers outside Trinidad.
From the late 18th century until the late 19th century the valleys of San Luis, Santa Rosa, and Meyer were the main centers for sugar production in the area.
At the peak of the sugar era in Cuba, there were more than fifty sugar cane mills running here in the three valleys.
Together they were run by more than 30,000 enslaved Africans, working in the mills and on the sugar cane plantations around the area.
Today almost all of the sugar mills are in ruins, but some structures are still standing in the valleys.
In Guachinango, a plantation house is still standing, and at Manaca Iznaga the owner’s mansion, a bell tower, and some of the barracones, the original slave barracks, are still there.
The owners’ mansion in Manaca Iznaga has been converted into a restaurant, wherein in 2022 you can enjoy your dinner in the historic ambiance from the colonial era. Iznagas Bell Tower, which was at one point the tallest structure in Cuba, is well maintained.
Historians explain how the bell that used to be on top of the Iznaga Tower announced the beginning and the end of the long and hard workday for the slaves.
It was also used to call for prayer times for the worship of the Holy Virgin morning, midday, and afternoon, and it was an alarm system in case of fire or if slaves tried to escape their captivity.
In 1988, Valle de Los Ingenios was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, because of the important history it displays about the early sugar trade industry in Cuba.
Cerro De Vigia Hill
If you like hiking, a walk to the Cerro de Vigia hill can be a sporty but not too hard day trip. From the top, you have a magnificent view over Trinidad city as well as the Valle de Los Ingenios and the southern coastline.
You start by walking from Trinidad up Simón Bolívar between the Museo Romántico and the Iglesia Parroquial, which will lead you to the remains of an 18th-century refuge that was part of a former Spanish military hospital.
From there you continue walking around half an hour up the hill before you reach an area with a tall radio tower. That’s it!
Take a breath, turn around and enjoy the view!
Trinidad Tours | Why Not Explore Horseback Riding!
If you enjoy horseback riding (or just want to try it), this is a perfect slow way to do a Trinidad tour and explore the nature around Trinidad.
Several Trinidad tour operators and local adventure companies offer horseback riding tours, often a day trip like this that will include several interesting activities.
You will ride along red dirt paths visiting tobacco farms, sample local rum, test churning sugar canes, and extract sugar water that a countryside bartender will magically turn into a drink for you.
Or ride into the hills around Trinidad city enjoying nature and stop at hidden freshwater springs for a refreshing bath!
Normally a day trip like this will include a stop at a small village restaurant where you can enjoy a local lunch before you head back to the city in the afternoon.
Scuba Diving In Trinidad
Being a near coastal town close to a stunning white beach, there is of course options for wonderful underwater adventures with scuba diving In Trinidad.
In Trinidad, you find several scuba diving centers, like the Cayo Blanco Scuba Diving Center on the Ancon Peninsula.
If you are not already a certified diver, you can also take a scuba dive course, for example, the ACUC International Certification Dive Course departing from Trinidad.
Best Beaches In Trinidad
If you are the kind of person who loves lounging on a beach under a parasol, the Trinidad coastline offers exactly that for sunbathers and sea lovers.
From Ancon beach in Trinidad, you will find catamarans lounging in the small ready to bring travelers on a snorkeling adventure.
The catamaran will take you out to coral reefs a mile or so off the coast for an hour, where you can enjoy the colorful life on the reef before they take you safely back to shore. Don’t worry about the equipment, they have masks, snorkel, fins (and a tiny Cuba libre) for you on the boat!
There are several larger resorts along the beaches outside Trinidad, but their premises are normally for staying guests only.
As there are not really a lot of beach bars or restaurants connected to Cuban beaches, you are better advised to bring a lunch basket and everything you need for the day with you.
Cubans love to hang out on the beach, you will probably meet large families with three generations enjoying the chill life BBQ’ing (especially on the weekends) while listening to salsa music on their subwoofers.
Even though the city of Trinidad is called “the museum of Cuba” as a whole, it has a wide variety of actual museums covering different topics, like history, art, and architecture for tourists to explore.
The Trinidad museums are definitely worth your time if you have the slightest interest in history.
The Romance Museum
The Romance Museum is located in the heart of the Trinidad city center, in an old mansion called the Brunet Palace.
Count Brunet was a noble Cuban Creole, founder of the Brunet Theater as well as the owner of the Brunet Palace. The palace was built originally in the 1740s, and the count inherited the palace from his wife’s father when he passed away.
Original details like tiled floors and balustrades are still there. There is silverware, china, old furniture, silver-smithing, lingerie, and other luxury items of the 19th Century on display, mostly things that belonged to the original family.
The Museum Of Municipal History
Museo de Historia Municipal tells the story of Trinidad from its foundation by Diego Velasquez in 1514, exhibiting important items from the period.
The building is a palace that originally was built by the Borrell family, part of the Sugar Aristocracy in Trinidad centuries ago. The house has later become known as the Palace of Cantero, successively owned by different members of the Borrell family.
In 1960, a little while after the revolution the ownership of the building was nationalized by the state, and in the 70s restoration started to make the building into the museum that it is today.
Some rooms show the military side of Trinidad’s history, the fortification, and the defense of the city. Other rooms are dedicated to the sugar trade, the economical development, and the impact of the slave trade.
Trinidad Architecture Museum
The Museo de Arquitectura Colonial, or Colonial architecture Museum, is a great place for anyone interested in the details and particulars of the colonial-style architecture, building technique, and decor of the era of the Spanish Empire.
The museum is located in two 18th-century mansions that were once the home of the wealthy Sanchez Iznaga family. The mansion itself was built in 1738 and then restored in 1836.
Dedicated to the characterful architecture of colonial Trinidad, you can see exhibits of typical colonial architectural items and decorations like doors, handles, locks, windows, and grills.
The museum also organizes guided tours through the historic streets of Trinidad.
Nightlife In Trinidad
Although Trinidad was a sleeping city for a long period, today there is a variety of nightlife options in Trinidad to explore.
The Trinidad nightlife comprises different culinary experiences, clubs, little bars, and not to mention several Casas de Musica to visit.
Nowhere in Cuba is the African influence more evident than in Trinidad, so you can easily explore the African and Latin cultures with your stomach.
The town has a culinary scene of delicious traditional Cuban cuisine, and creole food, which is more diverse than much of the restaurants offer on the rest of the island.
Casa De La Musica
Casa de la Musica is one of Trinidad’s most popular tourist attractions, which is “always” open but really comes to life when the sun goes down.
The casa itself comprises a large colonial-style house built in the 18th Century. Its main objective is to promote Cuban music, as well as record and commercialize it to get it out into the world. But it is also a hub for night owls and party animals.
Here you find live Cuban music, and people from all around the world. Locals and tourists alike flock to this area to dance, socialize, have a drink, and enjoy the nights, and live bands.
The Casa de la Musica is situated on top of a hill with stairs and outside seating areas on different levels. It is characteristic of its seating area design, serving meals and drinks at the tables.
As the bands play in the open air, you can just follow the crowd and the sound of music to get there.
From some of the upper levels, you will have a breathtaking view of the city, the coastline, and the landscape of the Ancon peninsula.
Disco Ayala Or La Cueva In Trinidad
About ten minutes walk outside (uphill) the city center is a club that is a little out of the ordinary. Disco Ayala, or as it is also called, La Cueva Nightclub, is located far below the surface in a natural cave complex!
This club has an entrance on the top of a hill, and when you enter the door you immediately start descending a rugged winding stone stairway into the core of the mountain.
As you descend, the music gets louder and the natural cave walls and ceilings are decorated with colorful lights and stalactites.
La Cueva is not a place that plays typical Cuban dance music. Here you will rather experience a standard clubbing evening with lots of reggaeton and of course Latin rhythms as well as songs that normally were popular in the west a few years back.
If you like the clubbing scene it is worth a visit, especially due to the special surroundings. The interior is a little rough though, so especially the chicas may want to stay away from the pointiest stilettos in this particular place!
Where To Stay In Trinidad
In Trinidad, there are over 1000 casa particulares, private homes where the owners are renting out a room or a house to tourists.
What Is A Casa Particular?
A casa particular is a privately owned home rented out by a Cuban family, where you can live like a Cuban, closer to the real Cuba!
So there are plenty of places to stay in Trinidad, and you can identify a casa particular by a small white sign outside the door with a little blue anchor.
If you love not planning anything, you can easily find a casa particular after arriving in Trinidad. If you feel calmer by booking your accommodation beforehand, you can find casas, hostels, and hotels on Airbnb, hotels.com, and booking.com.
Remember that without a VPN installed, you will not be able to do these bookings when you are already in Cuba!
Getting To Trinidad And Around
There is a small airport outside Trinidad called Alberto Delgado Airport, but it is for domestic flights only and according to online information has only “unscheduled flights”.
For getting around on the western part of the island of Cuba, the best ways to travel is by bus, taxi privado or collectivo, or a rental car.
It can be a challenge getting gas in Cuba, so booking a rental car can be a risky business. If something happens to your rental en route getting help is not necessarily easy.
Although providing freedom, any mishaps requiring repair and spare parts may ruin your holiday (and your budget).
Taking a regional bus like Viazul is cheap and easy, but maybe not the most comfortable option, especially in the summer temperatures.
Taxi collectivo, a shared taxi, is probably the best compromise option. A collectivo will come to pick you up at your hotel or casa, and drive around picking up all the other passengers as well.
When it’s on its way, it will drive directly to your destination and drop everyone off at their new accommodation. The price is decent, and it does not take too long.
You can easily book a collectivo through your hotel or the hosts at your casa.
The fastest, easiest and most expensive way is a taxi privado. It picks you up, drives directly, and drops you off, but the convenience costs a little extra. Also, if anything happens to the car, it is not your responsibility, which is nice to know.
But with the standard of the Cuban car park, anything can happen so be prepared for breakdowns and delays in either transport option you choose!
The History Of Trinidad Cuba
The founder of Trinidad, Velázquez, was an explorer or a conquistador, dependent on your point of view. He sailed from Spain on Columbus’s second voyage in 1493, undoubtedly an adventurer, at least!
Velázquez went on to become the first Spanish governor of Cuba. He was entrusted with the conquest of the island by Columbus’s son Diego and is also the original founder of several other cities in Cuba as well as a key person in Spanish matters throughout the Caribbean.
In Trinidad Velázquez was largely responsible for growing the sugar industry, as he was instrumental in the capture and importation of enslaved Africans.
When coupled with the strategic location of Cuba and super growing conditions for sugarcane, it was “the perfect match” for a prosperous colonial Spanish empire.
Sugar cane was at the heart of Trinidad’s prosperity from the start, helping this rather small village to quickly grow into a wealthy town. The nearby Valle de Los Ingenios was the hub of sugar cane production at this time, initially, this was where the town started evolving.
The growing wealth of Trinidad was exceptional. By the middle of the 1700s, the European demand for sugar reached a frenzied peak, which created a nobility of sugar in the city.
The sugar barons became insanely rich, building luxurious manors in Trinidad, as well as large estates in the countryside.
Enslaved Africans were imported by the thousand to work the sugar plantations.
The golden-gilded history of Trinidad was a fairly short-lived chapter, however. Competition to export sugar to other parts of the Caribbean was intense and eventually stole much of Cuba’s dominance.
Frequent slave uprisings on the plantations, coupled with a general wave of struggles for independence across the Caribbean led to the downfall of the town’s sugar industry.
Trinidad Cuba Fell Asleep
As the trade finally vanished, Trinidad became a sleeping unimportant city. It was this collapse of Trinidad’s economy and halt in development that caused this magnificent colonial town to freeze in time.
By the 1860s, the bottom completely dropped out of the global sugar market. Trinidad’s economy, which was entirely dependent on sugar, collapsed.
It slipped away into obscurity, and the history of Trinidad entered an empty period for decades.
When modernization began to sweep through Cuba, Trinidad was left behind as an obsolete relic of another time. This allowed it to escape modernization in the early 20th century, which likely would have ruined its pristine historic atmosphere.
Even before the revolutionary movement took over Cuba, the government realized the historic value and beauty of Trinidad. It was declared off-limits to development as far back as the 1950s.
The guerilla fight against Fidel Castro continued from the mountains surrounding Trinidad for a few years after the revolution, in the period 1959 to 1965.
You can learn about that part of history at the museum Convento de San Fransisco at Plaza Mayor.
Today, Trinidad is known as the Museum of Cuba, a treasure of architecture and ambiance unparalleled in the country.
Travelers from both Cuba and abroad flock to the Plaza Mayor at the center of the town every year, to experience its cobblestone streets lined with colonial buildings and historic monuments.
Through its museums and landmarks, the rich heritage of Trinidad’s sugary past is laid out everywhere you look.